By Stacey Marcus
When Keisha Whitaker, wife of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, visits the North Shore she sometimes takes a nostalgic ride along Route 1. Anyone with roots on the North Shore is familiar with the iconic highway whose revolving restaurant and entertainment scene has hosted family favorites (think Hilltop Steak House, The Continental Restaurant, Augustine’s, Kowloon Restaurant, Diamond Head and Prince Pizzeria) and famous fruits (imagine Green Apple, Golden Banana) to provide a kaleidoscope of colorful memories throughout the years.
“I remember thinking the cows at the Hilltop were real,” says Whitaker. While she now calls the West Coast home, the Lynn native makes it a point to visit Kowloon to enjoy egg foo yong and crab rangoon on her East Coast visits.
Whitaker is not the only celebrity to pop by Kowloon. Numerous luminaries have enjoyed the legendary restaurant and one of the few establishments that has stood the test of time on the busy highway. Jerry Seinfeld performed at Kowloon in 1989 and Anne Hathaway filmed a portion of the movie “Bride Wars” there. Owner Stanley Wong says that when his grandparents established The Mandarin House in 1950, they were able to seat between 40-50 people. Today Kowloon seats 1,200 people and welcomes over 500,000 guests per year.
What is Wong’s recipe for success? “We have a great staff and wonderful patrons,” he says. “We also changed with the times, adding Szechuan, Thai cuisine and sushi to the popular menu choices.” He adds that the “Disneyland” vibe with boats, fountains and the Hong Kong lounge creates a fun environment.
“Route 1 on the North Shore is a unique stretch of roadway in that it offers some of the most iconic restaurants in the history of the Boston food industry, along with some of the newest innovative restaurants just coming into the local dining scene,” said Bob Luz, President & CEO, Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “One fact is certain about Route 1: there is a choice, and likely multiple choices, for every conceivable genre of restaurant for which a guest may be searching.”
North Shore natives love to reminisce about their Route 1 dining experiences. As a teenager I personally remember buzzing past the famous orange dinosaur to hang out at Prince Pizzeria or enjoy a pu pu platter at Kowloon. Who doesn’t recall standing in the Hilltop’s endless lines waiting to hear “Four for Kansas City” yelled, navigating the bottomless buffet at Augustine’s or donning Sunday best to celebrate a special occasion at The Continental Restaurant?
A group of seniors at the Ralph Kaplan Estates in Peabody engaged in a lively discussion of dining on Route 1, recalling places like Adventure Car Hop, Yokem’s, Carl’s Duck Farm, Valle’s Steak House, Chickland and Continental. “During the war, we went to The Continental every Friday night after work,” recalls 90-year old Estelle Millar.
Continental’s Owner and General Manager Paul Kourkoulis notes that the combination of “a quality meal at a reasonable price” has kept families flocking to the family-owned and operated business for over six decades.
“It is a competitive market that keeps on getting tougher and tougher,” said Kourkoulis, adding that plans are underway to refresh the restaurant
Steven Castraberti, owner of the “the largest family-owned pizzeria in America,” aka Prince Pizzeria, says that both Route 1 and driving have changed since his father, Arthur, purchased a 12-seat drive-in pizza place known as “The Leaning Tower of Pizza” from Prince Macaroni. Today Prince seats 625 customers. Price, quality and availability are the trio of factors that has kept the business flourishing according to Castraberti who says his father always ran the business with Benjamin Franklin’s motto of “no detail is too small” in mind. Along with a large dining room and three function rooms, Prince added Giggles Comedy Club in 1978, which consistently welcomes sell-out crowds. Times have changed since 1961 when Route 1 was a two-lane highway and a popular destination for people to shop and dine.
Throughout the years Route 1 has seen many establishments that have been successful in other places open such as Border Cafe, Santarpio’s Pizza, Red’s Kitchen + Tavern, Polcari’s Restaurant and Kelly’s Roast Beef, to name a few. Since Kelly’s opened its doors and drive-thru in 1994, the Saugus restaurant has enjoyed great success in its prime location with both north and south access on Route 1. Director Dean Murphy notes that the Saugus location outperforms its other three restaurants— Revere Beach, Natick and Medford—generating between 800 and 2,500 orders a day, 40 percent of which are placed via the drive-thru. He attributes the success to a combination of the prime location and the fact that Kelly’s never cuts quality.
I reached out to a number of friends who grew up on the North Shore to share their dining memories and assembled a list of the things people loved about dining on Route 1:
- Throwing popcorn and hanging out with friends at The Ground Round.
- Getting dressed up and celebrating a special family occasion at The Continental.
- Donning a sparkling blue gown and dyed blue shoes and dancing at prom at Caruso’s
- The jingle, jingle at Adventure Car Hop.
- Standing in the buffet line at Augustine’s.
- Driving up the ‘mountain’ to Weylu’s to enjoy great Chinese food.
- Enjoying a big breakfast and frozen dough at Godfried’s.
- Savoring a pile of pancakes swimming in maple syrup at Bickford’s Restaurant.
- Toasting to good times with a Mai Tai and and pu pu platter while reveling in the ambience at Kowloon Restaurant.
- The joy in hearing your name called at Hilltop followed by a discussion about the famous place mats and an enormous portion of lobster pie or steak.
As new dining destinations continue to sprout up on the North Shore, Route 1 will undoubtedly continue its legacy of being dotted with an eclectic assortment of places to grab a bite with family and friends.
Photos: Reba Saldanha