Tasty traditions abound in our area. Monmouth County has been home to some iconic eateries, many of which are thriving gems serving up memories of a bygone era.
Nothing is more Jersey than a diner, and so we begin this tour with two great ones in Red Bank. Our first is Toast, a grand old girl on Monmouth Street. Amy Russo, founder and owner of Toast, has this location in her blood. Before it became Toast, it spent 18 years as the Broadway Diner, owned and operated by Russo’s father, Bob Russo. The actual history dates back to the 1940s when it was brought in as a boxcar diner called the Palace Diner. According to Atlas Obscura, the credit for creating the polished diner image was a lunch wagon manufacturer named Patrick Tierney. These were train cars created to mimic that streamlined look. Some even had wheels.
The Palace Diner started out as an entirely wooden structure and got it shiny upgrades as it passed through ownerships.
Russo gave the Broadway Diner that classic New Jersey diner look, complete with Formica counters, walls and ceiling, and glass block dividers. He also restored much of the interior and exterior neon lighting. The Broadway Diner also had the classic swivel stools for countertop customers.
Each booth had its own miniature juke box, and Toast has kept the originals complete with the playlist of the 1960s and 70s. While they’ve reupholstered the seats, you will still be seated in the original booth settings.
Amy had already been running the original two Toast locations in Asbury Park and Montclair when Bob passed away in 2014. She wanted to keep the diner tradition alive in Red Bank. In 2022, she joined forces with partner Adam Torine, and together they are continuing to make small but eye-catching upgrades to the interior and exterior. Toast is about 2,800 square feet and seats 99 people offering take-out, delivery and dine in. It features courtyard dining outside, weather permitting, at its 45 Monmouth St. location. For more information, call 732-224-1234 or visit ToastCityDiner.com.
Over at 179 Broad St., you’ll find the Red Bank Diner. It was given that name in 2010, and when current owner Billy Avgoustis took over on Jan. 1, 2019, he kept the name. Before that, it was the East Side Café. It first opened in the 1950s as the Off Broad Street Coffeehouse.
The diner still has its classic exterior, and the recently upgraded interior space still features some of the original touches and some vintage photos too. Billy is committed to keeping the pure diner experience with a menu of classic favorites which earned them a ranking as one of the “most mouthwatering Monmouth County diners” by 94.3 The Point radio.
It serves a steady breakfast and lunch crowd and has had some famous guests in its history, including Bruce Springsteen who performed at the Off Broad Street Coffeehouse on Sept. 28, 1968. Singer John Waite also paid a recent visit.
Billy and his friendly staff invite you to taste the classics whether you dine in or order online at RedBankDiner.com. For more information, call 732-741-4791.
We end this tour of historic eateries with one of the oldest, the Colts Neck General Store, located at 171 Route 537, next to the Colts Neck Steakhouse.
For the past six years, it has been owned by Mary Pahira, originally of Holmdel, though now she and husband Michael live atop the store.
It was built in 1849 by Benjamin and Rhoda Matthews as a lumber store. Rhoda ruled with an iron fist which helped to launch the building. The store has changed hands and jobs multiple times including service as a hardware store, liquor store, butcher shop and post office. For the last 40 years, the 4,500-square-foot space has been a deli. Over the years, there have been additions, but the dining area and gift shop section are original. Mary shares there are still tree trunks in the basement. Look up and you will see the original peg beams. The original floors are the still there as is the attic. There is a basement staircase just under the coffee area, covered by a secret trap door. While much of the original structure is still intact, some of it has been covered up during some renovations. Mary’s goal for next year’s 175th anniversary is to restore the wooden sign and the miniature fence that was on the front porch.
The busy shop is always full of customers, including some you can’t see. Mary agrees with the numerous stories of haunted patrons. “I’ve had a bunch. They are much more active at night. Sometimes we see shadows, and my husband has insisted I’ve called him when it was someone else. I don’t mind having them pass through, but I wish they wouldn’t knock items off the shelves, which they do frequently.”
In addition to the deli, their bakery is well-known, and OnlyInYourState ranked the spot as the best bakery in the New Jersey. That honor was followed up almost immediately by 105.7 The Hawk who ranked them in the top New Jersey bakeries.
In a truly unique moment, the great, great, great grandson of the original owners paid Mary a visit to see the store and share the portraits of the first owners, which Mary has hung in the shop for all to see.
We have lots more to taste in the future, but this should be enough to whet your appetite! Happy eating!