NORTHEAST AND MID-ATLANTIC
Blue Moon Café
Chap’s Pit Beef
Red Arrow Diner
Brownstone Diner and Pancake Factory
Tick Tock Diner
The Dining Car
Silk City Philly
Keegan’s Seafood Grille
Dot’s Back Inn
Hillbilly Hot Dogs
Hackney’s on Harms
South Side Soda Shop and Diner
Triple XXX Family Restaurant
Joe’s Gizzard City
The Fly Trap
YJ’s Snack Bar
WEST AND SOUTHEST
Joe’s Farm Grill
Thee Pitts Again
Baby Blues Bar-B-Q
El Indio Mexican Restaurnt
Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café
The Original Falafel’s Drive-In
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher
Four Kegs Sports Pub
Monte Carlo Steakhouse
Louie Mueller Barbecue
Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery
Maria’s Taco Xpress
DeWese’s Tip Top Café
Bobby’s Hawaiian Style Restaurant
Mike’s Chili Parlor
Voula’s Offshore Café
List of Restaurants
About the Author
HOW I GOT MY WHEELS
Take a Trip to Flavortown
Meet the Crew
About the Publisher
Several years ago, if somebody had told me I was going to win Next Food Network Star and do all of these shows, my dream show might’ve been, What do Rock-and-Roll Bands Eat? I didn’t dream up DD&D, but when I was given the chance to come into these restaurant owners’ lives and share them with America, that was truly a gift.
So this is how it came together: producer David Page is the creative genius who pitched DD&D, and Food Network recommended he try me out as host for a special. So, I canceled some events and flew out on a red-eye to this little diner—Bayway Diner in Linden, New Jersey. I stumble out of the limo like, “So, what’s up, guys?” and David, Bunny, and Chico (see “Meet the Crew”) looked at me like I was naked. I say, “What’s this about, what are we going to shoot?” So they tell me to go in and ask these questions—like I’m going to listen. So I’m rockin’ and rollin’ and doing my thing. Twenty minutes go by and David pulls me outside and says, “What was that?” And I say, “I don’t know, I thought I was doing what you wanted me to do.” And he says, “Can you do that again?” And I say, “That? Yeah, that’s what I do at my restaurants,” and he goes, “Oh my god, this is going to be out of control.” Talking about it now with Chico and Bunny, they say they were like, “Oh yeah, some jerk-off from California with bleached hair and flip-flops is going to come and make television—we’re dead. This is going to be a one-shot wonder.” This show was their baby. (And Mike Guinta, the owner of the Bayway, has now become a friend of mine.)
The show is about capturing Americana, and it embodies what the food business is in the United States. Some of the greatest chains originally started as mom-and-pop restaurants. I’m a small-restaurant owner myself; I know their marketing budgets are small. So, to have a chance to recognize these family institutions, these cultural epicenters, is unbelievable. I’m more honored to be in their presence. They say thank you so much for coming, and I say thank you so much for existing, because this is what America is about, the opportunity and the cultural bridges.
I recently went back to six of the diners, more than a year after shooting. I got goosebumps listening to the stories about how their business has improved and the successes they’ve shared—I’m just going, you’re kidding me! I don’t think I could be more passionate about it.
We’ve visited and continue to visit some of the greatest places across the United States, and this book is just a very brief introduction to some of those great places.
NORTHEAST AND MID-ATLANTIC
EST. 1946 (AS HEALD’S DINER), RE-EST. 1988 * THE GOURMET DINER ON STILTS
This diner in Maine is up on stilts, and the food is on another level, too. In 1946 the Worcester Lunch Car Company built diner number 790 and delivered it right here, to Gardiner, Maine. Now under its fourth owner, this local legend is serving up way more than traditional diner fare.
* TRACK IT DOWN *
3 Bridge Street Gardiner, ME 04345 207-582-4804 www.a1diner.com
They’ve got the basics like eggs sunny-side up, chili dogs, or meatloaf with gravy, but then they’ve also got specials like Szechuan beef sauté, lamb tagine with couscous, or chicken Marbella. Co-owner Mike Giberson says you can blame that on Kenneth. Kenneth Harrison is a Seattle transplant who’s given free reign by the owners to do what he’s feelin’ in the kitchen. (Being an owner myself, I can say this is a sweet deal.) He does a Greek flank steak roulade stuffed with garlic, spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, and feta. It’s bananas. And as Kenneth notes, “Bananas is good.”
The locals have responded well to the new dishes, and at a diner that’s been running for sixty years, they’ve got some serious regulars. In revitalizing the diner they had to attract a younger clientele, plus they wanted to make the food they liked. Like mojito-glazed duck, for example. Kenneth lets the fresh mint leaves settle into the sugar that makes the rum glaze. We’ve all had moments when duck has gone wrong; but this is ducklicious.
But don’t think they ignore the diner classics. Mike tells the waitstaff to get a menu into people’s hands immediately, lest they think all the diner serves is mojito duck or Asian corn fritters. Among many other items, they make banana walnut pancakes; chicken pot pie with fresh, hand-pulled chicken, fresh veggies, sage, and a scratch-made crust; and some “money” biscuits whipped up by Bob Newell, the hashman who’s been working here for more than half a century.
A1 DINER HISTORY
Originally the diner was named Heald’s Diner, owned by Eddie Heald. After ordering it in Worcester at the factory (Eddie’s daughter Marguerite remembered it was “top of the line”), they set it up on twenty-foot stilts next to the bridge over Cobbossee Stream in the center of town. He’d cut the front part of a former garage off to make room for it—thus the kitchen, in what’s left of the building, is much larger than a normal diner’s. The second owner was Maurice Wakefield, who bought the diner in 1952, renaming it Wakefield’s. Maurice would run it for almost thirty years, totally dedicated to making real-deal pies and gravy for the workingman of Gardiner.
Mike Giberson’s father, Albert, known as Gibey, was the diner’s third owner, buying it in 1979 on a whim and renaming the diner Giberson’s. His wife, Elizabeth, did the books and he did the cooking, soon hitting his stride making donuts at three AM and New England boiled dinners on Thursdays. When his thoughts turned to selling in the mid-eighties, he called his son Mike in LA, who promptly said he was coming home. Mike became the fourth owner of the diner in 1988, along with his partner, Neil Anderson. They met while working at Legal Seafood together in Boston. (Mike had been cooking, even in secret, since the age of ten.) They renamed the place A1, inspired by an A1 Neon sign that Neil had once given Mike, who is a big fan of neon. The art moderne interior, in mahogany, tiles, sunburst stainless steel, is all original, including the specials board. Mike says, “I can no longer buy the red letters [on the board]; those red letters are special to me.”
Getting here was quite a trip. I take a flight to Maine, coming from the West Coast in my tank top and flip-flops. I think I had a T-shirt with me…. I get there and step into six inches of snow. I don’t know what happened, but somehow I didn’t have tennis shoes. So there I am at midnight in Maine and we have to drive thirty miles up to this place from the airport—but it took three and a half hours, it was snowing so bad. So I come walking into the lobby of this place in flip-flops, and they see me—they thought I just got off planet Pluto. Great people.
This diner is suspended twenty feet in the air (really!).
Mike’s Maine Crab Cakes
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE FROM A1 DINER: REAL FOOD, RECIPES, AND RECOLLECTIONS
BY SARAH ROLPH, TILBURY HOUSE PUBLISHERS, 2006
These are loaded with crab, and even in a state that is famous for this dish, people come to Gardiner to track them down.
MAKE 16 (3-OUNCE) CRAB CAKES
1½ pounds fresh crabmeat, picked over for shells
1½ cups fresh corn (or frozen corn, thawed)
¾ cup diced red bell pepper
¾ cup chopped celery
¾ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1½ cups mayonnaise
¾ teaspoon dry mustard
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2½ cups saltine cracker crumbs, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed
Mix the crabmeat, corn, bell pepper, celery, onion, mayonnaise, and mustard in a medium bowl. Season with the salt and pepper. Gently fold in the beaten egg and 1½ cups of the cracker crumbs, taking care not to overwork the mixture.
Place the remaining 1 cup crumbs on a plate or in a shallow dish.
Form the crab mixture into 3-ounce patties, about 3 inches in diameter. Coat the cakes with the cracker crumbs, on both sides, by placing each cake in the dish of crumbs and pressing gently.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter, and cook the crab cakes until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Serve.
Blue Moon Café
EST. 1996 * EAT COMFORT FOOD IN YOUR PJS
For a lot of folks, comfort food is breakfast. Here in Baltimore at the Blue Moon Café they’re doing all the classics like eggs, French toast, and pancakes, but they’re doing them their own way. Case in point: their Cap’n Crunch–encrusted French toast, or lox and cream cheese on homemade crepes instead of bagels. There’s something for everybody, and it’s all made from scratch. Make yourself at home; as one regular notes, “You could come here in your pajamas and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t care.” The café actually is home to chef and owner Sarah Simington, who lives in the house upstairs. As she says, she’s on top of things—literally. It’s a natural fit; she was raised in her mom’s restaurant, and it was her mom who found this place for rent. Sarah leapt at the chance, saying, “An opportunity like this comes around once in a blue moon.” Her recipes come just as naturally: “Everything’s made in my head, and I just play it out.”
* TRACK IT DOWN *
1621 Aliceanna Street Baltimore, MD 21321 410-522-3940
When you see this sign, you know it’s on like Donkey Kong!
Like that French toast: she uses legit crunch of the Cap’n as her crust. That’s got to be against the law if you’re in the Cap’n Crunch club, but when you see how the sugar gets caramelized up and the Crunch stays crunchy, you’ll see it’s worth breaking the rules. She finishes it off with fresh whipped cream, blueberries, and more of the Crunch. The fruit’s acidity balances the sweet, and the whipped cream acts like the milk.
She’s like Bionic Woman fast—that, or my eyes are goin’!
She also makes a savory meat roll. It’s kind of a cross between a cinnamon roll and a stromboli. She loads it with sausage, mozzarella, and a cashew-basil pesto with organic Parmesan and rolls it into a biscuit dough spiral. It’s topped with sautéed peppers, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes and served with a side of hash browns. If you look in the dictionary, I bet the definition of comfort food has a picture of that alongside.
From basics like biscuits and gravy to eggs Benny to a homemade green chili on huevos rancheros, every dish tastes like Mom made it—wherever your home is. And they’re open late-night Friday and Saturday for the after-party crowd.
Cap’n Crunch French Toast
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF BLUE MOON CAFÉ
I know it’s tough, but try not to eat all the cereal beforehand.
4 TO 5 SERVINGS
¾ cup heavy cream 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal
8 to 10 slices bread, such as Texas toast or French bread
Butter for cooking
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups assorted fresh seasonal berries
No pajamas, no food?
Mix the cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk until combined.
Put the cereal in a storage bag and use a rolling pin to crush cereal until it resembles cracker meal. Transfer the cereal to a shallow dish.
Dip a couple slices of the bread into the cream mixture until soft but not completely soaked. Let excess liquid drip from the bread, then press into the cereal crumbs to coat evenly. Place on a sheet pan and repeat with the remaining slices.
Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat, add butter as needed, and cook the bread until caramelized on both sides, about 6 to 8 minutes total.
For the whipped cream topping: Beat the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl with a hand mixer to soft peaks. Dollop on top of the French toast and serve with the berries.
Oh, the Cap’n Crunch Club is gonna get you, missy!
Chap’s Pit Beef
EST. 1987 * CARNIVORE HEAVEN OVER CHARCOAL
* TRACK IT DOWN *
5801 Pulaski Highway Baltimore, MD 21205 410-483-2379 www.chapspitbeef.com
Arriving in Baltimore, we used the inside track of our buddy Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes to find out one of his favorite joints. He said locals know you’ve got to get pit beef. So we headed to the famous Chap’s for charcoal pit beef.
It started over twenty years ago when Bob and Donna Creager got married. As a wedding gift her father gave her “this little shack,” as she puts it, and he thought since her new husband loved to cook they should put a pit beef stand here, outside his nightclub. “We started with just a grill, an exhaust system, and a register.” But they learned real fast and brought in so many fans they had to add on a dining room. Done the way you want—rare, medium-well, whatever you like—the beef is then sliced thin and piled high.
They start the day placing six big bottom rounds straight on the 400- or 500-degree charcoal grill. Slap some white onions, bright, fresh horseradish, and a little salt and pepper on a roll (but not too big a roll, this is about the meat) and you’re there. Wow!
“Eat burgers!” “Eat cake!” The great debate.
The meat is so tender, with a nice charcoal edge, that locals give it way past a ten. They sell a couple hundred a day of those sandwiches, but they’re putting way more than that on the pit. There’s ham, turkey, sausage, and even corned beef for killer Reubens, and combos any way you want. Bob’s favorite is the Bulldog: he puts a couple slices of cheese on a roll, the sausage on top, and then the beef on top of that. Or try a combo of sweet ham, briny, pickley spiced corned beef, and smoky pit beef. It’s a good mouthful.
The Carnivore Capital.
I custom made a tower of a sandwich for my boy Duff, with beef, jalapeños, horseradish, ham, then a burger, cheese sauce, pickles, chopped beef, and turkey. It was pure cascading joy.
As one regular describes it, “It’s like going over to a family member’s house and they’ve got the grill out. Only they’re always open and they don’t mind you stoppin’ by.”
Bottom line, this is carnivore heaven.
Duff really wanted to drive, but I said, “You didn’t let me bake a cake!”
#52. Sub Sandwich
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF CHAP’S PIT BEEF
This is the oven-roasted method, but if you can roast it over a charcoal fire it would be that much closer to Chap’s.
MAKES 8 SANDWICHES
2 pounds beef bottom round
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Spice rub (optional)
8 sub rolls
1½ pounds sliced ham
1½ pounds sliced American cheese
1½ pounds sliced corned beef
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Season the beef all over with salt and pepper to taste. Add the oil to the pan, and then sear the beef on both sides, turning once, until a rich brown. Transfer the beef to a roasting pan and sprinkle with your favorite spice rub, if desired.
Put the beef in the oven and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 140 to 145°F. Set aside to cool.
To build the sandwiches: Thinly slice the beef, and layer in the rolls with the ham, cheese, and corned beef. Serve with the sliced onions and horseradish on the side.
EST. 1941, RE-EST. 1994 * LET THE FRESH FISH DO THE TALKIN’
They’ve been doing fried clams here for seventy years. That’s right; this is the home of the whole-belly fried clam in Massachusetts. I stopped by here looking for a lobster roll, and also got fresh day scallops, haddock, and all kinds of fried seafood.
* TRACK IT DOWN *
88 Eastern Avenue (Route 133) South Essex, MA 01929 978-768-6643
They don’t just serve clam strips here but the whole deal, with the big belly-soft center that gives it loads of flavor. Clam strips are for city dwellers, the locals say. Joe and Terry Cellucci jumped at the chance to buy this place fourteen years ago, she a stay-at-home mom and he a high-tech guy. They were new to the restaurant game, but the lure was too strong for these locals to not return this place to its heyday one clam at a time.
The clams are dipped in evaporated milk whipped with a secret mixture. Then they are coated in plain and simple corn flour. No salt, no pepper. Joe and Terry say they’re out just to get the seafood flavor. Once the extra flour is knocked off, the clams are fried in fresh hot oil, which is changed about every two hours to keep the clam taste clean and pure.
The number-one-selling item on the menu is the fisherman’s combo. It’s got it all: fish, scallops, clams, shrimp, onion rings, and fries. The scallops and fish are fried in one group, then shrimp and clams and the onion rings and fries. Joe likes to get the fry to just beyond the canary yellow, to a brownish stage.
Joe keeps an eye on the ordering and he keeps it fresh. His rule is to let the fish do the talking, as many ways as it can, from three types of chowder to steamed, fried, or grilled lobster.
This is the version of popcorn at the Fried Clam Movie Theater.
Aunt Nancy’s Coleslaw
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF J.T. FARNHAM’S
Here’s a real-deal coleslaw that’s just sweet and sour enough to complement all that fry.
4 GENEROUS SERVINGS
1 (8-ounce) can chunk unsweetened pineapple, in juices, strained
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup mayonnaise $$ cup sugar
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon celery seeds
1½ pounds green cabbage, shredded Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the pineapple and carrots into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Stir together the mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, and celery seeds in a large bowl.
Add the cabbage and the pineapple-carrot mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This slaw is best if made several hours or the day before so the flavors can come together. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
“Mar–Nov”? Must be French for no shirt, no shoes … no dice. (Yeah, that works.)
Red Arrow Diner
EST. 1922 * HAVE A LANDMARK DINER DAY
Head to this eighty-five-year-old New Hampshire 24/7 go-to diner spot and stand in line. It’s totally worth it. Owner Carol Sheehan grew up in the restaurant biz and has been keeping this place classic for twenty years.
* TRACK IT DOWN *
61 Lowell Street Manchester, NH 03101 603-626-1118 www.redarrowdiner.com
They’ve got real home cooking that’s heavy on the New England traditions like corned beef and cabbage and homemade baked beans and toast, or just plain old comfort food like open-faced fresh roast turkey with gravy or shepherd’s pie. Every day of the week there’s a different blue-plate special—actually served on a blue plate. For the past five years, Roy Donohue has been the chef de cuisine here, and he says his specialty is every single home-cooked dish in America. If you’re there on a Wednesday, you too can discover a New England favorite: American Chop Suey. I’d never heard of it before. They were shocked. The whole restaurant was shocked. Roy says, “It’s all-American hamburg with macaroni.” He takes a heated pan and slaps some butter in there. Butter, not oil! He throws in the ground meat, then some onions to sauté in there, then green bell pepper, ground dried garlic, oregano, basil, and a can of tomato strips without juice. It’s mixed up with cooked macaroni; as Roy says, “Sweet!” (Every time I would say something is nice, Roy would say “SWEEEEET!” Back and forth, back and forth—what a funny guy.)
The bean recipe here is from 1922 and includes brown sugar and molasses—also “sweet”—and he deep-fries his French toast. It’s like close encounters of the Roy kind. Then there’s something called a pork pie. It’s Carol’s grandmother’s recipe done Roy style with ground pork, spices, and a poultry seasoning that’s all whipped up with homemade mashed potatoes and baked with a fresh top crust. He takes as much care with his food as a grandmother would.
When it’s time for dessert, Rachel McCullough steps in. She’s been baking all her life, and it shows. She does it all, pies, cakes, and an original, home-baked twist on a particular classic packaged snack cake: the Twinkie. Around here they call them “Dinah fingers.” A little yellow food coloring in the batter gives them that identifiable hue, and they’re filled with a mixture that includes marshmallow spread, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar for a taste that’s delicious and definitely homemade.
THE RED ARROW DINER STORY
The original founder was David Lamontagne, who ran five Red Arrows throughout the city. Longtime employee Levi Letendre eventually bought the Red Arrow from the Lamontagnes and ran it until his retirement in 1978. His legacy endured through several owners up until today. Carol Sheehan purchased the diner in 1987 when it became vacant for the first time since 1922. Now landmarked by the city, this is the spot the politicians come by during primary season. Adam Sandler included it in his movie Eight Crazy Nights; and the Bare Naked Ladies were so impressed during a visit that they wrote a song about it, which plays every six minutes outside, along with another song written by Manchester’s own Matt Farley. But that’s got nothing on this book—ha ha ha.
Come by any time. They’re only closed sixteen hours a year, from 2 PM Christmas Eve to 6 AM Christmas morning—which turns into the busiest day of the year.
American Chop Suey
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF RED ARROW DINER
NOTE FROM THE OWNERS: Since we were on the Food Network, we have received thousands of e-mails wanting our recipe for American Chop Suey. Well, Carol has decided to unlock her recipe vault, so here you go!
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced 1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon dried basil ½ teaspoon ground black pepper Kosher salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ cup tomato paste
¾ cup tomato juice
Pinch of sugar
1 pound elbow macaroni
Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Then add the ground beef and continue to cook, stirring and breaking up the chunks of meat with a spoon. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle the herbs and pepper over the meat, add salt to taste, and mix in well.
Add the canned tomatoes with their juices, the tomato sauce, paste, and juice. Add sugar to taste. Simmer while you cook the pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain. Mix the macaroni into the chop suey. Serve hot.
Cruisin’ in da ′67 … so sweeeeet … nice …! Just like Roy would say.
EST. 2005 * THE FIRST PLACE WE SHOT, WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
* TRACK IT DOWN *
2019 S. Wood Avenue Linden, NJ 07036 908-862-3207 www.baywaydiner.org
When it comes to classic American road food, nobody does it better than New Jersey. I mean, they’ve got more diners than any other state. Check this one out and you’ll see that you don’t have to be big to be “big.”
They’ve got nine seats at the Bayway, but they serve 250 people a day. It’s a zoo. They serve big plates to big crowds of big guys. The diner sits right across the street from one of the country’s biggest refineries and a few miles from the port of Newark. Owner Mike Guinta says, “That’s what we’re here for, grab an egg and bacon sandwich and a coffee and go to work … There ain’t no mochaccino here. You give them a good sandwich for a good price and they’re coming back.” Regulars say it’s all made with love and better than Mom’s.
Their Bayway Monster Burgers are two 8-ounce patties strong with Taylor ham, lettuce, and tomato, and they’ll add cheese and bacon if you want. Mike grew up in diners and he says he needs to have everything the best. But he’d never run a diner or any restaurant before. He’s a fireman by trade and runs a garbage business around the corner. It all came about when he needed a place for a garage and they thought they’d knock this old diner down and put the garage here. But they just couldn’t do it. “We said, you know what? There’s not that many good places to eat around here.” So they rebuilt the diner for themselves.
“Hey, stylist, can ya make my hair like Guido’s?”
Warning: the Bayway Diner does not have real monsters …
Since the show aired, Mike’s opened up a sister diner and put on his first Ms. Bayway Contest, and he’s begun the tradition of a summertime luau, a clambake with an Elvis appearance, and an end-of-summer (Labor Day) C-Ya Party. They’ve now got a tent that seats an additional twenty-four to thirty people, but the place still gets packed.
After fifty years the diner was a mess, so they had to shut it down temporarily and restorer Randy Garbin spent two and a half months refurbishing it. And man does this place scream diner, from the shining siding to the Bayway clock above the door. “It’s my passion,” explains Mike. “When I do something, I try to do it to perfect.” Including hiring Joe Gonzalez as a short-order cook—but he’s really a short-order chef. He serves up food you wouldn’t expect in a diner, like Cajun-grilled chicken marinated overnight and served over tri-color pasta or a made-from-scratch Philly cheesesteak. He starts with a twenty-two-pound top round that he bones, rolls, and ties himself and marinates with chicken base overnight. He then oven-roasts it with celery, onions, and carrots for two and a half hours. After it’s cool, he slices it thin. That’s some special meat for a cheesesteak.
At Bayway they’re busy keeping the workingman happy, but everyone’s welcome; just pull up next to the Vatco and come on in.
Joe’s Famous Tri-Color Pasta with drilled Chicken
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF BAYWAY DINER
People line up for this dish that Chef Gonzalez serves with a smile.
SERVES 6 Chicken
⅔ cup white vinegar
½ cup crushed canned tomatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano, or more, to taste
6 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
1 pound tri-colored fusilli pasta
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
½ cup black olives, drained, pitted, and chopped
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
For the chicken: Whisk the vinegar, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon each of the parsley and oregano together in a large bowl. Add the chicken to the marinade, turning to coat evenly. Cover, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain and cool.
Stir the bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onion, and olives together in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, and sugar together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and toss to combine.
When ready to serve: Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess liquid fall back into the bowl. Discard the marinade. Pat the chicken dry and place on the grill and cook, turning once, until cooked through but not dry. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces.
Divide the pasta evenly among 6 plates and top with the chicken. Sprinkle on the chopped fresh parsley and serve.
Brownstone Diner and Pancake Factory
Brownstone Diner and Pancake Factory
EST. EARLY 1970S * THE HOUSE OF SHORT STACKS AND THE SPICY BUFFALO PANCAKE
* TRACK IT DOWN *
426 Jersey Avenue Jersey City, NJ 07302 201-433-0471 www.brownstonediner.com
You can find an average pancake just about anywhere, but finding a really killer pancake is a whole other deal. This family-owned joint in Jersey City is doing it right, thirty-one ways.
This family has been keeping tradition going for more than forty years. The first generation came from Greece, and the kids, Zoe, Maria, and Bobby, are now running it. All of them started out working in different professions, but they couldn’t stay away. And do folks ever line up.
They make monster amounts of buttermilk batter fresh every day—and they hide their secret ingredient in their confectioners’ sugar. The batter’s nice and thick. Bobby Bournias showed me how to make honky tonk and nut ‘n’ honey pancakes off their menu of thirty-one different pancakes. He pours the batter and lets it sit for a little before adding the toppings. He first puts fresh-cooked crumbled bacon on one pancake, peanut butter chips on another—these are both for the honky tonk, it turns out. For the nut ‘n’ honey, he sprinkles almonds and walnuts on top, with a swirl of honey and a bit of powdered sugar right at the end. I would order that again. The honky tonk stack ends with a sliced banana served on top, and the peanut flavor shines through. They also do one with hot strawberry preserves served on top, with cool sour cream dolloped on with fresh strawberries. That is like warm, adult strawberry short cake. I think I shocked Bobby by ordering hot sauce and ketchup on my meat pancake, but that’s what I’m talkin’ about—it’s good. They also do pancake wraps, which are like oversized pancakes with all sorts of good stuff inside. It’s pigs in a blanket gone wild, like with eggs, potatoes, sausage, and cheese; those are some good savory pancakes. So I decided to make one northern-California style. My parents encouraged me to play with my food. I added breaded chicken with hot sauce, roasted pepper, and blue cheese on top. I swear, a spicy Buffalo pancake will sell—off da hook!
The dad, Peter Bournias, is famous around here for cooking up the family favorites from back in Greece. He makes moussaka for the gods, starting with sautéing some diced onion, a little parsley in olive oil, then a little white wine. The ground beef is added next and gets cooked down, then some diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of flour go in. Next he fries up some sliced potatoes and roasts sliced, skinned eggplant slices that are drizzled with olive oil.
You then layer all of the above like a Greek lasagna—potatoes, then eggplant, then meat—all topped off with a scratch-made béchamel sauce before baking it off. It’s creamy, rich, and very popular. And I thought it was just a pancake factory—not that there’s anything wrong with that—all day long.
The kids work long hours. Zoe loves the fact that she gets to scream all day, and she couldn’t be happier, but she agrees with Maria that her parents should’ve had more kids, to split the shifts a little better.
Beaver moves so fast that he’s blurry.
Nut ‘n’ Honey Pancakes
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF BROWNSTONE DINER AND PANCAKE FACTORY
Even without the secret ingredient, these are thick and rich and worth the effort.
SERVES 4 TO 5 (16 TO 20 PANCAKES)
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla syrup or vanilla extract
2 cups baking mix, such as Bisquick
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar, plus more for garnish 2 teaspoons granulated sugar ¼ teaspoon baking powder ½ cup chopped slivered almonds
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup chopped walnuts
“How many in yer party? My sister will seat you after she eats her toy.”
Combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla syrup in a large mixing bowl and whisk until fully incorporated. Whisk the dry ingredients (excluding the nuts) together in another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. A few lumps here and there keep the pancakes fluffier.
Heat the grill until hot and brush with butter. Ladle out ¼ cup batter to make 4-inch-diameter pancakes. Mix the nuts together. After about 15 seconds, sprinkle a handful of the medley into the center of each pancake. Depending on the temperature of the griddle, after 30 seconds to a minute, the edges of the pancake should begin to curl. Using a spatula, flip the pancake over. After another 30 seconds or so, the pancake should be a light golden brown and can be removed from the griddle.
To finish off, drizzle honey over the pancakes and lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar. Butter can be added to taste, although it’s generally not needed since the pancakes should be very moist. To maintain fluffiness, the pancake batter should generally be used on the same day it is prepared.
Big smiles about great pancakes.
We’re in a kitchen, not a bathroom.
EST. 1939 * TINY DINER, BIG-TASTING SLIDERS
This is a tiny burger joint with tiny burgers that brings in huge crowds. I could eat eighteen or seventy-five of these babies.
* TRACK IT DOWN *
358 River Street Hackensack, NJ 07601 201-342-0914
They’ve been cranking out these tiny sliders for more than sixty years. Ronny Cohen and his brother bought the place in 1986 after moving here from Israel, and they kept almost everything just the way it was. Here at the White Manna the beef is never frozen—chopped beef is delivered every morning—and the burgers never sit under a heat lamp; they’re cooked right in front of you. Grab a seat at one of the twenty stools that form a “U” around the grill or take a place in line outside. They “roll” around eight hundred to a thousand patties every day at this little red and white diner that’s as cool as its miniature burgers.
What in the beginning was a business to Ronny soon became like a family. “You’ve got to love it,” he says. “It’s fun to work here.” He says everything in this town could change over the years, but you’ll always recognize the White Manna. They’re dedicated to keeping it real.
White Manna Burger
I wish gas prices were this low.
White Manna Burger
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF KELLY COHEN OF WHITE MANNA
Follow this road map for the best mini-sliders you’ll ever eat. Every step’s important, from the paper-thin Spanish onion to the Martin’s potato rolls.
MAKES 8 MINI-BURGERS; SERVES 4
1 pound freshly ground lean beef
1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced into half moons
8 slices American cheese
8 mini potato rolls (Martin’s are great, www.potatoroll.com)
8 pickle slices
Mayonnaise, hot sauce, lettuce, and tomato, as desired
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. (Do this while you form the burgers so it’s good and hot.)
Divide the beef into 8 small balls, about 2 ounces each. Take care not to overwork the meat or the final burgers will be dense and tough. Put the burgers in the skillet (no oil needed) and scatter the onions on top. Use a spatula to smoosh the meat into a burger shape. When the burgers are brown, about 2 minutes, flip to cook the other side. Top with American cheese and cook until it is melted.
Place the burgers on the mini rolls and top with ketchup and pickles. Serve with mayonnaise, hot sauce, lettuce, and tomato, if desired.
Just add the apple pie and this is all-American.
Tick Tock Diner
EST. 1948 * EAT HEAVY
The sign says it all at the Tick Tock. EAT HEAVY. It’s 24/7 with this family, with one of the three boys there around the clock.
* TRACK IT DOWN *
281 Allwood Road Clifton, NJ 07012 973-777-0511 www.ticktockdiner.com
Frank and Jimmy took over the place from their dad, and George married into the business. Together they turn out diner classics that are as all-American as you can get, but get this: the chef is British-born Julian Clauss-Ehlers, and he’s responsible for keeping the food real. He says, “We crack a thousand eggs daily. Every egg we cook is cracked to order.” The chicken parm is made from scratch; there’s fresh challah bread for the Monte Cristo sandwich; their grilled bacon, tomato, and cheese sandwich is called a “happy waitress”; and a huge local favorite is their “disco fries.” As one regular says, “It’s like a disco on your plate: brown gravy, mozzarella cheese, and fries.” I get why they call it “disco fries”: “heart attack fries” must’ve already been taken. Ha ha ha.
THE DINER COAST
West of the Rockies you have coffee shops, but diners on the East Coast are really melting pots of food. Tick Tock is a don’t-miss example of this in all its glory.
But Chef Julian’s also serving up some dishes you might not expect, like chicken with portobello mushrooms flamed in brandy and finished with a little butter and parsley. Or check out his Cajun shrimp: sautéed with some red and yellow bell peppers and onion, house-made Cajun spice, chablis, house tomato sauce, and a little chicken stock. Delicious. The Tick Tock emphasizes freshness.
They might want to change the sign out front. EAT HEAVY AND GOURMET.
Is that a scale or a clock between eat and heavy?
ADAPTED FROM A RECIPE COURTESY OF TICK TOCK DINER
This is classic comfort food, the kind every great diner should serve.
SERVES 6 TO 8
2 pounds ground veal
2 cups panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs, available at most markets) ½ yellow onion, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced ½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard 3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until completely incorporated. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with pan spray and form a loaf in the center. Spray the top of the loaf and cover with a piece of parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the parchment and continue cooking until cooked through, about 45 minutes. The juice should run clear when the meatloaf is poked, or look for an internal temperature of 150°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. They have lots of reasons to smile at Tick Tock.
They have lots of reasons to smile at Tick Tock.