A photo of an old A&W (root beer!) restaurant on Staten Island triggered an avalanche of memories for me.
Like many Middletown residents, my previous stomping ground was Staten Island - not the present day Staten Island, with its rows of duplex homes and traffic congestion - but the pre-Verrazano Bridge days (yes, I’m that old) and the years immediately thereafter when folks commonly referred to the borough as Richmond. My Staten Island, a little bit of country tucked away in New York, granted me many, many fine memories, but for the purpose of this writing, I’ll share only those triggered by the A&W photograph that prompted this romp down Memory Lane.
To my teenage self, the A&W on Hylan Boulevard was “cool” because it was a novelty apart from the run-of-the-mill Burger King or McDonald’s. We ordered from an outdoor menu and didn’t have to get out of the car! The servers brought our “Papa burgers” outside to us on a tray that hooked onto the driver’s car door. Back then, there was something fun about eating dinner in the car, sort of a drive-in movie mentality that quickly faded once I obtained my driver’s license and realized how quickly greasy fries and fingers can stain car seat upholstery.
When I was in high school, after class, I took the bus to the Burger King on Hylan Boulevard, and with just $2.00 in my pocket, I ordered a cheeseburger, coke, and fries, and I received change! The cheeseburger was presented in a little wax paper bag and the soda in a cup with no top. Those were the days before self-serve soda machines, cups with lids, and kiddie meals with prizes. It was a big deal when the first McDonald's opened near Tysens Lane; teens flocked there to compare the fries to Burger King’s. Soon after, McDonald's popped up everywhere, and I’d walk to the Mickey D's on the corner of Hylan and Midland.
Despite their popularity, A&W, Burger King, and McDonalds were not the first hamburger joints on Staten Island. When I was very young, the best place to stop for a quick hamburger was Wetson's, on Hylan. I have no memory of the fries, but the burgers came in wax-paper bags with a “W” on them. Every once in awhile, my father surprised us by claiming he needed to run an errand and returning home with a bag full of burgers.
Though Wetson’s was good, in a child’s eyes, the very best place for fast food was Cosmo’s on Hylan near Old Town Road. Cosmo’s was far more than a drive-in establishment; it had kiddie rides in the back! Dad took us there frequently. He and my sister ordered burgers; my mother and I had hot dogs (hers was steeped in relish or sauerkraut). Afterward, my sister and I rode the rides and played on the swings.
Despite frequenting Burger King and the like, my fast food of choice was pizza. As a child, I thought the best place to buy pizza was Pizza Clown on New Dorp Lane, a circular red and white building with a freaky clown’s head perched atop. The clown was eventually removed (too scary!), and the establishment became known as Pizza Town. My Mom took us to Pizza Clown a lot, but As a teenager, I joined my friends for pepsi (in a glass bottle) and pizza in the back room of Nunzio’s on the corner of Hylan and Midland, across the boulevard from McDonald's.
Eventually, I moved beyond fast food, thanks to employment and money in my pockets. Each payday, a friend and I dined at The Colonnade, a diner type restaurant with booths and red leather seats. We stuffed the tabletop jukebox with quarters and listened to our favorite songs while we ate chicken parm. Occasionally, we switched things up and went to Toto's on New Dorp Lane.
I have many food related memories of Staten Island! My husband and I often enjoyed chocolate egg creams from Sedutto’s on New Dorp Lane, black and whites from Buda Bakers on Richmond Road, and plantation marble cake from from Holtermann’s Bakery on Arthur Kill Road. My dad bought pickles from the pickle jar at the A&P on New Dorp Lane, glazed donuts for my sister from the vendor outside Korvette’s, and white mountain rolls from Buda’s for my mother. St. Joseph’s Bakery on New Dorp Lane made the best chocolate layer cakes, and my Dad never failed to pick one up for my birthday.
For me, food tasted better on Staten Island, which has nothing to do with ingredients or cooking and everything to do with the former small town flavor of Richmond County and the wonderful people who lived there.