The Newark Culinary Cafe isn't exactly a cafe. And no, it's not a place to sit with a fancy coffee drink and relax in Newark. Instead, it's the dining room of a small vocational cooking school, where you can step inside and away from the chain restaurants and get yourself a square meal for $3.50—not a bad deal at all. Or choose soup and a sandwich for $3.00.
It provides a solid education in professional kitchen skills for twelve to fifteen unemployed students, and wholesome meals at modest prices for the local community and whomever else is lucky enough to wander in.
Well, you can't exactly wander in. The Culinary Cafe is inside the New Community Extended Care Center and right around the corner from UMDNJ—the big medical and dental school. If you show up at 266 South Orange Avenue, you'll see what looks like a hospital or nursing home, and no sign of a $3.50 meal inside. All you have to do though is enter the building on the left and ask for the cafe. Walk down the hall and through the door and you'll find a bright cafeteria with a steam table filled with food and a brightly-colored seating area.
Check out that steam table; there's a strong soul food vibe there. And when I tasted the collard greens, I didn't know if I should have been happy because they were so good, or sad because much fancier places didn't make them as well. I also had barbecued beef—okay, I knew it wasn't real, you can't have a smokehouse at a long-term-care facility in urban New Jersey, but when I ate, I thought of it as a soul-inspired pot roast and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also had the mac and cheese and washed it down with sweetened ice tea. It was a thousand times better than the sandwiches and pizza slices I usually wind up with in this part of town.
The Culinary Cafe is one of those places—a tiny island of modest prices, civility, and wholesome food in New Jersey's largest city. A must-visit for those of you who are in the neighborhood and think that your choices are either fast food or high-ticket Portuguese. (Open weekdays only, except school holidays.)
The Culinary Cafe
266 South Orange Avenue, Newark NJ 07103 (map)