Diner’s delight worth traveling for

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Sandy Harold

Columnist Sandy Nesoff stares in awe at a plate of Harold's cold cuts that could easily feed an army platoon.

The United States, more so than any other country, has arguably the widest selection of dining opportunities.  Unfortunately all too often we fall into a rut and visit the same locations time after time.

It’s got to stop!

There are times when eating out can become an experience…not just for the taste buds, but for the soul as well.  All it takes is the willingness to travel a bit and eschew the local eatery that’s just around the corner.  And this is not meant to denigrate those local eateries, but to widen your horizons.

New York and New Jersey present an almost endless menu of choices.  Here are three of them.

There are beauty titles galore, ranging from Miss Garlic Festival to Miss America.  One of the more iconic was New York’s “Miss Subways,” a title that has long since gone into the history books.

Posters were hung in the underground cars with each month’s winner from 1941 through 1976 featuring young beauties who hoped it would give them recognition and a springboard to fame.

Ellen Hart was one of those and today runs the diner at the corner of Broadway and 51st Street that bears her name…Ellen’s Stardust Diner.  The exterior looks like an old subway car lost its way and ended up facing Broadway.  Inside there is talent that has and will grace any number of shows on The Great White Way.

While the food is excellent and the prices reasonable, most visitors to the Stardust are there to see the singing waitstaff perform.  The young girl who just delivered your coffee and ice cream is suddenly standing atop a banquette with a microphone in her hand and belting out a popular show tune.

She is soon followed by a young man who had just delivered lunch to a table of tourists sitting wide-eyed as he walked the aisles singing with a deep, rich voice that would have easily made it in a production of  Showboat.

Ellen’s Stardust is open seven days serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No reservations are required.  For information, contact (212) 965-5151 or www.ellensstardustdiner.com.

While New York may hold the reins for entertainment (although New Jersey is fast closing the gap) there are no borders when it comes to food.  In this case New Jersey easily takes the roses.

Only a short drive from the George Washington Bridge in the Village of Ridgewood, is the Country Pancake House right on the main drag.  If there is a drawback here it is the long lines that frequently snake down the street waiting for a table.  That. If anything, is a testament to what is being served inside.

First, let’s say that the food is excellent.  If not nothing would induce people to come time and time again and endure the wait to get in.  Second, don’t eat for a week before.  Zagat has rated the Country Pancake House “Best bang for your dining buck,” and that is no lie.

An order of scrambled eggs and pancakes (there are more than 100 varieties of pancakes here) barely make it onto the plate without spilling over the edges.  Pancakes are the size of a generous pizza and eggs could cover a small baseball diamond.

That’s breakfast and Sunday mornings see eager eaters coming from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  Bring a small pull-along suitcase with which to take your leftovers home.

Lunches and dinners are no less generous with everything from crepes to triple-decker club sandwiches to steaks the size of a cow.  Burgers and seafood are also offered, but why not go for the top of the menu?  Prices are quite reasonable and the waitstaff copes very professionally with the large crowds and no one is ever rushed.

For information: (201) 444-8395; www.countrypancakecouse.net.

A bit further south into New Jersey (Exit 10 to Edison) is the misnamed Harold’s New York Deli.

Former Marine turned Big Teddy Bear, Harold Jaffe runs the inimitable restaurant named for him.  There are others with the same name, but this is the only one he is affiliated with.

On a first visit some years ago we ordered a triple-decker sandwich comprised of pastrami, corned beef and beef tongue.  A short time later the waitress staggered to our table carrying what seemed to be a month’s rations for the 77th Infantry Division and held in place with what looked like a telephone pole jammed through it.

“What the hell is that?” she was asked.  “Your sandwich,” she replied and walked away to get the second one.  People at the table sat and stared in shock, but only until they cold tear into the huge beast.

The one meat very few diners and restaurants are able to produce with any quality is pastrami.  Harold’s pastrami, cooked on premises, could easily go up against the best delis in New York (the only other place good pastrami can be found).  No wonder when you find out that Harold cut his teeth in the business as the former owner of the famed Carnegie Deli.

Egg Creams are delivered in what looks like the size of a fuel tanker; seven-layer cakes rival the Freedom Tower in height.  But if all of his foodstuffs are humongous, they are matched by the taste.  No one leaves the restaurant without a smile, a full stomach, and a fantastic experience.  There is no question whatever that a visit here is well worth the ride from wherever you have to come.

For information (732) 661-9100; www.HaroldsFamousDeli.com.