Breakfast state? Well, maybe not exactly. Unless you are satisfied with diner breakfasts, there are not alot of options for unique breakfast spots in New Jersey. To be clear, there are some respectable diner breakfasts, but when I want breakfast out (usually on a weekend), I want something more than a diner. I want interesting menus, serious coffee, and if I’ve really hit the jackpot, house-made pastries. Not easy to come by in NJ where the diner car originated and where people love their diners for the “anything, anytime menus.” So my mission for years has been to seek out unique breakfast places. I present my most recent findings for you here. Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list (I can’t be everywhere), but there are some really terrific breakfast places out there. And, yes, there are even a couple of diners included.
Raymond’s, Montclair – I think what I love most about Raymond’s is the bistro feel – open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner, 7 days a week, the original tin ceiling, and the antique seltzer bottles that decorate the walls. I love the fact that you can get a really good latte, sit at the counter and watch the action. Raymond’s has quite the following in the Montclair area and is BIG with the stroller set on weekends (the wait for brunch Saturday and Sunday can be lengthy). The breakfast menu has quite a few interesting choices, from homemade granola to corn batter pancakes to huevos rancheros and eggs benedict. They also turn out a mean hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows (not too many breakfast places can offer that). 28 Church St., Montclair. 973-744-9263. www.raymondsnj.com
Plum on Park, Montclair – the newest addition to the breakfast scene in the Montclair area. Plum, as I like to call it, is set in an old-time diner car (see, there’s that diner thing again) but as soon as you walk in, you see this is not your typical diner (the cool crystal chandeliers give it away). Open only for breakfast and lunch (closed Sunday), Plum is owned by Natalie Colledge, whose family owns the Styertowne Bakery in Clifton. Offering a tidy breakfast menu and interesting specials on Saturdays, in the past couple of weeks we’ve enjoyed the deliciously light pancakes, a special omelet of sprouts, bacon, and pepper jack cheese, and a Jersey classic, Taylor ham, egg, cheese sandwich. The coffee is terrific, and the warm, friendly service by Natalie and her staff is so welcoming that I could sit there all day enjoying the comfortable atmosphere and authentic cappuccino. The best part for me? Being able to get those fresh baked treats, like the incredible old-fashioned German crumb cake, the awesome Russian Tea Cake, and a delicious apple-cinnamon-pecan concoction.
14 Park St., Montclair. 973-744-7100. www.plumonpark.com
Toast, Montclair – completing our round-up of the Montclair area, Toast has set up shop in a two-story, spacious storefront a bit away from the downtown area but directly across from Whole Foods. Amy Harrigan, whose family ran diners around the state for many years, is the owner. They are open 7 days a week for breakfast, brunch, and lunch (and the occasional lobster bake during the summer). Offering quite a large menu, some favorites are the California Scramble (grape tomatoes, avocado and Monterey Jack garnished with sour cream and homemade salsa), the Island Girl French Toast (pineapple, mango, and toasted coconut), and the homemade corned beef hash. Toast may lack the ambience of Plum, or the bistro vibe of Raymond’s, but it does have a solid menu full of breakfast classics with a few new twists. 700 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair. 973-509-8099. www.toastmontclair.com
Corner Bakery Café, Clifton –this is the first New Jersey location of the chain, which began in Chicago in 1991 as part of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant empire. I was excited to see a local venue of the Corner Bakery, as anything to do with baked goods makes me happy. At the same time, I was a little leery of the chain aspect. First impressions were good – comfortable, warm atmosphere, efficient, pleasant service, and good breakfast offerings. The Corner Bakery practices what is known as “fast casual” service, where you order at the counter and a server delivers your meal to the table. The breakfast selections, such as the Anaheim Scrambler (eggs scrambled with crisp applewood bacon, tomatoes, green onions, and cheddar cheese), and the Baked French Toast and Eggs (cinnamon-swirled brioche bread baked in a rich vanilla custard, served with scrambled eggs and applewood smoked bacon), are all made to order and quite good. The unique Baked French Toast is similar to a bread pudding. As we were finishing our meal, a server came around offering samples of their signature pastry, Cinnamon Crème Coffee Cake. It was delicious and a nice unexpected touch. The Corner Bakery is open 7 days for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 850 State Rt 3, Clifton. 973-272-1422. www.cornerbakerycafe.com
State Line Diner, Mahwah – diner fans, this is for you. This is your typical, big, 24/7 New Jersey diner, with waitresses that call you “hon.” With one exception, really good breakfast food. Because when you come down to it, you can get the standard diner fare anywhere from Hoboken to Atlantic City but you can’t always get above average diner food. At the State Line you can. The menu is long and varied, with all your favorites – eggs, pancakes, waffles, omelets, you name it. And all of it very good, especially the superior multigrain toast that you can get with your egg dishes. They have a sister diner in Bloomfield called The Nevada Diner which also worth a visit. When you need a diner fix, this is the answer. 375 Rt 17 North, Mahwah. 201-529-3353. www.statelinediner.com
Moving a little to the west brings us to The Fine Diner in Clinton. Not really a diner at all, but more like a roadhouse, The Fine Diner is located in a quaint little village that is the perfect destination for a drive in the country. The Fine Diner is sort of like Clinton’s version of “Cheers” (…where everybody knows your name) – the gathering spot to catch up on local news and watch babies grow up. There is a nice small town, mid-America feel to this (maybe this is what New Jersey was like 50 years ago?). But I digress, on to the food. The menu has all your breakfast standards, with about 7-8 pancake variations and some very different French toast options, not to mention a myriad of omelet choices. Be forewarned: the servings are huge. The Fine Diner is open Tuesday-Sunday. 1 Old Highway 22, Clinton. 908-238-1637. www.thefinedinernj.com
Last on our breakfast road trip is the Blairstown Diner. If ever there was a quintessential, small town diner, this is it. The food is decent but what makes this really interesting is that this diner was integral to the storyline of the Friday the 13th movie (much of the movie was filmed in and around Blairstown). We found it while out for a ride on a gorgeous late summer day, stopping for gas at the station next door to the diner. The attendant heartily recommended the diner. The place was packed so the service was a little lazy, but the pancakes were very good. So if you are a horror movie fan or just a breakfast fan, the Blairstown Diner would make a good stop (except on a Friday…). 53 Rt 94, Blairstown. 908-362-6070 (no web site).
As you can see, there are quite a few terrific options for breakfast in northern New Jersey. And I’m sure there are dozens more around the rest of the state. I would love to hear about your favorite breakfast spots – post a comment and maybe JerseyBites will compile a handy list of the best breakfast places in the Garden State. Eat on, New Jersey!
Terry Krongold is a life-long passionate baker. In addition to a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry, Terry has been involved with food for many years, including co-ownership of a dessert catering company in the late eighties called I Love Cheesecake, specializing in fine cheesecake and unique desserts. Terry is the author of The Cook’s Tour, a blog focused on food, baking, and travel. When not working, writing, or baking, she spends time planning vacations around restaurants to visit. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.