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Lunch Box MapSO: Where Columbia High School Dines

One of the things Columbia High School students look forward to every day is, of course, lunch. Students have the privilege of being able to leave campus for their midday meal, a perk of which many make use.

There are a number of favorite places kids head to when the lunch bell rings, especially on the Valley Street corridor which runs through both South Orange and Maplewood. Maplewood Pizza is a stalwart to grab a slice, as is La Vera.

Recently, writer Stacy Basko told you about the delicious, ethnic offerings of J&J Caribbean, going strong in South Orange for 21 years. Chef/Owner Judith Joy Henry, “the restaurant’s heart and soul,” keeps a warm and watchful eye on the CHS students who frequent her place. Kids love the curry chicken and roti, and the Jamaican patties are a huge hit, with 300 sold a day.

Here are profiles on two other CHS-approved dining spots: longtime favorite Tara’s Gourmet Deli, and newcomer BITE Maplewood.

Tara’s Gourmet Deli
530 Valley Street, Maplewood, at the intersection with Lincoln Street
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-3pm, Saturday 7 a.m.-2 p.m., closed on Sunday

Tara's Deli, Maplewood
Tara’s Deli, Maplewood

This neighborhood staple is the go-to place for Columbia High School students who want a fast and hearty eat-in or take-out lunch. The fare is traditional deli food, with a menu focusing on grilled and cold sandwiches.

The décor is unpretentious and feels like an old-fashioned neighborhood store. It sports a deli counter, a well-stocked coffee bar, six tables, racks overflowing with snacks, a shelf with individually-wrapped baked goods, candies and all manner of refrigerated beverages. If you are hungry for a classic deli meal, Tara’s will have what you want.

Groups of students and EMS workers can be seen in groups quietly chatting and huddling over their lunches. Most menu items will set you back less than $10, but a few range as high as $15.

Tara’s egg sandwiches are a breakfast specialty, and can be customized with Taylor Ham, bacon or sausage.

Thick and fully loaded sandwiches are made to order, and hamburgers and salads are available daily. And though Tara’s is popular with both CHS students and folks from the nearby Maplewood Town Hall, the staff moves people through efficiently, even during the lunch rush.

Says CHS student, Alex Giannone, “Tara’s is a well-rounded place. It has everything you need.”

BITE Maplewood: A New Place for Healthy Food
513 Valley Street at Edgewood Place
Place orders online at BITEMaplewood.com
Current Hours: 9:30-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, but will expand to include dinner and weekends soon.

On its first week of business, BITE Maplewood is full to capacity at 11:30 a.m. Owner Brian Jones greets and chats with customers. He thanks an EMS worker for her service to our towns before he takes her order, and waves away a patron fumbling for coins in the bottom of his pocket, telling him not to worry about the 12 cents. The overall mood is happy and friendly.

The space is sunny with large windows covering the street facing wall. A mix of CHS students and folks from Maplewood Town Hall are sitting among the 20-30 people at the three long, family-style tables.

BITE Maplewood Owner Brian Jones and Manager Nadielle McArthur
BITE Maplewood Owner Brian Jones and Manager Nadielle McArthur

A farm-style coffee bar, and shelves full of healthy packaged snacks and fresh-made baked goods round out lunch. And perhaps the most exciting snack BITE offers is fresh, homemade churros.

The menu falls into one of three categories: soup, salad or sandwiches. And all the selections try to be healthy without sacrificing taste — guided by Manager Nadielle McArthur, a native of Brazil. There are prominent vegan and gluten-free menu options.

BITE goes above and beyond to cater to their lunchtime crowd. If you call after 4 p.m. the evening before (when the next day’s menu is available) or in the morning, BITE will have your lunch ready to go when you arrive.

And for CHS parents, BITE represents a fun alternative to school lunches. For $8, parents can prepay orders for the BITE Lunchbox at BITEMaplewood.com, and BITE will hold the lunch with a “secret password.” Says Jones, “I let parents choose the password, and ask them to surprise me with their imaginative ideas.”

Meanwhile, we will let BITE surprise us with its imaginative ideas getting healthy food options to CHS and our two towns.

Click on photos to enlarge:

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