Jersey at its best: 5 Great Diners in Central Jersey

Besides the Shore, Springsteen, and Porkroll, New Jersey is known for one other industry in which they’ve basically cornered the market – Diners! As a child growing up in Middlesex County, I’ve had many-a-meals at such establishments across all of Central Jersey. So, for this post, I decided I’d dish out my opinions on my top-five diners in the area. Keep in mind, these are my opinions, not any formal ranking by any professional food critic.

1. Park Ave Diner – South Plainfield, NJ

Park Ave Diner front view. Taken from diner’s website.

The good old Park Ave Diner is, well, really not that old. I remember coming here as a kid with my father back when it was called Cafe Everest and had a WAY different look to it, outside and inside. A few years ago, the diner was bought and the new owner renovated and revamped the place to make it what it is today. While The Park Ave Diner is a newer contender in the diner industry, but it still serves all those classic diner staples as well as some really cool specials. Every time I come in here, I always take a look at the specials they’re offering that day, and I can always find one that fits my liking. They also do an excellent job on pancakes and their cheddar and broccoli bites have become a favorite of mine. You can even buy beer here, which is something you normally can’t do at too many diners in the area.

2. Scotchwood Diner – Scotch Plains, NJ

Scotchwood Diner seen from Route 22. Image taken from panoramio.com.

Scotchwood Diner is a place I’ve gone to many times throughout my life. I’ve always looked forward to trips here because this diner has a really cool old-time look to it without looking decrepit or run-down. The menu item I remember most vividly sticking out in my mind is the seafood bisque soup they serve on some days. I really hope that soup is still around! Either way, their food doesn’t deviate too far off classic diner foods, but the quality is always good. The coolest part of this place might be the personal jukeboxes at every table. You’ll be sure to find some great classic rock tunes in their song selections.

3. All Seasons Diner – Eatontown, NJ

All Seasons Diner interior. Image taken from Asbury Park Press.

All Seasons Diner is located right across Route 36 from the Monmouth Mall and is about a five-to-ten minute drive from the beach. This diner is seriously cool, due in part to its interior. Just look at the lit-up glass dividers everywhere, and the layered ceiling lights going down the center of the room. It creates a very modern atmosphere to complement its classic diner food. I’ve enjoyed many different menu items here and the specials are always intriguing. For those of you taking a trip down to the shore this summer, this place provides a great meal option for anyone. The only complaint I have about this place is that it’s one of the few diners I’ve been to that isn’t 24-hour.

4. Fountainbleau Diner – South Plainfield/Piscataway, NJ

Fountainbleau Diner exterior seen from Stelton Road. Image taken from diner’s website.

Fountainbleau is another great diner in the Middlesex County area on Stelton Road right by Rt 287. It’s in one of those neighborhoods where you can’t tell whether you’re in South Plainfield or Piscataway, which is a common occurrence in that area. It’s also not too far outside the Rutgers New Brunswick neighborhood either. The one thing I like the most about this place is their coffee. While most diner coffees all taste the same for the most part, this place has an especially tasty coffee if you take yours light and sweet.

5. Menlo Park Diner – Edison, NJ

Menlo Park Diner exterior seen from Route 1. Image taken from nj.com.

Ah, Menlo Park Diner. It’s situated on the Route 1 roadside right next to the Menlo Park Mall. On on side of the lot, there’s a giant commercial complex, on the other side, there’s a park. It’s a diner situated between two different environments, but for me, it was always a cool place to go when I was a high school mallrat. If you want to know what a real classic, chromed-out diner looks like, look no further! This place is as classic as a diner gets.

Quickstop Groceries: America’s Most Famous Convenience Store

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(Image courtesy of Typophile.com)

Now why would something like “America’s Most Famous Convenience Store” be something to brag about? What makes it so famous? Well, it just so happens that Leonardo, New Jersey’s QuickStop Groceries is the Convenience Store that served as the primary setting location for one of the independent film industry’s most successful movies of all time, Clerks.

The QuickStop is located at 58 Leonard Ave. in Leonardo, just off NJ 36 North right above Atlantic Highlands. In the early 1990s, now-famous film director Kevin Smith put together his masterpiece, Clerks, shot in black and white with a budget of roughly only $27,000. Smith also worked for the QuickStop at the time, and was granted permission to film scenes at night.

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Production photo of actor Brian O’Halloran as Dante at the QuickStop front counter. Currently, the front counter no longer features an ice cream cooler at the front and the overhead clock and Marlboro banner are both gone as well. (Photo courtesy of ViewAskew.com)

The film focuses primarily on an average day-in-the-life gone wrong for two convenience store clerks, Dante (played by Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (played by Jeff Anderson). Both characters are QuickStop employees, with Randall also occupy the RST Video register next door. While Dante is an overly-serious employee, Randall often makes comments and remarks in reaction to Dante that can sometimes be overly crude or offensive but are still completely hilarious. The film had originally received an NC-17 rating due to the content of the dialogue. Dante deals with a myriad of different issues in the film including relationship troubles, difficult/odd customers, and even a dead customer! While Dante and Randall have very little interaction with Jay & Silent Bob in the film, they do express a certain dislike for the duo.

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Employee bathroom where one of the film’s most shocking and hilarious situations takes place. (Photo courtesy of Yelp User “Michael G”)

Smith released Clerks in 1994, and has since become a major director in the film industry. The film also is the first to feature Smith’s most iconic creations, Jay & Silent Bob. Silent Bob was also portrayed by Smith in the film and every subsequent appearance afterwards. While Jay is a loudmouth who often says whatever is on his mind, Silent Bob mostly expresses himself nonverbally but will speak when he feels he has something important to say.

The QuickStop made a few more appearances in some of Smith’s later films. It was mentioned in his film Chasing Amy, featured in parts of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and at the beginning and end of Clerks II. Since then, the place has become an underground mecca of sorts for both fans of independent films and Smith’s creative works. As both a New Jersey resident and a huge Kevin Smith fan, I have made multiple visits to this place.

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Above is a picture of how QuickStop appears from the outside. There is a long strip of two or three more abandoned store fronts not visible in this photo, and the RST video storefront no longer sports the sign above its window. This is where Jay & Silent Bob often loiter in their films and sell weed to neighborhood kids. (Photo courtesy of Yelp user “Y.W.”)

Pulling up to the place always gives me a giddy excitement that I am visiting the place where one of my favorite films was shot. You can literally park outside, lean up against the same wall Jay & Silent Bob did for most of the film, and just take it all in right from the start. Then, you remember you can actually go inside and view the place for yourself. Though RST Video is no longer a business, you can still peek inside and see shelves still full of video cassettes amongst various storage items. Perhaps Smith has some sort of ownership of that storefront to retain it for filming purposes?

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How the abandoned RST Video appears from inside. (Photo courtesy of Yelp User “Tiffany W”)

Though a few cosmetic changes to the store have been made, the store still mostly resembles how it looked back in the early 1990s. It is, for the most part, a normal convenience store featuring items you would expect to find in one: some grocery items, candy, coffee, beverages, magazines, etc. The one cool item available there is a Clerks Zippo lighter that I am almost positive is exclusive to the store, as I have not found a website or other store that carries it. I still want to go back and buy one just because!

The store also features a few nods to its history as an iconic film location. There is an old Clerks II promo poster in the front window and a few press items hanging on the wall behind the register, but still is able to retain its primary identity as a common everyday business. There have been some times that I’ve went in where I was the only customer. However, just buying something and going up to that counter gives me the same giddy excitement that I get when I pull up to the place. So many great movie moments have happened on, in front of, and behind that counter that it just feels surreal to be in there.

I’ve never asked any employees any questions related to the movies, as I’m sure they get enough of those inquiries and are probably pretty done with hearing them by now. However, there is a special feeling of satisfaction when you buy something there. You could buy the same blue gatorade there that you’d buy at 7-11, but buying it from America’s most famous convenience store makes drinking that gatorade all the more refreshing.

Link to Clerks Trailer

Link to YouTube user YuichiTara’s video tour of the building in its current condition

Link to Clerks WikiPedia article