One Funeral & Four Restaurants: Americana Diner, Anthony’s Pizza, Mastoris, & Under the Moon Cafe (East Windsor & Bordentown)

This Halloween weekend was spent on the road, as I left my home in Passaic County to relocate to my hometown, Bordentown, for a family funeral.

Bordentown is a wonderful little town, in a unique geographical position that places it right along the Delaware River, but smack dab in the middle of NY vs. Philadelphia-influenced NJ culture. At sports bars, you can find just as many Giants & Jets decorations as you will Eagles; you can tune in to both Philly and NY based television & radio stations. While there are many natives of the town still left, with generations of family born & raised, there is a recent influx of residents from both the north, south, and yes- that elusive “central” Jersey of folklore & mythology that have given this town a flavorful vibe, while maintaining its historical charms.

My first stop for Friday night dinner was at Americana Diner, in East Windsor. Like many New Jerseyans, I have patronized this diner for decades. However, it’s been a few years since I’ve visited and I noticed some changes. While the interior remains the same since their last major renovation (probably close to the new millennium, if I’m not mistaken), the menu has changed quite dramatically. While I appreciate that the ownership has taken the direction of a culinary manager, who clearly is qualified based on her bio on the website, I know I can’t be alone in missing the old menu. The new Americana menu is much more scaled-down, offering more of a restaurant or café-style selection vs. a traditional diner. Appetizers, salads, soups, sides, and entrees all fit on one side of a page. I was looking forward to my big fat diner menu; I’m all about being progressive but keeping the name “Americana” now in this case seems ironic. Gone is all the standard diner fare that made them famous; left is a lofty menu that sadly, I felt was frankly overpriced and ambitious for their market. Maybe I’m underestimating their “new” market – as I stated, I’ve been out of that area for a while. I know there probably are plenty of people happy with the change; the place was as packed as ever, so they must be doing something right. I guess I was just let down as I was all geared-up for the large selection & portions of the past as I drove down the Turnpike, making a pit-stop at this old favorite of mine. Maybe it was an “off” night, but I hope next time, if I’m paying higher-end prices at a diner, that the food quality matches the price.

Americana

Saturday’s lunch needed to be simple and brief, as we had a lot to accomplish before an early evening church service. Therefore, we stopped in at Anthony’s Pizza in Bordentown, a classic pizza “joint,” that remains in a comfy time-machine vacuum of sorts circa late 70s-early 80s. Locals know the owner, Anthony, who has a penchant for Elvis, Cadillacs, and the local women (bordering on the creepy side, but he seems harmless enough to take your kids there). Anthony is getting up there in age & as of late, I’ve noticed some new help at the restaurant. Seemingly, the pizza is not as I remember as a kid & I suspect that Anthony has suffered the effects of the economy & his age and has been forced to cut some corners. Just on the principle of tradition alone, I will continue to stop in from time to time when I’m in town, but it’s clear that Anthony’s is on its way to possibly closing up shop and ending an era. Sadly, many neighbors of the same stretch of highways 206 &130 that saw a heyday in the 70s-80s (Papp’s Bowling, most recently for example) have done the same.

Anthonys

After the services, I hosted a repass dinner at Mastoris of Bordentown. Mastoris is pretty well-known statewide, as it lies at close proximity to routes 195, 130, 206, and 295. Similarly, it’s about equidistant to exits 7 and 7A off the NJ Turnpike. A large facility, it is typically full of local & commuting patrons, along with large bus groups or catered events. Mastoris is another Bordentown dinosaur that has a lot riding on expectations of its past performance. Fortunately for them, their portions and quality still deliver. Their famous cheese & cinnamon breads are the centerpiece of a full on-site bakery, which gives the place a very welcoming appeal as soon as you walk inside and see everything on display before the numerous dining rooms. I like reading the Mastoris family restaurant story on their placemats and the efforts to create an “experience” is still a formula that works. I’ve heard rumors that their current site will close and they will move operations to their new Allstarz Sports Bar; I’m hoping this is not the case unless they are willing to invest in a serious renovation to recreate their current model that can still meet the demands of a modern world. Allstarz is a cavernous, contemporary sports bar that offers a completely different atmosphere than classic Mastoris. As I can say for now is “say it ain’t so” Mastoris. I’d love to see a renovation of the current facility instead of a move that could jeopardize the brand.

Mastori bread

Sunday brunch brought about a pleasant discovery in Under the Moon Café in Bordentown City. This small, yet distinct venue offers Argentinean-inspired dishes & to die-for desserts. I was immediately moved by the attention to decorative & interior design. The core elements of the café are rustic, and there is something interesting to look at on every table and wall. I get the impression that a lot of trips to antique dealers and second-hand shops were made with joyful finds that make this place special. The menu is as creative and intentional as the atmosphere. This location was definitely a much needed pick-me-up after an emotionally draining weekend. In fact, I left feeling inspired to write again – so I did. I will definitely be sampling more of Under the Moon in the future.

Under the Moon

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Jersey Pop Restaurant Rave: Burger Deluxe

In my younger days as a college student at William Paterson University, I remember passing the old North Star 23 Diner frequently on Route 23 North in Wayne. It was even one of my subjects of a final photography course thesis I presented on New Jersey diners.

Today, the Livanos Restaurant Group has transformed the location into a standout dining destination among the heavily saturated NJ diner-verse. Burger Deluxe grabs your attention with its visual appeal on its exterior; it’s interior content & character keep you coming back for more.

A congruent theme is a critical but often mishandled aspect of the food business. Burger Deluxe is on the money with the “feel good” recipe, capitalizing on the best of 1950s/60s retro: decor, music, menu, and good old-fashioned family fun.

While the menu is not the hulking page-turner you’ll find at most other competitors in its league, it doesn’t have to be due to the high level of quality in taste, preparation, and presentation. Burgers are in the spotlight as their specialty, but the other sandwiches, soups, salads, and appetizers receive the same love from the chef. Upon about 15+ visits now, I have never been disappointed with any option I’ve tried.

Favorites: En Fuego Burger, Buffalo (Bison) Burger, Skillet Mac & Cheese, Sante Fe Chicken Salad, and as of late, their Spinach Pie appetizer.

Another area Burger Deluxe pulls away from the pack is their beverages & desserts. Kids of all ages (us big ones too) will fall for the thick milkshakes, floats, local Boylan’s soda, and ice cream truffles. I crave their Watermelon Lemonade regularly; they use real purée for a beautiful layered sweet & sour mix. I confess, it’s the best mixed drink I’ve had without the need for alcohol. Which leads to a final thought- atmosphere.

Some diners in Jersey benefit from a liquor license; in many cases, they should be thankful as you can use the intoxicants to lower your expectations. As a social drinker, I also appreciate the diner/liquor combo. All this being said, Burger Deluxe needs no liquor license and if you’ve been there, you already know what I mean. It’s a glimpse into a simpler time, in the best ways possible: great food, pleasant & genuine service, great music (appropriate for all ages), sleek yet sentimental design, and smiles. You go there, and you don’t feel like you’re missing anything, despite a bustling NJ highway in view, the world slows down at Burger Deluxe. Nothing should muffle the beauty in that.