Munching Along the Boardwalk 60 Years Ago
Recently I took my wife out to dinner – at the Boardwalk, no less. It was her once-a-summer visit to see what's new and munch on garlic fries and other goodies she likes. Curiously, instead of automatically going for her favorite foods, she was attracted to the wide variety of new options available from nearly four dozen food concessions strung along the Boardwalk.
The diversity and quality of today's Boardwalk cuisine are immensely superior to what I remember from back in my early high school years. Far fewer establishments catered to beachgoers sixty years ago. There were no carts or kiosks back then. Here's a snapshot of what I remember.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries were the usual items I'd look for to satiate my lunchtime hunger pangs. My "go-to" place to eat in the late 1950s and early 1960s was Ruth's Hamburgers, where Surf City Grill is today. I can visualize Vic, Mary, or Michael Marini skillfully prepping orders over the hot grill. Just watching a sizzling burger patty getting married to a warm, steamed bun, slathered with a spread of mustard and relish, excited my taste buds. Once my 35¢ burger or 25¢ dog "with or without" (onions, that is) was in my hands, it was in my mouth pretty quickly. Often, one was not enough. Marini's served their burgers in a distinctive sandwich bag imprinted with a light blue-on-white Ruth's logo. I can still see that bag in my mind's eye. I wish our archives had one for posterity's sake.
Art Malquel concocted a pretty good hot dog at his place. Art's Hot Dog Stand sat at the east end of the Plunge building at the head of the Pleasure Pier. Sun Shops is in that location now. I did not know then that Art had been a professional chef. I do remember he was always impeccably dressed, an image that hinted his hot dogs had the master's touch - meaning, a greater selection of condiments including chili. He served a long dog as a specialty item in addition to hamburgers and fries. I can visualize a jar of whole dill pickles sitting on his counter with 5¢ written on its side.
Some short order stands served beer. The snack stands did not, but they had milkshakes, malts, ice cream sodas, and sno-cones. All locations served soft drinks of varying flavors (remember when ghastly Diet-Rite Cola appeared?) and coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.
Ray and Marge Carpenter specialized in hot dogs at Ray's Hot Dog Stand where Barnacle Bill's is today. Roll-a-grills displayed succulent frankfurters and lured passing patrons toward a closer look. Those "tubular steaks" gleaming in their juices enticed my senses. I remember that sauerkraut and chili could be added to their dogs, along with all the other usual fixings.
Sporting a black bowler hat as his distinguishing adornment, Larry Ashdown operated his Seaside Inn at the rotunda of the Casino building. He cheerily served up burgers, dogs, and fries, as I recall. It was a tuna sandwich that would occasionally draw me there. Fisherman's Galley occupies this space today.
Bill Stoner was famous for his french fries, and he sold a lot of them at his Bar-B-Que Pit. The stand was located at the east end of the Plunge Building and on the corner of old walkway #1, where the Cocoanut Grove's steel stairs used to be. Bill specialized in BBQ beef, ham and turkey sandwiches on warm, steamed buns with a "secret BBQ sauce" he made from scratch. His homemade chili was a favorite. Stoner also served up a special Beach Burger – two hamburger patties on a sesame-seed French roll – topped off with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions. Cheese and chili could be added. It was a tasty mouthful.
The Turnover Pie Shop sat next to the "pit." Thelma and Buck Dahlman operated that concession in the early 1960s. Charlie and June Booth took it over at some point during that time frame. Ask any old-timer what they remember about Boardwalk food items "back in the day," and freshly baked turnover pies would be at or near the top of the list. I wrote a separate blog about this stand. Today's Millions of Memories gift shop sits were the BBQ Pit and Turnover Pie Shop once resided.
Nothing says Boardwalk more than the array of sugary treats at Marini's Candies. Today's concession near the Boardwalk entrance to the Casino Arcade is an expanded version of the smaller location I remember when I was a teenager. The sweet smell of cinnamon hinted that a new batch of red candied apples was being prepared. Crowds loved their caramel apples, too. The same saltwater taffy puller that stretches their famous candy today has done the same job since the 1920s.
Lillian Walker co-partnered Root & Walker's Coaster Lunch next to the entrance of the Giant Dipper. This eatery was narrow and deep. A long lunch counter extended well inside the Giant Dipper side of the concession. A row of booths sat along the opposite wall. The menu was much the same as the other short order stands, except I remember you could get soup here and a slice of pie. Come to think of it, they served breakfast, too. The Dipper Diner restaurant occupies that space today.
One location drew attention for specializing in fresh-cut french fries. Situated near Ruth's Hamburger restaurant, it was run by the Vic Marini family. Those fries were excellent, especially with extra salt, ketchup or malt vinegar. I ate a lot of them. After I got to know the girls that worked there, more of my fries came out the back door than over the front walk-up counter. They never lacked for fresh chocolate malt ice cream from me either.
Snack concessions were interspersed along the Boardwalk’s length. Arnold's Fountain sat at the corner of the Merry-Go-Round building. As Al or Ethyl Arnold staffed the counter, they popped corn, filled sno-cones, and served treats like a brick of Wright's Pink Popcorn, a box of Cracker Jacks, or maybe a pack of chewing gum. Carrie Weaver managed the popper at her Weaver's Pop Corn and Soft Drink Stand nestled under the Giant Dipper Station. Until 1960, a concession walk-up counter was all that remained of the River Bath House near the railroad trestle. That's where I could get an ice cream bar, popcorn, or a soft drink when taking a break from inner tubing on the river or swimming at its mouth.
In 1953, my family began operating the Bright Spot snack location near the Fun House entrance (where Pizza Now is today). I had access to all the popcorn, sno-cones, and soft drinks I could handle. I passed on the cigarettes and Roi-Tan cigars but enjoyed the candy cigarettes. Bags of warmed peanuts in the shell served as a popular snack. A year later, a site we called Bright Spot #2 (located where today's Dime Toss game sits today) joined the business. In 1961, it got moved to its present location opposite Logger's Revenge ticket booth. We added a short-order kitchen at its side counter selling burgers, dogs, fries, and shakes. That's where I began working for a real paycheck. The building's curved front counter served sweet cotton candy, red candy apples, soft drinks, sno-cones, and snacks.
A black-and-white tiled ice cream store near today's Haunted Castle ride entrance draws old-timer memories back to when the Boardwalk featured three units with this tile motif. They all opened in the 1930s, but my family began operating them in 1954. Each separately featured either vanilla custard (next to the Plunge entrance), chocolate malt cones (near the Fun House) or orange sherbet cones (next to the Haunted House ride). But all had chocolate-dipped bananas and sandaes. I made and ate plenty of them.
In my mind, food options began exhibiting more variety in 1963. Maybe that can be the content of a future historical food blog. Until then, you'll just have to come and taste for yourself how Boardwalk cuisine has adapted to the delight of today's guests.
Is there a favorite location or food item anyone remembers from nearly sixty years ago? Drop a comment and let me know.
-till next time,