Escape from the Big Apple

When somebody recently asked me if we'd done any day trips out of New York I said yes, just one. To be honest I really wanted to duck out to Boston but not just for the day. A couple of days would have been nice. Our day out of NYC was spent in a city named Summit, a place I heard about after reading about it at Richard Elliot's blog earlier this year, in particular the diner he went to. I just had to go there.

Summit is a gorgeous little place located in New Jersey, about 30 km from Manhattan. It's straight-forward to reach by train, as we did, from Penn Station and the ride takes about an hour. It's so easy to get caught up in the high density madness of New York City so a brief escape was like a micro holiday within a holiday. A couple of return tickets were purchased and before we knew it the scenery changed from skyscrapers and sirens to open fields and marshland as we zipped along the train line through pockets of lush forest and quaint green neighbourhoods. Getting off at Summit station immediately felt like we stepped into a small rural town. Colonial buildings and colourful shopfronts adorned with hanging baskets of flowers, lanterns and the national flag. I was amazed at the amount of flags, actually. There's no way of forgetting where you are with hundreds of flapping stars and stripes lining every street. Patriotic much?

Cute little shops line the downtown streets and any Martha Stewart wannabe's would have a field day at the abundance of decorator stores offering colonial rustic chic that seems very du jour in this part of the world. Step off the commercial strip and into the residential streets and you feel like you've walked onto a movie set complete with perfect wood-panelled houses, manicured gardens and lawns and those ubiquitous American flags and rattan armchairs on the front veranda. Oh look, is that Martha? No, just Mrs Stepford.

There aren't hundreds of eating options in Summit but what there is services the community well with a basic variety from café's to Italian to Mexican to American. The only reason we came out here was to have lunch at the Summit Diner, a family-run joint that has been in business for many years. From the outside it resembles a slightly art deco train carriage with peeling paint and chrome details. Step inside and you feel like you've entered a 1930's classic. The open kitchen runs the length of the rear wall with a counter where you can perch on fixed round stools and take your coffee and breakfast however you like. I don't think I'd consider requesting a macchiato in this neck of the New Jersey woods, but you never know.

Red vinyl booths and laminate tables are cramped up by the windows made homely with nanna curtains dappling the light as it steams into the cosy room. The guys behind the counter are friendly and down-to-earth and busy flipping bacon on the cooker and frying eggs and chips for the hungry punters. This is far from a hipster hang-out; local council workers, the occasional suit and truck driver all stop by for the no-frills stodge this un-classy joint is known for.

The hot roast beef sandwich ($8.75) is an epic-sized plate piled with halved white bread slices, beef drowning in gravy and a side of chunky unseasoned mashed potato and sweet corn kernels. I wonder if this was on the menu when they first opened in 1929? It's beautifully plain and exactly what I was expecting at a place like this. The Virginia ham sandwich ($6.50) is equally enormous and threatens to deconstruct if one of the supporting toothpicks is removed. The ham is just perfect and thickly cut and layered with tomato, iceberg lettuce and mustard between wholemeal bread. A solitary pickle decorates the plate and adds a final juicy and salty bite before the indigestion kicks in.

Not too far away on Springfield Avenue is Winberies Restaurant & Bar, an American bistro-style establishment housed in what was once Summits opera house. No, we weren't here for more food but rather a glass of wine which I was craving and a coffee for the other half. The waiter wasn't too sure how to make the requested latte ($3.5) and delivered something that far resembled one. An absolute abomination. My Mirassou pinot grigio ($8.5) was pretty good. I couldn't help but take a look at the menu and ended up ordering the Nestlé toll house pie ($6), something that doesn't quite match to the pinot but something I simply couldn't resist. So much for not having any food. The wedge was beyond enormous, warm, gooey and very chocolatey with a layer of choc drops and chopped walnuts throughout. A scoop of ice cream slowly melted into the pie and a sinful dark chocolate sauce added to the sugary indulgence. Good lord. I was about to pass out or explode. I couldn't get through it all and my helper went as far as one small mouthful before throwing in his spoon. Lightweight.

To fill the last few minutes before catching the train back to Manhattan we dropped into the Summit Food Market, another local business that has been going strong for many years. It's a bit of a one-stop-shop for groceries, fresh fruit & veg, coffee, gift hampers and its selection of sandwiches and subs is damn impressive. Had I not gluttonised at the diner and Winberie's I'd have tried the "Deli Duke" (pastrami, corned beef & Swiss) or one of the other Reuben-type sambo's. Ok, now where's that Zantac?

Summit Diner
1 Union Place
Summit NJ 07901
(908) 277 3256
Mon-Thurs 5.30am-8.30pm
Fri 5am-8.30pm
Sat 5.30am-8.30pm
Sun 6.30am-1pm
Summit Diner on Urbanspoon

Winberies
2 Kent Place Boulevard
Summit NJ 07901
(908) 277 4224
Lunch: Mon-Sat 11.30am-4pm
Dinner: Mon-Thurs 4pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm; Sun 4pm-9pm
Brunch: Sun 10.30am-2pm
website
Winberie's on Urbanspoon 
Summit Food Market
423 Springfield Avenue
Summit NJ 07901
(908) 277 4500
Mon-Fri 7.30am-5.30pm
Sat 8am-5pm
website
Summit Food Market on Urbanspoon