Located within Rutgers University’s Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Café Z’s chef and American Culinary Federation member Bruno Pascale crafts, stirs, and presses paninis, soups, and sandwiches for students and culinary connoisseurs alike. The restaurateur constantly crafts new paninis from recipes devised within the easy-bake oven of his mind, blending fresh ingredients such as ham and brie, or portobello, pepper, and mozzarella with thinly sliced bread for pleasing midday meals. Or embark on an epicurean expedition through Café Z’s menu of ever-changing entrees.
After a debilitating car accident left Elyissia Wassung’s mother, Barbara, unable to commute to work, she stayed busy in the kitchen, devising her own homemade chocolates. Nine-year-old Elyissia would then load her mother’s sweets into a shopping cart and sell them door-to-door around the neighborhood, learning entrepreneurial skills that would last a lifetime. After leaving a telecom job as an adult, Elyissia returned to selling chocolates by founding 2 Chicks with Chocolate (the other chick being her mom), teaming up with master chocolatier Patrick Coston and lead chocolatier Stephanie Vazquez. The dessert innovators create diverse flavors, such as spiced pear and caramel ganache, s’mores, and hazelnut praline, from scratch with spices and sea salt. Customers can also create their own bars online without venturing into the store, building on a selection of chocolate bases and toppings that range from pistachios to gummy bears. The store also hosts chocolate classes and enlivens parties with chocolate fountains and chocolate tastings.
Some might say that Brewed Awakening Coffeehouse is a café of the old guard, comfortable and intimate, a place someone might want to relax all day with a drink and a book. A mural of a lush mountainside and valley is painted behind the stage where acoustic musicians and billy goat trios are known to play. A glass-enclosed fireplace warms noses as bellies gain heat from steaming cups of specialty coffee or espresso drinks. Guests can also nosh on breakfast and lunch, with both hearty and lighthearted dishes such as eggs with chorizo, housemade chicken soup, and salads.
Muscle Maker Grill grew out of a small smoothie shop, where owner Rod Silva prepared health-conscious alternatives to fast food. The restaurant has since expanded with a menu tailored to accommodate diners with vegetarian, carb-free, and gluten-free diets. The crew prides themselves in creating healthy versions of popular foods, and continues to serve the shop’s original protein shakes with favorites such as chocolate peanut butter and strawberry banana. Additionally, Muscle Maker Grill displays the calorie count for each dish on the menu.
Mara's Cafe & Bakery began as a humble mom-and-pop operation in 1984, the shared vision of Mara Magley and her husband, Glenn. Mara developed many of the café's proprietary dessert recipes, which are rooted in family traditions and feature fresh ingredients such as pure bourbon vanilla and Philadelphia cream cheese. Glenn, on the other hand, set about creating a signature line of coffee products. A java aficionado, Glenn chose state-of-the-art equipment—Fresh Roast Systems technology—to roast blends and single-origin beans from Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Guatemala. The advanced machine elicits the optimal flavor from each batch of beans by allowing baristas to adjust the roasting time, temperature, and volume of the "It's Time for the Percolator" remix playing in the background.
In 2004, sons Ian and Devan joined the family business and helped expand the menu to include items such as sandwiches, salads, and wraps. The team's hard work and commitment to quality ingredients has earned the restaurant numerous awards: in 2012 alone, it was named the Best Coffee Shop in Morris/Essex Health & Life magazine's Readers' Choice Awards, one of the Best Coffeehouses in New Jersey by readers of New Jersey Monthly magazine, and one of the Best Bakeries in the Daily Record's Best of Morris County Readers’ Choice Awards.
Christopher and Melanie Romano’s kids have long loved the music, iPads loaded with games, and fun flavors of Let’s Yo! When they’d frequent their neighborhood outpost, they felt assured they were feeding their kids a healthier alternative to ice cream. "Even in the winter, my kids wanted to go," Christopher says. "They would have gone every day if I'd have let them."
When the couple decided they wanted to quit the corporate world and open a business, Let’s Yo! seemed like a natural fit. They soon opened up shop, where customers self-serve 18 all-natural, organic flavors brimming with live active cultures. The flavors rotate regularly, with varieties such as sea-salt-caramel pretzel, red velvet cupcake, and California tart. Next, guests pile on premium toppings such as Andes mints, mixed nuts, and Kashi cereal—as well as about 10 different types of syrups, including Reese's peanut-butter topping and mango syrup. The staff members get fresh-fruit deliveries daily, which they chop up or splice via laser vision.
Along with iPads loaded with the latest apps, Christopher outfitted the shop with a flat-screen TV and free WiFi. He chats regularly with the customers who swing by for a cup or stop in after the gym for a yogurt protein shake. And he says it's definitely a change of pace from his Wall Street job. "The hardest choice you have to make is what topping you want," he says.