I grew up on the pork roll. Well, it was actually the “taylor ham and cheese” where I grew up, in Northern New Jersey, but whatever you call it, it’s a staple of New Jersey delis and diners. Taylor ham, cheese, and a kaiser roll is more Jersey than the shore. Add an egg and it’s Jersey’s breakfast. But, lately, it seems a good pork roll is hard to find… at least in Hunterdon county.
Recently someone asked us Jersey Biters where to find a good pork roll, and I realized that aside from my mother’s kitchen I hadn’t seen a good pork roll in years. All the specimens I’d come across (admittedly not a full inventory) put Jersey to shame, with bread too hard and cheese too, err, yellow. And so it’s with special pride that I’m here, telling you where in Hunterdon county you can find a damn good pork roll (among other things).
The Fine Diner in Clinton is the type of easy-going, country-kitsch diner that others want to be. There’s knick-knacks aplenty and quaint farm-life paintings on the walls, but there’s also gleaming hardwood beams in the ceiling, a gorgeous wood counter with customers eating quick lunches, and a nice view of the Raritan River. The feeling is homey, fun, relaxing. The waitstaff is genuinely friendly, real-people kind of people who care about your meal and, if you ask, will tell you exactly what they think is best. The place is open from Tuesday to Sunday, serves breakfast and lunch, and attracts a crowd.
For lunch on Friday, we ordered the pork roll and cheese, the blue cheese burger, and a side salad. I’ll admit one of my reasons for trying the Fine Diner was that I saw Mighty Leaf Black Currant tea on their menu (Mighty Leaf: always a good sign on a menu), and so that was my drink.
I read a few complaints about the Fine Diner on the interwebs, mostly about the prices, and it drove me a bit mad. Yes, the side salad is $4.50, and you could probably get a side salad at a diner elsewhere for $2.00, but I’m betting that one would have iceberg lettuce, maybe a few shreds of carrots, a grape tomato or two, and bottled dressing. Personally, I’m willing to pay a little more for a house-made dressing, especially one so nicely swilled with tasty balsamic vinegar. The salad had fresh baby greens, roasted red peppers, julienned carrots, thick slabs of cucumber, and thinly sliced red onion. And it was big enough for Jim and me to share. Definitely worth $4.50.
Jim ordered a blue cheese burger, because if anyone should be appointed blue cheese burger judge, it’s him. The man orders the blue cheese burger every chance he gets. So when I tell you Jim deemed the burger “one of the best blue cheese burgers” he’s ever had, that’s supremely high praise. And I whole-heartedly agree. Between the well-chosen blue (strong, creamy), the roasted red peppers and lightly sauteed onions, and the beautifully charred meat (I swear, chefs should have to spend one year just charring), you’re not missing bacon in the least. Really, it’s better without. And the choice of bun impressed us even more: a whole wheat soft enough to mold to the burger, but grainy enough to maintain its integrity to the last un-mushy bite. My only nit to pick was the size of the patty — which, had it been bigger, would have made this the best blue cheese burger either of us had ever had without qualification. But that’s more a wish than a complaint. For nine bucks, the burger’s a steal.
The pork roll was as thoughtfully constructed as the burger, with a kaiser roll that was fresh as hell (even though we were some of the last customers of the day) and soft enough not to give your mouth a workout. Well flavored, too. I don’t believe the pork was Taylor ham — it seemed thinner — and that suited me well, since I find Taylor ham brand a bit salty. White American cheese layered the slices of ham, making for a nice cheesy pork roll. Simply done and very tasty, with big slabs of pickles good enough to satisfy my pickle obsession. There was also nice, sweetish, mayo-y coleslaw. Next time I have a hankering for a pork roll, the Fine Diner is where I’m going, for sure.
We ended the meal with a linzer cookie. The raspberry jam sandwiched inside was hardly sweet, which was a good thing because there was a lot of powdered sugar on top. It worked very well — big, soft, crumbly almond cookies with thick raspberry jam and a sugary sweet kick on top. And when I say big, I mean it: 3 people could share it.
As we were leaving, the waitress bragged about the french toast and, judging by her other recommendations, I’ll take her word on it. We’ll be back soon to try it for ourselves.
The Fine Diner
1 West Main Street
Clinton, NJ 08809-1292
You can find the Fine Diner at facebook. There’s a sign at the cash register there that tells you that you can fan them on facebook because “it’s free and serves no real purpose.”
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Robin Damstra is the Regional Editor for Hunterdon and Mercer Counties. She graduated Douglass College at Rutgers University, where she majored in English. She met her fiancé, Jim, in 2006 and began teaching herself to cook around the same time. In 2007 she started her food blog, Caviar and Codfish. She currently lives in Stockton, New Jersey.
PO Box 161
Stockton, NJ 08559
Phone: (973) 919-2453
Caviar and Codfish
Regional Editor, Jersey Bites Hunterdon & Mercer Counties