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Posts from the ‘Avenel’ Category

Denny’s: Crimes Against Nature

Denny's maple bacon sundae top

Denny’s—where I spent many a high school evening drinking coffee, eating Super Birds and smoking in the back room because there was nothing better to do at night—are scarce around NYC. The nearest location, 20 miles away, just happens to be in my favorite part of New Jersey; the region that’s also home to Bud’s Hut and the Linfield Inn. I took this as a sign.

Avenel new jersey denny's

But before heading out to Avenel to finally experience Baconalia (I don’t only wait for hotspots to have a month-long cool-down period) I was warned about restaurants defaulting to imitation bacon. No way, not at Denny’s.

denny's maple bacon sundae

The Maple Bacon Sundae was not a purist affair, however. The bacon crumbles, more fatty than crisp, as I like them, were real all right, but the scourge of diners everywhere: maple-flavored syrup, a.k.a. corn syrup followed by high fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list, was the amber imposter drizzled atop and pooled at the base of the vanilla ice cream tower.

Despite the unnatural sweetener, this was not a bad sundae. The spoonfuls of melting ice cream striped with syrup and smoky nubs of pork were welcome sweet-salty blasts; the only thing that could’ve upped the ante would have been a sprinkling of chopped hickory-smoked almonds.

I still had to admire Denny’s moxie. Sure, bacon desserts are old hat to food trend followers (though it’s a faster trickle-down than craft beers now appearing at T.G.I. Friday’s) but that doesn’t mean the average customer is necessarily ready for the meeting of sweet and salty in soda fountain classics.

What we did with bacon

The disgust and outrage overheard at a nearby table might’ve been initially mistaken for the matrimonial union between two men.

30-something dad: “I love bacon…but on a sundae? This has got to be a joke, right?!”

Son: “Gross!”

After grandma hobbled back to the table, dad proceeded to fill her in on the maple-bacon atrocity. “Can you believe it?”

I did not hear her response. Perhaps, she’ll now finally be able to say that she’s seen it all. I hope she’s already watched Nannerpuss.

Bud’s Hut

I now understand the fear of the unknown and how it drives suburbanites to chain restaurants. It's one thing if you live in a metropolis rife with thriving unique eateries or dwell in a cutesey smaller city like Portland (my favorite whipping boy) where the indie ethos is pervasive. Local is likely better. But when franchises are the norm, as with most of the New Jersey townships within an hour's drive from NYC, non-chains can be a scary prospect. Just what are you getting yourself into?

For years, I've had a fondness for the US Route 1 corridor spanning Linden to Edison. There is not a single mall store or chain restaurant you can't find along this strip. I particularly like the northern chunk just off the Goethals Bridge because it reminds me of 82nd Street in Portland, or at least the 82nd Street of my youth.

I intentionally drove along it all the way to Clackamas Town Center last Labor Day weekend instead of taking the freeway (I love saying freeway, not turnpike, expressway, parkway. It's free!) and it still appeared to be a blur of car dealerships, taverns, motels, thrift stores, vendors selling rugs out of vans. No gentrification yet (Portlanders aren't so desperate and crushed by rent prices to expand the borders of acceptable neighborhoods into the hinterlands—right before I moved to NYC I lived on 55th and Glisan and that was really pushing it, 39th being the invisible line between cool/uncool neighborhoods) just new unexpected businesses like a drive-thru banh mi shop.

Bud's huts

Along this multi-laned road sits Bud's Hut, a sullen, windowless, dark wood anomaly that would be just at home in the Pacific Northwest. Its impenetrability implies bar or something more illicit, but it's advertised as family friendly. In the three-second glimpse I get in the passenger seat, there never appears to be many cars in the parking lot. There is no hint that it's a dive harboring a specialty like Rutt's Hut, the better known New Jersey establishment sharing half a moniker. In this era of user-generated content, not a single peep online only made me more suspicious. A restaurant untouched by Yelpers and Foursquarers?  I'd have to take matters into my own hands the old fashioned way.

Saturday at 9pm James and I met up with three others that I'd coerced into solving the Bud's Hut mystery. It actually wasn't all that mysterious, as a member of this party only lives a few towns over and had been before, some time ago (and got food poisoning).


The décor was more nautical than I'd anticipated from a hut, a little '70s colonial with firm sweepable carpet, faux Tiffany lamps and boats and ships galore. Not seedy, just faded.

Only two other tables were occupied in the dining room and soon enough we had the place to ourselves. Our friendly waitress, who was as interested in the new Dee Snider reality show as we were, announced, "You can be as rowdy as you want now." After a few glasses of Yellowtail Shiraz, I was getting there. And really, Bud's Hut is probably better suited for drinking. The bar and outdoor patio still had decent crowds when we left.


The menu is based on favorites: steak, seafood…and a bloomin' onion with Italian-American staples like chicken parmesan and linguini with clam sauce (I think that's actually angel hair pasta). Garlic crabs, another New Jersey Italian thing, were also being advertised but cracking crustaceans is always such a hassle and better suited for the outdoors.


We started with Bud's Triangle, which is to say, a trio: loaded potato skins, mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers just like you'd find at a chain restaurant. Bud's Hut is a little Outback Steakhouse and a little Red Lobster with prices in the same range. They also have a mud slide on the drinks menu, so I'll add a dash of T.G.I. Friday's for good measure.


I had the stuffed shrimp, split and packed with buttery breadcrumbs and crab, and a baked potato with butter and sour cream because that seemed like the thing to do. I only eat baked potatoes in restaurants like this. The only thing missing was the bacon bits.


A steak and seafood combo served on an iron fish-shaped plate.

Stained glass

A bull memorialized in stained glass.


While the latest Best of Central Jersey awards are littered with chains, Bud's Hut appears to have swept a few categories in 2007 and 2008.

Me with bud's hut parrot

The parrot kind of breaks with the maritime theme. He would be more on trend at Cheeseburger in Paradise, a little farther down Rt. 1.

Bud’s Hut * 906 US Rt. 1, Avenel, NJ