July 19th, 2010


New England Roadtrip, July 3, part 2: Charlie's Pool Room

I'd planned to dine on Old Forge pizza, but I misinterpreted the GPS and took a wrong turn onto a toll road, with the next chance to turn around twenty miles away. So we went on to our next stop: Charlie's Pool Room in Alpha, NJ.

Most of my expectations of Charlie's Pool Room came from this Roadfood thread. I was particularly excited about the prospect of talking with Joe and John, because some of my favorite Roadfood experiences have been ones where I've been able to talk with the proprietors.

We had a little trouble finding the place at first; it looks like just a house. There are no conspicuous signs.

As we approached, Joe Fencz came out and greeted me. I explained that I'd read about Charlie's on Roadfood, and he spoke at length about the Holly Moore, buffetbuster, and the other Roadfooders who had come by. The conversation was a bit odd, and in order to describe it, I'm going to have to digress to describe what it was not.

What it was not: Some of the Roadfood restaurants we've visited have seemed too conscious of their reputation. (Loveless Cafe comes to mind as an example of this.) By analogy, imagine a nice, kind girl who gets elected homecoming queen, and afterward, is still nice, but with everything she says, it's clear that she's oh-so-conscious that she is Homecoming Queen, with the capital letters intact. It's not vanity exactly, and though it's not quite a desirable trait, it's easily forgivable in a nice girl.

The conversation with Joe Fencz was not like that. But the conversation was dominated by talking about their Internet reputation. (One particular quote: "we would have closed five years ago if it weren't for the internet.") So to return to the homecoming queen analogy, imagine that the homecoming queen is not at all oh-so-conscious in that way, but that the conversation is still dominated by her being elected queen. If you find that as difficult to imagine as I do, then that may convey how difficult I found it to understand and characterize the conversation with Joe. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I did enjoy the conversation, and Charlie's Pool Room did live up to my expectations as a place to talk with the proprietors.

The restaurant itself is an unusual place. There's a single table with five chairs for diners. The pool table that once was the namesake profit center for the pool room now holds neat stacks of religious tracts. Hand-lettered signs decorate every vertical surface with a mixture of testimonials for Christ and testimonials for hot dogs. I didn't get as many good pictures as I'd hoped, but this picture gives a sense of the place. (You can click on the picture and choose 'All Sizes' to see a larger version, and doing so on this picture may let you read more of the signs.)

I am no hot dog connoisseur; I found the two mealies I ordered savory and lip-tingling, but not rapturous. Lori ordered two dogs with onions and Grandma Fencz's secret tomato and onion sauce; that combination made it easier to appreciate the smoky, full-flavored taste of the dog itself. The dogs were surprisingly filling; I thought that two dogs would leave me enough appetite to eat something else, but I was full afterward.

Two more pictures of the front door:

Up next: ice cream at Scotty's American Grill at Eddie's Drive-in.