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Where to Go, What to Know

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Travel section's John Deiner recently drove up to central Jersey for a little diner-hopping. His reporter's guide:

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DRIVE TIME About 2 1/2 hours from the Beltway

COST From $3.29 for a slice of pie to $13.98 for Mile High Meatloaf

THE PLAN It was simple: Arrive hungry, leave full.

GETTING THERE

You can hop on Route 130 north shortly after crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge, but you'll have miles of traffic lights ahead. To get to the area I explored, take either the New Jersey Turnpike (Exit 4) or Interstate 295 to Route 73 north to 130. Be prepared for uneven surfaces and lots of stops.

THE DINERS

· The Harvest Diner (2602 Route 130 N., Cinnaminson, 856-829-4499) looks old on the outside, seems older within, but it couldn't be more authentic. The $3.99 breakfast specials are available Monday-Friday; otherwise, there are pages of morning items, including breakfast wraps (the $9.25 Mediterranean wrap includes gyro slices, egg, tomatoes and feta) and omelets. Blue-plate specials start at $9.95 and include entree (fried shrimp, crab cakes, veal Marsala, etc.), fruit cup or salad, potato/veggie or pasta, dessert and a beverage.

· On a sunny day, the glare from the Dolphin Diner (4520 Route 130 N., Burlington, 609-387-1500) -- a sea of stainless steel -- probably can be seen for miles. Loved the banana cream pie ($3.29), but the apple pie a la mode wasn't worth the $6. You'll find all the usual suspects (burgers, salads, club sandwiches), plus early-bird specials (from $9.49) that include such entrees as fried liver with soup or salad, bread and dessert.

· Look for the buses parked near a nondescript brick building and you'll find Mastoris (144 Route 130 S., Bordentown, 609-298-4650). Some say the place isn't as good as it once was, but where else will you find Spud Mountain ($5.95)? The mammoth sandwich menu includes the Sloppy John ($10.50), a heap of turkey, roast beef and corned beef. Or choose from steaks, seafood platters, burgers or the $11.50 luncheon specials (baked ziti and other entrees, plus soup or salad, veggie, beverage and dessert).

· The Americana Diner (359 Route 130 N., East Windsor, 609-448-4477) manages to have it both ways: It's retro-hip and the food rocks. There's karaoke and Five Dollar Fridays ($5 martinis after 9 p.m.), but do yourself a favor and order the Mile High Meatloaf ($13.98). Other eye-openers include the $8.50 Gorgonzola Stuffed Burger (the cheese is inside the patty!); the $8.50 Memphis omelet (barbecued pulled pork, onions, cheddar); and the $7.98 Sky High French Toast, with layers of strawberries, whipped cream, jam and cream cheese. Burp.

INFORMATION

Peter Genovese's "Jersey Diners" (Rutgers University Press) is an excellent guide. For general info, check out New Jersey tourism's Web site ( http://www.state.nj.us/travel). And ask Jerseyans where they eat -- trust me, they'll let you know.


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