While our beloved drive-ins and neighborhood theaters are all but extinct from the American landscape and experience, there are a few survivors to testify to a mainstay of Jersey life, from the 1930s through the 60s. The Roadside Diner is one of those survivors. Perhaps that is the message they are sending with the bright green sculpture of a dinosaur who shares their space on Route 33 and 34 in Wall.
The Roadside Diner is the epitome of the classic, shimmering, stainless steel prefabricated units that punctuated two lane highways of the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. It was built in Paterson, NJ, by Silk City, in the 1940s and brought to Wall in sections, then reassembled on a foundation.
True to original design, it replicates an old Railroad Dining Car, which once caught the imagination of the American traveler. Narrow interior with tight booths and a long polished Formica counter, set with chrome stools padded with red vinyl. The walls sparkle with the red and white checkered ceramic tile walls. In short, there is no painted surface to upkeep; everything was created for endurance and easy maintenance, right to the chrome window frames and door sill.
After sliding open the glass train door, I experienced a weird sense of déjà vu (after all, I am a fifties kid). Truth be told, I don’t think one advertising piece or decades defunct serving piece has been replaced. It looks like time stood still for this diner.
The menu reflected the same sentiment: comfort food, pure and simple. All lovingly prepared by Demetris (Jimmy) Gerakaris, every day. Hamburgers that are not frozen, pre-pressed and uniform, but are fresh, hand measured and shaped, hanging off the Kaiser roll, the way they are meant to be. Macaroni and cheese, Reubens, and oh, the Cheesesteaks…which is what I salivated over.
Also known for their Blueberry Pancakes, which my wife agreed were one of the best she’d had. Light, fluffy, and fresh blueberries! The two of us were humming the theme song from ‘Happy Days’, in between copious cups of great coffee and iced tea.
Apparently, I was not the first to discover The Roadside Diner. Bon Jovi’s album cover for “Crossroads” was shot inside the diner. Bruce Springsteens’ video “Girls in their Summer Clothes” was filmed in part at the diner and John Sayles’ movie “Baby It’s You” was shot in part there, also.
What a great place to take your kids, or grand-kids, to share what life was like before Mickey D’s, Malls, and Imax! Just tell them you are taking them on a mystery ride to a Diner-Saur, for a slice of New Jersey History!
Wayne Galya learned how exciting food could be back in Junior High, when the Wood Shop class elective was completely filled and his guidance counselor encouraged the guys who didn’t make the cut to take Cooking, instead. “Why would I want take a cooking class? Wait a minute…cooking = girls! Heck yeah, sign me up!” And there began his love affair with all things relating to food, making it, serving it, eating it…. Back in those days (the 70s) Culinary Art Careers had not yet become the rage, so I didn’t consider it an option and when I graduated from high school, I began a 39 year career as an Industrial Electrician. But, I never lost my passion for the Art, and even produced my own CIA chef, my son Wayne! One of the greatest joys I have is seeing what other chefs are doing, as it challenges me in my own kitchen. Many friends and family have enjoyed the re-creation of dishes that I have savored in France Italy and the Caribbean, as well as regional dishes from across the US.