Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 8/16/17
FANWOOD – John Mooney, a 20-year Fanwood resident, recently stumbled upon a 1979 article where the Courier News declared the Fanwood Corner Store as the heartbeat of the community.
He believes it — as a kid, he always appreciated a spin on a retro luncheonette counter seats.
“I always thought it was a shame that the Fanwood Corner Store had this lunch counter but it was never in operation,” said the restaurant public relations consultant, who also owns TapInto.com Scotch Plains-Fanwood. “When the Corner Store went out of business, I said to Paul Watterson, who owns Nick’s Pizza in Fanwood, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if someone opened a grill here?’ And he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
So, on July 7 Watterson and Mooney opened the Fanwood Grille with Mooney as the owner and Watterson as the general manager and executive chef. The Grille, an old-school luncheonette with some modern twists, serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week at 34 S. Martine Ave.
The Fanwood Grille, which can accommodate 26 guests indoors and eight guests outdoors — diners are usually from Fanwood, Westfield and Scotch Plains and all are welcomed — aims to fill a niche in the tightknit community; Mooney said that except for bars, there were no other local eateries that served American favorites like burgers and hot dogs.
Mooney also is working to take advantage of Fanwood’s ongoing revitalization, with a new train station village and new mixed-use buildings and housing. He sees the Fanwood Grille as another opportunity right in his own backyard — only this one has a nostalgic edge.
“People are coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘I used to buy my baseball cards here when it was the Corner Store,’ or ‘I put myself through college by working here,’ ” Mooney said.
The Fanwood Grille is outfitted with retro luncheonette counter seats, bright subway tile and a brick face. Mooney noted many Fanwood residents are Hoboken and Jersey City transplants used to buildings featuring exposed brick.
Fanwood is also currently in the process of building the Plaza, a walkway and event space which will extend along the back of the local retailers. Once that is completed, Mooney said that he hopes to bring in local musicians, host a pig roast and plan regular events such as Friday night fish fry or a teen night.
The menu itself also features classic staples with modern additions, such as disco pig fries topped with pulled pork, salsa cheese, onions, tomato, melted Monterey Jack and gravy ($5); Gerry Cooney prime steak sandwich (with the tagline ‘It’ll knock you out!’) in which the steak is slow-cooked in own juice and then placed on a 6-inch hero roll with choice of toppings ($9); Aidan’s chocolate chip pancakes which are cocoa pancakes loaded with chocolate chips and whipped cream ($5); and the legendary lobster roll, which features Maine cold-water lobster served on a grilled, buttered New England-style split roll ($18).
“Paul, who spent his summers in Maine, has always said that a real lobster roll has a little bit of mayonnaise that doesn’t overwhelm it and tastes like the sea,” Mooney said. “Vincent Losavio Sr., owner of John’s Meat Market of South Bound Brook which has been ranked as the number one butcher shop in the state, loved it and I thought, ‘If this guy likes it, it’s the real deal.’”
Watterson is inspired by Food Network shows such as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and his own love of cooking — no formal experience required.
“We have had a pizzeria for five years and I worked in construction for 20,” said Watterson with a chuckle. “At my house, you will always leave full with a to-go plate and your belly hurting from laughing so hard.”
Other popular items on the Fanwood Grille menu, which has prices ranging from $3 to $18, include the Brooklyn bagel topped with Taylor ham, egg and cheese ($6); pastrami hash, which customers have been also topping on a bagel with egg and cheese ($6); as well as lesser-seen items such as a falafel-stuffed pita ($7) and shawarma chicken pita ($9).
The Fanwood Grille menu is reminiscent of a Jersey diner, which is fitting since Mooney is a big fan of the Summit Diner, an eatery dating back to 1929 with classic red booths and an Art Deco chrome exterior.
The closest diners to the Fanwood Grille are on Route 22, about two miles away, so for those looking for some classic American dishes with a vintage feel right around the corner from home, Mooney and Watterson’s new eatery has become a new dining destination.
However, unlike a diner, Mooney said that the Fanwood Grille will not offer dessert or Italian food.
“People are already waddling out of here,” he said. “We can’t even give dessert away.”
Staff Writer Jenna Intersimone: JIntersimone@MyCentralJersey.com, 908-303-8390
Where: 34 S. Martine Ave, Fanwood
Cost: $3 to $18
Contact: fanwoodgrille.com; 908-322-9500