Tick Tock Diner redux

Visited Sunday, January 19, 2020
Location: 281 Allwood Road, Clifton, New Jersey
Hours: Open 24 hours
Website: ticktockdiner.com

Although updates to this blog have been less than regular lately, rest assured that our signature wit, charm, and insight are still in good form. It’s a new year, and the perfect time for new beginnings: the famous (for some reason) Tick Tock Diner is boasting renovations to both the premises and the menu, and it is our journalistic duty to see if they’ve recovered from a previous visit that was, frankly, disappointing.



Main Dish

50/50 Burger

Tick Tock’s renovations were all over the news, but somehow that was only the second most newsworthy Tick Tock-related item of the last several months. You might have heard (how could you not?) that ancient British corpse Mick Jagger made an unannounced stop before the Rolling Stones played at MetLife Stadium last summer. (Intriguing subplot that I discovered in the course of my research for this blog post: some folks think his fabled Tick Tock pit stop was completely fabricated?!) Well, far be it from Tick Tock to take this in stride when they could instead name a menu item for it, printed in big text in the middle of the page. And it’s not like there’s anything signature about a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich with disco fries—these are the most unremarkable of diner items. It would be like naming a dish the Elvis Presley for its unmistakable association with the King, but instead of a peanut butter and banana sandwich it’s, like, a slab of standard diner meatloaf.

I’ve been waiting a while to get that out of my system. Now, down to business: I do look to taste a diner’s signature item, and while arguably I could’ve gone with the “Mick Jagger,” Tick Tock instead had something that I’d never seen before: the 50/50 burger, with the patty formed half of beef and half of ground bacon. It’s touted as a “flavor bomb.” I had no intent to order a burger, but it demanded a taste.

I can say a couple things about this. First, the presentation was attractive but a little highfalutin. (This would become a recurring theme.) The stainless-steel tray with wax paper is modern and trendy, not classic diner style. The brioche bun—while beautiful to look upon, with its bizarrely smooth dome—was also an unnecessary modern affectation. Second, though, is that the taste was really nice—and isn’t that what matters? The 50/50 burger eats like a burger, but with every bite infused with smokey bacon. It has the texture and moistness of standard ground beef, but with the extra kick. I found it nice as far as burgers go, but at the end I decided that I’d actually prefer the same product with just an actual slice of bacon on top, because then you get both the bacony taste but also the bacony crunch, which is half the appeal.

Main Dish

Short Rib Grilled Cheese Sandwich

So I’ve been here before, readers. This situation, that is. I’ve gotten the same entrée at two different diners and have had difficulty being objective on the one I’m rating without comparing. So, in the interest of being upfront and open with you all, I will tell you this: the short rib grilled cheese at Tops Diner is literally one of the best things I have ever eaten. So obviously this review will be a bit biased. Take it with a grain of salt (that you can then put on the bland fries. Read below.).

This dish was actually pretty good. If I had one complaint about it, it’d be that there just wasn’t enough of it. I don’t mean that in the dad joke way, I mean it in the “50 percent of this sandwich is empty” way. Imagine you’re making a sandwich. You there? Ok, now imagine yourself putting the contents of that sandwich just plop in the middle of the bread, and then putting the other piece of bread on top. The corners of the sandwich were bereft of meat, and I, therefore, was bereft of happiness.

When I DID manage to discover the content of my sandwich (the experience not unlike my endless search for the lost city of Atlantis), what I found was quite good. I feel like you can’t go wrong with short ribs, fried onions, and melted cheese betwixt two perfectly buttered pieces of toast, though, so Tick Tock certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel here.

Like I said, I’m biased. The difference between this sandwich and the sandwich of the same name at Tops Diner is that Tops adds mushrooms and places a small layer of arugula on top, which cuts the VERY buttery flavor of everything and is an overall nice complement. Mostly, though, Tops just doesn’t skimp on the meat. My plate after finishing my meal was just scattered pieces of bread with nothing on it…I’m not about to just eat plain bread! What am I, a duck!?


After revamping the menu, the time was ripe to do something daring with the French fries. Instead we get the same old diner steak fries, decidedly under- (or completely un-?) salted.


Ehh. They were typical diner fries. I was peeking at the people next to us and I THOUGHT I saw some of that rustic skin left on some of the fries and I was so excited. Lo and behold, though—regular boring fries. I thought they were also a bit cold—Bud, did you think that? I don’t love it when they’re PIPING hot, but these were lukewarm at hottest. Riding off Bud’s salt comment, I, too, had to add salt! I never add salt!

I also think Tick Tock changed their honey mustard recipe cuz it tasted a bit too sweet.


Strawberry Cheesecake

I asked Dan if she spotted a dessert case on the way in, and she told me they didn’t have one—or, at least, they moved it during the renovation. After asking the waiter for the dessert options, we understood why: Tick Tock offered just two cheesecake varieties, in the most unremarkable options (plain and strawberry) imaginable. This is borderline unacceptable for any diner, let alone one that prides itself on its cheesecake quality.

Dan almost universally vetoes any dessert that isn’t cheesecake or a brownie sundae, so with red velvet, tiramisu, and baklava out of the question, we opted for the strawberry cheesecake. Dan, ever the proper lady, told the waiter to—and I will quote verbatim—“just f*** us up with whipped cream.” (Censored to protect our more sensitive readers.)

As far as strawberry cheesecake goes, it was nice. Real nice. Appropriately creamy, good strawberry ratio, adequate whipped cream. My block is that I don’t really relish strawberry cheesecake—or any fruit variety, for that matter—because it’s hard to get past the look and texture of the goopy fluorescent red “icing” (what’s it actually called?) in which the strawberries are planted. So, on its own merits, this was a fine dish, but just not really my thing—and the lack of more options is really befuddling.


Strawberry Cheesecake

The paltry amount of dessert options is a PROBLEM and I am NOT OK with it. This is why Bud and I kept going back to Nevada Diner during our hiatus (what, you think just because we weren’t reviewing, we still weren’t diner-ing?!). Nevada has the most impressive dessert display I think I’ve ever seen and EVERYTHING IS DELICIOUS.

Nevada desserts: Big selection, tastes incredible, big portions, inexpensive

Tick Tock desserts: Small selection, tastes good, small portions, expensive

The cheesecake itself was good. Not the best I’ve ever had, but far from the worst (shout out to Verona Diner). I thought it was about 50 percent smaller than it should have been, though. The strawberries were fresh and nice. Despite my request, there was just a “good” amount of whipped cream. You can do better than that, guys.


Our guy was a real sport, and he didn’t bat an eyelash when Dan dropped an f-bomb straight up in his face. (See the dessert section above.) He did forget to bring out her requested honey mustard at first, and twice he didn’t notice that my drink was empty. (I deliberately waited to see if he’d notice before I asked for a refill—that’s just the kind of guy I am.) I think “adequate” is a fine word here.

Relatedly, the manager stopped by to ask about our meal and talk with us for a bit, and I really enjoyed that touch of quaint hospitality.


Bud is always way too forgiving in the service category. Now look, I have all the respect in the world for people brave enough to choose to be a waiter/waitress, but still, if you’re not good at your job, I’m going to call you out on it (behind your back, on my blog).

I’ll say it. I didn’t care for the service. I never did with Tick Tock. I guess I’d just hoped that with the whole new Tick Tock, they’d address one of their biggest flaws (aside from the whole attempted-murder thing), and bring on some new, attentive waitpeople. No, no, my friends, a new diner does not a good waiter make.

Maybe about fifteen feet from us was a literal pack of waiters and waitresses just hanging out. Look, I don’t care. I talk to my coworkers all the time. TOO often, if you ask them. BUT, I don’t just sit around talking while I have people waiting on me. Our guy was guilty of hitting up the chat-zone way more than he was hitting up the our-table-zone.

It was absolutely not busy at all, so I can’t chalk the wait time up to that. It was just a bunch of kids talking. I asked for a minute to look at the menu—FIFTEEN minutes. Interested in dessert after dinner? Gotta wait for our boy to come and ask us—ten minutes after we finish up. The table next to us (the ones I was peeking at two sections ago) left when they were all done, and no one came to clean their table for literally twenty minutes. It was egregious. Usually Bud and I are like, the service wasn’t great but it was busy. Sorry, can’t give you guys the benefit of the doubt here, Tick Tock….The manager that came to talk to us was very sweet, though.


I paid just $13 for the burger and fries (with a generously sized pickle and some cole slaw I didn’t touch). That’s a fine price. Not so good was the cheesecake: $7.45 for a slice that was, frankly, undersized. That was a $5 dessert at most. A soda was $3.25, which is definitely pricey, but the refills were complimentary.

I recall now that we had very similar observations on our first go-round at Tick Tock, so the optimist in me is glad that they didn’t jack up the prices to finance this renovation, while the cynic still thinks the prices were altogether too high from the start.



Yeah so basically, if you want to pay approximately $20 for a burger and soda, this is the place to go.

The cynic Bud references is, of course, me. I’ve complained for a while that Tick Tock charges WAY too much for what you can get literally a mile and a half down the road for about 30 percent cheaper at Allwood Diner. I’ll be honest, I WAS expecting the prices to be even higher than before, so good on them for not really jacking up the price of their already-expensive tuna melt, but still. People aren’t going to a Clifton diner to get filet mignon eggs benedict, so get back to your roots, stop trying to be some hipster gastropub (hate that word), and let’s MAGA—Make Aburger Goodpriced Again!


Shortly after we were seated, I remarked to Dan that at least the renovation had the place looking nice. The upholstery and light fixtures were sharp and modern, which may not be your exact preference for a diner, but at least it was a pleasant space. Over the next few minutes, though, we observed some odd design choices, including a conspicuous and confusing large blank wall and a piece of art that would fit best in your grandma’s house, if your grandma were also kind of creepy. For a place that has made much of their renovations, I think it’s fair to expect more.


There’s so many unique and hip-looking diners out there, that you’d think Tick Tock would use them as a benchmark for how they could look. Instead, Tick Tock went the route of “a burger shack, but depressing.” The weirdly bland and weirdly yellowish walls were super uninviting. The one splash of décor was that creepy painting Buddy was talking about. Honestly, the whole place gave me big “cafeteria” vibes. Except it was more colorful, in an ugly way.

I just had such high expectations…the dessert display wasn’t even up front and center! You half to walk through a seating arrangement to get there! Everything was clean but everything was ugly.


Dan convinced me to give Tick Tock a second try. She tried to pretend that the point was to give it a fair shake after it reopened with a new menu, but we both know that we just didn’t want to drive very far. Well, I think our laziness yielded the expected consequences: a convenient local diner that still just doesn’t match up against several options that are just marginally further away. The food was satisfactory, but when the prices are so high and the ambience so uninspired, “satisfactory” isn’t really enough for me.


A complete facelift will do nothing for you at all if your problems are on the inside. I find that this is true in people and in diners. Tick Tock has problems. Their service is shoddy. Their prices are ridiculous. And, with the big new changes, it seems like Tick Tock doesn’t really know what they are anymore. They’re shooting for the moon, but missing, and landing on a weirdly decorated star with a creepy old lady painting.

I was excited for the whole “New Year, New Tick Tock” thing I kept repeating to Buddy during the car ride there, but, ultimately, I left disappointed. There’s so many internal changes that Tick Tock could have made in order to stay more relevant and competitive in a highly saturated diner market. “New” Tick Tock is the equivalent of getting a hot makeover and a sweet blowout, but still not nabbing your crush because you’re actually an awful person.


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply