Drive In: Summit Diner (Summit, NJ)
by Pat Tanner
New Jersey Life Magazine

If there’s a better example of an old-timey diner than this one, I don’t know about it. Architecturally it’s a gem, one of the few remaining small, curved-edge railroad-style cars. Connoisseurs note that it’s a 1938 O’Mahony, with eight booths and 20 counter stools. As far as I can tell it hasn’t been expanded, updated, or upgraded ever — and count me among the crowd that hopes it never will be. The original mahagony walls are oh-so-atmospheric. There’s no printed menu, just listings in movable white letters mounted on the wall behind the counter, plus chalkboard specials of the day. The restrooms are laughably tiny and lack such froufrou amenities as heating and cooling.


But Summit denizens happily squeeze into the no-frills space — even waiting patiently for a spot on Saturdays. Small bronze plaques at booths and across the front counter commemorate patrons who have contributed to Summit’s Other Fellow First Foundation, which supports charities providing assistance to needy families around the state. Owner Jim Greberis is a trustee.

All of that would make for nothing more than heartwarming nostalgia if it weren’t for the surprisingly good fare here. The offerings in no way resemble the uniform, food-service-quality chow at some diners. My favorite is cinnamon-raisin French toast, whose thick-bread foundation is neither too airy nor too dense. The excellent bread is grilled very dark, which gives it a smokiness that I like but is not to everyone’s taste. The finished product is just wet enough and just sweet enough that you can skip the unfortunate ersatz syrup it comes with, and you might want to scrape off the unnecessary glob of margarine as well.

Meatloaf is something I am so fussy about that I rarely order it out. But this diner’s meatloaf sandwich on a kaiser roll is just how I like it: soft, moist, flavorful, and generous. I recommend you get the optional gravy, because the kitchen adds just the right
amount to soften the roll. The diner’s french fries are hot and crispy. The Summit serves my kind of coleslaw, too — in a sweet-and-sour vinegar rather than mayo. The potato salad, on the other hand, is extra mayonnaisy. During my visit, it featured slightly undercooked potatoes; on the other hand, it clearly did not come from a multigallon tub. The tuna platter, too, features quality canned fish, blended until it’s creamy and smooth. Of course, there is always the diner’s famous slider: egg, cheese, and Taylor ham on a roll.

Try to save enough room for the superb rice pudding, which is fluffy rather than
stodgy, enhanced by a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. The cost? An absurd $2.15. Only weak coffee and gelatinous apple pie disappointed here.

Pat Tanner is the South Jersey editor of the 2009/10 Zagat New Jersey Restaurant Survey. Visit her blog at newjerseylife.com.

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