Each week, Patch picks a great restaurant either in town or nearby that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice, a longtime occupant of downtown Basking Ridge.
35 S. Finley Ave.,
When you walk in and peer behind the dessert-laden counter near the coffee and register at Brush's Deli, you'll see a few vintage photos.
There's an old sepia-toned photo of the building as it looked in the 1880s, back then a business even before the Brush brothers opened a grocery store at the location around 1945.
A framed picture shows the exterior as it was right after that giant snowstorm in the winter of 1995-96. With a little prodding, Brush's current, third-generation owner — Tim Brush — will talk to you about the difficulty of plowing out from that storm.
And tucked behind the cupcakes and in-store baked banana bread, carrot cake and other baked goodies is one of those little daily joke calendars, "You Might Be a Redneck If..."
Rednecks? In Basking Ridge?
Brush insists that even as a townie, he himself is not a redneck. "But I know a lot of them," he says with a smile.
Brush's Deli certainly predates the era when Basking Ridge (Bernards Township) became a corporate center and bedroom community for affluent residents. Tim Brush said his grandfather, James Brush, and Uncle Howard Brush opened Brush's Market in the old building after World War II.
The market then had a full butcher shop, and Tim says he started out sweeping sawdust in the back of the shop when he was six years old. (At least that's his story.)
Brush's Market became Brush's Deli in the 1970s, when AT&T moved in and a corporate crowd descended for lunch. "We were so busy, we had people right out the door," he recalled. His parents, Robert and Barbara Brush, ran Brush's for years.
Since then, it has remained a deli and breakfast and lunch spot, making only subtle changes in the past few years, Brush said. There is free WiFi, so patrons can sit at a section of small tables and work while they munch.
Still, the favorites on the menu have remained consistent through the years.
The best seller, Brush says, is "The MONSTER," which at $5.50 offers six slices of Taylor ham, four slices of cheese and two eggs on a toasted roll, (or six pieces of bacon, or two sausage patties in place of the ham).
"Are you man enough?" the menu asks about the sandwich, ("Approved by the American Heart Association," Brush assures) but he says women sometimes share one Monster for a thrifty $2.75 apiece.
Breakfast and lunch menus are printed on overhead boards. For lunch, some of the favorite sandwiches are the Town Special, turkey and swiss topped with cole slaw on rye bread with Russian dressing for $6.50, the Philly cheesesteak, including peppers and onions, for $7.25 and the grilled chicken wrap for $7.25.
I'll sometimes stop by for a simple egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel ($3), (sometimes even egg whites, coward that I am!) but what I really enjoy are the take-home deli specials.
If you order a whole pound, the deli sells Boar's Head-brand sliced turkey and other lunch meats for $6.99 a pound. High turnover meant the turkey I bought recently tasted really fresh. Cheeses are mostly $5.99 a pound, he added.
I also like their cole slaw and macaroni salad ($1.99 for half a pound to go). Those salads, along with the potato salad, are made fresh in the store, Brush said.
On Thursday, I ordered a half pound of the Turkey Salad to go ($8.99 a pound). I personally think turkey salad can be more interesting than most chicken salads. I really enjoyed Brush's version, made with raisins, cranberries, walnuts and celery. Another person who sampled the mix said he especially liked the little bit of sweetness imparted by the raisins.
I also have had the banana bread over the years, which was very good for a fairly hearty and healthful dessert.
Brush's is open from Mondays through Friday from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. "Early birds have to help," Brush promises. The deli is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and closed on Sundays.
The last crew to drop in before closing time are kids from local schools, Brush said. Hey, they can still pick up a burger for $3.25.
"Advice is free," Brush said. He also hears advice, but doesn't necessarily take it, he said.
P.S. Thursday's clue that you might be a redneck is if you "toast the bride and groom with a Big Gulp."
Drinks: Full refrigerator of a variety of deli drinks, coffee.
Service: Personalized, but professional
Decor: 19th century Somerset Hills, wood floors, and small-town deli/luncheonette atmosphere.