Over easy

Jersey diners serve up more than eggs and bacon

Jersey diners are as iconic as the Pine Barrens and the boardwalk. As the gardens in Garden State.

They will serve you pigs in a blanket or liver with onions. Your coffee cup will be topped off before you’re at the halfway point. You can get a slice of strawberry shortcake as big as a catcher’s mitt. The waitresses will call you hon.

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But local diners are also gathering places, for the hungry, but also for people whose appetite for company and camaraderie is fed by a booth full of pals and acquaintances who linger long after the eggs Benedict.

Now one of those diners has closed after 55 years to make way for a car wash, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Cherry Hill Diner served its final meal on the last day of April.

It’s hardly a death knell though: Plenty of diners remain if you have a hankering for grilled cheese or chicken pot pie. A few of them are still in Cherry Hill, including Ponzio’s and the Silver Diner. In other South Jersey towns, they’re as ubiquitous as strip centers with Chinese takeout on one end and a nail emporium on the other.

They’re in Barrington and Westmont, Westampton and Glassboro, Collingswood and Somerdale. The old Olga’s Diner that sat for decades just off a now-defunct Marlton traffic circle at routes 70 and 73 was resurrected nearby, complete with the rights to its iconic sign.

So no, diners are hardly going the way of the aforementioned traffic circles (good riddance). Not in a state that is considered the diner capital of the world, according to New Jersey Monthly.

The publication quoted New Jersey author Michael C. Gabriele, who estimates the state currently has somewhere between 500 and 525 diners. That is only slightly lower than the tally during the state’s diner heyday in the 1950s, but still more than anywhere else on the planet.

At diners, you can break eating rules you wouldn’t at home: steak for breakfast, pancakes for dinner, a bloody Mary with brunch. But you’ll also find a parade of people in and out at all hours whose path you’d never cross otherwise, says Gabriele.

“That’s where you meet all the interesting people,” noted the diner expert and author of Stories From New Jersey Diners and The History of Diners in New Jersey. “People are coming and going, and you meet truck drivers and salespeople and politicians. It’s all ships passing in the night.

“That’s where all American conversations start: right there.”

New Jersey’s ranking as the diner capital of the world was helped by the fact that it was a leading manufacturer of the restaurants from the ’20s through the ’80s, with six to 20 diner builders in the state, according to www.preservationnj.org.

And while it’s a bit sad to see any diner close, there are plenty of others left in South Jersey to woo you with their neon signs, shiny beacons for those who pass like ships in the night – and all hours of the day.


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