BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - When the double doors to the Prestige Diner are unlocked each morning at 6:00 a.m., they do not get an extended breather until they are locked again at midnight (or 2:00 a.m. on weekends). Downtime is only for the hundreds of regulars who go in and out of the Prestige on any given day (and night). It hardly seems worth it to close at all, considering they would most likely have at least a few dozen people who would love to haunt the booths at 4 a.m.
Jimmy and Harry Vardas preside over a cornerstone establishment in New Providence and the unofficial meeting place for most residents. Tapinto New Providence stopped by on a recent Thursday evening to check out the new beer on tap, the red and white wine varieties and the new menu selections. Along with all the menu items upon which the Prestige is depended on, the Western Omelet, the short stack of pancakes, burgers, fries, a Reuben and the BLT to name a few, you can now enjoy Beer-battered Cod tacos with garlic fries, Sweet Chili Buffalo Wings, Cheesesteaks rolls, Butternut squash ravioli with browned butter, Maple-glazed pork belly and Braised boneless short rib with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.
“This is like home for us,” said Bruce Smith, sitting in a booth by the window with his wife and his sister-in-law, they were also accompanied by a few glasses of wine, “Jimmy and Harry are great, I think this is great for the area, you don’t have to spend a lot of money and you can go to a place you’re familiar with and you’re comfortable being at, and having seven or eight taps is impressive, including Guinness, they went all in.” Bruce, his wife Cheryl and her sister Arnel Kernaghan are what Jimmy and Harry Vardas refer to as “regulars.” Gazing around “the diner” as it is known in New Providence, there were regulars as far as the eye could see.
This night Cheryl Smith was having her stack of pancakes with red wine, (not a “recommended” pairing, but at the Prestige, you’re the boss.), “We’ve been coming here for so long, its so nice to be able to have a glass of wine now, and you can’t beat the menu because of all the options you have.” Several tables over there was a couple having a flight of beer selections including Guinness, Brooklyn Lager, Sam Adams and Kane Head High. The new bar is also offering a curated selection of whites and reds including the vineyards of Simi, Coppola, Toad Hollow and Nobilo.
Thursday night was packed with residents from New Providence and all the surrounding towns. Jimmy and Harry treat everyone like they’ve been coming in for 30 years, and many of them have. With the addition of their beer and wine selections, they have not changed the essence of the diner, any apprehension we had about drinking at the diner melted away when our flight of mini-pilsners arrived tucked neatly into a wooden tray along with our Avocado egg rolls. This is change we can embrace without reservation.
Jimmy and Harry’s Uncle Tom was also making the rounds, stopping at table after table before settling at ours, he was at the helm here at the Prestige before turning the day to day over to his nephews in 2006. He had just arrived from a trip abroad, “I said to Jimmy, take me to the diner, I want a Florentine omelet.” He has seen the changes in his customers over the last 25 years, “I met them when they were this big, now they come in with their own children. I love the people here.” He loves seeing his old customers and their children, “They apologize if their children make noise, I say don’t worry about it, that’s what we’re here for, I love them.” His words of advice for his two nephews, “I said Jimmy and Harry, do whatever you want, but never forget, it’s a diner, not a restaurant.” Jimmy and Harry Vardas have brought in the gourmet menu items, beer taps and wine, but all the old favorites are here whenever you need them.
Editor's note: Prestige Diner was one of the first two businesses granted a liquor license in New Providence marking the first licenses granted in 100 years in New Providence. Providence Bar and Kitchen located at 1288 Springfield Avenue was the other business. The Murray Hill Inn was subsequently granted a license and one license remains available.