One of my 2015 resolutions has been spend more time with friends. So when RuthAnn posted a link to the Mates Inn in Trenton, I asked her to go out to lunch there with me.
That alone is a nice story. The real story, though, is about the Mates Inn itself. The Mates Inn is run by inmates (get it!). It is located at the minimal security facility called the Garden State Correction Center, a part of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, at the former site of the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital across the street from Cadwalader Park. The campus is filled with beautiful old brick buildings, including a church. It does not feel at all like a prison. It feels more like a college campus. When pass the security guard, he'll point you in the right direction. He guessed right away the three of us were there for lunch.
The inmates serve the public lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30-1:30, while earning high school credits and gaining skills they can take with them once they are released. They are also the cooks and dishwashers. The place has been around for at least a decade, based on this 2004 Christian Science Monitor article. It has been reviewed in such places at the New York Times, and Trenton Times.
The room was bright and cheery. The decor was dated, but quite functional. Click on the Trenton Times article link if you want to see pictures. For once I felt awkward taking pictures.
The food was cheap. At $8.50, my cheeseburger, fries, and iced tea was the most expensive meal. My friends each had a salad and iced tea. From what our companion, David, told us, the burgers are all cooked well-done, so don't be afraid to ask for it rare. I asked for it medium-well and there was not even a hint of pink, but it was very moist and tasty.
The inmates are not allowed to handle cash, so we paid on our way out. Darlene (or is her name Charlene?) thanked us for coming, offered to divide the bill, and told us we were not allowed to leave a tip. They are just grateful we came out for lunch. She also offered to put us on their email list so we could receive the menu in advance. That was my only concern -- the menu changes every other week, but I could not find it on line. This solves that problem.
The week we went, the menu included Spring Mix House Salad (large: $4.50), Beef or Chicken Stir Fry ($6.25), Pork Roberts (Pork Chops in a wine, mustard, pan sauce, served with fresh vegetables du jour -- $6.50), and the Build Your Own Burger ($6.75). For dessert they offered carrot cake or apple crisp ($2.50 each).
Anyone up for lunch at prison? Call me!