This past Sunday, Robyn and I took a trip up to Jersey City so we could take the ferry to Ellis Island. It had been more than 20 years since either of us had been there, and, given my recent foray into family history and Robyn’s blossoming career as a genealogist, it seemed that we were far past due for another visit. After a full day spent between there and Liberty Island, the missus and I were hungry when we got back to shore.
The nearest diner had already closed for the evening, but a quick Google search led us twenty minutes to our next destination: the Tick Tock Diner on Rt. 3 in Clifton, NJ. We had previously eaten at the Tick Tock in the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, and this location was voted the second-best 24-hour-restaurant in the United States in 2017, so we figured we couldn’t go wrong.
The Tick Tock was established in 1948, and has exactly the décor, both interior and exterior, that one would expect of a 70-year-old eatery. That isn’t to say that it looks old or dated; quite the opposite. Its classic diner look was a welcome change from some of the more modern-esque establishments. This is a diner, it knows that it’s a diner, and it fully owns it.
As luck would have it, we were right in the neck of the woods of friend and fellow writer Lou Tambone, so he hopped in his car and drove the five minutes to meet up with us.
Robyn and I were seated and, as we waited for Lou to arrive, we ordered coffee – which was better than some recent diners but not as good as others; it did the trick but didn’t set the world on fire – and perused the menu. (As this was Passaic County – quite up in North Jersey – it came as no surprise that we were in Taylor Ham Country, a fact that Lou proudly embraces.) Once Lou joined us, we ordered our meals, which came with delightful alacrity.
Robyn’s selection this time was the Clifton Single Pancake, which consists of the titular pancake and two eggs – which she ordered scrambled with cheddar cheese – and a choice of breakfast meat, as if there were really any other choice for her besides bacon. The pancake was perfect in texture and in flavor; simply delicious. The eggs were cooked well, but the cheese was layered on top of the eggs instead of mixed in with them. The result was a thick slab of cheese on top of the eggs, with the edges quickly congealing. It didn’t necessarily detract from the dish, but it was odd.
I ordered the Route 3 Traffic Jam, which was two potato pancakes, two sausage patties, and two eggs – I almost always opt for sunny-side up – topped with melted Swiss cheese. (A brief aside: for the first thirty or so years of my life, I couldn’t stand Swiss cheese; now it seems that just about every blessed thing I order at a diner, through design or happenstance, comes with Swiss cheese.) And when they say topped, they really should have said covered, because the cheese on top of the eggs and sausage was almost a quarter of an inch thick. But the eggs were done right and the sausage was tasty, and the cheese tied it all together, literally and figuratively. The standouts, though, were the potato pancakes. Our server brought both applesauce and sour cream to go with them, and I couldn’t decide which one went better – or if they were even better without anything on them. They were by far the most flavorful potato pancakes I’ve ever ordered.
And Lou? He ordered coffee, and proceeded to drink approximately half an oil drum of the stuff.
The only qualm we had was that the service was a tad inconsistent. At times, our server seemed to appear out of the ether like some sort of a coffee ninja, refilling our cups before silently retreating back into the shadows. At other times he was nowhere to be seen for stretches of time that were so long we honestly wondered if he went on break. Considering that the Tick Tock was nowhere near full, and not nearly as busy as one would expect of dinner on a Sunday, we’re not quite sure what his hold-up was. That being said, he was friendly and helpful, and genuinely attentive – when he was around.
All told, we spent two hours there, eating, drinking coffee, conversing, and laughing. The waitstaff never rushed us; just kept making sure our cups were full. It was everything we could have asked for; the quintessential Jersey diner experience.
You can check out their menu on their website at www.ticktockdiner.com. If you’re up that way, give them a try.
Until next time, happy eating!