“The Forked River ain’t chopped liver
Nor is Lavalette
There are no Jersey strangers
Just friends we haven’t met”
—Lyrics from “I Like Jersey Best,” written by J. Cosgriff and T. Bernardi; performed by John Pizzarelli
Ask anyone in Lacey Township to name the owner of the Forked River Diner, and they’ll be more than happy to tell you it’s Moody. Just Moody. And then they’ll smile and tell you how to get there and what a great place it is for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Easy to find and located on Route 9, just a stone’s throw north of the Exelon Nuclear’s Oyster Creek Generating Station, Robert and Nancy Moody have served as the convivial owners of the Forked River Diner for 24 years. Moody—Robert, that is—holds court at the cash register and sets the welcoming tone for the place.
“People in town just know me as Moody,” he said with a smile. “Just Moody.”
“You got that right,” one satisfied customer chimed in, looking over my shoulder.
The Forked River Diner is as real deal as a Jersey diner gets: an authentic, vintage, stainless steel roadside attraction, with satisfying, down-home food, superb coffee, a friendly, mild-mannered wait staff, and a comfortable, inviting atmosphere where most people converse on a first-name basis. Not surprisingly, all the points on this checklist attract a loyal, diverse clientele, as identified by the assortment of vehicles in the parking lot: pickup trucks, BMWs, minivans, and Chevys.
Reviewing the diner’s checklist, the best place to start is with the coffee: Ireland Coffee, produced by a beloved southern Jersey regional roaster that’s been around for 100 years. It’s the best cup of diner coffee that this reporter has had in many a year—fresh, smooth, balanced and flavorful. Moody explained that the staff grinds beans throughout the day. Several cups followed the first.
Breakfast was the meal for this Sunday. The special dish that morning was the Chunky Monkey pancakes: golden-brown flapjacks generously loaded with bananas and chocolate chips, plus a side order of bacon. It hit the spot.
I order two pancakes, but the waitress—Kassandra, aka “K2”—attempted to talk me into ordering a taller stack.
“Just two?” she asked. “I bet you probably could eat 17.”
I confessed that I probably could, but I was pacing myself for a long day on the road. And, when gauging the proper amount of tasty food one can consume at a diner in a single session during a road trip, a good rule of thumb to consider is: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Whatever. In any event, the pancakes were a treat—chunky and yummy indeed.
Then there’s the distinctive stainless steel exterior of the Forked River, which features a unique, “big brim,” wrap-around awning. It’s designed, no doubt, to catch the eye of every weary, hungry traveler. The color of the exterior panels is teal, which is repeated throughout the interior, complemented by a green speckled terrazzo floor with golden diamond patterns. Soft, natural light creates a calm, intimate atmosphere for patrons. The Kullman Dining Car Company, perhaps the most prolific of all the Garden State’s long-gone master diner builders, manufactured the Forked River Diner at its Harrison facility, circa 1953.
The mustachioed Moody is a jolly soul, eager to interact with his customers. He noted that he and Nancy took over the business after Nancy’s parents ran the joint for eight years. It’s no accident that the diner’s original look and charm have remained intact over the years, as Nancy and Moody have worked hard to preserve it, with an abiding respect for Jersey diner history and culture.
“What’s the secret of running a successful diner for 24 years?” I asked.
After watching the passage of time, people, and cars along Route 9 for more than two decades, Moody was pleased to share his philosophy of life and business. “Pay your bills on time and be happy about it,” he said with a sly grin.
Breakfast specials of the day that morning included a variety of sandwich wraps that included combinations of scrambled eggs, asparagus, spinach, feta cheese, and turkey bacon. One alluring choice was ciabatta bread with eggs, sausage, peppers, onions, and cheddar. Menu items featured eggs benedict and steak and eggs. Meatloaf, country-fried steak, and beef stew were dinner entrees on the menu that sounded particularly tempting.
Yeah, like the song says, the Forked River (the diner and the town) ain’t chopped liver, and for that matter, neither are Lavallette, Belmar, Asbury Park, Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, Wildwood, Cape May, and lots of other fun spots down the shore, where everything is alright and you can meet Jersey friends. So the next time you’re passing through Forked River and you’re in the mood for a sumptuous diner meal, just ask for…well, you know his name.
Forked River Diner
317 Route 9