A Chinese restaurant with a difference.

When we lived in Harrington Park, NJ, we discovered Baumgart’s, a Chinese restaurant in nearby Englewood. We ate there quite often during the 11 years we lived in New Jersey.

Baumgart’s isn’t your typical Chinese restaurant. First of all, it occupies the space once occupied by a good, old fashioned luncheonette — the kind with a counter and soda fountain. I’m not sure, but I think the old luncheonette had the same name. When we took my grandmother there for dinner one night, she told us that she used to have lunch there years ago while waiting for a bus to or from New York City, where she worked.

I’m not sure if it’s still true, but when we lived in New Jersey ten years ago, you could still get luncheonette food at the restaurant during the day — breakfast and lunch, that is. I’m talking about things like egg salad sandwiches and pastrami sandwiches and ice cream sodas. Mind you, this is a Chinese restaurant with Chinese — or at least Asian — people working at the counter, in the kitchen, and at the tables.

At dinner time, the menu is primarily Chinese food — but not the typical chow mein and fried rice you’d find in a Chinese restaurant. Instead, there are other dishes prepared in the Chinese way — in a wok with Chinese sauces and seasonings. On Friday night, we had noodles with sesame sauce (a Chinese restaurant standard) and a mixture of Chinese eggplant, chicken breast, squid, and shrimp in a tasty sauce. My favorite item from the old menu — it wasn’t on the current menu — was eggplant stuffed with shrimp. They also used to serve broccolli stems sliced into small chunks and marinated in some kind of garlic concoction. It was so different and tasty that most of the folks we took to eat there never even realized they were eating the least desirable part of broccoli.

Some years back, Baumgarts broke through the wall of the space next door and expanded the dining room there. They chose an art deco decor that included old movie posters and pastel colors. Not my idea of good decor for the 1990s and certainly not for the 2000s. But the booths are big and comfortable and the place is bright, even late at night.

We went for dinner at nearly 9 PM, hoping to stay on Arizona time (6 PM) for the entire length of our stay. The restaurant was just starting to empty out after what had probably been a busy dinner hour. Restaurants in the metro area don’t close at 8:30 or 9:00 — that’s when the night is just beginning for many people. The streets don’t roll up, either — outside was a continuous stream of people strolling past, the smell of Greek food from the restaurant across the street, and the sound of life.

After our meal, we shared a baked apple with homemade vanilla ice cream and real whipped cream. On some nights, they also offer fresh baked apple dumplings — if you go there when that’s available, I highly recommend it.

I miss restaurants like Baumgart’s — restaurants that offer more than just the usual fare. It was nice to go back.

But I do miss that shrimp-stuffed eggplant dish.

What do you think?