Deep in the sacred Pine Barrens, traveling south on Route 206, wayfarers can experience numerous roadside attractions. There are the lush, pastoral woodlands; colorful farm stands selling Jersey tomatoes, corn, peaches and blueberries. And then you arrive in “the place of many deer,” the translation of the Native American word for the village known as Shamong, New Jersey. It’s where intrepid travelers can feast at the Shamong Diner.
The destination is well worth the journey for those looking to partake in expected (breakfast, burgers, salads and sandwiches) and unexpected (pizza and gourmet Indian food) diner offerings.
The entrepreneur behind the Shamong Diner is Manny Monteiro. He hails from India’s Goa State, located on the country’s western coast along the Arabian Sea. After graduating from high school in 1977, Monteiro attended culinary schools and found work in Kuwait’s hospitality business sector, where he met his wife, Alice. They came to America in the late 1980s, initially landing in Cherry Hill. Having compiled an extensive resume in institutional cooking, Monteiro became the food service director YMCA Camp Ockanickon in Medford.
In addition to his position at the camp, Monteiro worked a realtor. In 2006 he learned the diner was for sale and purchased it. He had always wanted his own business, and the opportunity appealed to him because it was a small diner, not a large restaurant. Monteiro had a business strategy that would capitalize on his international culinary skills. He would differentiate the Shamong Diner in this neck of the Jersey woods by offering vegetarian and Indian cuisine. After 11 years, the verdict is two thumbs up.
Dinner and Breakfast
This reporter enjoyed a delicious supper at the diner, which began with a bowl of smooth, savory butternut squash soup. Superb. The main course was a Thali vegetarian platter, a royal Hindu sampler of jasmine rice, Chana masala (curry chickpeas), Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potatoes), Dhal (lentils), Raita (yogurt salad with crunchy fruit slices), Nan (Indian bread), and rice pudding. Absolutely sensational; each selection was a delicacy. The Indian-style spices were distinct and flavorful while being delicately balanced for a Pine Barrens palate.
Earlier this summer, on a separate occasion, I had a splendid breakfast at the Shamong Diner: French toast with a deep, robust cinnamon accent; bacon; a generous slice of blueberry pie with whipped cream; and wonderful coffee.
Vegetarian and vegan menu selections include a grilled marinated portabello mushroom sandwich, biryani (a mixed rice and vegetable dish), vegetarian burgers, burritos and cheese steaks, eggplant parmigiana, and scrambled tofu with vegetable sausage links and soba noodles.
Tie-dyed tee shirts with vibrant colors and abstract designs served as the signature fashion statement for the friendly wait staff.
Four years ago Monteiro introduced a pizza oven to his kitchen, which he acknowledges is a salute to being joyfully immersed in Jersey culture. He bakes standard Italian-style pizza, with cheese, vegetable, and meat toppings, but also includes an exotic selection: a chicken tikka masala pie.
During the warm-weather months, the Shamong Diner offers outdoor seating for soft-serve ice cream—a patio with picnic benches, decorated with pots of pink and yellow hibiscus flowers. As a complement to the diner experience, Manny and Alice maintain an adjoining gift shop that opened last year, which features Jerseyana souvenirs and books.
The Personal Side
A serious businessman who takes pride in his experience and skills as a restaurateur, Monteiro has no qualms about revealing a more sentimental side of his personality and his Jersey spirit. He expresses his appreciation for his loyal customers and how they’ve embraced his diner concept. “They treat me like family.” Monteiro said that each year, along with the bottom line of costs and revenues, he measures success by the metric of “how many people I make happy” at the diner.
Another visit to the Shamong Diner is in order. I look forward to merrily consuming chicken tikka masala pizza.
7 Willow Grove Road (at Route 206)
Shamong, NJ 08088