In Depth: Remembering the Double S Diner, As It Was

(Kodak Ektar 100, Leica M3, Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2)

I was greeted with some pretty terrible news this morning. Elisa got word that our favorite diner — The Double S in Wantage, New Jersey — was gutted by an overnight fire. The photos on the story at the New Jersey Herald aren’t pretty. One can only hope that the owner will be able to rebuild, as this puts some good people out of work and takes a pretty awesome spot off the map.

Elisa had clued me into the existence of the Double S after she read about it in the Herald. They had run a business story on the diner while she was working as a reporter there. They smoked their own meat, used local ingredients, and made everything from scratch that should be made from scratch. The cuisine looked like it was right up our alley — a mix of classic American diner fare, breakfasts, and barbecue done right. We’re both foodies without the pretentiousness — yeah, I can appreciate all kinds of interesting ethnic cuisines and adventuresome menu choices, but I look forward to taco night with earnest and I take pride in my ability to make a damned good batch of pulled pork.

A Typical Scene at the Counter. (Kodak Ektar 100, Leica CL, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 ASPH)

So we made it a point to check out the diner the next time we were out in Sussex County. And boy, am I glad that we did. The food lived up to our hopes — and it was inexpensive with amazingly plentiful portions. The first time we visited I ordered up a side of biscuits and gravy — only to discover that the side came with a side of home fries. (And don’t get me started on the pumpkin pancakes. I’ll probably dream about them tonight.)

We usually found ourselves there in the morning, and such gravitated towards the breakfast menu. There was a full page of pancake options — including buckwheat and johnny cakes. It was only recently that we delved into the lunch menu. I had been up the street at the Deckertown-Union Cemetery one crisp November afternoon shooting some photos for a piece on Lensbabies for my day job. Elisa had been dutifully hanging out in the car for a few hours, so once I wrapped with photos we headed down to the diner for lunch.

Baby Back Ribs and Mashed Potatoes. (iPhone 4)

One cup of soup and one pulled pork sandwich later, I began to question why I had been getting breakfast all the other times I’d visited. Our most recent trip — only two weeks ago — had us arriving for lunch again. Elisa got a cup of clam chowder, a burger and a chocolate shake. I had a bite of the burger and let me tell you, it was one of the best bites I’ve had in recent memory.

I waffled on my choice. Part of me wanted to try the smoked meat loaf. The other part was saying “baby back ribs.” Well, the rib side won out — I got them with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. The ribs were super-duper smokey — and were perfectly complemented by the vinegar BBQ sauce. I think that meal takes the crown as the best I had at the diner — and it pains me to think that it was the last. Part of me is always going to wonder what that smoked meat loaf would have tasted like.

The Shakes Lived up to the Awesomeness of That Neon Sign. (Kodak Ektar 100, Leica CL, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 ASPH)

Now, time to talk about the diner itself. It was like someone took every possible bit of 1950s style Americana and put it into one location. If the Double S had a holy trinity, it would have been John Wayne, James Dean, and Elvis Presley. Photos from classic TV shows and movies covered the walls. Newspaper clippings with caricatures of New York Yankees hall-of-famers adorned the men’s room. There was almost always some sort of classic car in the parking lot. And the regulars were real salt of the earth types — sitting at the counter reading the paper, dressed like a Hell’s Angel with a mustache to match, or coming in from a day of hunting, decked out in full camouflage.

Even if they do rebuild the diner, it will never be the same as how I was first introduced to it. I only wish that I had gone more often, and taken some more photos to remember it by.

But they can’t take those memories away. Nor can they take the smell of smoke from the baby back ribs that I enjoyed for lunch the last time I visited — call me crazy, but I think it’s still on my fingers. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Reading the Paper. (Kodak Ektar 100, Leica CL, Leica Elmar 50mm f/3.5)

A Classic Car Parked Outside of the Diner. (Kodak Ektar 100, Leica CL, Leica Elmar 50mm f/3.5)

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes. (Kodachrome 64, Leica M3, Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2)

Pumpkin Pancakes. (Kodachrome 64, Leica M3, Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2)

Ghouls greeted you as you entered the lobby. (Kodak T-Max 100, Leica CL, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 ASPH)

The Famous Side Order of Biscuits and Gravy -- with Home Fries! (iPhone 4)

Buckwheat Pancakes. (iPhone 4)

My Last Breakfast at the Double S -- Scrambled Eggs & Scrapple. (iPhone 4)

I love the Double S, and I love Alan Alda... but he has no business being on the wall with The Gipper, Brando, John Wayne, and Patrick Swayze. (Kodak Ektar 100, Leica M3, Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2)

John Wayne. Elvis. Nuff Said? (Kodak Ektar 100, Leica M3, Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2)

Me, Enjoying a Hot Cup of Coffee. Photo by Elisa Keller. (Leica M8, Leica Super Angulon 21mm f/3.4)

Elisa, Being Cute. She's Good At That. (Leica M8, Leica Super Angulon 21mm f/3.4)



12 thoughts on “In Depth: Remembering the Double S Diner, As It Was

  1. I am so so sad that we have no photos documenting the awesome homemade corned beef hash . . . and that I didn’t order both breakfast AND lunch when we were there last.

  2. Hi,
    I’m an insurance coverage lawyer helping friends of the Double S put together the its insurance claims from the fire. Do you have any more/better pictures of the diner “before”? Any/all documentation we can get to prove up their insurance claim will be a tremendous help.
    Thanks in advance.

  3. We live up here in Sussex County. We were just at the Double S last week. The place was always packed, especially on the weekends for breakfast. You are right, their food was not only delicious but friendly on the budget. We are all hoping that Eric and Renee will rebuild.

    • WOW,What can one Say ,Great Job,guys on all the pictures.I know u all know and remember the diner,for all the great personal memories it has.I personally not only like the food but the great help Eric&Rene have,Cookie,Lynda.Lauren,Kathy,Sharon,Nicole,Carla,all of the waitresses and cooks ,right down to the bus girls.They r great people to be around and it’s very relaxing to be where it’s like home.They make you feel like you r the best.When ur down in the dumps go talk to nicole,lol.She will put a smile on ur face.when u just need time for thought,they let u do that too.Eric &Rene are great people and deserve all the support they can get.We need Double-s-more then anything in this town.Nobody does it better then Eric.Nobody.

  4. Great story and pictures we are going to miss going there on weekends and when we had days off. Thoughts and prayers to Eric. He is the best.

  5. So sorry for everyone lose. All of you are in my prayers. I loved coming in and bantering with with all of you! Alot of fun. Can’t wait till all of you come back full force.
    With much love,

  6. Nice post; great photos. As an update: The Double S was officially torn down on Feb 9 2012. No official word but rumor says they’re rebuilding. Guess we wait and see…

  7. Jessica,

    I was out in Sussex County last weekend and drove by the site–Eric’s Facebook page for the diner says that the rebuilding has begun, with a targeted opening date of late April. The diner is gone, but the ghouls that hung out in the lobby is hanging out at the site, seemingly overseeing the upcoming construction. I did grab a couple photos, but haven’t had time to get them online.


  8. So many beautiful imeags here. What version 50 summicron do you have? I think I might mothball my Hex until I can afford another M9 body to adjust for use with it as it is just too hard to get focus with the back focus problem. My NOCT is so much easier to use (fortunately).

    • I’ve got the Dual Range Summicron, which is a variation of the 1960s rigid that supports closer focus. Unfortunately, it won’t mount on the M8/M9 without machining down the rangefinder cam.

    • Ektar has become my fiaorvte print film too! I also keep an Olympus Stylus Epic in my truck. It’s my fiaorvte camera to just stick in my coat pocket and take everywhere! Too bad they stopped making it!

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