The phrase “et al” when used in writing means “and others”. I must say, it is a rather odd name for a restaurant. But as you read the eclectic spread that their menu offers, it begins to make sense. You can order anything from a Tuscan Ciabatta with prosciutto, salami, capicola, and sopresatta, to a quinoa bowl with grilled chicken or salmon. While the menu leans healthy with smoothies, juices, “tonic shots”, and a plethora of salads and grain bowls, you can still manage an artery-clogging grilled cheese or double thick-cut bacon BLT. Whichever road you choose, however, one item will be apparent: the people behind Et Al believe in freshness. The subtitle of the menu reads “by hand…from scratch…with love”, and after one one visit here, I can say that such a line is not just a gimmick.
It was a nasty, cold, rainy day. Justin and I had gone to the gym earlier and had taken care of some errands. We found ourselves heading toward Sandy Hook, wanting to see how strong the waves were on this windy day. We had not eaten yet, and I had checked out Et Al’s menu a week or so earlier. I remembered seeing grain bowls with quinoa and couscous and thought that it might be a good option for us since we were trying to eat healthier. Well, sit us two starving guys down with a selection of sandwiches and see how healthy we eat.
The building Et Al occupies is a large one, but there is only a tiny seating area: two stools, one table of four, and then a large communal table. They have a big catering business and probably do mainly takeout orders. I grabbed a coffee and Justin had a bottled lemonade. A quick glance at the menu again led me to abandon greens and grains and go for the ham and brie sandwich. Meanwhile, with it being grilled cheese weather, Justin ordered the “All American” grilled cheese and added bacon. We took a seat and had a look around. There was a glass display case with all kinds of enticing prepared foods. Another shelving unit contained loaves and rolls of freshly baked bread. Vintage jazz music played over the speakers (it was Louis Armstrong when we walked in). The walls contained a punched tin decor. Et Al was a mixture of vintage and hip—rustic, but not out of style.
It took about fifteen minutes, and our food hit the table. I was immediately impressed. Most restaurants giving off such gourmet vibes serve the tiniest of sandwiches, but mine was the contrary. It was a large sub roll, made in-house. There was an ample amount of ham, two thick slices of brie on each half, field greens, and a small lathering of honey mustard which had a mild kick to it. While I knew this was a cold sandwich when I ordered it, I could not help but think how much better this already mouth-watering meal would have been if served hot or pressed. I did finish the whole sandwich, but I was stuffed. On the side was homemade potato chips. These were the thinnest I have ever eaten—you could practically see through them. They were crispy, fresh, and perfectly seasoned. They are what bagged potato chips wish they could be.
As for Justin, the man of sometimes few words and stricter standards than me when it comes to food criticism, proclaimed this to be the best grilled cheese he had ever eaten. I took a bite or two or three and concurred with him. Everything about it was top-notch: from the checkered, lattice-like grill marks turning this into a mini work of art, to the stringy gushing of hot aged cheddar and Monterrey jack that oozed out of the toasted brioche with every bite. The bacon was cooked just right, and everything melded together. He too thought the chips were killer. This was the textbook definition of comfort food.
On the way out, we chatted with Marie who was behind the counter. She was overly pleasant and friendly, and explained how everything was homemade. I also ran into a friend of mine who was buying copious amounts of prepared food and is a regular there. She too confirmed the high standards which Et Al sets for itself. “As you can see”, she said, pointing at her large order which would be dinner for her family later on, “we love this place”. I thanked Marie for a wonderful lunch and she gave me a sample of some of their coconut ginger cookies. These were delicious (and not too sweet) and contained bits of fresh ginger.
Usually, I do not go so high for a first-time score based on a couple of sandwiches, but given the fact that literally everything was made in-house, it was actually a larger sample than normal. For that reason, Et Al gets a 4 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait to come back, and though I want to work my way through the menu, it would be hard to not get that grilled cheese. There are a lot of restaurants in the crowded Jersey Shore area that proclaim fresh and organic ingredients, and clean eating, but Et Al not only talks the talk, they walk the walk. They offer a fun, inventive menu, and a cool environment to enjoy it in. Great job!
Et Al Fine Food is located at 71 Waterwitch Avenue in Highlands, NJ.