I’ve got this thing about Trenton. I like it there. Over the course of 15 years living and working in the city, I came to know its community as diverse, dynamic, artistic and kind. So it’s a shame that when I suggest places to eat there, a fair number of people wrinkle their noses or shrug. They’re missing something. And I can be specific.
First, they’re missing Café Olé, on South Warren Street. This veritable coffee house serves breakfast, lunch and some of the best coffee around. Go in for breakfast and you’ll find artists, politicians, state workers, police officers, lawyers, lobbyists, merchants and other business people chatting away as they wait for their coffees, teas and breakfasts. My favorite: The breakfast wrap, scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese and sausage wrapped in a hot tortilla. For lunch, try the vegetarian chili or any one of the freshly made sandwiches. Starbucks wants you to think it’s like Café Olé.
If you’re in a beef-eating mood for lunch, go the next block up from Café Olé, still on Warren Street, to Checkers. There, owner Tom Fowler cooks up thick burgers, cheese burgers, cheese steaks and grilled chicken sandwiches, among other things, from a desk-sized grill. (He’s got salads and a rotating family of specials, too.) Tom knows how to cook burgers: Order rare, you get rare. Ask for medium-well, that’s what he’ll cook. But, I think ordering the meat too well done here is a mistake. They form the patties fresh each morning, and it’d be a shame to cook away all their flavor. There’s a full bar with a modest but solid selection of beers, which is tough to resist with these bacon cheeseburgers, whether it’s lunch time or not.
If you’re looking for a more sedate lunch or dinner, try Setimo Cielo, around the corner on Front Street. Setimo Cielo (“Seventh Heaven”) serves classic Italian food in a quiet, comfortable and friendly atmosphere. Whether you prefer chicken marsala or ravioli, the food is consistent, fresh and expertly made. The bar features a wide range of wines from Italy as well as California. Be sure to pay attention to the appetizers and salads, which often put a creative spin on old favorites like hearts of palm or carppacio.
Finally, there’s the Archives at the Marriott Hotel, at the corner of South Warren and Lafayette Streets. Yes, Marriott’s a chain and, yes, I know we usually don’t write about chains. But the Marriott has become such an integral part of Trenton’s downtown community, it wouldn’t be fair to exclude it. The Archives bar hits all of our criteria for bars we like, with a friendly crowd, good bartenders and good food. The Archives restaurant offers buffets and full menus for breakfast and lunch, and an intriguing menu based on local recipes for dinner.
These are just some of the places to eat downtown. It’s not the long a drive, you know – and it’s a good place to eat.