Restaurants We Miss: Don Quixote Inn (Old Bridge, NJ)

I may have eaten my first steak here. How incredibly rare is it for a restaurant to offer a steak on the children’s menu? The Don Quixote Inn did. Maybe this was their way of trying to introduce younger diners to “adult” meals, I don’t know. There were chicken fingers and maybe a mini pizza as well, but I always went for the steak. It was probably only four or five ounces, but to my young eyes, seemed massive. I do not recall much else about the Don Quixote by way of food, though I can remember exactly what the dining room looked like, and that some of the servers could border on ornery. Readers of this blog know how I have a love for restaurants stuck in time. The places that remain unchanged as the decades pass. For some, like Portuguese Manor, it works and thrives. For others, it’s nothing but a death knell—the reminder that all things must come to an end.

The last time we ate here would have been right before they closed, around 2001. I would have been 10. Don Quixote was already dated by then. The items on the menu which come to mind, the decor of the rooms, the way the servers were dressed, and how things were done. All out of style, if you cared about that sort of thing. There was no basket of rolls and butter, but there was a ball of cheddar cheese and plate of crackers. Hell, that was probably passe by the 1980’s.

From what I can tell, they opened up in 1964. Like Keyport’s similarly defunct landmark restaurant Ye Cottage Inn (which was taken during Hurricane Sandy), the Don Quixote seemed to be a popular spot for banquets and luncheons—these probably carried the business in their near 50 years of operation. During that span, not much changed. They did not move with the times, and finally, ran out of it altogether. The famous Windmill which served as the entrance was a welcome beacon to diners and passersby. You could not miss it. The structure was famous in its own right. People who did not even know what the restaurant was called still referenced, “Oh yeah, that place with the windmill”.

Location, the economy, and the demographics of your customers factor a lot into how even a restaurant with quality food can still close. Their crowd was generally an older one. Perhaps the Don Quixote never quite tapped into the coming generation enough to sustain themselves for another decade. I do not mean this facetiously or in mean spirits when I say this restaurant may have died with some of their customers.

Things finally came to an end in 2001. While it seems the building was used for events over the next few years, the restaurant itself was out of business. I still remember riding by after they closed, looking out for the windmill. In 2007, that local landmark too bit the dust, being demolished with a daycare center built in its place. It’s a shame restaurants like this are so few and far-between.

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