“I’m from New Jersey. I don’t pump my gas, I pump my fist.”
No matter how far I stray, there will always be love for the dirty jerz. And there will always be room in my stomach for some dinerage – even if I literally just had dinner an hour ago.
Now, if you are fortunate enough to have knowledge of the glorious Garden State, you no doubt are aware of our notorious diner culture. Open 24 hours, a dessert case full of Italian pastries and cheesecake, and a dizzying menu that includes anything you would ever want (…and some you really don’t).
If you grew up along Route 17, you had your pick of diners to call your own. The Suburban or Twin Oaks if you’re down in the Paramus neck of the woods, Horizon (where Ramsey High and Highlands kids put aside their rivalries to share in late night munchies), Tiffany’s (I actually don’t know anyone who ever ate here), The Ridge, Matthew’s, and the mother of them all if you ask me, State Line up in Mahwah.
Ahh the diner. When we were little, it’s where we went for dinner when Mom didn’t feel like cooking. When we got older, it’s where we spent teenage nights counting down the curfew, drinking bad coffee, shooting the shit, and getting philosophical about life over something good that was fried, cheesy, or made with ice cream. Always dependable. Always satisfying.
Whenever I’m back in town, late night State Line is on the agenda. My go-to is Grilled Cheese with Tomato, served with a pickle half and some slaw. Buttery and crispy with about a quarter inch of cheese.
Stephen’s order is Cheese Fries – with American – and a Coke. Always. Except for that time we felt young and adventurous and took the ride all the way down to The Bendix. He got served fries with gravy by accident from the blind waiter and felt too bad to say anything. Remember that, Stephen?
Stephen is a connoisseur of cheese fries if you will, and is convinced there is only one true method of consuming them. He’s perfected it really.
How to eat cheese fries, based on years of research:
- Eat all the fries without cheese on them first.
- Ketchup should be on a separate plate for optimal even dippage.
- Don’t be alarmed if the cheese hardens to a plastic consistency – the easier to create a cave-like structure to get all those non-cheese suckers out.
- Deconstruct the square of cheesy, starchy goodness and eat without ketchup so as not to bastardize the sublime flavor combination.
- Try not to let your accompanying friends steal too many of the good pieces.
Michele is the wild card of the bunch. Sometimes it’s half a canteloupe. Sometimes it’s tapioca pudding. On this particular night, she kept it classic and completed the Holy Cheese Trinity by ordering Mozzarella Sticks.
You’ll know it’s authentic if the cheese stretches when you bite and pull away only within the first 30 seconds of the plate hitting the table. If you’re able to do this past two sticks in, send them back. Something’s not right.
By now you probably understand, the Diner is not necessarily about “good” food. It’s more than that. It’s about the chat that comes with it. It’s about loitering being A-OK. It’s about ordering the usual. It’s about being home. In Jerz.
State Line Diner
375 State Route 17
Mahwah, NJ 07430