Signs of an Era

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CUMBERLAND COUNTY, N.J. -

Take a tour back in time with stops along the way at some of Cumberland County’s retro spots. Be sure to stop and savor the magic of days gone by.

The warm aroma of cinnamon and vanilla wafting from the bakery. The dreamy kaleidoscope of rainbow jimmies nestled in creamy peaks of custard. The weight of a frosted mug of root beer in your hand. If these are the things that spark your interest, ignite your appetite, and get your engine revving, then South Jersey is the place to be. Check your GPS (or pull the maps from your glove box), because Memory Lane winds right through the heart of Cumberland County.

So why venture to an offbeat mom-and-pop joint? For locals who want an experience, a memory, a chance to savor the magic of a bygone era, they’ll readily forgo fast, cheap, and easy for fresh, fun, and fabulous.

Whether it’s a recipe that’s been passed down for generations or a milkshake that tastes just as it did when you were a kid, we have five retro spots that will tickle your tastebuds and take you back in time.

JIM’S LUNCH: There’s something special about taking off your coat, settling into your favorite booth, not even needing a menu. Jim’s Lunch has been dishing up nostalgia since the 1920s. It remains a family business and a favorite spot for the people of Millville and beyond. Jim’s is one of those unique neighborhood traditions that you just can’t get enough of. The grill is perfectly positioned by the front door. The tantalizing smell of grilled onions, burgers, and hotdogs fills the sidewalk where customers line up for their legendary menu. Homestyle favorites like prime rib, meatloaf, and lima bean soup are popular specials.

While the owners have updated some features of the luncheonette, others remain meticulously maintained. The stainless-steel cooking equipment, glass display cases, and comfy booths have that amazing vintage feel. Old family photographs, Millville memorabilia, and original Jim’s Lunch tribute art demonstrate how treasured the landmark is.

Like baseball season or tomato season, South Jersey marks Jim’s Season. For most hungry fans, the off-season is far too long! Get to Jim’s Lunch between Columbus Day and Memorial Day to enjoy these eats.

Jim’s Lunch, 105 E Main St, Millville, 856-327-1299. Season runs Columbus Day to Memorial Day. Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 6 a.m.–6 p.m., Friday 6 a.m.–7 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m.–6 p.m., Closed Sunday and Monday. Cash only.

 

SERENE’S CUSTARD: The electric glow of a neon sign against a dark summer sky, the slow, languid chirping of tree crickets, the distant echo of the night train as it makes its way up the boulevard…I inhale it all. I lean back against the picnic table, happy I brought along a cardigan to warm my shoulders as I take another bite of peanut butter ripple. Built in 1959, Serene’s is a quiet little ice cream stand in north Vineland with expansive plate glass windows, sun-faded posters, and hand-drawn signs describing the latest sundae and milkshake creations. While they wait, patrons can watch cotton candy slowly winding its way around the ceiling of Serene’s as their kids shout out “Pink! Pink!!” or “Bluuueeee!”

Adding to the already ethereal setting is the area’s only mini golf course, seemingly perched on a small mountain behind the custard stand. Not only is Serene’s the perfect picture of vintage charm, it serves up a delightful selection of confectionaries like banana splits, homemade ice cream, funnel cakes, ice cream cakes, and their legendary 44-ounce “monster shake.” Serene’s captures a bygone era and continues to delight customers with award-winning retro family fun.

Serene’s Custard, 2336 North West Blvd., Vineland, 856-692-1104. Season and hours may vary. Open middle/end of March to September. Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Cash only.

 

CENTURY BAKERY: How many nights I’ve awoken from a sound sleep with Century Bakery on my mind! Buttercreme doughnuts, cinnamon-fried doughnuts, and ahhhh…the sticky buns. Century has been a beloved bakery since the 1930s. Their hand-written signs read like love notes to my tummy, sweet sonnets scattered throughout the cases. While I struggle to select my “Century Dozen,” my kids are enamored with all the trays at the bottom of the case—the kitschiest, cutest cupcakes and cookies, generously iced in technicolor. Bunnies peeping from tall grass, huge cheery butterflies, and googly-eyed kiddie faces adorn the goodies. I surrender to the consequences of sugar overload and let them choose whatever they want.

Customers’ nostalgic feelings for this bakery run deep: “Loved Century Bakery since I was young. I have many memories of walking to school, stopping for my doughnut and milk in the morning, then eating the rest on the way to school. Best doughnuts ever. Now my children only want Century doughnuts and cookies. Thanks for many memories.”

Century Bakery, 525 N Pearl St., Bridgeton, 856-451-1616. Call first: days open vary by season. Typically open: Tuesday-Saturday, Summer: Wednesday–Saturday, Holidays: varies. Hours: 6 a.m.–6 p.m.

 

DELSEA DRIVE-IN: There isn’t a more magical place in South Jersey. The smell of buttery popcorn; breathless, freckled kids running around; people in lawn chairs, their flip-flopped feet sprawled on blankets and two huge flickering screens soaring into the night sky—it’s a total time warp. As New Jersey’s last surviving drive-in movie theater, the Delsea is a gem. Double (and sometimes triple) features light up the screens, always with family-friendly options.

Their Annual Classic Car Cruise attracts enthusiasts from all over the east coast. Imagine watching American Graffiti parked between muscle cars and saltwater taffy-hued classics. How about catching Back to the Future and snapping pictures next to a DeLorean? The Delsea made it happen! Arrive early—the line backs up on Delsea Drive and the snack bar gets busy. For an authentic drive-in experience, check out this blast from the past.

Delsea Drive-In, 2203 S Delsea Dr, Vineland, 856-696-0011. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays in summer. Call for early and late season days. Box office opens at 6 p.m., Movies start around dusk.

 

STEWART’S ROOT BEER: Parked under their marvelous marquis, you fully expect The Fonz to pull up on his motorcycle. “Heeeyyyyy…I’ll take the pork roll sandwich…with cheese,” as he kicks back, arms crossed. The first Stewart’s Drive-In opened in 1924 when Frank Stewart, a schoolteacher, was looking for ways to supplement his income. His idea—create “the world’s best tasting old-fashioned root beer.” You can sip a foamy bit of history by cruising to our very own Stewart’s Root Beer stand in Vineland.

Touted as one of the best Stewart’s on the east coast, this orange beacon of Americana has been serving up frosty mugs for over 50 years. Burgers, cheese fries, milkshakes and floats are zipped out by carhops who cheerfully attend to your every gastronomic need. Young and old alike revel in Stewart’s atmosphere. Teenagers sitting on stools at the counter, fabulous oldies in the background, the retro signage—where’s my poodle skirt and saddle shoes? For a classic, family-friendly experience, Stewart’s Root Beer stand is a must-taste.

Stewart’s Root Beer, 584 S Delsea Dr., Vineland, 856-696-8062. Season and hours may vary. Open Mid-March to September. Seasonal Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Cash Only.


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