Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I spotted Roney's down the road from The Pub on a cruddy strip of route 130 in New Jersey. It looked closed, maybe even abandoned, so imagine my surprise when I discovered it was open 24 hours. I still didn't believe it until my hand literally opened the door. The building is unbelievable, and you need to get there soon if you want to see it in person.
We walked in and it was empty except for the cheerful owner / sole employee and his pregnant wife (?) who was hanging out in a van in the parking lot and waltzed in with a box of chips every once in a while. I was a little bummed that the place wasn't still run by the original "Roney" but Peter was a great host, encouraged us to take pictures and told us the whole history of the place. At this point it's sort of a diner slash convenience store, with a megatouch machine and a bootleg dvd of "Transporter 3" playing on a busted up old TV on the counter.
The burgers were decent, standard fast food style cooked on the original 90 year old grill, on which the buns are warmed right before serving. It's not going to impress any North Jersey slider experts any time soon, but the buns weren't stale and a plate of onion rings is something like $1.75. Good food and worth it to stop by just for the building and crazy atmosphere.
I got the feeling that this place is really jamming around breakfast time, on top of the grill were literally hundreds of empty egg crates. Also weekend nights the drunks spill out of the bars and continue partying at Roney's until 5 or 6 in the morning. There's even a patio in the back with tables that would be a sweet place to eat 4 or 5 burgers and watch the sun rise after a night of drinking.
Peter told us a bunch of stories of all the crazy stuff he's seen there at 4 in the morning.. reminds me of my days working graveyard shift at 7-11. And believe it or not this tiny 20-seat hamburger shop has a full size walk-in refridgerator and freezer in the basement. Most of the equipment is as old as the restaurant itself - somewhere around 90 years.
The story behind Roney's is that it used to be a White Tower - a White Castle imitator popular in the 50's - until the manager (apparently a "Mr. Toney") bought the building in 1981 and turned it into Roney's, adding a full-on diner and breakfast menu. If you look closely you can still see a ghost of the "White Tower" lettering on the sign.
After Mr. Toney either retired or passed away it apparently became a Vietnamese restaurant for a few months before Peter bought it. Unfortunately the state or township is buying the property and demolishing it to make more room for the highway within the year.
The owner has another place around the corner, the Dugout Grill & Deli, where he plans to install Roney's grill after they tear it down, and whatever else they will let him keep. (Uhh. I'll take the signs off your hands...) So once this place is gone you can stop there for a burger cooked on 100 well seasoned years of New Jersey history.
Open 24 hours
50 Haddon Avenue
Haddon Twp, NJ
• Roney's at Burgatory
• Roney's review (and menu photos) at eatingwithgeorge.com
• More about Roney's and White Tower