Nifty Fifty’s restaurant is a place built on nostalgia. With décor and flashy neon lighting intended to evoke the vibe of the 1950s and the chrome diner of the time, Nifty Fifty’s aims at recalling the “wholesome family values, mouth-watering homemade cooking and the birth of rock n’ roll”. With a jukebox, milkshakes, and a (modern) soda fountain that they claim is the world’s largest, it’s a fine place to visit on your Route 1 trip for that throwback feel, assuming your doctor hasn’t made any recommendations about lowering your cholesterol.
Nifty Fifty’s was not, in fact, built in the 1950s, however – rather, it was founded in 1987 by restauranter Leo McGlynn. There are multiple locations now, although not all offer the same nostalgic vibe. The Newtown Square Nifty Fifty’s feels closer to a Chipotle than a mom and pop restaurant, for example. Nifty Fifty’s has won 10 Best of Philadelphia awards, and their menu consists of reasonably priced fare from breakfast entrees to hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken sandwiches, cheese steaks, French fries, and other items you’d expect – although the filet mignon sandwich, which I unfortunately did not try, does stand out.
One noteworthy incident in the restaurant’s history is the conviction of the owners for tax fraud in 2013. McGlynn pled guilty and was sentenced to 36 months for, among other things, paying employees and vendors in cash and not reporting cash transactions. Between that and under-reporting income and over-reporting expenses, in four years they failed to report $15.6 million worth of income. Their accountant was sentenced to 60 months in prison in 2015 – in addition to his role facilitating the tax evasion, he embezzled $4 million from the restaurant. The fact that such large amounts of money netted such short sentences seems baffling in a country where a woman was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of marijuana to a police informant, but this and the laissez faire attitude towards reporting cash income do feel plausibly thematic to the America of the 50’s, at least.
My wife grew up near the location on Grant Avenue, so that restaurant was a part of her childhood, and she urged me to visit with her as she felt like it would appeal to roadtrippers looking for classic Americana. It was a hot day, and the location is plopped in the middle of a sweltering asphalt and concrete desert that seems to stretch on forever. Bereft of much greenery to speak of, sitting outside is uninviting, in some ways a victim of the very auto culture popular in the time period it is centered around celebrated. Still, you’re coming for the soda fountain feel, so you’ll probably wind up inside in one of the plush booths admiring the checkered tiles on the bar or the nean signs in the windows, and those are just fine.
We ordered two of the bacon cheeseburgers, a Bananas Foster milkshake, and cheese fries to share. The cheese fries and milkshake were good, although the burgers were a little disappointing, as they were flattened as though someone had sat on them. It was definitely a meal where you could feel your arteries hardening afterwards, and my wife seemed a bit let down that it wasn’t quite as good as she remembered. There’s another article to be written about manufactured nostalgia and the inability to experience places that were meaningful to you in your youth in the same way decades later, but the real takeaway here is that if you go to Nifty Fifties with tempered expectations regarding the cuisine and a desire for reasonably well-done faux sentimentality amidst a strip-mall landscape, well, you’ll get what you came for. Just be sure to order a milkshake too.
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Aug 01, 2022 Diners Food Reviews