Hours: M-F, 7:30 AM to 11 AM; 11:30AM - 1:30PM
Gravitas: Decor: Cost: Proximity:
The Mates Inn has got to be just about the most bizarre institution on this website, and an oddity that could only be found in Trenton.
It’s a restaurant located at the NJ Department of Corrections’ administrative campus, operated by inmates in the Culinary Arts job training program of the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility.
- It’s a unique experience.
- The food’s pretty darn good (not extraordinary, but surprisingly good).
- It’s dirt cheap.
I went for lunch recently and ordered a chicken breast sauteed with sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms, in a light butter sauce. Quite well cooked-to-order, and served with mixed veggies and potatoes. $5.90. Add a soup and salad bar for $1 (soup was home made crab bisque). Oh, by the way, there’s no tipping allowed.
Your wait staff is all male, and generally personable young offenders who are trying to get some job skills during their incarceration. All of the inmates working at the restaurant committed non-violent crimes, and are carefully screened and supervised.
By the way, when you pay your bill, you must use a special, Mates Inn debit card, as the inmates aren’t allowed to handle money (or credit cards). When you finish your meal, you go to the “cashier” near the entrance. He’ll total your bill and tell you what you owe. If it’s your first time, you ask him to give you a blank debit card. Then you take it over to the machine on the wall, stick in the card, and feed bills to the machine to load up the card ($1, $5, $10, $20s are all accepted). Then you bring the card back to the cashier, and he’ll debit it for your meal (+ $2.30 for the card, which you keep and can reuse for future visits).
The Mates Inn does a fairly good business: mostly NJDOC administrative employees that use it as a campus cafeteria, but also a fair number of neighborhood folks who recognize a good deal when they get one. It’s located right near Cadwalader Park, so you may want to combine this with a trip to the Ellarslie Museum.
It’s truly confusing to locate, so I’ve provided the following aerial map, and will explain here:
You’ll need to enter the NJDOC administrative campus via a prominent driveway on Stuyvesant Avenue, just west of Whittlesey Road. Don’t be put off by the guardhouse. Just roll down your window, and tell the guard you’re going to the Mates Inn. He’ll wave you right in. Then, make the first left, first right, first left, first right, and park past the Inn (which will be on your right). See the photo below: