A Well-Travelled Diner
by Christine Adams Beckett
My husband spent most of his boyhood in the quaint suburban town of Westfield, New Jersey, 25 miles west of New York City. The town is your typical sleepy bedroom community offering all the benefits of situation: a 30 minute train ride to Penn Station and a 60 minute drive to the bucolic towns on the Delaware River, offering extensive hiking trails and antique shops, and Revolutionary War era homes. My mother-in-law joked that Shangri-La had New York City on its door step and the bucolic counrtyside in its back yard. That was practical reality in Westfield; but one needn’t look further than Westfield itself for charm, as is true for many of these bedroom towns of Northern New Jersey. The existence of the commuter rail allowed Westfield to evolve into an independent, free-standing town with a fantastic downtown, its own diversions and gorgeous housing stock reflecting a host of different architectural styles.
Although many of the mom-and-pop stores and restaurants of their superb downtown have given way recently to more chain establishments, the Westfield of my husband’s childhood had it all: independently run hardware stores, clothiers, and restaurants located conveniently within walking distance of the train station. One of his regular after-school haunts was the Excellent Diner, a classic example of a Jerry O’Mahoney dining car featuring a long, narrow yet sleek design, a stainless steel façade and interior. O’Mahoney built about 2000 of such dining cars between 1917 and 1941, and only 26 remain in the United States. The Excellent is not one of them. It’s much more cosmopolitan than that.
After almost fifty years of serving up the hamburgers and hot dogs in Westfield, a German family bought the Excellent and had it shipped over seas to their town in Aalen, about 200 kilometers north of Munich. They retained the name, The Excellent Diner, and presumably amended the menu to read frankfurters instead of hot dogs.
While living in Paris, my mother-in-law told us that local news tabloids recorded the Excellent’s next move sometime in 2000. After presumably doing a mediocre business in Aalen, the Diner found a more fabulous home in Marne-la-Vallée, a 15 minute drive outside of Paris, and best known for being home to Euro Disney’s theme parks. The worldly Excellent had taken up residence in the studio theme park, and rejected its American roots, changing it’s name to the more fabulous “Café de Cascadeurs” (Stuntman’s Café). The menu, however, is decidedly American and simple: burgers, hot dogs, and chips, salads as snacks, brownies and ice cream for dessert. You can even wash it all down with a Coca-Cola.
The online French reviews of the Cascadeurs are almost universally positive, but not one mentions the authenticity of the design of this American classic, a true antique and relic to the past. There was one that raved about the jukebox though.
We never visited the Café de Cascadeurs while living in France, as our list of true European destinations we wanted to visit was simply too long. Having a limited time in France, we figured we’d see FRANCE while there and not the a little patch of America on French soil. Yet my husband is curious to know if the wait staff still wears the same aprons, wether the chef still wears a tall paper hat, and if there is a new playlist on the jukebox.