If the first thought that came to your head after reading this post title was Groucho Marx singing ‘Lydia the Tattooed Lady’, pat yourself on the back; you have an awesome sense of humor.
This post, however, is not about the Marx Brothers movie from 1939. It is about the drive-in restaurant that was established fifteen years after the movie, and has become one of the most recognizable places to eat in the Jersey shore area. The Circus Drive-In, on Route 35 in Wall Township, has been drawing crowds since they raised their big top in 1954.
After having driven by the place a number of times, we finally decided to give The Circus a try last Friday. Despite some threatening clouds that seemed to be waiting for us as we crossed into Monmouth County, we pressed on and pulled into the crowded parking area. The Circus Drive-In offers you the choice of indoor seating under a rounded big top-like building, or parking in their car hop stalls and eating in the comfort of your vehicle in classic American style. Of course, we went for the latter – there’s something more enjoyable about eating in your car, even if you have to be creative in finding a place to balance your fries and burger without having them fall all over you or your car’s interior.
While a place like The Circus would probably do just fine with a simple burger and fries menu, they instead give you a menu that is diner-like in the amount of choices. In the mood for a Greek salad with grilled shrimp? They can accommodate you. But let’s face it; you go to a place like The Circus because you want food that appeals to your baser emotions: beefy goodness, fried indulgence and sweet seductions.
For starters, we ordered pretzel bites, onion rings, fried pickles and garlic bread smothered in mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Yummy yum yum…no delicate flowers in THIS car! Lisa enjoyed the onion rings, although they were definitely on the greasy side. I very much liked the cheesy goodness of the garlic bread. And the fried pickles, with dill mixed into the breading, were a pleasant surprise.
Then came the main dishes. Julian got the pizza bagel (and if you believe the Bagel Bites commercials from years ago, having pizza on a bagel allows you to have pizza anytime!), Lisa got the only-on-weekend-offered New England lobster roll, and yours truly, Mr Tuff Guy himself, got a Big Ape.
What’s a Big Ape?
I knew you’d ask that. A Big Ape is evidently a burger with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, salsa, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on a roll. It was a good, juicy and messy burger cooked nicely (even though they didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked) – but I did feel there was a bit more roll than burger. Lisa’s lobster roll was very good; the lobster was fresh and well-blended with mayo and other flavors. And poor Julian; even though his pizza bagel was pretty tasty with homemade red gravy and mozzarella cheese, his tongue was still healing from a canker sore and the gravy was giving him all kinds of trouble.
Fully and happily stuffed, we pulled out of our spot and headed off to Freehold for ice cream and a free movie at Appelgate Farms (there’s always room for ice cream). Based on the activity of cars coming in and out, I expect that The Circus will continue to be a Jersey shore landmark for years to come.
The Circus Drive-In – Route 35, Wall Township. 732.449.2650.
By the way – ever since Bagel Bites were introduced, I have never been quite settled on the idea that if you have pizza on a bagel, you can have pizza anytime. I mean, if I have ice cream on a bagel, can I have ice cream anytime? How about foie gras? Or meatloaf? Or sushi-grade toro?
Color me skeptical.