Since Morristown Patch is not Saveur, Bon Appetit or The New York Times, we don't think it's our place—nor our mission—to bad mouth new businesses if we are, in general, less than pleased with their output. That I prefaced this story with that advisory, however, speaks volumes.
Simply, Garden Deli and Cafe (36 Speedwell Ave., 973-998-4545)—recently opened across from the Hyatt on Speedwell Avenue—will not survive without making some key changes.
When signs first went up a couple months ago announcing a new place with a salad bar, it seemed like the void left when Health Shoppe closed would be filled even before Grassroots Market began renovating that space.
What currently is at Garden, however, pales in comparison to what may have been too-high expectations. Walk up to their new cafe and there is a sign touting an "all-you-can-eat" salad bar that, upon examination, does not merit the hubbub. It's fine, especially when you can go back for seconds (or, thirds), but nothing stands out.
The small salad station reveals your standard fare—lettuce, cukes, peppers, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, etc.—and a couple of unusual items, like buffalo chicken chunks, feta and some kind of macaroni salad that may be an acquired taste. Another chicken was there, as well, but was extraordinarily dry and felt like it had been out in the air all day.
This experience was on my first visit, at about 5:30 p.m. Since Garden closes at 7 p.m., I gave them the benefit of the doubt and decided I should come back during the day. This time, I skipped the salad bar and ordered a wrap.
"The Cali Wrap," as it's called, features turkey, pepper jack cheese, "fresh" avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and pesto mayo. While the menu said $6.99, mine came to $6.75. So, hey, discount.
Sadly, there was no avocado at 3 p.m. I don't want to guess why and be wrong. It could have been there was a lunch rush. They could have had a bad batch. But, either way, it feels like a rookie mistake on a key item that hopefully won't happen again. Instead, I got mixed roasted vegetables, which were fine, but definitely changed the flavor of the wrap.
The other ingredients felt, well, cheap. The turkey was of the slimy, pre-formed variety and there was no hint of pepper in the pepper jack—it tasted like American cheese that had begun to melt. If there was pesto in the mayo, there was not enough for me to detect its presence.
There are other items at Garden which may fare better. The menu listed a number of "Natural Boosters," fruit and vegetable drinks that claim in their names various health benefits—like the Porcelain Skin, a concoction of carrot, cucumber, apple and cantelope for $3.99. There were morning sandwiches, other cold sandwiches and hot paninis and hot—gag—"sammies."
Most of these items can be already gotten in Morristown, however, with more to come. While Whole Foods is still a couple years away, Grassroots is coming within a few months. Jungle Juice makes fresh fruit drinks as does Muscle Maker Grill, only a few storefronts down.
Growing pains are inevitable and, hopefully, Garden Deli & Cafe can work through theirs. It's a primo location, which means it's under a tighter microscope. There is so much competition in Morristown that they are going to need to sincerely step up their game in order to make a proper name for themselves.
My advice, for what it's worth: Take the one or two best elements you have in what is right now a hodge-podge of ideas and own them. If that's the salad bar, expand that sucker and make sure there are irresistible ingredients I can't get at the Kings salad bar. Just being "all-you-can-eat" is not going to cut it.
If it's the sandwiches and wraps, find another provider for your ingredients. Why am I going to pay the same for an average wrap at your place when I can pay roughly the same amount at Muscle Maker Grill who has "my health in mind," as their theme suggests? Whether it's snake oil or legitimate, it's their thing and they have owned it.
Garden, you need to find your niche, because other businesses are more than happy to sell us theirs. Good luck.