The service here was so nice that they could have given me dog food on a plate and I would still have given the Clinton Station Diner a favorable review. I mean, how often do I start off with mentioning the service? Usually, I try to offer a clever remark, give some back-story, or tantalize the readers with mental imagery of the food I ordered. Here? Our waiter was a total pro. Like, so absolutely kind, attentive, and professional that he could be working at a Michelin-star restaurant in a big city somewhere. I’m not kidding or exaggerating. Everything about the way he carried himself was exceptional. I don’t like being called sir (I’m not old enough to be comfortable with that), but when was the last time you made a request and the waiter responded with a nod and, “I’ll attend to it, sir”. Yeah. Never. Same here until last week.
The Clinton Station Diner is actually world-famous from being on several TV shows. I had no idea. I only knew of this place from seeing it up on a hill when passing by en route to Pennsylvania on 78. It’s more than noticeable due to an original 1927 train car from the Blue Comet (which actually used to run on the line through my hometown of Hazlet an hour away) jutting out from the main building. They also offer several food challenges, including a 100+ pound burger (the patty itself is 50 pounds without the bread and toppings) where if you finish it with a party of 10 people, you win $5,000. The cost is $159.95, which is more than reasonable if you’re eating it with that many people. There are also smaller 50 and three pound burgers which can be scarfed down for winnings. I asked our waiter if he had ever seen the feat accomplished and he said no, but many have tried and failed.
The menu here is what you would expect of a Jersey diner. It’s massive and has everything. I don’t need to describe it for you. In fact, everything about this place is the epitome of what a diner in this, the Diner Capital of the World, should be like. An on-premises bakery, full-service bar, great food, great prices, and friendly service. They even have a salad bar which comes with many of the specials, and can be ordered as a meal itself for $9.95. It had an excellent selection, including some wonderful stuffed grape leaves, the Greek classic. I actually ordered a special just so I would get the salad bar included. I thought this was the right time to finally try stuffed cabbage. It was great. One large cabbage leaf stuffed with well-seasoned ground beef, covered in a red gravy, and served over a not-so-modest bed of mashed potatoes. The waiter also brought over some home-baked bread (it had rosemary and was reminiscent of a foccacia). The price for this feast was a mere $8.50.
My friend went with the Coney Island Burger, which had chili and cheese on it. The sandwich looked amazing, and it was cooked precisely to his request of medium. Some of the better diners I’ve been to could not pull that off. Before that, we also ordered an appetizer, which was Clinton’s version of Outback’s Blooming Onion. Named the “Blossoming Onion”, we were presented with a large Vidalia onion, cut and breaded exactly as Outback does, only there was no grease at all. It was fried carefully in order to achieve this crispness. The homemade sauce for dipping was the perfect complement. Too. Much. Food. Oh, and as for the coffee, a sign when you walk in says it is brewed fresh every 20 minutes. I believe it. I think I drank four cups.
Was this the best food I’ve ever had? No, but this is a case where service and atmosphere brings everything up a notch. Even the best of meals can be ruined by poor service. But an already great experience can also be enhanced to levels beyond normal comprehension by outstanding service. I wish I knew the guy’s name, because I would love to give him a shout-out. The Clinton Station Diner is getting a respectable 4 out of 5 stars. Next time, I want to come here for dinner and maybe try a steak. Oh, and get a cocktail from that neat looking bar they have. I also hope to get that same waiter again. He was just that good.
The Clinton Station Diner is located at 2 Bank Street in Clinton, New Jersey.