What Makes a Diner a NJ Diner?
It started out as Tops Grill in the 1920’s. By the 1970’s George Golemis bought it and then his sons John, Jimmy and Van took over. Tops Diner in East Newark is iconic. It was once named best diner in America by Time Out magazine.
Now it’s changing. According to NJ.com, they’re knocking it down and rebuilding and expanding, going from a seating capacity of 180 to 296. They say they’re improving aesthetics on the outside and functionality on the inside. There’s even going to be an outdoor seating area.
Outdoor seating at a diner? Then can this truly be still called a diner? As I read about this I looked up to my wife and asked her that question. A Jersey girl born and raised she didn’t hesitate.
“No way. Diners don’t have sidewalk cafés.”
So when does a New Jersey diner morph into a restaurant? I remember going to a place that called itself a diner but they had linen napkins. Nope nope nope. Great food, great restaurant, but not a diner. Some things I think a true diner has to have...
The cheesy quarter games in the vestibule such as the Love-O-Meter.
The little spinning Lucite block on the table containing local company business cards.
A cash register you must walk up to to pay, not leave your payment in a leather fold on the table.
So we posed this question to our listeners to see what they would come up with. What makes a New Jersey diner a New Jersey diner?
Lauren says pork roll on the menu is a must. No pork roll, no diner.
Victoria says a true NJ diner has to still have those mini-jukeboxes in the booths. And obviously, they have to have at least one Frank Sinatra song and one Four Seasons song.
Scott pointed out if a place doesn't have breakfast served any time of day it is not a real diner.
Glen says it's all about the pie. Having a big display case of pies is a bonus.
Steve warns not to call it a diner if it does not have a Happy Waitress Special, the classic open face grilled cheese.
James says a true NJ diner has to remain open 24 hours. Also, he points out a legit diner must have those huge menus with 47 pages.
Joy insists rice pudding is a must for it to be considered a diner.
Janelle thinks it's not a diner unless it has paper placemats with ads all over them, and one of them has to be either a bail bondsman or a lawyer I say.
Finally Jack says a true NJ diner needs one thing, above all else. Greeks.