Anthony Bourdain once famously dissed brunch as a dumping ground for leftovers. Tell that to Natalie Colledge, the energetic chef/owner of Plum on Park in Montclair, and you’ll likely incite a derisive snort. Brunch, you see, is in the DNA of her tiny, railroad-car diner.
“When I opened in 2010,” she says, “breakfast, lunch and brunch were all we served. We still don’t have a freezer, so almost everything—sausage, bread, dressings—is made from scratch.”
Plum—named for the fruit Colledge pitted by the thousands as a child at her parents’ Styertowne Bakery in Clifton—is no basic hash house. Dark wood trim, chartreuse walls, plum-colored accents and garage-sale chandeliers give the 87-year-old diner lots of quirky charm.
Plum has also made a name for itself as a refuge for the food sensitive. “We only have a few things, like our waffles and some of our breads, that aren’t gluten-free, and we cook everything low sodium,” says Colledge, who is herself gluten intolerant and last fall opened the all-gluten-free Plum Bakery a few blocks away.
Plum is a place you want to love. That’s easy at brunch, its most popular meal. On a recent weekend, my taste buds arose to a reveille of ginger-lime-apple Wake Up, one of 13 made-to-order juices and smoothies. Crêpe-thin omelets enfolded a choice of two (non-leftover!) fillings. House-made cinnamon-scented chorizo added zest to eggs Benedict; cheddary grits cushioned thumb-sized shrimp and crumbled bacon. Blueberry-studded ricotta griddle cakes made a convincing case for what a good gluten-free recipe can do. Plum Bakery’s brioche-like gluten-free bread can be substituted for Tom Cat Bakery’s crusty regular loaves.
Savories weren’t as strong. An open-faced black bean sandwich was just a mound of blandish, tahini-bound black beans on toast. Roasted beets, toasted quinoa and poached eggs, each tasty in itself, made no case for buddying up.
At dinner, Colledge’s caring touch is evident in the candles she adds to the tables and the ramekin of tasty-but-pasty romesco sauce that accompanies each bread basket. But a number of her creations lacked the flavor balance and textural finesse diners might expect for the prices charged.
For instance, red and golden beets matched with chunks of pear made for a too-sweet and texturally monotonous salad. A $28 filet mignon ordered medium rare arrived with no hint of pink. Fresh jumbo scallops faded into a puddle of sweet-potato purée.
Nonetheless, we loved the refreshing and generous Mexican seafood “martini” of shrimp, crabmeat and avocado in a perky tomato-lime marinade. We also devoured a quartet of velvety, chorizo-freckled deviled eggs.
Colledge anointed her succulent pork tenderloin with a wonderfully woodsy wild mushroom sauce. Her zucchini “spaghetti”—its strands juicily mingled with pesto, tomato, roasted veggies and creamy burrata—was about the best rendition of this popular pasta imposter I’ve had.
Though Colledge says she changes desserts regularly, we encountered the same ones at our dinners, two weeks apart. Both times, the slightly too bitter, soft-crusted grapefruit tart, and the candy-like, salted-caramel ganache pie in its tough shell, left us scratching our heads. With a bakery upbringing like hers, wouldn’t this course be a slam-dunk?
All the desserts at Plum on Park, it turns out, are gluten free. “The people who are gluten free thank me because they don’t even have to think about it,” Colledge says. “And I don’t think others will even notice.” Maybe, maybe not. But you’ve got to give her kudos for caring.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Fusion/Eclectic
Dinner for two:
Breakfast, Monday, Wednesday-Friday; lunch, Monday, Wednesday-Friday; dinner, Wednesday-Saturday; Brunch, Saturday & Sunday.
Ambience:Cozy, wood-trimmed, old RR-car diner.
Service:Casual and caring.