Your first meal at Big Stash Restaurant in Linden could be thought of as an intellectual exercise. There's just too much to take in. The first question you might ask is, "Who wrote this menu?" There are burgers, fish and chip platters, Polish specialties, frog's legs, and tomato soup. There aren't many other places in New Jersey that offer macaroni salad and shrimp cocktail right next to each other.
In fact, I was so absorbed by the fantasy of somebody walking into the place and ordering frog's legs, shrimp cocktail, and macaroni salad that I almost forgot to order my own lunch—veal paprikash and a side of "salad." (Anybody who remembers the suburban kosher delis of forty years ago would call this "health salad." Of course, you'd recognize the macaroni salad too.)
The location of Big Stash is worth noting, too—a few minutes from exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike. On many journeys—from Washington DC northbound, for example—this is your last practical stop before crossing the vast mass of New York City.
There's a distinct Polish vibe here—this is Linden, after all. Pierogies top the menu, bigos and veal paprikash follow soon after. The ladies who both serve and clean speak with charming Eastern European inflection. Indeed, this place is often called a "Polish Restaurant," or maybe "The Polish Restaurant." Is it? Well, there's some Polish food here—but how often are soft-shell crab sandwiches on the menu in Poland?
With cafeteria service, servers with thick accents, dark brown carpeting, and the general darkness of a place attached to a bar, Big Stash seems like the perfect place to order tripe, but on my visits, it was nowhere to be found on the menu.
Obviously, Big Stash doesn't serve health food, but a platter of food here would have once been described as "wholesome"—properly cooked meat, vegetables, and starch, served on real plates, with real silverware. It's something that was once the norm—a family restaurant and a bar rolled into one. And one wonders what Big Stash was like when the auto plants were open, and thousands of workers and their families lived within walking distance; you can feel the history here even though there's no clue on the walls.
Full meals at Big Stash are in the nine- to twelve-dollar range. Sandwiches are a bit less.
A word of warning: Always park across the street in the lot provided. Even though those few spaces right by the entrance look enticing, a delivery truck can trap you for a solid hour.
Big Stash Restaurant
1020 South Wood Avenue, Linden NJ 07036 (map)