If you haven't been to Schnackenberg's, located at 1110 Washington Street, the obvious question is why not? For starters, you've had 82 years to get there. Open since 1931, the tiny slice of the old days reopened this month under new management, local restaurateurs Joyce and Eugene Flinn. The Flinns are far from novices to running a successful eatery, boasting both Amanda's and Elysian Café. Perhaps that is why the Novak family (owners) entrusted them with keeping the integrity of the Schnackenberg name.The reopening, which was delayed after post-Sandy contract work diversion, allowed for many modernized upgrades as well as a respectful preservation of original detail and bow-tied service. While there are dozens of reasons to try out the renovated luncheonette, we thought we'd list our top four.
The most nostalgic component to Schnackenberg's is decidedly the décor. The original stools and flooring were kept fantastically in tact. Joyce Flinn had opted to keep the Formica counter as well, however, the material could not feasibly support needed weights. The counter was elegantly restored, along with light fixtures that brighten up the space and all but one wooden booth. In the back right corner, an authentic bench remains with ornate carvings and lovers initials etched in its surface. "I just love the story behind it; the initials and the courtings that went on here," said Flinn.
The intricate "penny tiled" flooring was also kept, though deeply cracked parts had to be replaced by unseen penny tiles in other parts of the room. The back window displays somewhere close to 50 vintage soda water bottles.
"They make for sort of a stained glass effect, and each one is different. These are how egg creams were originally made. And the local touches are amazing. We have a bottle from Jersey City and a bottle from Hackensack, for example," Flinn said. The bottles were surprisingly easy to find, both from Ebay and local shop Mackey Blue. The result, is exquisite.
Just like the décor and furnishings, the menu is the perfect hybrid between new and old. While authentic WWII menus that sit on the wall proudly display "ceiling prices" capped at .20 - today's are a wee bit higher but still completely affordable. Classic sandwiches, burgers, malts, egg creams, shakes and hot dogs are still staple menus items. Only now, there are also modern nods like vegan and gluten free choices for today's eater - like vegan sausage.
By and large, we'd have to suggest the grilled cheese sandwich - definitely not your momma's grilled cheese. The delectable sandwich is made with leeks, onions, and aged cheddar cheeses on multi-grain bread. In this weather, it goes perfect with their tomato soup and to top off the kid in you, a chocolate milk shake. While the restaurant was once run on only two hot plates, a fully-operational kitchen now exists downstairs.
The Snacks at Schnacks:
Your personal trainer may not agree but you can spend half of your afternoon indulging in the many snacks that Schnackenberg's has to offer. Known famously for their homemade chocolates, former manager and grandson to the original "Mrs. Schnackenberg", Mark Novak still molds and makes the sweets in the basement. Besides holiday chocolates, there is a wide array of other goodies, like oversized marshmallows, donut holes, and gummy candies.
What a paradise for children. Which is precisely why child debit cards (with personalized names) are also now available - to allow responsible spending for your little one. Decked in the new Schnackenberg's logo ("Schnackie" designed by local designer Phil Huling), these cards make an amazing gift for a local kid. And the logo is too cute.
The Old School Neighborhood Feel:
Perhaps the best reason to escape to Schnackenberg's is just that, the escape. Not only can you escape the decade aesthetically, you can also escape technology for a little while. The Flinns do not plan to install Wi-Fi, so as to keep the neighborhood feel alive and well, wireless.
"We don't want people locked on their screens, we want people to talk to each other. Whether the person next to you is a six year old drinking from a striped straw and relishing his milkshake, or someone who used to come here 50 years ago; you get to talk with literally, your neighbor," said Flinn.
Schnackenberg's is currently open from 7am to 5pm to allow for a morning coffee or breakfast before work. They hope to lengthen the hours to include a comfort supper in the upcoming year. Also, in the coming year, a one-of-a-kind stunning piece of artwork is on its way from Joyce Flinn herself - a 10' by 6' framed United States map comprised solely of broken decorated plates from each of the 50 states. We cannot wait to see the finished product!