This is another one of those places I passed by many times over the years without ever giving it a try. After working a cold, windy morning on Sandy Hook earlier this week, I was starving. I met Justin for lunch after he got out of work, and wanting to try something new, we figured we would head over to “that little cafe we always pass in Highlands”, known as the Bay Avenue Bakery and Cafe. It was a little later than regular lunch time for most, so there was only one table taken. When you first walk in there is a counter with a selection of baked goods on the right. To the left is the first of two seating areas, the second being located upstairs. We placed our order and had a chance to look around. It was a divey, funky little place—I mean that it a good way, like a combination of grandma’s parlor meeting a 1950’s beach bungalow. The music playing on the radio solidified that thought.
In the mood for sandwiches, I ordered a Cuban while Justin had a grilled cheese with bacon. He requested it well-done. I did not know what to expect from this noted bakery and breakfast place. When our waitress set the plates down, I let out an audible, “Wow”. My Cuban sandwich was enormous. It was served on a large torpedo roll, pressed, and then packed with a thin layer of roast pork and what seemed like a pound of ham (the pic doesn’t do it justice). There was just the right amount of mustard and the pickles were sliced paper-thin. It was an impressive portion. Having been grilled, the bread had a nice crunch to it. It then gave way to the contents inside. This was a perfectly executed sandwich. We live in the diner capital of the world, and there are some very popular diners out there that cannot even do this right.
As for Justin’s, it was everything you could want in a grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, it is possible to mess such a dish up, so we breathed a sigh of relief when it arrived looking like a homerun. The bread was grilled to a golden brown color. You could taste the butter used on the flat-top. There was just the right amount of cheese and bacon, which was that rare consistency between crunchy and chewy. Being that my sandwich was so large that I could only eat half, I may get a grilled cheese myself next time.
The fries that came with both of our meals were also excellent. They were skin-on, thinly sliced, and well-seasoned. They reminded me of boardwalk fries (I was immediately brought back in my mind to Thrasher’s of Ocean City, Maryland). It may not have been the warmest weather outside, but this meal made it feel like summer, given the ingredients and location.
There are a lot of restaurants in the small town of Highlands. Come summer, they will be inundated with both tourists and locals alike. This place is a no-frills dining establishment, but make sure you add it to your list of must-visits this summer (or any time of year). The waitress we had was friendly, the quality of ingredients was fresh and outstanding, and there was a large bang-for-your-buck. I am looking forward to coming back again, and trying some breakfast and what their bakery has to offer. Coming up with a score for this place was tricky. 4 stars is usually too high for a limited lunch sampling at a restaurant like this, but I feel 3.5 is too low given how much we enjoyed everything. Therefore, I am going to give Bay Avenue Bakery and Cafe a 4 out of 5 stars. It was too delicious to go any lower.
Bay Avenue Bakery and Cafe is located at 111 Bay Avenue in Highlands, NJ.
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