Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Skylark Diner - more than just a diner.

I've already said that one of the wonders of North American culture has to be the 'diner.' Affordable, freshly made food served with a lot more style than the fast-food farce that is MacDonalds.

Since moving to New Jersey, which has more diners than any other state in The Union, I've eaten at some great places - but one recently knocked my socks off and I think it's worth writing about here.

The Skylark Fine Diner & Lounge is everything great about American diners - except more so.

Random Discovery

We were driving up Route 1 to go shopping when Tina demanded we stop off and make up the lunch she'd skipped.

"Feed me!"

Skylark just happened to be the next restaurant we saw - a pretty art-deco style diner with a reassuring number of patrons parked outside. What was atypical was that rarest of rarities in New Jersey - a bar. That sealed-the-deal as far as I was concerned.

Most diners in Jersey can't be bothered to go through the strict regulations to get their liquor licence. Skylark was an exception and a welcome one at that.

Parking up, we discovered that the Skylark was fairly busy even at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. That seemed to be a good sign - and despite the crowd, we didn't need to wait for a table. As we got led to our seats, two more things struck me:

First off, Skylark seemed just that bit cleaner and shinier than the average diner. Not spectacularly so - but enough to make you think: 'Hmmm. Nice place."

Secondly, everybody who worked there seemed to be universally young, slim and attractive. What with the small-town diner atmosphere and all the gleaming white teeth, I dizzily wondered for a second if we'd stepped out of New Jersey and straight into an episode of Smallville or One Tree Hill.

We sat down in a booth - normally I hate booths, but this one was a good balance of height and depth so I didn't need to squeeze in, but I also didn't feel too low down. (Why Tina, who is small enough to fit in a suitcase, loves sitting in a booth so much, I'll never understand.)

The menu seemed impressive. There was the typical diner-fare of burgers, sandwiches, breakfasts and wraps - but also a broad range of what the Americans call 'entrées' - restaurant style main courses like Chicken Française, grilled Lamb Chops and a wide range of seafood.

There were daily specials on the board and overall, the prices seemed to be only a couple of dollars above the average diner.

While we decided on what to eat, I was delivered a pint of ice-cold Bass - and I mean ice-cold. It had ice crystals slowly sliding down the outside of the glass. The beer was fresh and delicious - one of those perfectly-preserved pints that clings to the side of the glass as it goes down.

They certainly got a thumbs up in the beer stakes!

We also got complimentary fresh rolls delivered to our table - and our choice of three flavoured butters. Pesto, Jalapeno and Apricot. We tried them all and while the flavours clashed somewhat with the flavoured rolls, it was a pretty swanky touch and I was impressed by it.

Tina selected the Mediterranean Salad for $11.98, which was a mixed green salad with grilled chicken, topped with a mountain of mozzarella, olives, artichoke hearts, peppers, tomatoes, pine nuts and crumbled blue cheese.

I chose the less adventurous Kentucky Pulled Pork Sandwich at $8.95, which was pulled pork in a barbecue sauce, served on a kaiser roll with French fries.

The food arrived very quickly and was utterly delicious. The French fries (normally the acid test for a diner) were crisp and flavourful. Tina's salad was generously proportioned and while she thought the chicken was a bit bland, she enjoyed eating everything else.

She also enjoyed making a little pile of poultry in one corner of her plate.

My sandwich was immense. I had a tough time tackling it - ending up scooping the overflowing pork up with a knife and fork. It was lovely, though. The barbecue sauce was sweet and smoky.

Despite how nice it all tasted, in the end, we couldn't hope to finish it. We asked the waiter to have it 'bagged up' to take back home.

Our bill came to less than thirty five dollars (including two pints of Bass and a bottle of sparkling mineral water, but not including the tip) and in addition to our satisfied stomachs, we were both sorted for the next day's lunch thanks to our mountain of leftovers.

All in all, the Skylark Diner was a really great find. It delivered everything you'd expect from a typical American diner at competitive prices. Where it went above and beyond the norm was in the attention to detail.

The friendly staff. The flavoured butters. The home-baked rolls. All stuff that made you smile and think: 'Hey, that's a nice touch.'

For range of choice, quality of food and overall price, Skylark easily beats any typical TGI Friday or Applebees. And considering it's 'just a diner?' That's pretty impressive.

Skylark Fine Diner and Lounge is on the corner of Route 1 North and Wooding Avenue, in Edison, NJ. 1-732-777-7878. Visit www.skylarkdiner.com

Open 7am to 2am.


Jodi said...

I would give anything to have a diner like that in my neighborhood.

Rick said...

We love the Diner/Lounge! It's great, you walk in... look left: diner, look right: lounge. And Amstel Light on draft is beautiful.

Chantal said...

Let's not forget the drink specials!! Certain nights have half priced drinks, $3 shots, and discounted martinis! Looove this place!