One of the key perks of the Jersey life is the endless availability of diners. This state is not nicknamed the “Diner Capital of the World” for nothing, and any outsider can understand that upon arriving here. This is a feat that many Jersey natives may take for granted, and will soon realize this once they leave.
I, for one, learned this the hard way. Korea boasts an abundance of 24-hour eateries, as it is a peninsula that operates without a clock. However, my experience there, as well as my four years in Wisconsin, left me in cold desperation as far as the world of diners was concerned.
It can be quite troubling to live or travel through any region of the world that is alien to the terms “disco fries” or "taylor ham". Never in my life had I been looked at in a stranger manner than in the Mickey’s Dairy Bar of Madison, Wisconsin after ordering what I thought to be a very routine “taylor ham, egg and cheese.” After three attempts that involved changing the tempo, pronunciation, and intonation of my words, the waitress looked me in the eye to announce that she had “no idea what [I was] talking about.” In hindsight, I guess I should have said pork roll. This was a wake up call, to say the least, that outside of the Garden State, some culinary words and methods of running places are shockingly different. This sentiment increased upon failed after failed attempts to dine at such closed establishments after nine o’clock, let alone three in the morning.
Due to such an absence of diner culture that I have had over the years, there is no better treat than to return home and tuck myself into one of thousands of cozy, generic diners. Who would have thought that the aged, plastic booths, tacky architecture, and stale mints would bring such a rapid wave of nostalgia, relief and satisfaction to a young man deprived of his stomping grounds since the age of eighteen. Having been so far away, I can safely say that there are few things in the world that bring as big of a smile to my face as my reunification with one of Jersey’s finest diners.
During my time home, I have taken advantage of the unending presence of these culinary palaces-from Pilgrim in Cedar Grove to the Ritz in Livingston, to our very own West Orange Diner, I have stopped at nothing to enjoy such regionally limited tastes and sentimental atmosphere. Upon frequenting so many diners, I came across a different take in a much smaller place that I enjoyed just the same. Jimmy Buff’s, a chain which I had never been to, has a branch right on Washington St. Appearing as if it was transplanted from the 1950s, this tiny, shiny, silver shack serves burgers, dogs, steak and chicken sandwiches. Service is fast and with a smile. Preparation is a bit unique, as one’s meal of choice is served with French fries on top rather than the side. Never in my life had I devoured a rib eye steak sandwich that was loaded with fried potato.
Whenever I return to Jersey I yearn to do the things I have done a million times in the past. It is the time to become realigned with old, enjoyable habits. However, when I walked into Jimmy Buff’s, I picked up a new habit- to put French fries on top of my sandwich. I already know what it is like to walk into a diner outside of the confines of our state and make a request that is unheard of. I can only wonder what the reaction will be from other Jersey establishments when I request my meal to be prepared in the same way that I had it at Jimmy Buff’s. It is more than apparent that America has a subculture of diners which exists right here. Time and experience can only tell whether or not this small world of New Jersey has yet another subculture within it that serves their sandwiches with fries on top.