Peter Genovese's book is a kitschy, fun read, with a lot of photos. He visited all of New Jersey's 570 diners in operation at the time he was researching the book, which was in the mid 1990s. He talked to waitresses, cooks, owners, and customers, took pictures and otherwise researched the history of the diners. I had a lot of book marks in this one when I was finished. One of the first things I noticed was that he said there will be "no quotes from scholars..." by way of saying there won't be any of that fanciful languge but then, on the very next page he quotes Rutger's University professor Michael Aaron Rockland (let's call him a "scholar") as saying that New Jersey is "the roadside pop architecture capital of the world." I noticed one other comment by a scholar from a Yale University professor emeritus "Baeder's paintings differ from those of most of his photo-realist or magic-realist contemporaries. ' Bader is not haunted like Hopper by a sense of something empty, hollow and solitary in the American experience. Instead, he is hopeful, a painter-poet who makes us see the beauty of common things..." Nope, nothing fanciful here.
There was a bit about coffee in this book. My favorite quotes were these:
From a 1950s training manual - "Don't put salt in the coffee! If salt helped make a good cup of coffee, the coffee companies would be the first ones to add it."
From The Diner, a 1947 trade magazine - "Coffee has probably affected restaurant profits more than any other single factor. Good coffee keeps old customers and makes new ones; poor coffee drives the customers away"
From a customer at the Summitt Diner - "Drink too much. Have ten cups before ten. Couple when I get up, couple on the way over. And I'll bring five with me out of here." The following line in the book indicates that the Summit lines up styrofoam cups on the counter for take out customers. As for me, I'd rather skip coffee all together than drink it from styrofoam. Blech.
A turkish proverb: "Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love."
Other things I found noteworthy in this book were a mention of county maps as "something seen at too few diners."
One aptonym : Short order cook Lee Slingerland
One mention of Baltimore (my hometown) regarding "...Tim, a former 7-up plant manager in Baltimore..." Since I used to live less than a mile from said plant, it was made all the more exciting to me.
One mention of the Big Dig in Boston "the former Ono diner in Ono, Pennsylvania [was turned] into the Big Dig diner, to be located at the entrance to Boston's Harbon Tunnel." I felt a pilgrimage coming on, but found this blog post indicating that the Big Dig diner has already been moved since the publication of the book.
One mention of Cyndi Lauper's music video Time after Time, which was filmed in a Jersey diner.
And, one mention of librarians - Genovese knows that librarians are his friends and thanks especially "Winnie Zagariello and Betty Selingo, the best librarians in New Jersey", Well done my friends!
Sherry Swanson, recently released on parole for drug charges, is looking to reconnect with her young daughter, Alexis. There are tensions between Sherry and her sister-in-law, Lynette, who has been caring for Alexis, and Sherry has a hard time keeping clean once she is released. While it is clear that Sherry wants to be a good parent, and do well at her job in a daycare center, we see a very disturbing side of her. Beyond the drug use Sherry uses sex to get favors from men who are supposed to be working to help her. The fact that they readily accept her offers is troubling as well.
While I was reading Jersey Diners I saw several mentions of movies, commercials and music videos that were filmed in New Jersey diners. Since I was also planning to prepare a Jersey diner meal, I thought I would just go for the theme and watch an additional movie that was filmed in a diner. I picked Baby It's You. I should have just left well enough alone. There was a scene inside the Roadside Diner, but there is not much good to say about this movie. It is an upper-class girl/working-class boy movie. The relationship is abusive, but I think the audience was just supposed to think that the girl needed to lighten up. The young man -"the Sheik", named for a condom - alternately cheats, ignores, controls, and ransacks, but it seemed the audience was expected to still feel sorry for him when it was clear that his girlfriend outgrew him (or just got tired of being treated like crap). And she still gives him a last dance to remember her by. This was an '80s movie about the '60s and it is what one might expect. It stars Rosanna Arquette, which reminded me of her other New Jersey movie, Desperately Seeking Susan.
Best Tuna Melt (New Jersey Diner Style)
I couldn't resist this one when I found it once I read the Jersey Diner's book. Two changes I made to the recipe were using cheddar cheese instead of swiss, and leaving out the parsley. Otherwise I followed the recipe after some discussion with James about it. He is not generally a finicky eater, but when it comes to tuna salad he wants only tuna and mayonnaise. None of that celery business for him. I was prepared to make a separate tuna salad for him sans celery and onion, but he finally decided to make it a "cultural experience" and do it the Jersey Diner way. He wound up being "a clean plate ranger", although, I doubt I have converted him.