The Pilgrim Diner in Cedar Grove is back in business, reclaiming its spot as an eatery on the roadmap of the Diner Capital of the World. The diner, shuttered for two years, welcomed customers with a “soft” opening on August 31.
Anticipation of the diner’s reopening began in January, with outward signs that the structure was undergoing renovations. The Gikas family retains ownership of the property and the building, having launched the business in 1965. The Mark Twain Diner’s management team, located in Union, is in charge of the diner’s daily operations.
Back at It
This reporter and his spouse had a wonderful breakfast at the diner on a recent Friday morning. I enjoyed my go-to favorite diner dish: eggs over easy with home fries and well-done corned beef hash. The hash was an extra tasty treat that made me smile, while “the wife” ordered a stack of pancakes, which were most impressive. I grabbed a bite when she wasn’t looking—light, well cooked, and delicious.
The menu, as a diner fan would expect, has a full assortment of generous egg platters, sandwiches, wraps, appetizers, nachos; an eye-catching dessert case on display at the main entrance, loaded with pies and cakes; along with beef, chicken, and seafood dishes as well as specials of the day.
The diner’s appearance, inside and out, is polished, neat and clean, with a spacious interior accommodating many booths and tables. Yes, there is a counter with individual seating (as promised). And yes, they have an extensive breakfast menu—two important features that reflect the true spirit of a Jersey diner.
The service on this Friday morning was efficient; the atmosphere was friendly and informal. As we sat in the diner, many patrons walked through the vestibule, a sign that the Pilgrim’s reopening is circulating via word of mouth. The Essex County diner benefits from its location, overlooking a stretch of Route 23/Pompton Avenue, and provides motorists with a large parking lot.
A Bit of History
The Manno Dining Car Company of Fairfield built the original Pilgrim Diner, which opened in 1965. In the late 1970s the eatery changed its look with a new diner produced by the Fodero Dining Car Company of Bloomfield—a Mediterranean-style design with a tile roof, field stone façade, and large arched windows. Over the last 20 years, the diner has undergone various expansions and renovations. (Manno and Fodero ceased their diner manufacturing operations 40 years ago.)
Under a previous management team, the Pilgrim Diner closed in the late spring/early summer of 2019. Earlier this year Jersey Bites reported the diner was being renovated with plans to reopen.
The Pilgrim Diner’s rebirth is welcome news for the Garden State diner circuit. Last year many diners, cafes, and restaurants throughout New Jersey were hard hit due to lockdowns and restrictions, with many businesses ultimately closing. On a more positive track, a number of Jersey diners during the last three years have made significant capital investments to redesign and modernize their interiors and exteriors—creating a spontaneous “season of renewal” for these beloved roadside attractions.
The renewal list throughout the state includes Tops Diner in East Newark; the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton; the Vincentown and the Red Lion diners, both in Southampton Township; Paul’s Diner in Mountain Lakes; the Hawthorne Diner (formerly the Triangle Diner) in Hawthorne; Geets Diner in Williamstown; and the Sit ‘n Chat Diner (formerly the Sussex Queen Diner) in Wantage.
Much to the delight of its customers, the Pilgrim Diner has gained a place on that season-of-renewal list. Welcome back.
82 Pompton Ave. (Route 23)
Cedar Grove, NJ 07009