Walking into Keyport’s Broad Street Diner on a Saturday afternoon in April, there were familiar, reassuring sights, sounds, and aromas that made concerns from the public health crisis melt away. For more than 14 months, New Jersey diners, cafes, and restaurants, dealing with lockdowns from the pandemic, have struggled to stay afloat. Some eateries have found ways to survive; others have not.
With vaccinations on the rise, along with the full bloom of the spring, there are reasons to be optimistic that we’ve seen the worst of the pandemic blues. Governor Murphy recently signed bill A-5444, providing $35 million in COVID-19 relief aid for New Jersey restaurants. Diners, like Broad Street, can operate at 50% capacity, provided they maintain social distancing protocols.
Business is picking up at the Broad Street Diner, especially during breakfast hours. Owners Maria and Nick Kallas have been uplifted with the return of loyal patrons. In fact, many businesses in downtown Keyport were in full swing, with the streets filled with cars and people.
Because it was a special occasion—this fully vaccinated reporter hadn’t devoured a meal inside a diner in more than a year—it was cause to celebrate. That meant ordering one of the specials of the day: broiled lobster tails stuffed with crab meat. Delightful and delicious—a gourmet treat—as indicated by the two shells that were picked clean.
A True Classic
But wait—don’t be judgmental and think this choice was extravagant. Lobster once was a standard menu item at New Jersey diners in the 1940s and 1950s. Lobster Thermidor was the favorite dish of legendary diner builder Jerry O’Mahony.
One of the founding fathers of the Garden State’s renowned diner business (New Jersey is the diner capital of the Solar System), O’Mahony, back in the day, frequently ate at diners he had built and sold, just to check in on his customers. The Broad Street is a circa-1952, real-deal, modular, prefabricated, stainless steel diner, built in O’Mahony’s Elizabeth factory. If you look closely, the O’Mahony tag can be found on the interior side of the diner’s front door.
Cheers, Jerry. These lobster tails were for you.
As for “the wife,” she ordered a signature Broad Street diner platter: the glorious challah French toast, adorned with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and slices of kiwi, all arranged like a colorful impressionist painting. It was absolutely sensational, as always.
We decided to “go big,” so this meant that dessert was in order. Maria recommended fresh tapioca pudding with a glorious crown of whipped cream. It turned out to be a lovely suggestion.
Maria confessed that the months since March 2020 have been difficult. Like most diners throughout the state, Broad Street was forced to rethink and adapt its daily operations to take-out orders, online food delivery services, and bistro-style sidewalk dining—not as easy as it looks.
A Bright Outlook
The good vibrations on this sunny Saturday afternoon in Keyport kindled a spirit of optimism; well, cautious optimism, at the very least. It felt like things were on the mend regarding Covid-19. The most curious takeaway observation on this day was that the “new normal”—enjoying the food and friendly atmosphere inside a diner—felt a lot like the “old normal.” We savored the moment, with gratitude.
As we said goodbye, there was one telltale sign that some things have changed at the diner in order to conform to the new interior seating requirements. There he was, his slick-backed black hair glistening in the sunshine, decked out in his distinctive yellow jacket, tight leather pants, and strumming his pink guitar, sitting next to the metal sidewalk tables and chairs in front of the diner.
You could almost hear the King of Rock and Roll performing the haunting refrain that he usually sang as the final song at his concerts:
Take my hand
Take my whole life, too
For I can’t help
Falling in love with you
Yes, Elvis has left the building.
The Broad Street Diner
83 Broad Street