(Published on Baristanet, Nov. 16, 2010)

Once in a while, you meet a restaurateur who captures your attention not just for their culinary talent, but for their genuine warmth and candor. This was one of those occasions (the last was – can you believe it? – a year ago at Pahang in Verona, NJ)

Something fruity’s cropped up on Park St, Plum, a new restaurant that’s blossomed right on the old premises of Market.

Run by a warm and passionate young woman called Natalie Colledge, and named for the plum cakes commonly found in Germany where Colledge’s predecessors hail from, Plum serves breakfast and lunch, much of which is cooked or baked on the premises.

Colledge’s culinary experience had, prior to Plum, largely comprised of baking in the past, at her parents’ Styertowne Bakery in Clifton.

“I’ve baked all my life, but my heart is in cooking, and I was ready for a new challenge,” she told Baristanet. Her husband, Rich, had been diagnosed with cancer last year, and the couple decided that, with life so fragile and unpredictable, they should fulfill their dreams, which comprised opening up their own restaurant.

The couple, who live in upper Montclair, first noticed that the spot on 14 Park St was up for grabs on Sept. 1.

“It was exactly what we were after,” she said. “The landlord and I clicked, and we signed and closed on the lease two weeks later.”

“We got to work straight away because what it needed was a good clean. We cleaned, painted and redid the front of the store,” Colledge said.

Plum serves breakfast and lunch on most days of the week, and will host private dinner parties with customized menus. The restaurant is closed on Sundays to free up time with Colledge’s husband, who found out recently his cancer has returned.

Like the space Plum occupies, Colledge is disarming and down to earth (and rather photogenic).

“We are not trying to be something fancy,” she says, adding that with the kitchen in plain view, her hope was that customers will feel comfortable enough to “reach over the counter” to make their special requests known, and to chat with her and her co-chefs.

Plum, which opened on Oct 20th, serves a range of pressed sandwiches, open-faced and closed sandwiches.

The restaurant’s signature sandwich is its own version of a Cuban, with roast pork tenderloin, balsamic poached plums, brie, mustard and pickled onions, stuffed into a baguette.

Visiting it recently with a friend, we tried a couple of soups (ordered by the cup or bowl) and sandwiches. Beef-Vegetable soup was filling and wonderfully homemade tasting – sweet, with chunks of carrot and tender beef; the White Bean-Chilli with Chicken was also pleasingly comforting, in a homemade broth which was tasty and perfectly seasoned.

Our pressed sadwiches came with a hearty serving of salad. The vegetable sandwich with peppers, goat cheese and arugula in a panini, and the grilled cheese with bacon and tomatoes were both delicious.

Plum’s coffee was great, and we rounded off the meal with a slice of traditional German crumb cake, made up of a yeasty cake layer and topped with, you guessed it, lots of crumb.

Welcome news for those yearning for gluten-free sweets, Plum serves gluten-free desserts such as brownies and cupcakes. For the gluten inclined, there are also apple turnovers, oatmeal raisin cookies, and crumb buns, of course.

Plum on Park

14 Park St, Montclair

Tel: 973 744 4100

Open Mon-Sat, 8:30am to 2:30pm