Joe Palmisano of Four Seasons Diner in Toms River prepares a deep-fried chocolate cake dessert.
Asbury Park Press
Nothing makes a mouth water like the dessert case at a New Jersey diner.
You know the one – a revolving display that gives quick peeks of the treats inside before they disappear from view.
There is nearly always a fluffy lemon meringue pie, a towering layer cake with thick icing, and a creamy cheesecake draped in fruity sauce.
But through the years, diner desserts have become more adventurous: Deep-fried sweets, over-the-top milkshakes, and other indulgent treats are being served alongside classic humble rice pudding. Quite a tasty change.
Here are nine must-try desserts from diners across the state:
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Blue Swan Diner, Ocean Township
The dessert: Baklava-topped ice cream sundae
An ice cream sundae topped with baklava at Blue Swan Diner in the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township. (Photo: COURTESY OF BLUE SWAN DINER)
Baklava, the delightfully sticky dessert made of flaky phyllo dough, chopped nuts and honey, is on the dessert menu at many New Jersey diners. But Mario Magriplis, whose family has owned Ocean Township’s Blue Swan Diner since the 1970s, is doing something untraditional with this traditional Greek treat.
The “Never on Sundae” is vanilla ice cream topped with baklava that’s been brushed with housemade lemon zest syrup, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup, butterscotch and walnuts ($8.45). The popular sundae, which Magriplis calls a “diet crusher,” was inspired by one sold at nearby Saint George Greek Orthodox Church’s annual Greek festival.
Go: 2116 State Route 35 in the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township; 732-493-2424, blueswandiner.com.
Chit Chat Diner, West Orange and Hackensack
The dessert: Big Fat chocolate cake
Big Fat Chocolate Cake at the Chit Chat Diner in West Orange (Photo: Chris Marksbury)
Black and white checkerboard floors, ceilings and walls; booths upholstered in bright polka-dotted and striped fabric; crystal chandeliers; and decorative bird cages and whimsical statues make the Chit Chat in West Orange unlike any diner you’ve been to before (there’s also a Hackensack location). Designed by the New York-based group Mackenzie-Childs, it looks like a scene from “Alice in Wonderland.” But the Big Fat chocolate cake – it’s straight out of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.” This towering beast is topped with rich chocolate ice cream and chewy brownie pieces: a chocolate lover’s dream. $6.75
Go: 410 Eagle Rock Ave., West Orange; 973-736-1989, chitchatdiner.com/west-orange. 515 Essex St., Hackensack; 201-820-4033,
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Four Seasons Diner, Toms River
The dessert: Deep-fried chocolate cake
The finished ‘Deep Fried Chocolate Cake’ dessert prepared by Four Season Diner owner Joe Palmisano at the Toms River diner Thursday, October 8, 2020. (Photo: Thomas P. Costello)
For years, Joe Palmisano’s Toms River diner has been known for its cheesecakes: red velvet, Oreo, s’mores, pumpkin, apple crumb. He uses real vanilla in the batter, which bakes inside a deep graham cracker crust.
But at his restaurant – “where the only thing diner about us is our name,” proclaims the menu – there are a few new kids on the block. Palmisano is making fresh-baked sfogliatelle, a flaky, cream-filled Italian pastry, and a pound cake sundae with berries, plus one more drool-worthy treat: deep-fried chocolate cake.
The dessert ($6.99) is a slice of chocolate cake that is wrapped in a tortilla, fried, and topped with powdered sugar or fruit and whipped cream, with a scoop of ice cream on the side. Order with a friend, as it’s “big and shareable,” Palmisano said.
Go: 823 Fischer Blvd., Toms River; 732-270-8778, fourseasonsdiner.com.
Mastoris Diner, Bordentown
The dessert: Banana split cake
Banana split cake is shown at Mastoris Diner in Bordentown. (Photo: Mastoris)
This well-known landmark sits at the intersection of routes 206 and 130 and is a popular pit stop for travelers heading north or south.
The bakery has just about anything you could want, and one of its specialties is a banana split cake. The diner’s in-house bakers make the popular cake each day ($5.99 per slice and $24.95 for an 8-inch cake).
The dessert is banana cake with fresh bananas and strawberries in the middle and strawberry-flavored whipped cream and chocolate ganache on top.
“That’s something that you don’t see other places,” said Karen Hopf, bakery manager. “We make it every day.”
She said they have three bakers: One is dedicated to making bread, which includes the diner’s famous cheese and cinnamon breads; another makes cookies, pies and cakes, and the third assembles and decorates the cakes.
Go: Route 130 and Route 206, Bordentown; 609-298-4650, mastoris.com.
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The rainbow cake at Northvale Classic Diner is six layers high. (Photo: Courtesy of Northvale Classic Diner)
Northvale Classic Diner, Northvale
The dessert: Rainbow cake
Cut into this cake to see the magic: six layers of fluffy vanilla cake, each a different color of the rainbow. In between is sweet buttercream. And on top? Rainbow sprinkles, of course. This dessert from the beloved Northvale Classic Diner, which has been open since 1981, is a winner for rainbow-obsessed kids or just anyone who appreciates some lively color. $7.95.
Go: 247 Livingston St., Northvale; 201-767-6267, northvaleclassicdiner.com.
Ponzio’s Diner, Cherry Hill
The dessert: Chocolate Bash
Chocolate Bash cake is only available for takeout at Ponzio’s Diner in Cherry Hill. (Photo: COURTESY OF PONZIO’S)
A popular eatery in Cherry Hill since it opened nearly 60 years ago, Ponzio’s is also known for its bakery.
All of its baked goods are made from scratch, including Chocolate Bash, a chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse and cheesecake and draped with chocolate ganache..
The cake, which costs $19.99, isn’t sold by the slice.
“It’s always in the bakery case,” said Nick Fifis, a co-owner of Ponzio’s. “We have it all year-round. We have it for takeout, we don’t have it for in the restaurant to eat.”
Go: 7 Route 70 West, Cherry Hill; 856-428-4808, ponzios.com.
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Prestige Diner, New Providence
Apple crisp flatbread from the Prestige Diner. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Prestige Diner)
The dessert: Apple crisp flatbread
With the Prestige Diner’s new apple crisp flatbread, pizza gets a fall twist. This dessert, which was added to the menu about one month ago, is made with hand-stretched flatbread, braised cinnamon apples, cake crumbs, and vanilla ice cream from nearby Zita’s Homemade Ice Cream, plus caramel drizzle. For $11.95, it’s a “delightful” dessert that owner Dimitrios Vardas also describes as “addictive.”
Go: 1318 Springfield Ave., New Providence; 908-665-0211, prestigediner.com.
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Red Lion Diner, Southampton
The dessert: Bread pudding
The banana pudding is a popular dessert all year-round at Red Lion Diner in Southampton. (Photo: Red Lion Diner)
This longtime eatery, which has been around since 1973, is another well-known establishment known for its desserts.
The bread pudding is the most requested dessert by far, Red Lion Diner owners said.
Their famous bread pudding, which is made in-house, is filled with vanilla custard and topped with honey glaze. There’s a lot more to it, but they can’t tell – the recipe is a family secret from owner Paul Tsiknakis.
Tsiknakis’ father oversees the baking of the diner’s desserts, with one pastry chef working in the kitchen.
The dessert is a holiday favorite, but it is served year-round ($5.95 per pint).
“It is not your traditional bread pudding. It has always been a top-seller, and during the holidays people often order it by the tray,” Tsiknakis said.
Go: 1753 Route Route 206, Southampton; 609-859-2301, redlionnj.com.
Sparta Classic Diner, Sparta
The dessert: Cookie Dough Wild Shake
The Cookie Dough Wild Shake from Sparta Classic Diner comes with a full chocolate chip ice cream cookie sandwich on top. (Photo: Courtesy of Northvale Classic Diner)
Bring a friend or four to help you tackle this massive milkshake. Cookies and cream ice cream is blended into a thick shake, topped with a mountain of housemade whipped cream, cookie dough chunks, mini chocolate chips and a full Chipwich. Sparta Classic Diner, which opened in 2012, has a few other sugar-bomb “Wild Shakes” on its menu, including cannoli, cheesecake and cereal flavors. $13.95.
Go: 80 Woodport Road, Sparta; 973-729-2425, spartaclassicdiner.com.
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