Two of my favorite meals in recent days have been lunches at two very different NJ farms: Duke Farms, in its pleasant cafe at the newly and admirably re-purposed estate of heiress Doris Duke in Hillsborough, and outdoors next to the produce fields that service the CSA program at Griggstown Quail Farm.
By now you have probably heard or read that Duke Farms has a new mission. Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, left instructions in her will that her massive 2,740-acre property along Route 206 in Hillsborough serve as a model of environmental stewardship. After a $45 million refurbishing, the lands reopened to the public this past May as a haven for native flora and fauna – including us humans.
Best of all, there is no admission charge for walking, hiking, bicycling, photographing, or painting along the marked paths through its 14 miles of scenic meadows, groves, and woods and around its nine lakes. (Parents: many paths accommodate strollers.) Facilities include an orientation center, a tram for getting around, and a café inside the former horse barn – a gorgeous, formal, soaring structure that you’d never imagine ever saw horse or hay (even Ms. Duke’s thoroughbreds):
After taking a 2-hour class on the mint family of plants led by two of the estate’s longtime gardeners, I stopped in for lunch at the cafe. I was impressed not only with the open and light-filled space, but also by the helpful gal behind the counter and the spot-on menu of fresh-made sandwiches, salads, panini, and wraps that are rounded out with yogurt, fresh fruit cups, quality hot and cold drinks, milkshakes, juices, fruit, cookies, chips, and granola. (Soups will be added in cool weather.)
I got this half salad/half sandwich combo: impeccable mixed spring greens, cherry tomatoes, cukes, olives, and sweet yellow peppers with just the right amount of herb-Dijon vinaigrette, and the Coach Barn panini (recommended by the counter gal), a surprisingly stylish sandwich of thin-sliced turkey, brie, and strawberries smeared with basil aioli on excellent 7-grain bread. I was wary at first – strawberries in a sandwich can go very, very wrong – but wound up wolfing it down. Real homemade lemonade completed my meal, which came to a measly $8.76, tax included. By the way: did you notice the vintage china plate my lunch came on? The cafe uses a charming mishmosh of hand-me-downs.
There are also 3 different box lunches available, including one for children. Plus each day a special sandwich and salad is on offer – flank steak and tricolor salad the day I visited. You can view the entire menu here.
Griggstown Quail Farm
Every Thursday and Friday for most of the growing season the folks at Griggstown offer a grilled lunch outdoors on communal picnic benches – covered with a white tent-like awning, thank goodness, given the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing. Behind the grill is talented chef Tiffany Millen, who I profiled a few months back in US 1 for her home-cooked meal delivery service, Simply Nutritious Meals.
Three dishes are on offer each day, each costing $6 (tax included). One menu comprised turkey burger sliders, a black bean and barley burger, and grilled pizza topped with grilled peaches, goat cheese, arugula, and a drizzle of honey.
The Friday I dined under the awning I chose a tender chicken quesadilla with super-fresh pico de gallo on the side, while my friend George opted for the roasted veggie sandwich, bulging with excellent produce from the farm. It came on a soft roll smeared with really good mayo mixed with relish. The other choice was a chicken sausage sandwich – clearly, all items that showcase the farm’s poultry, veggies, and herbs.
Cold drinks and side dishes are available for purchase inside the farm store to round out your meal. Not to mention the farm kitchen’s excellent baked goods.
Thursday and Friday are the pick-up days for Griggstown’s CSA members, so the picnic lunches dovetail nicely with that. The farm’s homepage and blog provide info on what’s available for lunch, the CSA program, recipes, and much more.