Among the many people who we asked about their history with Hilltop, Al was our favorite, a gem-of-a-gentleman. He told us about their unforgettable salad dressing, the lines, and why he stopped eating there regularly but remains a Route 1 regular.
Why’d you stop frequenting the Hilltop?
The quality stopped being as good as it was. Years ago, when you had a tenderloin steak, they gave you a salad that three people could eat. And the steak was real prime, and what came with it was really good–I really liked their chicken soup … After those really good days, the ownership changed.
What was your go-to dish?
Not the rib eye, not the porterhouse, not the tenderloin … filet mignon! That was my favorite, so I used to go there a lot, and it was typically a two-hour wait, especially on weekends. You’d have to wait, they didn’t take reservations, and it was all cash.
When were you last there?
I went last week to [get some of their famous salad dressing] for a friend. I walked in the door after this guy said there was a two-hour wait, and I said that I just wanted salad dressing. A guy who worked there walked up to me and said, “It’s gone. Everybody’s been buying it.”
Suddenly they’re crowded and they can’t even keep the salad dressing in stock!?!
They said, “If you come back today or tomorrow, we might have more.” A friend of mine and I are going to go for lunch, for nostalgia reasons, and hopefully they’ll have a couple bottles left.
So do you spend a lot of time at the Continental now?
After my wife passed away, one of the things I did to get some joy back in my life–I’ve been retired for a long time–I started singing. I never sang in my life, but I start singing karaoke, and I’m singing here tonight … What are you guys doing here?
We work for a magazine, and we’re trying to take a snapshot of Route 1 to document the way it’s dying in some ways and changing in others. We’re looking for whatever is still vibrant around here–like dusting off an old classic while sort of recognizing life in transition.
Well you found the right place. It’s an older crowd, but if you come in here on a Saturday or Sunday night, there are still a lot of people in here. I’ll probably be here too.