Diner Culture

My friend Michele and I at the Marlton Diner on our last day of high school.

It’s 3am, and you and your friends realize you are all super hungry.  Maybe you know a pizza place that’s still open.  Maybe your Taco Bell has a 24hr drive thru.  Maybe you attempt to make some ridiculous concoction with whatever is in the fridge.

If you live in Jersey, you go to the diner.

There’s a classic list of “you know you’re from South Jersey” -isms that has been floating around the internet for a few years now, and one of them (near the top of the list, of course) is “if you wonder why there aren’t more 24-hour diners everywhere else in the country.”  The diner isn’t just a place to eat, it’s a place for friends to come together.  It’s a place for memories.

There are a few rules that basically classify an authentic diner.  First, it must be open for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  If the diner has “hours,” it’s not a real diner.  Second, the entire menu has to be available all day.  The best part of going to the diner is having waffles and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Third, it has to look like a diner.  Stainless steel, vinyl, and neon signs are a must.

I can think of at least ten diners that are less than ten minutes away from me, all of which have their own memories.  I usually don’t associate specific memories with restaurants, but diners are different.  There is something about the culture of the diner that makes you feel like everything that happens there is significant.  My friends and I piled into The Marlton Diner after graduation practice on our last day of high school for a celebratory brunch.  My dad took my brother and I to a diner after our first Eagles game and we sat at our own table and ordered milkshakes instead of dinner food.  I’ve had first dates at the diner, breakups at the diner, and celebrations at the diner.  When my friends and I were at Warped Tour last week, it was cold and we were tired and hungry, and as we sat listening to the last few bands, all I could think about was the short stack of chocolate chip pancakes that was waiting for me at The Cherry Hill diner on the way home.

I’m sure there are plenty of diners elsewhere in the country, but for some reason, whenever I think of my hometown, the diner is one of the first things on the list of things associated (mostly because I think about how much I don’t like the Marlton Diner; I prefer Medport).

The most important thing I’ve learned about diners is: it’s never just about eating breakfast or dinner.  It’s about eating breakfast for dinner.

Going Out: Friendly’s

Today is my birthday, and we celebrated it by going to Friendly’s for lunch.

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My brother Ryan and I at Friendly’s for lunch

Friendly’s is far from fine cuisine, but here, it is a family favorite.  There is something about going to Friendly’s that just gets everyone excited and puts us all in a good mood.  We have celebrated everything there, from birthdays to little league championships to dance recitals to the last day of school, and it has always been a popular hangout for me and my friends after school dances and youth group meetings.

The menu is pretty big, and a lot of it is actually really good.  My absolute favorite is the Turkey Club Supermelt, but I also love their wraps, burgers, salads, and quesadillas.  In my opinion, their french fries are not all that great (super mushy), so I usually sub a cup of soup or applesauce instead.

Whatever the food may be, the dessert is really the best part of going to Friendly’s.  My family hardly ever gets dessert when we go out to eat, but it is an unspoken family law that we will get ice cream at Friendly’s.  They probably have over thirty different flavors of ice cream to choose from, with the option to order one of their predetermined sundaes or create your own concoction.  Nothing compares to a Friendly’s sundae.  Their milkshakes are also incredible, and not only do they fill your glass to the top, but they bring out the entire half-full metal mixing cup along with it.  My personal favorite is the Friend-z, which is comparable to a DQ Blizzard or Sonic Blast, but with more stuff and better tasting ice cream.

Whenever I go to Friendly’s I get to be a kid again, if only for an hour or so.  I love the atmosphere and the ice cream, and I love that it is chock full of memories from my childhood.  I hope to someday bring my children to Friendly’s on their birthdays and sing along to the Friendly’s Birthday Song: “If you’re good you’ll get your wishes/if you’re bad you’ll do our dishes.”

Thankfully, I’ve never had to do their dishes.