Remember those old '50s-style drive-in diners, the ones where you pulled up along the side of the building and cute waitresses on roller skates and waiters in white paper hats served you at the window? Probably not, as these are mostly an invention of Hollywood, with very little substance in the real world. However, one such drive-up diner does exist, right on New Jersey's famous Route 130.
Stewart's Root Beer is more than just a landmark, it's a Burlington City tradition. Three generations can trace their first job back to this little orange-and-white shack, where root beer floats are called "black cows" and "California burgers" resemble very little of the health-conscious cuisine we've come to associated with the modern Golden State. The boys still wear white paper hats, the girls skirts and aprons, and both make change at the car side window with the help of flip-down coin dispensers slung low on their hips.Of course, no place is all ambiance, and Stewart's is home to some of the most delicious fast food you'll find in the state. The hot dogs are old-fashioned pork hot dogs slow roasted, the way soda shops used to do them; the milk shakes are thick and malted; and the fries are crispy, crinkled, and served with tooth picks for classy eating. David absolutely adores the '50s Americana kitsch value of driving up and eating in the sweltering heat of a late summer afternoon, blasting the radio and watching the high school-age waiters hit on the freshmen waitresses when they think no one's looking. It's strange that, with all the '50s nostalgia cafes reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, you actually can find the most authentic American '50s experience in a building built after the Second World War.A family establishment, Stewart's is open from mid-May until late September and closed every Sunday. Items are available for takeout. The best day to go is the first open day of the season, when locals compete for a spot in the parking lot to win the honor of First Person to Eat at Stewart's for the year, a title that includes a free meal.
Edgewater Park, New Jersey
December 15, 2005
From journal Day Trippin' on the Route 130 Corridor