Sliders, Chili Dogs and Beyond: Pop’s Place Resurrects the Roadside American Grill

by Peter Candia

When Owner Erion Lenas opened Pop’s Place, he looked to bring the roadside burger stands of the past to Rockaway, NJ. What followed was months of planning that would center around a simple concept: high-quality food at a fast-food pace. It’s a simple idea, but not always easy to pull off. When done right, there’s perhaps not a more fun dining experience in the world. 

You’ll feel like a kid again when you walk into Pop’s Place—and that’s the whole idea. From griddled Taylor Ham sandwiches and onion-cooked hamburger sliders to rootbeer floats and chili-topped hot dogs, Pop’s Place is taking diners back a few decades with their classic, yet timeless concept. 

Along with Operating Partner Freddy Cottrill and Marketing Coordinator Sandra Serrano, the team aims to bring the freshest food possible to their regulars each and every day. It’s been successful so far as diners line up for breakfast lunch and dinner at the roadside restaurant.

pop's place

Pop’s Place | A Roadside American Grill in Rockaway, NJ

I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve been there before despite knowing full well that I hadn’t. It wasn’t until Erion told me that Pop’s was formerly occupied by a Stewart’s Drive-In (remember those?) that it all made sense. “We try to serve the same purpose [as Stewart’s],” he told me. “Albeit at a higher quality.” Now, as someone who spent many Saturday afternoons growing up at the Kearny Stewart’s, this is something I can fully get behind. 

When Pop’s took over the space, they enclosed the outdoor area and installed heaters—transforming the traditionally seasonal restaurant into an all-year operation. 

Breakfast Sandwiches and More

For breakfast at Pop’s Place, you might want to try one of their classic sandwiches. Taylor Ham and cheese, sausage, egg and cheese and more fill the menu, but people come far and wide to try the Pop’s Breakfast Bomb. The gargantuan sandwich features Taylor Ham, sausage, bacon, egg and cheese on a fresh brioche bun—anointed with the usual salt, pepper and ketchup. Its layers of meat, cheese and egg fill the squishy bun. A gluttonous option? No doubt, but is that an issue? I don’t think so. 

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The Pop’s Breakfast Bomb feature Taylor Ham, sausage, bacon, egg and cheese. SPK if that’s your style.

And while the Breakfast Bomb is spectacular, I’m partial to a Southern classic that Pop’s pays great tribute too: biscuits and gravy. Flaky buttermilk biscuits come smothered in creamy sausage gravy. Sandwiched in between each biscuit is a fried egg and sausage patty. It lives somewhere between a breakfast sandwich and a plated breakfast. The home fries served on the side are crispy and packed with well-seasoned potato flavor. 

Partner Freddy Cottrill, who can usually be found behind the register making root beer floats with ice-cold bottles of Stewart’s, revealed to me that the sausage gravy was actually a recipe he learned from a neighbor when he was living in Georgia some decades back. “I was living in Georgia during my time in the military. She [his neighbor] taught me how to make it and I’ve been making it ever since,” he said. 

Cottrill—who comes from generations of veterans—is one of the most familiar faces at Pop’s Place. The retired union iron worker has a big personality that matches Pop’s energy to a tee. His huge heart and passion for service makes him a key piece of the operation. 

A filled grill at Pop’s Place

A Variety of Hot Dog Styles

The breakfast is certainly worth your time, but it’s the lunch and dinner options that people line up for. 

Let’s start with hot dogs—and there’s plenty to go around. Pop’s Place griddles Sabrett 6/1 (six to a pound) all-beef frankfurters on their flat top grill. The naturally cased hot dog is the perfect vessel for any of their mind blowing toppings. 

The Italian Hot Dog comes with fried potatoes, peppers, onions and their house sauce. Naturally, Pop’s swaps out the usual potato bun for an Italian roll. It’s a New Jersey classic for good reason with the firm snap of the Sabrett hot dog and the harmonizing flavors of the sauteed vegetables. If you’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying an Italian hot dog, you know where to start.

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“One dog all the way, please!”

Or perhaps you want to try another classic, this time something made famous in many institutions across North Jersey: an “all the way” dog. Hot take, but this might just be the best version of the classic in North Jersey (move over, Hot Grill). A snappy dog gets lathered in mustard and a secret chili sauce recipe that is complexly spicy and layered. To finish? Chopped raw onions. It’s simple. It’s timeless. And it’s damn good. What sets Pop’s version of the classic apart is easily the chili, which I would have been just as happy to eat with a spoon. Delicious. 

Beyond are reuben-inspired hot dogs (and fries) topped with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese, Chicago-style dogs with sport pepper, celery salt, pickle, tomato, mustard, onion and relish on a poppy seed bun and the tasteful bacon and cheese dog. No matter which you choose, it’s bound to please and it’s all thanks to Pop’s starting things right with a quality, naturally-cased hot dog. 

The Chicago dog

Sliders, Smash Burgers and Beyond

Now, onto burgers, and Pop’s has several must-try options. From sliders to smash burgers—singles to triples—and everything in between, Pop’s Place’s burgers are what will no doubt put them on the map. 

I started with a smash burger. Fresh-delivered beef from Plymouth Beef Co. in the Bronx gets placed on the grill crowning thin-sliced onion and Pop’s secret seasoning blend. Then, the beef gets pressed hard down into the grill. This method allows the beef to get an unctuous sear and for the onions to cook into (and flavor) the beef. Slices of cheese are added and a squirt of a beer mixture are added to the grill to steam everything together. I enjoyed a double with crisp lettuce and plenty of secret sauce. 

Double smash burger

The double smash burger was excellent, but I can’t help it, I’m a slider guy. Lucky for me, Pop’s Place has sliders that ooze nostalgia. Go for a slider box with fries or crispy onion rings, which will land you two cheeseburger sliders, cooked with onions, on a steamy Martin’s potato roll. As an everyday special, if you buy two sliders, you get the third free. They are addictingly cheesy and packed with fresh beef flavor. Dare I say that Pop’s Place sliders are up there with some of the legendary spots of New Jersey. 

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Double smash burger (again)

Childhood Favorites For Dessert

Unleash your inner child with any of Pop’s desserts. Pop’s Place specializes in frozen custards which go great in a milkshake. The only question is if you prefer chocolate or vanilla. But, they also do a childhood favorite—in several varieties. Root beer floats flow freely at Pop’s Place, featuring creamy vanilla custard and cold, fizzy Stewart’s root beer. Don’t look past other options like the orange cream float with Stewart’s orange soda, or try something new like a Pepsi float, spiked with strawberry syrup—a mesmerizing combination. 

Pop’s Place: A Family Business

At its core, Pop’s Place is a family restaurant. Their mission is to bring high-quality food at an affordable price—all served up by familiar faces. “We want it to be a place where you can come with the family, or maybe head to after a baseball game for a burger and a milkshake,” says Erion. 

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All the way dog with Rueben fries

What’s more, is a commitment to community. Erion told me about upcoming “Cars and Coffee” on Saturday mornings, where regulars bring their vintage cars to the restaurant for breakfast, as well as bike nights that he’s looking to plan. Additionally, customers can call on Pop’s Place for any catering needs. 

Organizers can fill out this form on their website to host community fundraisers. 

Pop’s Place is resurrecting the no-frills burger/hot dog joints of New Jersey’s past—the kinds of places that stay in the family for generations because of the consistent, high-quality food and fair prices. For the Pop’s team, it’s simply about curating the best guest experience they can. That means fresh-cooked burgers and hot dogs, crispy fries, and creamy root beer floats. 

Pop’s Place is bringing back a lost art in the dining world; we’re lucky to experience it. 

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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