The owners of Tops Diner have done something extremely difficult to do: they’ve taken the best and made it even better.
Recognized as one of the top-rated restaurants in various polls and surveys, the dazzling East Newark restaurant, which had a “soft opening” last October, is the culmination of a $10 million project on four years which consisted of demolishing the “old” Tops, building the new structure and adding expanded parking areas.
Everything a dinner can be
Tops stays true to the spirit of New Jersey diners. Restaurant purists might point out the obvious: that this is not a vintage, factory-built restaurant. Fair enough. However, that era of restaurant production in the Garden State is long gone. Restaurant features, menus, clientele and architectural styles have changed significantly over the past 125 years. Tops represents another chapter in the ongoing saga of restaurant evolution, and it has reached a new plateau of what a restaurant can be.
The restaurant’s multi-toned terrazzo flooring is an absolute work of art. The centerpiece of the 15,000 square foot interior is an 18-stool counter, adorned in black marble. Sit down and you will find a full selection of cocktails, beers, wines and spirits.
The atmosphere is informal and friendly. Customers interact casually and share small conversations. The service is excellent. The food is fresh, expertly prepared and delicious. And just like the old Tops, customer lines are still coming out.
Beyond the dining room
The most impressive part of the operation happens behind the scenes. The Golemis family spared no expense to create a giant world-class kitchen, with ample space for the many expert cooks and chefs to keep pace with the demands of hungry customers. There are separate stations for water, coffee and ice cream.
Each year, Tops consistently receives “Best Restaurant” awards from newspapers, magazines, travel guides and online publications. The history of Tops dates back to 1938 when a man named Jess P. Persson (1884-1946) operated Tops Grill in the same location where the restaurant is located today. It is likely that Persson had a mobile lunch cart on or near the site before 1938. The Golemis family purchased Tops in 1972 and have overseen expansion and renovation projects since then.
time to eat
At a mid-February brunch, this reporter feasted on shrimp and grits, while Nutley native Linda ordered an egg sandwich on a bun. Two friendly guys sitting next to us enjoyed platters of ahi tuna, steak and egg tacos. The menu includes traditional dinner dishes (egg dishes, pancakes, salads, soup, BLT, sandwiches, French toast, burgers, disco fries and corned beef hash) as well as pasta, chicken, beef and seafood dishes, meatloaf, lobster mac and cheese and scrumptious desserts.
For Linda, any visit to Tops is a sentimental journey. She grew up in this neighborhood. Every morning in the 1940s, his father (affectionately nicknamed “Diner” Joe) would stop for breakfast at Tops, then stop at Harrison Supply, a masonry and concrete company, across from the restaurant. He was proud of the small community in Hudson County, located along the east bank of the Passaic River.
Diner Joe developed his love of dining at Tops and Linda was happy to be his trusty traveling companion. “When I was little, my dad used to take me to his favorite restaurants,” she said. An engaging storyteller, Diner Joe drew friends wherever they ate. Diner Joe Baum, a World War II veteran, died in March 2019, just a month after his 98th birthday. Dinner parties have been a big part of his long life. It was a good life.
In an interview for Total food service Last year, Golemis said, “A restaurant is a place where people can relax, meet friends, enjoy good food and feel comfortable. We know he’s happy it’s continuing, and we’re happy about it ourselves.
It’s a safe bet that Diner Joe would be relaxed, happy and completely amazed to see how his favorite restaurant has been transformed, and happy to know that the Old Quarter is in good hands.
500 Passaic Avenue
East Newark, NJ 07029