It’s a wonderful day for pie
You could ask all the birds in the sky
And they’ll tell you real sweet
With a musical tweet
—Song from the The Family Guy
The Right Way to Start a Road Trip
For hungry travelers who reside in the diverse 21 counties of New Jersey, as well as for wayfarers passing through this blessed “corridor state,” diner meals, more often than not, conform to the daily clockwork of breakfast, lunch, and supper. A group of friends will plan a trip “down the shore” on a Saturday morning in July so that it places them at their diner of choice for a hearty breakfast prior to hitting the beach. Visions of French toast, omelets, bacon and multiple cups of coffee provide the inspiration to propel them as they barrel down the Parkway and catch the first rays of a sunrise.
But sometimes, while rambling along the double-lane numbered roads of the Garden State, the best laid travel plans can shift, become interrupted, or otherwise be thrown off schedule. Occasionally, in order to compensate for these changes, meals are cancelled or postponed. Perhaps, on the way to Point B from Point A, it’s too late for lunch or too early for supper. Or maybe there’s simply the need to take a break from the monotony of the roadway.
Diners, with their inviting neon lights, wide range of hours, and unassuming hospitality, accommodate these impulsive pit stops far better than any fancy-schmancy restaurant, mundane fast-food chains or curious-looking saloons. And once you drop in at a diner and saddle up to the counter or slide into a booth, the question becomes: what to order? Well, consider dessert as a single, featured attraction rather than as an afterthought of a larger meal.
What kind of dessert? When you’re at a diner, you absolutely, positively, can’t go wrong with a beautiful slice of pie.
The focus here is on pie and not any other dessert option (ice cream, rice pudding, danish, cookies, or cake). Pie can be overlooked as a selection on the diner menu, or even avoided by those counting calories. Fair enough. But when the occasion calls for it, a slice of pie, complemented by a cup of coffee, is the perfect treat for any diner lover who happens to be in between stations. Every now and then, you gotta get your kicks on Route 206.
Have Pie, Will Travel
The noted traveler Jack Kerouac had a deep appreciation for pie. As he confessed to readers in his landmark novel On the Road: “I ate apple pie and ice cream…that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country. I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious.” Pie obviously suited his bohemian, stream-of-consciousness sensibilities.
It’s plausible that Kerouac, during his frenetic wanderings, may have sampled pie at a New Jersey diner. In the book Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958, Kerouac, in one correspondence to coauthor and one-time girlfriend Joyce Johnson, described the “big gas tank barges” he saw in Perth Amboy. In February 1957 he boarded a freighter in Perth Amboy and was on his way to North Africa.
It’s Pie O’Clock Somewhere
Pie is one of those simple pleasures in life—a dessert that anchors memories and facilitates thoughtful conversations among friends and lovers. It’s a satisfying dish at four in the afternoon or 10:30 at night. During these midway time slots, a diner is less crowded and noisy; a comfortable atmosphere to chat or read a newspaper. Slow down, relax and have a slice of pie. No worries.
This reporter has consumed his fair share of pie throughout the Garden State diner circuit: lemon meringue at the Chester Diner in Chester and the Silver Coin Diner in Hammonton; apple pie at the Summit Diner in Summit; blueberry pie at the Florham Park Diner and the Shamong Diner in those namesake towns; blueberry crumb pie at the Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst; banana cream at Sherban’s Diner in South Plainfield; and, most recently, coconut custard at the Spinning Wheel Diner in Lebanon. Jack said it best: “Nutritious and delicious.”
Whipped cream is preferred over ice cream as a lighter, fresher topping that faithfully complements the pie’s fruit filling.
An off-hour pie stop also presents a chance to meet other travelers in need of a road respite. Pennsylvania author Randy Garbin waxed poetically that diners are a “haven for humanity. A meal at a diner can be 45 minutes of your life that you’ll never forget.” Those unforgettable three-quarters of an hour can occur while eating pie during memorable conversations with friendly strangers.
Paths cross when you’re sitting at a diner counter. People briefly connect. They talk about where they’ve been and where they’re going. They share a laugh. Maybe they share images on their cell phones. And they know it soon will be time to sign off, say farewell and go their separate ways, never to meet again. Adios amigos. It’s all good. It’s all part of the intrepid Americana spirit. It only happens in a diner.
Pause and savor the unscripted moment, when people are like ships passing in the night. And when the ships have passed, the pie is finished, and it’s time to return to the road, think about the wanderlust spirit of Kerouac. Pie sustained him on his many adventures. It can provide sweet sustenance to warm-hearted diner lovers as they traverse the byways and highways of the Garden State.
Colonial Diner is shown at top.