Clifton, NJ: Breakfast of Champions at Tick Tock Diner
Editor's note: Nick Solares, one of AHT's first reviewers, is making a return after a sabbatical. Expect to read more NYC reviews and burger-centric features from him soon!
Tick Tock Diner
281 Allwood Rd, Clifton NJ 07012 (map); 973-777-0511; theticktockdiner.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: While the plain burger leaves something to desire, topping it with egg, bacon, cheese and some amazing hash browns significantly improves it.
Want Fries with That? Comes with steakfries, coleslaw and pickle. If you like steakfries (I don't) you will like these, especially the portion size, which is enormous. Next time I would substitute for shredded hash browns or disco fries.
Price: Bacon, Egg and Cheeseburger, $10.99
Notes: There's a Tick Tock Diner in NYC that has a different burger menu
It seems to me that there are two things diners (the restaurant type, not the people) should do well: breakfast and hamburgers (people should do every meal well). Forget fried chicken and steaks, roasts, seafood, pizza, pasta, and any other type of ethnic cuisine—they are invariably handled better by other types of restaurants. But a quality diner is worth its weight in hash browns, pancakes, fried eggs, and cheeseburgers. Even a mediocre diner burger, assuming fresh beef is used, tends to be far better than fast food drek, and a top notch one will embarrass most any rococo creation by a fancy-pants chef.
I think I would've found the cheeseburger at the legendary Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, New Jersey, mediocre had I ordered it plain, as is most often my custom. But it was breakfast time and all about me swirled plates brimming with pancakes, eggs, and shredded hash brown potatoes (the most superior form of hash brown in my opinion). The air was perfumed with the smoky essence of bacon and the aroma of fake maple syrup. There really is nothing like breakfast in America.
Naturally I ordered the Bacon, Egg and Cheeseburger—a half-pound hamburger topped with bacon, cheddar, hash browns, and a fried egg. Not that I didn't contemplate some of the other combinations—such as the Jersey Shore (mozzarella cheese, mozzarella sticks, marinara sauce; probably not enough cheese to live up to the name) or the Slobber Knocker (pulled pork, white cheddar, mayo, onion rings)—admittedly out of morbid curiosity. But really, how could I resist the breakfast-themed burger, especially as I was in New Jersey, the land of diners, and at the Tick Tock, which has been referred to as the King of the diners?
I suppose I was doubling down on what I hoped were the diner's strengths. It turns out that the burger was not an inspired example of a diner burger—while the beef seemed fresh it appeared to be a commercially packaged product made en mass. It was tightly bound and did not crumble or flake the way a freshly formed patty might.
In its favor, it was delivered rare as requested, but the exterior, the hatch marks aside, was rather light in color. I wanted mahogany; I got balsa. It was also not as juicy as I would've liked despite being rare; I imagine that at medium or beyond it'd be too dry to enjoy. The beef was definitely better than a fast food burger, especially in terms of flavor—it actually tasted like meat. But I wanted more juice and more char.
All of this mattered little because of everything that came on top. First, a layer of crisp, buttery hash browns, followed by the salty punch of three rashers of bacon. Here is where the grillman showed his skill—the bacon was shatteringly crisp but without a smidgen of char. Next up, a molten blanket of cheddar served to hold down everything in a gooey, tangy embrace, save the sunny-side up egg (another nod to the grillman—perfectly cooked), which sat perched atop the stack, cocked to the side like a hat. The bun was topped with sesame seeds and came well toasted. It acquitted itself with valor but ultimately succumbed to the torrents of egg yolk and cheese that cascaded from the sandwich. The use of a knife and fork is required for this breakfast beast for all but the most uncivilized.
While the burger component by itself might have left something to be desired, the combination of ingredients was far greater than the sum of its parts. The egg yolk and cheese added welcome moisture. The potatoes and bacon both contributed some crunch as well as creaminess and saltiness, respectively. Now, you might think that the patty was unnecessary, but it provided the textural foundation of the dish as well as a heartier flavor than any breakfast item I can imagine. The toppings helped mitigate the weakness in the patty and brought the level of the burger up significantly. Adding a dollop of Hollandaise, available upon request, takes it even further.
There are burgers I would rather eat than the cheeseburger here, but I can't think of a breakfast sandwich I would choose over the Tick Tock's Bacon, Egg and Cheeseburger.
About the author: Nick Solares is a NYC based food writer and photographer. He has been with A Hamburger Today since 2008. When he is not eating and writing for Serious Eats he publishes Beef Aficionado and his personal photography website.