Now that the blustery winds of winter are upon us, here on the Garden State diner circuit, it’s a nice time to get cozy, grab a cup of coffee, kick back and reminisce about the warm tropical breezes and exotic surroundings of the Oakland Diner.
Nestled on the edge of a wooded tract of land on Route 202 (Ramapo Valley Road), the Oakland Diner’s decorative architectural design is part greenhouse, part roadside eatery. The joint is surrounded by a variety of rain forest-like potted plants, flowers, and assorted vegetation. The hibiscus blossoms were especially charming, providing vibrant dabs of color that popped against the green background. The diner’s exterior walls display a painted collage of classic food images (desserts, burgers, fries, sunny-side-up eggs, coffee cups) and ketchup and mustard fireworks, while the roof is a patriotic illustration of red, white, and blue stars and stripes.
All of this decoration and landscaping serves as a dazzling beacon to entice hungry travelers. The colorful artwork continues throughout the diner’s interior, with images of Elvis, James Dean, palm trees, Route 66 signs, and scenes. Not to be outdone, the centerpiece for the diner’s interior is a huge glass display case filled with luscious cakes, pies, cookies and pastries—all works of art in their own right.
Taken as a whole, the diner’s interior and exterior presentation is joyful statement of pure Jerseyana entertainment—a fun feast for the eye. As they say in the diner business: “food is only half the meal.” The feast for the palate kicks in once you saddle up to the counter or plop down in one of the Naugahyde booths. The servings are delicious, generous portions; platters that are thoughtfully prepared and delivered with pizazz by the attentive, courteous wait staff.
Last August this reporter enjoyed a most satisfying meal, the highlight of which was a sumptuous bowl of matzo ball soup (pictured at top)—a staple in most New Jersey diners. The dumplings were tender and tasty, and the broth was a savory collection of veggies. It was heartwarming. The soup was followed by another NJ diner standard: a hot open turkey sandwich platter, with fries on the side. Well done!
My visit was for a late afternoon/early evening supper, so rather than top off the meal with coffee, I decided to go with a chocolate egg cream. It was a wise choice—a refreshing drink with a perfect foamy head. It’s always reassuring when a diner knows how to properly create an egg cream. (And of course, as we all know, chocolate is the only authentic kind of egg cream there is. Any other flavor is absolute blasphemy. Hey, if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone from Brooklyn.)
The Oakland Diner offers a comprehensive menu—breakfast, lunch, and supper. For breakfast, menu items that sounded yummy included egg-white omelets, French toast, Belgian waffles and the specialty crepes. Just a hunch, but I’ll bet the banana/Nutella crepe is a winner. Selections for lunch feature classic burgers, wraps, paninis and sandwiches. For supper, there are beef, chicken, pork and lamb platters, along with Greek and Italian favorites.
There is a variety of salads (the Buffalo chicken salad sounds rather mouthwatering) and appetizers (Greek fries with feta cheese, oregano, and lemon would be hard to resist). These are choices to consider for my next visit. They do provide a children’s menu for kids under 12. Those who choose to partake in libations can order beer, wine, or cocktails with their meal. (Please drink responsibly. Cheers.)
As for the diner’s history, there are remnants of an older diner that once was on the current site. The diner’s vintage black and white terrazzo floor is an indication of the original layout. Over the years, the place has been expanded and modernized. The front vestibule and side dining room feature curved, tinted exterior glass.
The Oakland Diner
72 Ramapo Valley Road
Sunday through Thursday: 6 a.m. to midnight
Friday and Saturday: 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Michael C. Gabriele is a historian, freelance writer and the author of the book “The History of Diners in New Jersey,” published by The History Press.