by Josh Kurp
Holsten’s in Bloomfield, New Jersey (“The Sopranos”)
In the final episode of “The Sopranos,” the family meets up at Holsten’s in Bloomfield, New Jersey, to eat (among other things) onion rings that are, according to Tony Soprano, “the best in da state.” Last year, for my birthday and shortly after my girlfriend Nadia and I finished watching the show — a time during which we lived and breathed all things Johnny Cakes and Ralphie — we rented a car and drove from Brooklyn to Jersey, with the simple goal of sliding into the same booth that Tony, Carmela and A.J. once shared.
Holsten’s is a charming, old-fashioned diner that, having homemade ice cream and candy, bills itself as a “confectionary.” On “The Sopranos,” it looks dark and peeling, like the back office of the Bada Bing, minus the posters of naked ladies; but seen in person, it’s well lit, wood paneled, and family friendly, somewhere old people and Boy Scouts alike can enjoy a steamed ham. The sodas are homemade and the milk shakes are gigantic and authentic. It’s like the 1950s never ended, down to the hideous storefront and menu fonts and waitresses that call you “hon.” We both got burgers (diner burgers, like most things in life, are usually better in imagination than in reality, and the ones at Holsten’s were no exception) with a side order of onion rings, presented to us in a small brown plastic bowl. The rings were good, but nothing special; they could have been a little more burnt, and besides, I once had a perfectly good meal of onion rings at the Burger King in the 11th most Jersey’ish rest stop on the Turnpike.
We were seated in a booth against the wall. Above us were photos of David Chase and the Sopranos crew filming on location back in 2006, right next to The Booth, the one where Tony may or may not have met his fate from Members Only Jacket. Midway through our meal, the occupants of The Booth left, leaving it wide open for Nadia and me. We called the waitress over, and given that we had done nothing but gawk like tourists in Times Square since we walked in, we barely had to finish our request about switching booths before she said, “Go right ahead.”
The final episode of “The Sopranos” aired in 2007, and I can imagine that, in the post-finale world, hundreds, if not thousands, of fans of the show came to Holsten’s, some looking for clues, others wondering if Tony was full of shit with his onion-ring proclamation. Three years later, Nadia and I seemed to be the only non-regulars, or at least the only two who were awed that James Gandolfini’s ass had once touched this exact seat. (It should be noted that I let Nadia sit on the Tony side of The Booth, while I rested where Carmela and A.J. resided — if only Meadow had parked that car quicker).
The onion rings not being up to snuff wasn’t the most disappointing thing about Holsten’s, however: They didn’t have “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the table jukebox! And the jukebox doesn’t even work! I flipped through the thing three times, hoping that this wasn’t the one jukebox in the country that doesn’t have the Journey classic, but alas, it was, and I felt oddly betrayed, even more so when I went into the bathroom and realized that there was really no good hiding spot for Members Only Jacket to retrieve a gun. (This is assuming, of course, that a), he killed Tony, which he obviously did; and b) he didn’t already have the gun on him, which I don’t think he did because he would have popped him on the way to the bathroom and the gun-in-the-bathroom staging is clearly a nod to The Godfather, the single biggest influence on “The Sopranos”).
On the plus side, Holsten’s ice cream is fantastic, and, on the way out, I picked up a promotional postcard for Donald and Allison, “Sopranos look-alikes” and Tony and Carmela’s doubles on the show, to come “liven up your next party, promotion, corporate event, or fundraiser.” Outside of Roseanne and Dan Conner, Tony and Carmela would be the ideal choice if you ever needed a TV couple to come into your office and start screaming at one another, especially if you could find a Gloria impressionist somewhere out there, too.
Twede’s Café in North Bend, Washington (“Twin Peaks”)
My father and stepmother moved to Seattle from Houston in 2008, a location change that made me happy; who wants to visit Texas when they can spend time in the place known for its greenery, grunge and G., Kenny? When Nadia and I visited in March 2009, we went to the Space Needle (obviously, and it’s really disappointing, like visiting Plymouth Rock), the house where Kurt Cobain shot himself (don’t judge), and then the town of Snoqualmie with its famous waterfalls and the lodge which was used as the exterior shot for the Great Northern Hotel in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.”
After pretending we were Laura Palmer for a bit and then getting caught in the rain and hail, we drove to Twede’s Café, which markets itself as the Twin Peaks Diner. Roy Thompson built the building in 1941 (and it’s been owned by Thompson’s family ever since), and from the outside, it looks 80 years old. Inside, though, it feels inauthentic; in 2000, a fire damaged much of the building and the interior had to be re-done, and now, instead of replicating the interior, there are dirty Tweety Birds hung all over the walls and ceiling — it looks the way someone trying to replicate nostalgia would decorate their establishment. In other words, like a Johnny Rockets. But you can still see tons of “Twin Peaks” memorabilia, including trading cards, placemats, bumper stickers and pictures from when the cast and crew shot the pilot there in 1990, where it was called the Double R Diner. (For the remainder of the show’s run, any scenes set in the diner were filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles.)
The real diner has a selection of 50 burgers, which are listed from A-Z, meaning you could get everything from the Backfire (pepper jack cheese, hot peppers and hot mayo) to Whoa Baby (a pound of beef). There were no A or Z choices, but a Peanut Butter & Jelly Burger was available. I asked a waitress if anyone had ever ordered this. No one had.
I ordered the Philly (sautéed onions and peppers, Monterey Jack, lettuce, tomato and mayo), Nadia got the Santa Fe (pepper jack, bacon, guacamole, peppers, onion, lettuce, tomato), and we both asked for a side order of fries. The portions were huge, with the fries spilling over the side of the plate (as it should be at every diner), but the burgers were overdone, which I guess is better than under-, but still. The fries were plentiful and crunchy and delicious.
We ended our meal the same way any self-respecting TV fan would have: with a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee. But like the onion rings at Holsten’s, the coffee was, at least according to Nadia, normal — nothing special about it. As for the pie, even with a sugar-encrusted top, it wasn’t particularly memorable — not even Norma Jennings could save it from mediocrity.
As a fan of “Twin Peaks,” it was fun going to Twede’s Café, even if the place barely resembled what it looked like on the show. As a fan of food however, well, I wouldn’t go as far as a Yelp reviewer who quipped that he now has a “pretty good idea what killed Laura Palmer,” but even for a diner, it was underwhelming. Twede’s seems confused about to whom its marketing — “Twin Peaks” fans or truckers or elderly women — and it shows. Maybe they should be looking into the “The Killing” fanbase? Instead of Tweety Birds, they could have red herrings pinned to the walls.
Tom’s Restaurant in New York, NY (“Seinfeld”)
So far the theme of these pilgrimages has been unexpected disappointment, so let’s switch things up: I knew I wasn’t going to like Tom’s Restaurant before I even got there.
I’ve lived in New York long enough now to have heard word-of-mouth reviews of nearly every tourist trap in the five boroughs, particularly Manhattan. And as a fan of “Seinfeld,” my ears always perked up at mentions of Tom’s Restaurant, which is located on the corner of 112th Street and Broadway, near Columbia University. The diner first became famous as the setting of Suzanne Vega’s mega-hit “Tom’s Diner” (which I listened to for the first time in years while writing this piece, and it’s still just as memorably awful, but in a catchy sort of way, as I remember it being, especially the “I Dream of Jeannie” beginning), and then mega-famous as the fictional setting of Monk’s Café, where Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer would eat on “Seinfeld.”
Like Twede’s Café, only the exterior of the building was used on the show, and if you pay careful attention, you’ll notice on “Seinfeld” that the “Tom’s” of the Tom’s Restaurant was almost always cut off, so that they wouldn’t have to pay for the rights. The interior looks nothing like it does on the show (the waitresses aren’t as busty, either) and the only “Seinfeld”-related piece of memorabilia in the diner is a poster of The Kramer. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from having an online store, where you can purchase a Tom’s Restaurant postcard, to “send [to] a loved one or a Seinfeld fan,” for only .99 cents.
Even though I did my best to keep an open mind, my expectations turned out to be accurate: the food was pretty bad. Although the prices are decent (Cheeseburger Deluxe for only $7.15) and the hours college student-friendly (Sunday-Wednesday, 6 a.m.-1:30 a.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-5:30 a.m.), Tom’s seems to be coasting, and doing steady business, based on past reputation alone. Maybe I’m expecting too much out of a simple diner, but I mean, how tough is it to make a good burger, one that isn’t burnt to a crisp or tastes like grease? The service was terrible and you can’t even order a Big Salad, which I would have thought was a given. The Large Green Salad just doesn’t have the same ring to it. If you’re going to be a pop culture landmark, at least go all the way.
Jimbo’s Place in Virginia Key, Florida (“Dexter”)
My grandparents live in Boynton Beach, because they’re grandparents and that’s just where grandparents go. Their apartment complex is an hour’s drive from Miami, a city I had no particular interest in visiting until I started watching “Dexter,” about a serial killer who kills other serial killers but works for Miami Metro Police. Of my many man-crushes, Michael C. Hall tops them all, and although “Dexter” is a severely flawed show that treats its viewers like they’re idiots who crave exposition, I can’t help myself from loving it, mostly because of MCH.
(The fact that my reason for loving “Dexter” is because I have a dude crush on Hall says everything about the show — or maybe about me…)
Most of “ Dexter” is filmed on West Coast, so Nadia and I were pretty limited with on-location hot spots to visit in Florida. But there are two notable attractions: Dexter’s apartment (which we went to, then promptly ran away from in fear due to all the signs proclaiming “Cops Will Be Here in Five Minutes If You’re a Dexter-Loving Trespasser”) and Jimbo’s Place, which is inexplicably one of Florida’s most-filmed locations.
You know how people tell a cab driver, “Take me to somewhere great off the grid”? Jimbo’s feels like the sort of place where you might get dropped off. It isn’t a bar so much as it’s a place where people hang out and drink, and it looks like a displaced, brightly colored trailer park after a storm came through — and that only adds its to charm. It’s reminiscent of the pre-Disney Florida (or at least the way someone who’s lived in the Northeast his entire life envisions the Sunshine State was before Goofy and Mickey invaded).
After stretching a 20-minute drive from Miami into a one-hour journey, as we kept taking wrong turns trying to find the place (I recommend watching the Quicktime video on the website before trying to find it yourself), we drove up and saw a dilapidated shack, outhouses, smoked fish stand, wooden fences painted in a variety of colors, an old school bus painted with graffiti, a covered bocce ball court, cats, more cats (there were a lot of cats, some 40 in all), and a variety of knick-knack-type stuff, everything from old fishing nets to cigar butts, all seemingly arranged by the Little Rascals.
A very important scene in “Dexter” happened here: after the death of his wife, Rita, Dexter goes for a boat ride to think things over, and ends up at Jimbo’s. Dexter comes across a redneck who calls him a word you shouldn’t say to anyone, let alone a serial killer in his mourning period, and after our hero says he’s had a bad week and that his wife just died, the redneck says that Rita could suck his dick. This comment puts Dexter over the top and, in a rage, he stabs the redneck, killing him immediately. Dexter’s father, Harry, who’s long since passed away but still provides his son with advice on how to deal with his Dark Passenger, says that this is the first human thing he’s ever seen Dexter do.
Jimbo’s would be a great place to kill someone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. It’s remote, located right on the water and mere steps away from the unknown wildlife.
I tried to put this thought out of my mind when Nadia and I walked up to the sign announcing “Beer $2” and away from it with two Miller Lites in hand. Not sure where to go first, we instead just stood around in the middle of everything. One of the patrons came up and introduced himself. He was a regular of the establishment and began to tell us about all the different photo shoots, movies (Ace Ventura, Porky’s II) and TV shows (“Burn Notice,””Flipper,” “Miami Vice”) that had been shot and filmed there over the years. To emphasize his point, he pointed over to the old school bus where a professional photographer was taking pictures of a soon-to-be husband and wife in their wedding clothes. They were not holding $2 Miller Lite cans.
Using my BlackBerry (yes, there was cell service, and yes, I’m a terrible person for checking my BlackBerry all the time), I found stills from the episode, so we could know exactly where Dexter stood (remember everything I said about Hall earlier? Multiply that by ten for Nadia). Once satisfied that we were within a few feet of where a fake serial killer once killed his victim, we drifted over to a sofa (surprisingly rigid) next to the shore, plopped down and, beers in hand, watched the water gently flow, not unlike the way the blood came out of that poor, stupid redneck.
Jimbo’s Place was a bitch to find, but it was all worth it for that moment.
Josh Kurp really wishes Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag was a real restaurant.