Each week, Patch picks a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice, in the center of Basking Ridge.
The Mockingbird Cafe occupies such a pretty dining space, and is on such a picturesque corner in Basking Ridge — especially when the leaves are green or turning color in fall — that it's an ideal location for a cafe or small restaurant.
Nevertheless, there were a series of cafes, restaurants and a bakery in that spot before the Mockingbird Cafe moved in last August. Now entering its second year, this latest eatery seems to have picked up a solid fan base.
As for me, my head was still spinning from the fairly rapid succession of the Lemon Lounge (which I liked!) to a few other incarnations, and it took me some time to getting over to the Mockingbird Cafe. Even so, I had heard from other people that they liked the "new" cafe.
I had stopped in once or twice for coffee and a muffin on a weekday when, except for Mondays, the cafe opens for breakfast. The Mockingbird Cafe's co-owner, Tom West, said his busiest morning is on Sundays, when many seem to stop by for a leisurely weekend meal between 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The breakfast menu is extensive — and has such specialty items as pancakes with specialty fillings and the "Peapack" wild rice porridge. ($6)
While I've never been to breakfast at the Mockingbird Cafe, one of our previous writers did sample some of the goodies there when the new owners first opened their doors in August 2010.
Although the meals served most frequently at the Mockingbird Cafe are breakfast (served Tuesday through Sunday) and lunch, available on Tuesday through Saturday, the restaurant also is open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Tom West, who seems always busy running the operation with his wife Kathy, said the local couple would rather not be out serving dinner every night.
With that in mind, I stopped by on a recent Saturday night for a fairly early dinner with an escort who has a big appetite. That worried me a little — for better or worse, the Mockingbird Cafe, which really has the full selection of a restaurant, also has restaurant prices.
The Mockingbird Cafe's menu (reproduced online urbanspoon) offers some specialties it's known for, including macaroni and cheese with lobster. ($19)
Unknowingly, I ordered another specialty. The crab cakes, served with a very nice selection of chopped fall vegetables, including various squashes, also came with a fall-flavoried aioli. It was $24.
My dining companion settled for a Ceasar Salad, topped with chicken. The base price for the salad was $9.50, with an extra $3.50 for the added chicken. Of course, he knew he'd have dibs on one of the crab cakes.
One very nice touch was the large bottles of water delivered to our table, so we didn't have to wait for our glasses to be refilled. Since we didn't bring wine, and didn't want soft drinks, that's all we drank for the evening — free of charge.
The crab cakes, when they arrived, were very tasty. Another opinion was that they were "awesome." I actually was most impressed with the veggies, including the broccolini and the aioli, which was a moist and tasty topping for the crab cakes.
He who had ordered the salad thought it was good, but basic, and he would have like more chicken. However, he did leave satisfied after he'd managed to wheedle one of the crab cakes, and much of the broccolini.
I think he'd probably have been more filled up if he had ordered the lunch I picked up to go a few days later.
Again, I'd inadvertantly chosen one of the Mockingbird Cafe's specialties — "The Mendham," for $10, a delectable cranberry scone baked by Kathy West, and filled with real carved turkey and judiciously topped with a bit of what is described as orange mayo. Delicious. It was accompanied by crunchy french fries and a side of cole slaw and pickle. I sometimes pile cole slaw onto a turkey sandwich that's too dry, but in this case there was no need.
The scone somehow conjured up a little of the flavor of a sweet stuffing — in fact, if you're going to be stranded alone on Thanksgiving, you can probably order this meal in advance and you won't be disatisfied with your T-day meal.
But if you REALLY wanted to give yourself a treat, you'd pick up a slice of Kathy West's towering carrot cake. As I waited for my sandwich to be prepared, I had to stare at this cake — which one of the servers informed me was making its return after summer. She also said that it was the best carrot cake she'd ever eaten.
That will bring me back.
Decor — Pretty in garden green, with blue touches, cafe tables.
Service — Calm and thoughtful
Cost — $$
60 S. Finley Avenue,