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.
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.
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.
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.