NJ Town: Montclair
Cuisine: Breakfast / Sandwiches

I think this is what they call cafeteria chic. A kind of fast casual type thing where you order at the front, take a number and go find a seat. Any open seat. It’s not only the type of service, but the evenly spaced globe lights and blonde Scandi wood that also feels particularly cafeteria-like. But in a nice, private high school in Sweden. And, yes, I know people in cafeterias don’t bring you your food, but you’ll get what I’m saying when you go there. Plus, I’m not sure what to call these types of places. Counter-service? I mean, McDonalds does this now. And Smashburger. So, you tell me.

Mercado’s site says the restaurant is “paying homage to traditional Portuguese marketplaces.” Sure… I’m honestly not sure what that means, but don’t come here looking for actual Portuguese food. There is none. I’d categorize this in the American food category when it comes to country-of-origin, but it’s really a breakfast and then post-yoga-lunch joint. With a limited list of four grain bowls, six different salads and a good smattering of sandwiches in various forms. It all looks good, though nothing there is trying too hard to be anything but a standard list of your top-shelf sandwiches. They do have “grilled pressed” sandwiches (aka panini) that is always a draw for me. As a proud owner of a panini press, I can tell you that heating up meat or cheese or meat and cheese between two slices of bread makes the ordinary extraordinary! Point is, I would totally eat the hell out of a chicken panini from this joint.

What I actually did eat was a Mercado Breakfast Sandwich. It is described thus: farm fresh fried egg, bacon, tomato jam, baby arugula, aged cheddar, Portuguese bread. Tomato jam, you say? Is that not ketchup? Because if it’s ketchup, I hate you and everyone else. Ms. Hipster talked me down off my ketchup rant and convinced me to keep the jam. I’m also not a bacon guy per se. Especially blubbery bacon. But I trusted this place not to give me anything but the crisp — though I did my “I don’t eat bacon” things and pulled most of it off, just leaving a few shards of crisp to give the thing the salt it deserved. And I was not disappointed. In the land of the egg & cheese, I dared this fancy version. This ten-dollar baby arugula Instagram model of an egg & cheese. Worth it. And the tomato jam? I’m gonna put that shit on everything! It gives sweet and spicy, which is balanced out by the salt from the bacon, the pepperiness of the arugula and the yolky richness from the fried egg. The roll is also excellent. Ten bucks is a little steep for what you get, but it’s a high-class version of a NJ staple.

Oh, we also had a tankard of coffee as we ate our tasty sandwiches out on the sidewalk along Upper Montclair’s Rodeo Drive, Valley Road. Minus the Cartier and Louis Vuitton, of course. It was pleasant. I could see meeting my gal pal after pilates for a bathtub of drip. And maybe one of their egg white sandwiches. Soaking in some sun and wondering if this weekday fantasy is something that people actually do.

605 Valley Rd. – Montclair