Bill of Fare: Americana Diner’s menu rises far above typical roadside Jersey fare
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New Jersey loves its diners, with their huge menus serving homespun food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is usually casual and reliable and served in a comfortable setting.
But every once in a while there is a restaurant that calls itself a diner but stands out in the crowd. That select few includes the Americana Diner in East Windsor, which adheres to the diner standards of serving all three meals plus breakfast all day, but goes much further.
It was four to five years ago that the decision was made to dramatically change the menu, explains manager Chris Kakos.
“We started paying much more attention to what our guests were asking for,” he says. That included an upgraded menu, butchering meats, baking the restaurant’s breads and buying locally whenever possible.
“The goal is farm-to-table,” explains Kakos. Chef Aishling Stevens selects what she will serve each week and crafts a menu based on quality and availability.
Price was also an issue, Kakos says. “We wanted to show value. Instead of just getting a sandwich, people could save money by ordering the three-course prix fixe. “We want people to enjoy a real dining experience.”
The result is a menu that is not as large as those typically found in diners, but still offers a range of choices while satisfying customer preferences. It offers sandwiches and burgers as well as breakfast all day, with upscale offering for those looking for something different.
We ordered from the dinner menu, beginning with buffalo-style chicken wings, $9, potato leek soup, $6, and chicken soup, $4.
The wings came from the “shared plates” menu, which doubles as the appetizer menu. The five mildly spicy wings were served on an apple salad, which was perched on top of a layer of blue cheese dressing. Instead of celery sticks on the side, slices of celery were included in the salad, which was julienne-style slices of fresh apple and fresh greens. After eating the wings, the remaining salad was a perfect blend of flavors, making me wish it was twice its size.
The housemade soups were fresh and inviting, with plenty of chunks of potato and a bits of leek swimming in a light broth for the potato-leek and chunks of white meat chicken and vegetables brightening the chicken soup. The potato-leek soup was our appetizer choice from the prix fixe menu. Because we ordered three courses from this special menu, $7 was taken off the final bill.
Also from the shared plates menu we sampled the “rich grits,” $13, choosing it as a light dinner option. Two large marinated shrimp dominated the plate, which held a dollop of parmesan grits and slices of chorizo sausage. This combination was good, but there was barely a hint of cheese in the grits, making them a disappointment.
As the main course in our prix fixe selection we ordered the roasted beet spaghettini, $17, which was a plateful of beet-colored pasta served with roasted golden beets, ricotta and feta cheeses and a sprinkling of pine nuts. All of the dressing had sunk to the bottom, but once we stirred it up, this proved to be an inventive and flavorful dish.
From the sandwich menu we sampled a turkey BLT, $12, which included plenty of white meat turkey, plus bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on sesame white toast. This was a hearty and inventive sandwich.
Bread and desserts are made in-house, and the restaurant has garnered an enthusiastic following for the half-loaf of white or raisin bread that is served at each table. The desserts are considered miniature, costing $3 each, but have plenty of flavor to help complete a meal. We chose a small lemon tart to complete the prix fixe meal, plus a chocolate mousse cake to sample. Both were pleasant and satisfying.
The menu at the Americana Diner is interesting and varied enough that I recommend that if you visit, it would help to take time to read it beforehand on the website americanadiner.com. That way you can get a complete view of what this unusual and updated Jersey diner has to offer.