March 18, 2018 | ° F

Henry’s Diner underwhelms at first, redeems with second try

Photo by Sabrina Szteinbaum |

Henry’s Diner, which opened last week, is bright, sleek and spacious, offering both table and booth seating in addition to space at the counter.

Welcome to New Jersey, the diner capital of the world.

Drive down any major highway in the Garden State, and you are bound to eventually come across a diner. After all, Jersey holds more diners per capita than anywhere else on the planet, according to the New Jersey Environmental Health Association website.

I’m not about to start counting, but one thing’s for sure — here in New Jersey, we’ve developed a  deep appreciation for the diner. It’s become part of our culture, as much as pork roll, Bruce Springsteen and never pumping our own gas.

In times of need, the diner’s been there for us, offering a seemingly endless plethora of edible options to satisfy even the most fervent of food cravings. Breakfast, lunch, dinner — the diner does it all.

Until recently, the hungry Scarlet Knight was forced to venture off campus when in need of some classic diner comfort food. Now, Henry’s Diner is granting the Rutgers community an option a bit closer to home.

Henry’s Diner, located in Livingston Plaza, opened to the public Sept. 9. After receiving countless recommendations from my fellow students, I decided it was high time to try out the new eatery.

I was unaware of the forthcoming emotional and culinary adventure.

The diner’s appearance takes a contemporary spin on the retro atmosphere of Jersey-style diners. The first thing patrons will notice upon entering Henry’s is the lengthy diner-style counter, which provides a more authentic diner feel inside of the restaurant.

Bright, sleek and spacious, Henry’s offers both table and booth seating in addition to space at the counter. Stylish light fixtures, a glass dessert case and retro-patterned red cloth covering the booth seats complete Henry’s vintage-made-modern ambiance.

On Friday around lunchtime, Henry’s was remarkably busy. Though there were plenty of seats left at the counter, my fellow Targum writers and I chose to wait a few minutes for a booth to open up.

With stomachs rumbling, we took the crowd as sign of assurance. Such a steady stream of business must mean good eats.

As we were seated, we looked over the menu, which immediately stands out due to its newspaper-like style. Printed in full color on newsprint paper and designed by Targum Productions, the Henry’s menu makes a lasting impression when compared to more typical, mundane diner menus.

At Henry’s, breakfast is served all day. The restaurant features numerous lunch, dinner and dessert options as well. Their menu includes all the traditional diner favorites — omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, gyros, burgers, fries, soups, sandwiches, wraps, etc.

In addition to the usual fare, Henry’s offers several more gourmet options to satisfy the sophisticated palate, including filet mignon and veal saltimbocca.

I chose to start my meal with an appetizer of duck confit roulade, marked as “awesome” on the menu, but I was informed by management that the duck is only served at dinner time.

Henry’s neglected to note this on the menu, which fails to distinguish between lunch and dinner at all. If a dish is not offered at a certain time of day, it should be made clear upon reading the menu.

For my entrée, I eagerly selected the brie and cranberry grilled cheese, hoping to see whether it lived up to the hype it recieved in both Rutgers Today and the Star-Ledger. After waiting for a long and arduous hour, the grilled cheese arrived.

The sandwich seemed rather small, especially on its unnecessarily large plate. The cranberries inside of the grilled cheese provided a light tanginess to offset the cheesiness of the brie. The two contrasting flavors complemented each other quite well.

Unfortunately, I found the bread taste too prevalent considering how little cheese was held inside the sandwich. Although the whole grain bread was buttery and nicely toasted, I occasionally felt as if I was eating the crust of French toast.

The grilled cheese sandwich was served with French fries, coleslaw and a pickle. Lightly salted with a slight crunch, the thick-cut fries offered a fresh potato flavor pleasing to the palate.

The coleslaw was worthy of praise, featuring a delicate crunch of cabbage countered with the sharp taste of vinegar-based dressing. Overall, the sides at Henry’s were satisfactory, a suitable accompaniment to the entrée.

Regrettably, the service at Henry’s Diner during lunch was severely lacking. Aside from the lengthy wait for the arrival of our food, members of my party had to send back dishes not made according to their specifications. Unexpected, especially when the waitress had to question us several times regarding our order.

Our table never received the smoked gouda bruschetta appetizer that we ordered. At the conclusion of our meal, we noticed it was never even added to our bill.

I understand it’s still opening week at Henry’s Diner. Restaurants are bound to face unforeseen setbacks during their first days of service. It seems unfair to judge a new restaurant poorly from just one experience — which is why I chose to give Henry’s one more chance a few days after my first visit.

I stopped by Henry’s for breakfast early on a Monday morning. This time, the restaurant was much less crowded, and service was commendable as compared to my past visit. I was seated and placed my order almost immediately after I walked through the door.

In contrast to my first visit, every staff member, including the waitresses and management, was friendly and accommodating.

For my second time around, I chose to order a more conventional diner meal. I opted for the Western Omelet along with a short stack of pancakes, which arrived quickly out of the kitchen after I specified my order — a relief after my previous experience.

The mammoth Western Omelet took up nearly half of the plate on which it was served.

The egg base of the omelet was evenly cooked to yellow perfection, permeated by bits of bell pepper, onion and ham. The ingredients meshed naturally into one satiating egg breakfast, balancing savory and meaty flavors in each bit. The chefs at Henry’s clearly know their omelets.

Light and fluffy, the buttermilk pancakes impressed as well.

We’ve all experienced the disappointment caused by excessively dense and flavorless pancakes, requiring a hefty dose of syrup to compensate for their shortcomings. Fortunately, Henry’s Diner has mastered the flapjack. The pancakes were soft and airy with a delicate buttery flavor — so delectable, you won’t even need syrup.

The omelet was accompanied by toast and a side of homefries, which was the only aspect of my meal worthy of any sort of criticism.

Though they offered the typical fried hash-brown flavor, the homefries really disappointed both texturally and in appearance. The potatoes seemed moist and flimsy, lacking the beloved crisp edges so often found in diner-style homefries.

I left Henry’s after breakfast with a full stomach and a renewed outlook. The food, service and environment were all praiseworthy during my second visit.

Henry’s Diner represents a valuable addition to the growing set of food options on the Rutgers campus. Though my first experience was rather unfavorable, I am confident that the negative factors can be attributed to inevitable first week difficulties.

I sincerely hope that students will stop by Henry’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If the reader’s first exposure to Henry’s is similar to mine, try dropping in when the diner is not as crowded.

I look forward to returning to Henry’s once they’ve become acclimated, as I am confident they will develop into an esteemed, first-rate eatery. Maybe next time, I’ll be able to order the duck confit.

By Matthew Mikolay

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