A quintessential New Jersey dining experience is coming to Rutgers.
Henry’s – a diner that will have a ruby red counter top, red booths and a red neon light visible from the outside – will start serving food Monday on the Livingston Campus.
From the menu to the décor, Henry’s will include elements of a classic diner with a modern and gourmet twist. In addition to an American grilled cheese, the menu offers a melted brie and cranberry on whole grain bread. Cooks will be whipping up three egg omelets, and those with gourmet palates will be able to get a smoked salmon and herb cream cheese crepe. And In keeping with diner tradition, breakfast will be served all day, while customers can also order a hamburger at 9 a.m.
“If you are from New Jersey and you come here this will be what you expect it to be, but maybe a little bit better,’’ said Nicholas Emanuel, assistant director of Rutgers Dining Services. “The big thing with us is we don’t want to be ordinary. The finishing touches, even down to the china, are high end. It’s not your greasy spoon.’’
The diner will also unmistakably shout “Rutgers” when the final work is done – from its name in honor of Col. Henry Rutgers who donated a $5,000 bond in 1826 to keep a then struggling school alive – to the historic photos and images of the university that will adorn dividers between the booths. The walls of the diner will also feature a timeline of the colonel’s life and a clock bearing an image of the university’s namesake as well as the bell he donated to the university that has become a Rutgers icon when the artwork is installed within the next few weeks.
“If someone blindfolded you and brought you here, you will know you are at Rutgers,’’ said Joseph Charette, executive director of University Dining Services. “The philosophy of the whole design is a Rutgers diner owned and operated by the university.’’
The menu is modeled after a college newspaper with the lead headline: Order Breakfast Any Time of Day. The coffee is from another central New Jersey landmark – it comes fresh roasted from Princeton’s Small World Coffee.
The idea for the diner – located in the retail complex of the Livingston Apartments – was the result of a campus survey. When students were asked what they wanted at the university, a diner was the top item, Charette said.
Just what makes diners so beloved?
“You can get anything you want to eat any time of the day,’’ Charette said.
“If you want waffles at dinner time you can have that,’’ Emanuel added. “Whatever you feel like having is available.’’Diners are also as much a part of New Jersey’s identity as Rutgers. “We are the diner capital of the world,’’ said Peter Genovese, a feature writer for The Star-Ledger and author of Jersey Diners, published by Rutgers University Press.
“Diners are cool in so many ways,’’ Genovese added. “There is something about that neon sign that beckons.’’
Genovese is not surprised Rutgers students wanted a diner. For people from New Jersey it’s a taste of home. And for students from out of state, it’s a hallmark of life in the state they want to experience. There are more diners than towns in New Jersey – about 600 Genovese said – and they are special, because unlike chain restaurants each one is different.
The chefs working to launch the diner have the credentials and experience to turn it into something special. Emanuel studied at the Culinary Institute of America after graduating from Rutgers. He built an extensive resume in the food industry that included working with an expert at launching New Jersey diners before returning to his alma mater.
The manager of the diner, Sebastian Nieto, studied in Argentina and worked in kitchens in Spain and Paris. He served as the university’s catering chef, chef to the university president and won a national dining services championship since coming to the university. Barry Squier, who will take on the role of chef at the diner, is the former chef-owner of the acclaimed and Zagat-rated Giraffe restaurant in Basking Ridge.
Even before opening its doors, Henry’s created a stir on campus. Several people walked in on a recent afternoon in hopes of being the first to get a taste as chefs tested the preparation of items on the menu. “Diners have this homey and friendly feeling to about them,’’ said Nieto, the manager. “It’s a place in town where everyone gets together – they go to the diner, have breakfast and talk about things,’’ Nieto said. “The university is a community. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be the same here.’’