Looking for a mellow lunch spot in Somerset County, with healthy yet flavorful vegetarian (and vegan) fare? Look no further than Spoon and Sprout Cafe in Hillsborough.
When Geetha Jayaraman decided to open a restaurant, she knew she'd be incorporating the dishes she's always enjoyed cooking at home, which is Basking Ridge. The healthy fare offers a twist on what so many in our area have come to expect at Indian restaurants.
You won't find dishes overflowing with oil or heavy sauces. Instead, you can expect light-yet-satisfying dishes bursting with all the flavors of her homeland. From sandwiches to homemade plantain chips and clay-pot stews, there really is something for everyone.
I checked out Spoon and Sprout a few months back, heading to the simple cafe on a Tuesday afternoon with my mom. We had a bit of a tough time finding it, as it's not completely clearly marked. Just look for the sign in the window. The marquee sign simply says, "Gourmet."
Once we found it, Jayaraman was an excellent hostess. She gave us personal attention, describing the dishes in full detail, including the nutritional content and why certain cooking methods evoke more nutrients. We really had a lovely conversation—I'd say the cafe is worth a trip just to meet her.
Of course, the food is not to be discounted. She had just created a new dish on the day I went—it wasn't even on the menu—and offered to bring me a plate. I started with a roasted beet salad, minus the goat cheese. It was large enough to be a meal, but I followed it with the Caribbean Spiced Rice: carrots, celery and bell peppers sauteed with red rice and served with spicy scallion cilantro sauce, tropical fruit and homemade plantain chips.
Individually, the plates are good. But the real flavors come through when you take a bite of mango, rice and cilantro sauce all at once. Even my mom, who claims not to like most of the food I love, really enjoyed it.
She wasn't quite ready to order red rice, so she went with a more traditional roasted vegetable sandwich. She raved about it, saying it was definitely worth the trip. I think her favorite part was the plaintain chips: available in about a dozen flavors, the chips are a healthier take on potato chips. My mom bought three bags to bring home.
Jayaraman told me many of her customers order the Moroccan stew and let it sit for an extra day. That way, the flavors really come out. I couldn't resist, and ordered it to have for lunch the following day.
If you can't make it to Hillsborough, you can look for the amazing chips at the Denville Farmer's Market on Sundays. It's worth the trip—Denville also features my favorite restaurant, Cafe Metro. Seriously, if you're looking for a nice-but-not-over-the-top restaurant where carnivores and vegans can all enjoy amazing dishes, Cafe Metro is your spot. But for lunch, stick with Spoon and Sprout. You won't be disappointed.