Thursday, March 19, 2009

The All New V.I.P. Diner, Jersey City

175 Sip Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07306
Cherry Pie, $2.29
Coffee, $1.12

Jersey Pie, purveyor of innocent, tongue-in-cheek Americana, has recently been confronted with a predicament which has kept us off line. Perhaps lightly invoking the Buddhists in our last post landed us in this existential dilemmna. What to do when cherry pie meets true darkness? Really. True Darkness. For our last slice of cherry pie was eaten at the purported location of the planning of the attack on the World Trade Center. And, as it would happen, half of Jersey Pie was literally under the World Trade Center during the attack. Small World, where innocence must muscle in amidst layers of disregard, loathing, and outright murderous hatred. Jersey Pie's position on the matter? Hatred cannot rob us of Joy.

Turns out one of America's most hated criminals, Mohammad Atta, spent time coordinating the World Trade Center attacks at the V.I.P. Diner, corner of Sip and Tonnelle Aves. Don't take our word for it, read about it in the New York Times. The other criminal we know to have visited the V.I.P. was of our preferred fantastic, cathartic variety. Christopher Moltisanti and Julianna Skiff ate at the V.I.P. after having sex in his car parked outside the diner in episode 612 of the Sopranos. We're sure the friend who recommended the V.I.P. did not know of its fiendish past, and there's really no reason to implicate the diner, but upon hearing this slithery, vile news, Jersey Pie began to project a rather cinematic version of the place.

We envisioned the V.I.P. like a scene from a 1930s gangster movie, or better yet Reefer Madness. Fade to black and white under a crippled Pulaski Skyway. Cue dark, relentless rain. The characters are sneering, grinding their pointy teeth between mouthfuls of food, mad eyes rolling wildly. (In the cartoon version hookha smoking cockroaches die and then decay in the booths, turning to dust that is sucked into the lungs of mafioso, who then, maliciously, shoot randomly into the crowd.) Not at all. The V.I.P. Diner seems perfectly innocent, its brightly lit sign glowing under a wide New Jersey sky. Inside, the restaurant is clean and free of odious characters. Etched into the full-length mirror on the south wall of the dining room is the New York City skyline, the twin towers standing proudly on the right-hand side. (We have tried without luck to determine when "All New" was added to the name.)

We entered the premises with senses highly attuned, not only to the notorious history of the place, but because of our memorable pie victory at the Tom Sawyer and a recent foible at another diner, the Skyline Diner in Ringwood, which reminded us to mind our expectations. Ringwood's Skyline had stumbled into many of the familiar diner snares: the bent fork, the pork fat in the homefries, the "yes, we do have cherry pie. Oh, sorry that was blueberry." At the V.I.P. our waitress took our order for two slices of cherry pie, and came back with the news that there was only one slice left. "That's OK, we'll share." And then it came.

Our fork tines cautiously probed the exposed side and drew up one cherry - THWUCK! That cherry snapped back to its place, held fast by elasticized pie matrix, an irascible booger. Whereas it is usually an honor to deflower a cherry slice by taking her point, there was in this case instead some Bart Simpsonian squabble. "You eat the point." "No, You." "No. YOU." We made no progress that way, and so removed the point to the rim of the dessert plate and carried on with a count of remaining internal cherries: 19. Sounds like a lot, but hardly enough for these pieheads, and the cherries were totally flavorless. The crust, well, more than ever you could say that we were right there in the thick of it - shortbread, not pastry, its only merit being that it was clearly made on site. Did we finish it? No. In fact, we tried the chocolate mousse. Sadly, we'd have to rate this piece of cherry pie a big fat zero.

Beware the last slice of V.I.P. Diner cherry pie. Is it a pie, or an insidious plot against that bit of Americana we love? New Jersey, your cherry pie threat level has gone up from yellow to blue - "significant risk of unacceptable cherry pie." And remember: If you see something, say something.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tom Sawyer Diner, Paramus

98 East Ridgewood Ave.
Paramus, NJ 07652
Cherry Pie, $3.29
Legendary Coffee, $1.49

Lunch was six dollars and thirty one cents at the Lamplighter Inn. That's on Highway 2 near Lewis Fork. That was a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat, a slice of cherry pie, and a cup of coffee. Damn good food. Diane, if you ever get up this way that cherry pie is worth a stop.
-- FBI Special Agent Dale B. Cooper
Twin Peaks Pilot Episode

It was good. It was Special-Agent-Dale-Bartholomew-Cooper good.

We nearly duplicated that meal. A shrimp salad sandwich on whole wheat, a slice of cherry pie, and a cup of coffee. Add to that one Swiss, lettuce and tomato with a side of fries, and imagine it all on classy, modern, white china against a rich, cherry-wood table. Yum, yum, yum. But don't stop there. The whole scene is brilliantly lit with indirect lighting, and the wait staff is as peppy and pleasing as the cast of a high school musical. They are all costumed in powder-blue, three-button polo tops with an embroidered homage to their "legendary" cup of coffee right over each and every one of their hearts. Jersey Pie has no argument with the descriptor "legendary," as it reads on their menu. It was damn good coffee.

It's always darkest before the dawn. About an hour before we had our first Agent-Cooper-worthy slice of cherry pie we were stuck in a clover-leaf maze composed of on-ramps and u-turns connecting Interstate 80, Highway 46, and Route 23 in a clusterfuck of ins and outs circling Totowa. There was yelling. Google maps, schmoogle maps. While not really pie related, there is a Jersey tie-in here, as the sign that once pointed to Totowa (an important point along our indirect route to Paramus) was lying in the middle of a grassy field on its side just looking pathetic. New Jersey is famous for its illegible traffic signs that come along just past the turn-off they were supposed to indicate. But that was the darkness.

The Tom Sawyer Diner's cherry pie was the dawn. Our waiter presented our one slice to share with an apology for the broken crust, but we were already exclaiming over the explosion of cherries bursting their bounds and tumbling joyously over themselves. Just the right sweetness--not, too. Just the right tartness--bringing the palate to attention. Fruit to matrix ratio--best yet. Crust--if not properly flaky, at least light. Okay, we're holding out for better here. We think there might be a fresher, fruitier, flakier cherry pie out there, but that's only because the Tom Sawyer Diner has given us hope again. And we are sure that the next time the Tom Sawyer serves a slice of pie they will bring a fresh fork to enjoy it with. Cherry pie should never be eaten with a shrimp salad fork.

We asked our waiter if the placemat's claim of baking on the premises were true for this cherry pie. He proudly informed us that they have a small selection of desserts precisely because they do prepare them all, and turn them over every 24 to 48 hours. The Tom Sawyer is committed to customer satisfaction. However, when we expressed our satisfaction to the owner and manager, importantly stating the fact that we are "pie reviewers," he seemed puzzled. What, after all, is it in the cherry pie that merits such careful attention? Like Agent Cooper, Jersey Pie finds itself turning to the Buddhists for clarification.

If you ask the cloud, “How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?” you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean’s surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapor. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into healthy soil and the soil into cherry trees and the cherry trees into blossoms, the blossoms into cherries and then into the cherry pie you eat. Today if you eat a piece of cherry pie, give yourself time to look at the pie and say:

“Hello, cloud! I recognize you.”

--Thich Nhat Hanh

Hope that helps. Reader, if you ever get up to Paramus, that cherry pie is worth a stop.