On The Road
By: Jennifer Jean Miller

9/3/2009
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The Great Cheesecake Quest While Turning Back The Clock At The Summit Diner

My Great Cheesecake Quest happened completely by accident as things sometime do, especially in a creative thinking mind. On one of my first assignments in Summit when I was new to the area, I was up to exploring a bit following it. My friend Heather met up with me and something extremely special caught my eye.
Being one with a love of retro, I was immediately taken by the Summit Diner on Summit Avenue and Union Place. "Wow!" I exclaimed. "A real diner!"

Someone who lives in New Jersey may think of that as a rhetorical statement with diners around us left and right, but possessing a little something in my trivial pop culture knowledge bank, I hold a little information in a corner of my brain about diners.

What we classify as "diners" aren’t really diners after all, but restaurants with the name "diner" emblazoned on the building in neon lights. Historically, the humble beginning of the diner yielded from a horse-drawn lunch wagon in Massachusetts in the late 1800’s known as "lunch wagons", which were soon shipped all over the East Coast from the Worcestor Lunch Car Company.

Another reason to love New Jersey is the actual diners were first manufactured in Bayonne by the The Jerry O’Mahoney Diner Company, with 20,000 in production between 1917 and 1952. The Summit Diner is an O’Mahoney example manufactured in 1938 and one of only twenty remaining in the world.

Diners such the Summit Diner were created with the purpose to be hooked up to a train as a dining car. When the car was no longer serviceable, it became stationary and was set up typically near a railway station. The Summit Diner, of course, is diagonally across from the The Summit Train Station, built between 1902 and 1905.

When Heather and I entered into the Summit Diner, it was as if we stepped back in time. The building interior has wooden and stainless walls, 6 tables and 8 seats on each side of the counter. Food is ordered from the menu boards overlooking the counter rather than menus. There are traditional favorites there including Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese and Meatloaf (recommended to me by Mayor Glatt when I met him on one of my later assignments).

Since we were past lunchtime and heading to grab dinner a few hours later at the Paper Mill Playhouse before seeing a show, it was a perfect time for something small…but decadent. I looked over at the gleaming glass case, and couldn’t resist a piece of cheesecake. Heather and I both decided on cheesecake and a nice steaming cup of decaf coffee each. It was nice to enjoy conversation and coffee together as good friends do, especially in this great atmosphere.

What’s also nice about the Summit Diner is how integrated they are within the community, showing signs of support of the local high school teams through Summit logo stickers and magnets. What I also like about the place is the familiarity of it, with locals who tend to know one another or get to know one another, because of it.

The staff is friendly, as are the customers. The time we were there was perfect, as well. Not much of a crowd so it was easy to relax and enjoy the time and the cheesecake. On a subsequent visit to the diner on a Sunday morning, it was bustling with every booth and stool occupied, the sizzling sound of the grill and conversation filling the air. But this time Heather and I were able to linger and catch up. And savor the cheesecake.

The cheesecake – what a highlight – the gentleman there told me it was his grandmother’s recipe. In my opinion, it was one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever tasted before. It was rich, with hints of vanilla and creamy and wonderful. It was the perfect accompaniment to my cup of coffee and vice-versa.

As we talked, it was then that I realized I had to share about my experience at the Summit Diner. It’s a great place – something from yesteryear, about which one instantly feels the safety and good vibes of days gone by. I think of all the things that this diner has withstood in history and all the people who walked through its doors. If walls could talk, I’m sure it would have plenty of stories.

I later brought my children to the Summit Diner because this diner is something of a dying breed with very few of its type left in the world as we submit to the larger less cozy establishments and chain dinner houses. It’s something to be cherished and appreciated as my children have already begun to do. They already have their favorite meal from the diner, which is their homemade chicken noodle soup. You know the kind like mom or grandma make, which is a pool of delicious broth swimming with noodles, large pieces of chicken and fresh vegetables. The kind which makes the stomach feel satisfied, and enriches the spirit at the same time. The type which instantly kicks the butt of any cold or flu bug.

But back to the cheesecake. It was then I realized I needed to get the word out about The Summit Diner’s amazing cheesecake. Typically in our area what we know as cheesecake is the New York Style type. But once again my column is promoting great things in New Jersey and, I believe there’s a lot of great plusses to New Jersey, including its establishments serving cheesecake. We don’t have to cross the Hudson to find a delicious piece of cheesecake…we can find that in our own neighborhoods. That’s when I decided I would be on the great cheesecake quest and introduce our readers to interesting places where they can enjoy a terrific piece of cheesecake.

In my next few column entries, I’ll be taking you to some fabulous local places where you can find this delectable dessert. Thank you Summit Diner for the inspiration, as well as for the amazing cheesecake. I suggest you go there for a visit and enjoy a piece of cheesecake. This place has been rated as City’s Best according to AOL Guide (see review here: http://cityguide.aol.com/northjersey/restaurants/summit-diner/v-110470922) and consider this column entry another thumbs up for Summit Diner.

Summit Diner, 1 Union Pl, Summit, NJ 07901, Tel: 908-277-3256


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