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Monday, April 06, 2020

For many, the new College Avenue Café at Rutgers Hillel is a place where students and local residents can sit and feed their minds and bodies at the same time.

The Café, which unveiled its full menu Jan. 21, is operating under the auspices of Rutgers Hillel and is open to the general community, with all proceeds going toward Hillel. The dairy, vegetarian and vegan eatery is under Orthodox Union supervision with David Weintraub of Highland Park as mashgiach. The grand opening Feb. 9 drew about 50 students, staff, community and university representatives.

“You will not only get a great meal, but you will support Jewish life on campus,” Hillel Executive Director Andrew Getraer told the crowd at the festive ribbon-cutting in New Brunswick, adding that Hillel envisioned the spot as being a “gathering place” for the entire community.

It has already filled a void in the local Jewish community by serving a full Sunday brunch with “everything from French toast to shakshuka.”

“There was no place in the area to get a kosher brunch,” said Getraer. “It was something the community was asking for.”

“It’s really a nice environment,” said Julian Biller, a Morris Plains resident and co-chair of Hillel’s Conservative community, as he sat enjoying pizza. “I’ve seen students doing work here for hours,” said Biller.

“It’s become both a social and productive space and at the same time the food is delicious,” he added.

He sat with Rutgers Hillel Student President Brooke Getter of Fair Lawn who enthusiastically proclaimed, “I love it here. I love the building and I love the environment and I love the food.”

At a nearby table, Orthodox community co-chair Ben Nechmad of Sharon, Massachusetts, described the new cafe as “good, affordable with a lot of specials,” while sitting next to him, Esti Mellul of Teaneck raved about the “sausage” pizza.

Community members in attendance were impressed with the cuisine. Robert and Carla Gershon of East Brunswick said they will be repeat customers.

“For sure we’ll be back,” said Robert. “Everything from soup to salad was fresh and delicious.”

As she sat at a table with other Highland Park residents, Tova Renna particularly enjoyed the pesto panini. When asked if she’d return, Renna, who is also the president of Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison, said, “Of course.”

The Café replaces Bistro 70, a dairy Café that had operated since the building opened in 2017 until this year under Star-K supervision and which moved its catering operation to Congregation Sons of Israel in Manalapan. Getraer said the switch was a business decision.

Under the direction of Shirley Poliker, Hillel’s Israeli-born head chef and catering manager, the restaurant’s menu is eclectic as reflected in the assortment sampled at the opening, including a variety of pizzas; a Beyond Burger prepared with tomato, lettuce, pickled onion and “magic sauce”; creamy potato soup; macaroni and cheese; pesto on ciabatta bread; salmon burger featuring lettuce, tomato,
pickled red onion and cilantro-lime mayo on a potato bun; falafel; “RUgula” salad with radishes, red pepper and feta cheese with herb ranch dressing; and blueberry cobbler over ice cream.

Poliker, who trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York and the renowned Nobu restaurant in Manhattan, also previously worked at a tapas restaurant in Tel Aviv.

She said the Café will emphasize global cuisine, daily specials and is open to suggestions from students and the community. The Café’s manager, Uriel Nicolas, is from Mexico and will be introducing dishes from his native land.

“People have said they really like the food,” said Poliker. “We’ve seen a lot of people who have come back many times. We have students who come here every day.”

And no Rutgers eating establishment would be complete without inclusion of “fat sandwiches,” for which the university is renowned, featuring catchy names and a number of ingredients—including burgers, cheese, French fries, and a variety of condiments—stuffed into one calorie-laden creation.

The College Avenue Café has four kosher versions of fat sandwiches on its menu, none of which yet have a name. It is running an online contest to find better monikers than “Fat What’s My Name” for its Beyond sausage, lettuce, cheese, French fries and smoked paprika mayo sandwich, or the “Fat No Name” sandwich of mozzarella sticks, pickled jalapeno, onion rings, lettuce and chipotle ranch sauce.

Kerri Willson, director of the university’s department of off-campus and community partnerships, said having a kosher restaurant option for the campus community “is always welcome,” but pointed out the general community has also embraced the new addition.

Staff and students from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Protestant institution located across the street from Hillel, told her they were excited about the Café.

“It really is a wonderful addition to Rutgers as a whole,” said Willson.

By Debra Rubin