New England dining >>> Route One Saugus-Lynnfield, MA Dining Memories
Route One in Saugus and Lynnfield is a strange but irresistible slice of Americana
By Eric H.
Many New England childhoods have been scarred by heartbreaking Boston Red Sox teams, the end of the Larry Bird and Bobby Orr eras, and the closure of the carnival atmospheres at Paragon Park and Pleasure Island. But for me, I was scarred in a most endearing way by the cheesiest, road in America, Route One in Saugus and Lynnfield, MA.
I will never get out of my mind that stupid, orange 50 foot tall dinosaur at the miniature golf course. He always peered over drivers on Route One with the most pathetic smile. It really had no purpose at a miniature golf course. I always thought it would have looked better at a toll booth, or perhaps at a hospital entrance. Regardless, that stupid orange 50 foot tall dinosaur has served as a microcosm of what resides on this famed "slice of Americana" road. Some of my best memories include:
The Diamond Head Restaurant, now closed, was famous for its huge triangle entrance. The structure was supposed to recreate some sort of Asian architecture, but ended up looking more like a bloated teepee. Inside the staff served food to go along with the MSG. The Diamond Head had a reputation as a breeding ground for future alcoholics, although one could argue that the mountains of MSG had a far more deleterious effect.
Augustine's, also now closed, featured a dear and charming elderly lady playing modern pop songs on an organ. We loved that memory -- so real and heartwarming as her presence warmed up the restaurant. Augustine's had some excellent Italian food and, in the latter years, started featuring a buffet table about five times the size of Rhode Island. Augusttine's surprinsingly closed on us when we had begun to enjoy the restaurant more and more.
The Hilltop Steak House still features beautiful plastic cows in front of the restaurant and seats several hundred people within several rooms at one of the largest and best-known steakhouses in America. I remember walking down the long corridor to the area where a lady with blue hair and a smoker's voice said, "Number 2,000, honey, go have a drink in the bar. Three hour wait." At the bar always seemed to be some overweight guy with a square head and disproportionate hairpiece, smoking one cigarette after another. Beside him was always a woman with plantinum blonde hair and a quick temper. It was from these people that I was introduced to profanity.
The Hilltop's aged steaks are quite good but you have to remember once you finally get a seat you are an aged person. I once entered the Hilltop as a high school freshman and left with a B.A. in journalism and mass communications. To this day, however, I would recommend the Hilltop as one of the best places to go for a steak.
Valle's Steak House, now closed (do you detect a pattern here?) was the place to go when you couldn't get into the Hilltop. People usually came here with their heads hung low, quite dejected about not being able to get into the Hilltop. I don't remember much about Valle's. It was hard to eat steak with your head hung low. I never really saw the decor because of the same reason.
If Valle's were open today, they would probably offer Prozac to their customers.
The Prince Restaurant stills stands tall, with the exception of the "Leaning Tower of Pizza," a humongous structure on top of the restaurant emulating Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa. As a child, my lifelong hope was for that structure to finally break and crash down on top of the cars on Route One. As I matured, however, I realized that this was a bad thought. It's neat to have acquired common sense at age 32.
The Prince still offers some of the best pizza served by truly great people. I remember with fondness former owner Arthur who took care of us like we were first family. Perhaps your children will experience this fun place.
The Ship (now the terrific Mt. Vernon, a significant step up in quality!) still looks out of place. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it might be the fact that a Titanic sized authentic ship is nowhere near the ocean. Lake Suntaug is close by, so perhaps at night the Ship sailed across the lake in the 1970s to exchange bad food with the Bali Hai chinese restaurant.
The Bali Hai. Is that Chinese for food poisoning? While it is not on Route One, it's close enough to be mentioned. I remember...old Asian men in Hawaiian shirts playing "Don't You Love Her Madly," by the Doors. I remember getting food poisoning twice. I remember fish tanks with dead fish. I remember sterno darting into my forehead. I remember waiters lying about no MSG in the food -- my head knew otherwise. I now remember never to go back again.
How about the giant sausage in front of Karl's Sausage Kitchen? It actually rivaled that stupid orange 50 foot dinosaur as one of America's more peculiar sites. Karl's Sausage Kitchen was never open. Where was Karl?
The Kowloon. Some of my friends had their first and last dates at the Kowloon. Could it have been the plastic tiki Gods, the waterfalls, the combination of Cantonese, Szechuan, Polynesian and Thai cuisines and a comedy club all under one roof? Or the Chinese version of Disneyworld look of the exterior? I wonder how many accidents were caused by drivers being stunned by this architectual gem. All in all , however, the Kowloon has always served truly exceptional food by an amazingly nice staff.
Years have passed and Route One is still one of America's hideous, tacky gems --with its odd charm still shining at us in its neon, kitschy glory. I still get goosebumps just looking at this charmingly manufactured mix of roadside oddities. Traditions, are indeed, priceless, and ultimately, timeless.
Feast on a Down East Breakfast from Stonewall Kitchen, of York, Maine!
CLAMBAKE SUPREME FOR 4 FROM LEGAL SEA FOODS
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