You could stand on a corner and look around until a restaurant sign draws you in. But we've got a better idea. Each week, Patch picks a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice:
Overview: Route 206, similar to other suburban thoroughfares, is sporadically lined with clusters of strip mall establishments, among which Catered Affair is tucked. Yet behind its unpretentious facade, this hybrid catering business and sandwich station retail pleasantly shocks with an endless world of combination and selection in sandwiches.
Originally a Raritan catering business opened in 1985, this family enterprise started by Peter Bloom and his wife, Karen—and which now has all their children working as part of the team—relocated to Hillsborough four years later, growing to include retail in the form of a cafe, the Sandwich Station, which remains today. Success over the years led to expansion—five other locations were established and eventually sold to new owners now running them as catering operations under different names.
Open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner seven days a week, Catered Affair offers take-out and, should you wish to dine in, simple tables and chairs [outdoor seating is available at the entrance, when the weather permits].
Décor: Despite unconventional menu choices that are themed with Italian inspiration, the deli envelopes you in a small town congeniality, where a cozy atmosphere includes convenience store items for sale, such as candies, gum, cookies, sodas, chips and pretzels. Regular patrons are greeted by their first names, while freshly brewed coffee awaits next to walls lined with photos of local schools' football, lacrosse, baseball and track teams.
Chalkboard menus, containing creative sandwich names (B.E.L.T.C.H. and Meltdown for instance), also decorate the walls, high above transparent counters storing mounds of fresh deli cheeses and meats. Classic hits are the music selections being played and, all the while, a low hum of mouthwatering warm aroma stemming from sizzling eggs, grilled meats and toasted bread wafts through the air.
Entrees: Look for the Deal of the Day, which is changed daily, if you want value. When I visited, a "combo" of smoked turkey and smoked mozzarella wrapped with lettuce and sun-dried tomato mayo in a soft tortilla, complemented by a can of soda or a bottle of water, was being offered for only $5.95. Generally, good value is hard to avoid throughout the menu.
A must-have is their signature sandwich, the "Letter R," the "R" randomly selected from the alphabet that leaves an aura of mystery. So popular is this legendary sandwich, especially among high school students, that a long-sleeve T-shirt was inspired and is available for $10. In between an Italian roll, generous layers of sliced chicken breast, bacon, melted cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes and herb mayo reside deliciously together. Behind the counter, Frank Flores commented, "The sandwich is half warm with melted cheese, and half cold, so it's really the perfect combination," when asked what makes the "Letter R" scrumptious. He lists the paninis and their New York, New York sandwich as also among favorites.
A triple decker that won the Silver Liberty Bell recognition from local publications is a blend of hot corned beef, pastrami, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and mustard on seeded rye. The slightly smoky and salty beef flirts nicely with the sweet and sour of the cole slaw, and in spite of the fact that I'm normally not a fan of cole slaw by itself, I did enjoy its presence in this particular sandwich.
From the "Best Subs in Town" part of the menu, I tried the roast beef, turkey, ham and provolone and found the varieties of meat incredibly fresh, soft and moist—definitely not dry. The onions, a soprano note sustained in every bite.
Although my visit was toward the end of the afternoon, I decided to sample a sausage and cheese omelette platter with whole wheat toast, considering that breakfast items are available throughout the day. This proved to be a soft melted delight, with every ingredient wonderfully blended together, and cheese oozing out from each morsel.
Service: The friendly service, I learned from Karen Bloom, is comprised of a loyal group of staff members who have stayed over the years. She mentioned, "We hire only the best people. Being here is like coming home. No matter who prepares your food, consistent quality and the best ingredients are what you get."
The friendliness extends beyond the premises, exemplified by the community service that Peter Bloom has participated actively and generously in over the years. Testament to the food he has donated, the work he has done free of charge, and his devotion are the walls decorated with thank-yous for his service. He has been involved with the Veterans Breakfast, Memorial Day events, local school sports teams, the girls softball, fundraisers and the Somerset Home for Runaways, to name a few.
For your catering needs, keep in mind that their service has no radius, distance or size limitation, and is available for private parties, corporate events and barbeques, the locations of which are at the discretion of customers. Karen Bloom emphasized, "The place is decided by the customer. Then, we provide the food, grill and staff."
Any time your appetite calls for a sandwich, whether the desire is for a hero, sub, panini or burger, stop by this reliable and historical establishment to find good service and quality inexpensive food in a welcoming environment.