Though New Jersey became the focal point of the ‘diner’, they actually originated in Providence, Rhode Island as horse-drawn carts, serving lunch from factory to factory in an era where there were no local restaurants, luncheonettes or fast food spots. Eventually, this small enterprising idea spawned diners, food trucks, lunch wagons and so many more variables.
The original Club Diner in South Jersey started as a horse-drawn lunch mobile. In the early 1920’s, the owners stopped driving the carts and parked them on empty spaces along the street, so they could put in bigger kitchens. Eventually, the small horse-drawn wagons were replaced by per-fabricated lunch wagons, which is why you have to go up steps to get into them. The first man to mass-produce diners was Patrick J. Tierney. He named them ‘dining cars’ after the popular Pullman dining cars found on trains. Diners were built to resemble train cars in hopes of capitalizing on this popularity.
The timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous, coinciding with an influx of Greek immigrants, many of whom had worked on the cruise ships of the Mediterranean and trans-Atlantic lines as chefs and cooks. As an inexpensive means of starting a business, the Greeks, settling in New York and New Jersey, took to diners like a fish takes to water. It was a marriage made in heaven.
In 1927, the Mastoris family bought land in Hightstown from Mr. Benjamin Zaitz and had a brand new lunch wagon built by Jerry O’Mahony from Kearny, NJ. By 1929, they’d moved to their present location in Bordentown and with the help of O’Mahony, created a new concept – the diner with family dining rooms. Every year, the diner grew as the Mastoris family invested part of their income back into their business.
Eventually, adding parking spaces made Mastoris’ a destination eatery, making it possible for people to visit and enjoy the diner from throughout the region. People came from far and wide to dine there on fresh, roast turkey, served seven days a week, rice pudding made daily, freshly baked goods and an incredibly diverse menu.
Over time, the menu grew beyond the basic luncheon concept to full meals, fine steaks and chops, a full bakery and multiple rooms as well as a full bar. The dining rooms vary from a formal, mahogany paneled clubroom to an airy, comfortable dining room with stone fireplace and a garden conservatory, just to name a few.
People will drive for an hour or more to get to Mastoris’ from northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, even Delaware and Maryland and stand in a long queue to savor the exceptional cooking, superb service and fantastic baked goods. People enjoying a full meal or even a simple breakfast may enjoy a choice of cheese or cinnamon breads that are indescribably delicious (see the inset picture above). The bakery, now in the entrance foyer, sells everything from cookies to cakes, pies, pastries and breads.
It’s been the favorite of New Jersey politicians for decades and from time to time, I’ll stop in for a meal, despite the 40 mile drive. Every day, people have business meetings there; meet friends and family for dinner; stop in for breakfast on their way to work or enjoy an outstanding brunch on weekends.
Dining at Mastoris is not simply an amazing adventure, but it’s a magical mystery. Many restaurants have trouble putting out a menu of 20 or so entrees, one or two soups and side dishes, and a few desserts. Mastoris’ kitchen probably produces over 1400 dishes daily from a menu that easily has over 500 items on it. And if that sounds like the food might not be top notch, let me stop you right there. This food is spectacular every time. Their salads (which come with your dinner entree) are so incredible that in New York, they’d be a separate a la carte dish costing as much, if not more than your entire dinner.
This menu isn’t a static thing either. Every single day they print a gigantic menu of about 100 specials using market fresh ingredients and cooked to order. The dishes aren’t small either. You will not find any dishes served with a drop of pureed peas and a smeared sauce on the plate filling the place where food should be. At Mastoris, if you’re still hungry when you leave, something’s wrong with you. Most folks leave with a ‘doggy’ bag, full of fabulous leftovers. Portions are huge and very fairly priced. Despite the bar, located in the wood-paneled dining room, this really is a family restaurant.
Check their website to see how huge their menu is, and to get more information. And for the record, they’re one of the very few diners that have rooms for weddings and other special events. It’s become a tourist destination as well, with bus-loads of people, often on school or church outings, visiting for outstanding meals. Parking today is measured in acreage. There’s room for hundreds of cars.
You’re going to love it and find it absolutely amazing.
144 Route 130