"Does Mini Mac have actual magical powers? I think so."

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[Photos: Brian Yarvin]

I visited the Mini Mac Drive In for the first time the day after I learned that a well-known diner near my house had hired a sommelier and a serious chef. I was so upset that I needed an antidote—a place that serves the kind of foods that diners once did. I had the sort of pain that only real sausage gravy could assuage.

There had to be places that still served the solid, basic cooking that New Jersey once counted on diners for. That is, before diners tried to go fancy—before they were crushed by the chains, and before people started buying their coffee at specialty shops. I wanted the sort of place that began its day with hunters having pancakes, fed students and families later on, and ended it with local cops having a burgers and fries.

I wanted biscuits, gravy and home fries. They were classic. ($5.95) I sat there and ate while mother and daughter owners Anna and Terry presided over what seemed like a slice of small-town Nebraska plopped into the sprawl of New Jersey. Farmers and construction workers came in, and ordered, eggs, pancakes, and coffee—the classic American breakfast staples—while they talked local politics.

biscuitsgravy.jpgOn my next visit—even though it was almost lunch time—I ordered two eggs over easy with Taylor Ham ($5.95, pictured at top). I was of two minds over this: on one hand, I wanted Taylor Ham, that archetypical New Jersey breakfast meat, and on the other, I didn't want anything that would interfere with the illusion of being deep in flyover country. A place where "farming" means ten thousand acres of corn, not twenty acres of certified organic.

You don't have eat breakfast here—people commonly eat burgers, fried fish baskets, meatball subs, and even hot open sandwiches. (Almost everything is $5.95 or thereabouts.) The whole vintage diner menu, perfectly preserved from the days before Chicken Caesar Salads and wine lists, is here for you.

Does Mini Mac have actual magical powers? I think so. Sit here twenty minutes, sip on the real New Jersey diner coffee that so many of us miss, eat your first egg or biscuit, and you'll start feeling like you're part of the family. Like Anna, Terry, and the guys at the counter actually care about your political views or how badly you'd like to spend more time at the gym. The illusion continues when Terry digs out that business card you left the last time you ate there four months before. They remember you, they know you.

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So, if you're on 206 between I-78 and I-80 and looking for someplace to eat—someplace that's not fine dining, someplace that's not fast food, and someplace that's not trying to be fine dining or fast food—this is your place. It's easy to find, easy to order, and every spot is comfortable. Will you ever leave? That's another story. However, if you want to stay, nobody will chase you out.

Mini Mac Drive In

158 Route 206 South, Chester, New Jersey 07930 (map)
908-879-8222

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