Everything at Carpe Diem is a little extra special. The burgers are not only big and juicy; they come in several interesting varieties, with homemade toppings. Almost every chicken, fish, and pasta dish has a special twist. Even the beer list has a few unusual varieties, such as Dogfish Head Strawberry and Cream, which is gluten free.
Owner Joe Jones named Carpe Diem restaurant after the Latin expression for “Seize the day,” and there’s a good reason. Diners who head there are going to have an adventure on two fronts: Not only will they enjoy mouth-watering American meals like ricotta chicken, penne vodka, and a brie burger, but they’ll also experience the ever-expanding northwest neighborhood in town, near the movie theater and 14th Street Viaduct. This area is seeing more residential development and more businesses and restaurants.
Carpe Diem is intimate and woody, with a mahogany bar in front, a fireplace and tables in back, and tables outside when it’s warm enough.
“This is what I grew up with,” said Jones, who was born in Limerick, Ireland. “The neighborhood bar.” He is a former manager of Miss Kitty’s Saloon, which served patrons for many years on First Street. He opened Carpe Diem seven years ago at 14th and Grand streets.
The restaurant offers 22 seats in the front/bar area and 28 seats in the dining room in back. There’s also a small room upstairs for parties.
Meal offerings include New York strip steak, fish dishes, pasta, shepherd’s pie, salads, and a range of sandwiches.
“Each time we talk about changing the menu,” Jones said, “people say ‘no, no, no.’ ”
Seize the food
A friend and I took a walk over to the restaurant, just north of the viaduct, on a recent Monday evening. The night’specials included a lobster salad, a California turkey wrap, fish tacos, and a Cajun chicken salad.
The menu was equally diverse. Appetizers range from brie egg rolls to fresh mozzarella to asparagus puffs to grilled shrimp. Appetizer prices range from $7 to $10.
Entrees range from the aforementioned steak and ricotta chicken to tilapia and penne alfredo. Prices run from $12 to $15 (except the $24 steak), and sandwiches range from $7 to $10.
Burgers range from $9 to $11 and come in interesting varieties, including toppings such as gruyere and jalapeno sauce.
Six salad offerings include a harvest salad and orange chicken salad ($5 to $12).
Several sides are offered for $5 each, including sweet potato fries and sautéed spinach.
I was curious to try the buffalo chicken sandwich and the “veggie mash.” We also ordered the gruyere mushroom burger, the California burger (with a veggie patty instead of meat), fish and chips, and two appetizers: Goat cheese bruschetta, and pasties (angus beef and potato in a pastry).
We loved the bruschetta. Instead of those hard slabs of bread you’ll find at most restaurants, theirs was pleasing to my palette and mouth. The goat cheese and balsamic and vegetables were terrific.
The pasties were very meaty rather than doughy (which I was glad about) and had a terrific tang. Jones said they are popular, and we could see why.
Then it was time for entrees.
The fish and chips were perfect, with homemade thick chips (not thin little greasy ones) and three sizable fish strips. We dunked the chips in homemade dressings.
We also enjoyed a side of sweet potato fries, which were thicker than expected (not stringy). They came with two special toppings besides ketchup: A sweet potato mayonnaise that my friend and I finished quickly, and a spicy cilantro Greek sauce.
As for sandwiches, the buffalo chicken was sweet and filling. The veggie mash was also a mouthful: roasted red peppers, asparagus, oven roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, and melted fresh mozzarella. Sandwiches come in two sizes: “peckish” and “lee.”
The burgers really impressed us, good enough for framing in an ad. They had everything you’d want: The buns weren’t soggy, the portion was plentiful, and the varieties made it hard to choose.
I got a California burger – including a cilantro jalapeno sauce – with a veggie patty. The chef said people rave about their veggie burgers, and I could taste why: Ingredients like squash and carrots make for a soft, sweet taste.
We were so full we couldn’t even have that night’s special dessert, chocolate lava cake.
They’ve also got a wine list and a beer list with some craft beers.
Carpe Diem has a very detailed brunch menu to cater to all tastes. It includes many offerings from the regular menu, from the sandwiches, burgers, and salads to the shepherd’s pie. There’s also plenty of breakfast food. Frittatas come with a potato side (hash, house fries, sweet potato fries) or yogurt and range from $8 to $10. For instance, a cowboy frittata includes bacon, sausage, ground angus, cheddar cheese, and bar-B-Q aioli sauce.
You can also create your own egg sandwich with all their ingredients ($6 plus extras depending on the ingredients).
Special brunch entrees include Irish breakfast (black pudding, white pudding, Irish bacon, sausage, baked beans, eggs) for $14 and steak and eggs ($15).
Sides are offered for a few bucks more, like Irish bacon, and potato hash.
The nitty gritty
Check out carpediemhoboken.com for more. The restaurant is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. from Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday, from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Sunday.
Happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the week - $2 off all drafts.
The eatery is located at 1405 Grand Street. Call 201-792-0050 for more information.
Caren Matzner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org