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Route 1 in Saugus and Lynnfield, Massachusetts: a Unique, Irresistible Slice of Americana

Hilltop Steak House, Saugus MAPrince Pizzeria, Saugus MAKowloon Chinese restaurant, Saugus MA

Hilltop Steak House (closed), Prince Pizzeria and the Kowloon in Saugus, Massachusetts

by Eric Hurwitz. Updated 12/19/16.

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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. Unfortunately, the mini golf course complex will give way to  hotel, restaurant, retail and apartment development. Good news: the orange dinosaur will stay!

Some more favorite 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 in tennis sneakers playing modern pop songs on an organ. I liked when she played keyboard covers of The Rolling Stones. 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. Augustine's surprinsingly closed on us when we had begun to enjoy the restaurant more and more.

I thought the The Hilltop Steak House would last forever, but it closed in 2103. I am crushed. The Hilltop always served outstanding aged steaks and those large rooms had such timeless, appealing personalities -- especially the comfortable yet bustling, carpeted Kansas City and Dodge City rooms. Too bad those special memories of those plastic cows in front of the restaurant, the huge neon cactus sign, and several hundred people being seated within several rooms at one of the largest and best-known steakhouses in America are now a distant memory. As a kid in the 1970s, 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.

Bottom line, though is that the Hilltop delivered the goods for us steak lovers, perhaps better than anyone else in the area.

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.

Prince Pizzeria 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.

The Prince still offers some of the best pizza served by truly great people in a colorful, friendly atmosphere. I remember with fondness former owner the late Arthur Castraberti who took care of us like we were first family. Perhaps your children will experience this fun place, It's really tremendous for pizza and pasta, and the newer generation of Castrabertis has followed the high standards of Arthur.

The Ship restaurant always looked out of place. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it might be the fact that this Titanic sized authentic ship was nowhere near the ocean.

How about the giant sausage in front of the old Karl's Sausage Kitchen location on Route 1 (now at one Bourbon Street in Peabody)? It actually rivaled that stupid orange 50 foot dinosaur as one of America's more peculiar sites. Karl's Sausage Kitchen never seemed to be open at its Route 1 spot. Where the hell was was Karl?

The Bali Hai was always a fun place. While not on Route One, it was 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. But I loved the place. I am not sure why.

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.

Speaking of Chinese restaurants, anyone recall Weylu's, a glitzy model of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, that showcased ponds, bridges, fountains, teak booth glass and walls, and views of Boston from the not-so-pristine rocky hills of Saugus?

The Town Lyne House in Lynnfield stood out as a model of grace on an often tacky Route 1 with its charming white Colonial-style house appearance.  Everyone seemed to love the Town Lyne House, which served tremendous traditional Yankee fare for people ranging in age from 95-120. I'm not sure why I said that.  But then, something oddly revolutionary happened to the Town Lyne House where you could here some of the worst Karaoke music coming out of the bar. It was just too much having Karaoke in a place that your grandmother loved.  To stick with the colonial theme, the Town Lyne House could have at least had a sense of humor if they were to play Karaoke and perhaps spin some Paul Revere and the Raiders songs.

Remember the Blue Star Lounge with its country music acts, virtually across the street from an oversized grand ballroom with a huge chandelier and curved staircase up called the Chateau de Ville -- a place where people loved to "disco" and later tell stories of their miserable high school proms?

How about Full of Bull Roast Beef with its big sign featuring a menacing bull? Not exactly a welcoming sign (no pun intended), but the roast beef was so darn good!

And who can forget the former Russo's Candy House, where the sweet smell of chocolate and the welcoming voices of even sweeter, little old ladies helped make our childhood even that much more special back in the day. It's sad to see "personality" torn down and replaced by a building with no personality.

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.

Related articles:
Read New England Restaurant memories, Part 1 and Part 2 here  Or, go to the Old School Boston blog for more back in the day memories

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