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Windsor Grand Cafe, Rt 130 East Windsor

After months of "Opening Soon" signs, and "Now Hiring All Positions" signs, the sign read "Now Open" so we went.

The Windsor Grand Cafe sits on the site of the old Clairmont [not related to the REAL Clairmont] Diner on Rt 130, just south of Rt 571. Prior to the Clairmont, the USA diner was located here in all its various incarnations. Sitting as it does, less than a mile south of the Americana Diner (an extremely popular place, lord knows why) things have been hard on diners at this location. The Windsor Grand tries very hard to pretend it isn't a "Diner" but so far, if you'll pardon the pun, the location is still hard on it's "diners."

The place looks very nice - the basic layout is the same but it's been cleaned up and sparkles. The dusty old carpet is gone, the place setting look like knock-offs of fancy dinnerware, and every surface shines. The menu looks like it has 30 pages, but there are but four, bound in layer upon layer of clear, heavy plastic.

There are no "Diner dishes" on the menu. I mean the kind of dish you judge a real Jersey diner by. No meatloaf. No Chicken Croquettes. No open-faced turkey or roast beef sandwiches. Okay, so it's not exactly a diner, and it doesn't serve comfort food, so what is it? Well, the closest neighbor it resembles in terms of menu is the City Streets Cafe, almost directly across the street. The menu abounds in $30 entrees and $11 appetizers, but frankly, so far you're not even getting good diner food.

Service was abysmal but that can be expected on the first weekend a place is open. Our server was both incompetent and inexperienced (they should have kept that "Now Hiring All Positions" sign out a little longer) and forgot to put in the order for one of the appetizers. She also mixed up the side dishes so badly that we were charged for an "extra" side on one order while another order didn't get the side that came with it.

All that said, had the food been remarkable, all would have been forgiven, but alas, it was merely fodder. A Mozz/Tomato/Roasted Pepper appetizer with balsamic was uninspiring. The Mozzarella was creamy but bland; the balsamic was cheap Shoprite quality. The bread was good, and was perhaps the high point of the meal. A fruit salad entree was good sized, fresh and nicely presented, but I'm not sure that counts as cooking. The crab cakes were sauteed, and just a trifle underdone. Lots of crab meat, which was nice, but they were done in a too-hot pan - the crust (which was too thin) was done long before the interior was completely warmed, and there was no seasoning to speak of.

The coleslaw looked exciting, made with red cabbage but lacked any vinegar, seasoning or creaminess. The fries were okay; the onion rings a bit better, but the cheeseburger with onions and mushrooms was a disaster. I always ask for "Medium" in a new place until I can gauge how they define their "doneness levels" but tonight, half the burger was extremely rare, and the other half medium rare. The flattop obviously has hot-spots and nobody has learned them yet. The halves not being equally done is an opening-week kind of mistake, but that NEITHER was anything close to true medium was either a lack of concern for the customer, or complete incompetence. The place wasn't crowded - any diner short-order cook with experience could have done better.

Perhaps they are trying to under-season to appeal to the senior citizen demographic, but judging by the people I saw there, that isn't their clientele.

They have a liquor license, which will appeal to some. The wines are fairly priced with several available by the glass. Dinner for 3 (1 appetizer, 3 entrees, 2 glasses of wine) was $78 plus tip.

I could eat lunch for a week on that at the Hightstown Diner, only 5 minutes away, and have better food while doing it.

We may try it again in six months to see if the owners have made any changes, but frankly anyone who thinks being a "City-Streets-Wannabe" is a good thing is probably not going to improve.

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  1. Great post, eapter. Given the fact that I live in EW, have also noticed the various name changes you mentioned. Talk about a location that no one can do good in. Your Americana comment was spot on, we haven't gone there in years. It isn't a diner anymore! Sorry to see this new place is heading in the wrong direction. And with 2 kids, I am not going there for 30 dollar meals. No way, no how. Hightstown Diner is our place, old-time charm, decent food, nice staff.

    3 Replies
      1. re: arpad

        Haven't been to Teddy's for about a year but it was always a great choice when in Cranbury. Talk about a town where everything is at least "Good" and several are exceptional (including the pizza place and the ice-cream place,) I've always been surprised that Cranbury isn't more of a dining destination.

        You very clearly understand my point about the Windsor Grand - it's like someone took Teddy's and put Molto Bene's menu in it's place without the skill set to cook and serve it and expected the crowds to line up out to the curb...

        1. re: eapter

          I'm all for the "everybody know your name" atmosphere of Teddy's, but I've seen customers go behind the counter and put bread in the toaster. I trust that employees handle food in a sanitary manner (in theory anyway), but it's not their call to allow any customers to do that.

    1. Windsor Grand cafe is owned by Basil Karakatsanis, the former owner of Legends Grill. Since it just opened, I would give him the benefit of doubt since he has been successful in the past.
      I looked at the menu on line and it does not look that expensive.
      http://windsorgrandcafe.com/?page_id=785

      1. We were there for lunch on Sunday July 21.

        The service was okay.

        We both ordered the Home Roasted Hand Carved Turkey sandwich with the small side of House Salad. The dressing for the House Salad was good. Balsamic. The sandwich was rather mediocre. The turkey was real turkey but very bland.

        I had read afterwards the pedigree of the owner, so maybe we will go back. But to be honest, the menu isn't exactly calling to us.

        1. Thanks for the review. I was hoping for better things because I'm so burned out on the Americana's shrinking menu and rising prices.

          1. We first liked the cafe, tried out new food. Liked the Greek influence, had the lb burger, friends had steaks of the grill,food was good. So today we went and it all changed. The menu is like the Americana a piece of paper with stains on it. The menu has dropped all Greek meals. Which leads me to believe the Greek cook is gone. Former owner of basils in EW. If I like that's mu I can just go back to the Americana and get the diner food there. So checking this place of my list. Only good Greek food is at taverna ouzo. Bug I Willis's the nice waiter Mario. Needless to say we went to get sushi for lunch.

            1. I see it's closed. Any comments?

              2 Replies
              1. re: cuddles115

                Confirmed. The sign says "CLOSE".

                Always "sad" to see a business fail.
                It was doing well as the Clairmont Diner, or so I thought.

                1. re: cuddles115

                  I'm very sorry I didn't have a chance to post a follow-up review I had only half-written, due to some travel plans. We re-visited the Windsor Grande, as I said we would, in early October and found the place changed very much for the better. We ate there three times in a week, once for dinner, once for a burger at lunch, and once for the bar tapis menu in the late afternoon, and each was at least a 7 out of 10.
                  The detailed review I was writing can now go to the trash; nobody wants to know how the food was at a closed restaurant. In general the menu had improved to fit local tastes, the service was near perfection, the burgers were excellent, and there were further changes coming: an all-weekend brunch and some additions to the tapis menu.
                  Sad, but when a place opens, it often writes its fate in cement the first month. Playing catch-up is difficult in the business, and the Grande couldn't survive long enough.