“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” Does the Garden State
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 | posted by Mike
Although not particularly one of my favorite programs on Food Network, I do find myself tuning in to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fairly often. One reason for this is because they feature novel dishes and restaurants with interesting back-stories. The other reason is because D, D & D is broadcast approximately six times a day.
Last night’s episode had a particular appeal to me, though, since it surveyed a few of the many diners that line the highways and byways of my home state, New Jersey. Diners are so plentiful in New Jersey that they can actually be used for geographic purposes. For example:
“Where do you live?”(This is also true of malls and Turnpike exits.)
“Near the Phily [sic] Diner.”
So the thing you have to understand is that, in order to profile the six or seven diners that they showed on the program, they may have actually passed a couple hundred other diners. And passing a diner on the way to another diner isn’t a rare occurrence, as diner loyalty can run deep.
I’ve never actually been to any of the diners shown on the program. I’ve driven past the Skylark a number of times, and I think NYC Bureau Chief Jessica frequented it from time to time before she moved to the big city. The one they showed in Hightstown is only a short distance from TVFF HQ, so that may require a road trip.
Any real New Jersey diner expert will tell you that there are two major geographic categories, and that the categories fall on either side of a line that runs horizontally through the center of the state, not far from TVFF HQ. That line, which could also be said to divide North and South Jersey or the New York media market from the Philadelphia media market, is revealed by a an extremely simple test:
Does the menu include scrapple? If so, you’re likely south of Interstate 195.
Here’s the thing about diners, though. D, D & D often profiles diners that specialize in dinner and lunch entrees. But for me, diners have always been – and will likely always be – about breakfast. I usually can’t be bothered to even look at the other pages of the menu, regardless of the time of day. Why is that? Is it some sort of generational thing? Has the explosion in dining options (ethnic food, casual dining) taken away the appeal and novelty of a restaurant where you could get a meatloaf, a chicken pot-pie or a plate of spaghetti Bolognese?
For me, diners are probably always going to be about breakfast. So what makes one diner better than another? For me, it’s the hash browns. Can they get the right combination of fluffy white potato with crunchy brown crust?
If they can’t, that’s a deal breaker. And in New Jersey, the next diner is just a short drive away.