"EJ's Luncheonette." It sounds like a quaint, family-run, Upper West Side dining delicacy. And "Mac Truck" sounds like a type of baby food.
EJ's is loud, proud, and established in family dining. This retro diner caters to both screaming infants and the senior citizen reading the paper in his original retro pants. A meal here runs about $10 a head, but nothing can compare with the 10 billion-watt smile that crosses your face as a tub-sized three-scooper Banana Split ($4.75) is rushed to your table.
Many well-placed mirrors make the restaurant look deceptively large, and charming blue booths with chrome details pay homage to the 1950s, when Coca-Cola ads were synonymous with red-haired, red-cheeked women. Black-and-white pictures of Babe Ruth dot the restaurant's walls. Touches of red both complement the primarily blue and beige restaurant and draw the eye to the luncheonette counter in the back room and the activity of the open kitchen.
The crowds swell, especially at brunch, and walking from the bathroom to your table involves maneuvering through toddlers, strollers, and servers. All's well once you fall into a chair, however, and realize all these hazards provide an entertainment factor that's often missing in Morningside Heights' dining establishments.
Portions, portions, portions. EJ's has realized if you feed 'em, they'll come back for more. The all-day breakfast specials are fit for a lumberjack. Either a Belgian Waffle or Three Jumbo Buttermilk Flapjacks ($5.75) can be customized to accommodate every taste, no matter how bizarre. Some samples of the 13 toppings include Blueberry Compote ($7.00), Stewed Fruits ($7.75), and Apples, Cinnamon, and Currants ($7.25).
Breakfast continues with Crunchy French Toast ($6.75), challah bread French toast coated with almonds and cornflakes. There are the traditional American egg dishes for slightly more than the traditional American price. Two eggs any style and a hefty serving of bread and home fries are dubbed "the Westsider", therefore justifiably priced at $3.95. But one forgives EJ after sinking one's teeth into the Carmine's Omelette ($7.00), a fluffy mound of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil in what looks like a four-egg omelette.
Have we discussed lunch? There is not much of an emphasis on the other two meals of the day when breakfast is an all-day affair, but for those who can't stomach eggs after 3 p.m., there's an array of salads, burgers, and sandwiches. The Tuna Salad Sandwich ($6.75) is built upon a foundation of challah and stunningly erected with the help of slightly over-mayonnaised tuna fish. It's appropriately landscaped with a side of cole slaw and a sour pickle. There are also appetizers and sides that are large enough to masquerade as meals. Homemade Black Bean and Sirloin Chili ($4.95) with cheddar cheese, onions, and sour cream is a hearty send-up to the average three-bean version, and the Homemade Mashed Potatoes ($3.00) are swoon-worthy.
While a trip to EJ's shouldn't be mistaken for a cheap run to the corner diner, it is always a relief to sink into the familiarity of a booth in a well-lit, bustling restaurant and know that some damn fine comfort food will soon find its way to your table.
Caution: On my last trip to EJ's, I was seated at the booth facing the door and spent the night huddled in my thin cardigan sweater while the apologetic, but powerless waitstaff could do nothing to divert the north wind coming from the air conditioner above the door. How I longed to indulge in a Black-and-White Milkshake ($3.75) or the Brownie Hot Fudge Sundae ($4.75), but alas, I had to finish out the meal with a Hot Chocolate ($1.50) and some of EJ's Belgian Chocolate Cake ($4.50), gleaming from underneath the glass cake dish on the long countertop.
447 Amsterdam Avenue btw. 81st and 82nd Streets
Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Sat-Sun 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.