Russo’s – The Pizzeria of My Youth

On my little suburban jaunt, I needed more than lunch with appetizers and dessert.

Because once I am out of the 212, calories don’t count.

Luckily, my sister directed us to Russo’s Pizzeria.

I don’t know wheer she found it – it isn’t on any blog that I can find.

But it is one of the best old school slices I have ever, ever had.

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The joint is just like the one that I grew up going to - Winner’s, in Westlake, for any of my 818 peeps (ok that’s it for the area-code slang).

It’s family owned with some vinyl covered table, an ancient menu on the wall, and a bulletin board with business cards for towing companies, fliers for babysitters, and advertisements for local school plays.

It’s impossible not to like this place immediately.

And that’s before you even try the pizza.

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Sausage, Meatball, and Cheese

Be still, my heart.

The slices are thin and properly floppy, with doughy, floury bones. They aren’t too charred, but the best street slices aren’t. The sauce is mild and oregano heavy and the cheese is stretchy and tangy, put on with a light had so as not to overwhelm the delicate sauce. The meatballs are soft, spiked with fennel, and this sausage…oh this sausage. Shaved into thin, garlicky ribbons that almost melt into the cheese with porky goodness. Tiny crisp edges and melting, soft meat…this is the best sausage pizza I have ever had.

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This place is ridiculously cheap and the owner couldn’t be more efficient or kind. If you find yourself in town, come here.

After all, when calories don’t count, what do you have to lose?

3 West Restaurant in Bridgewater – Why I Love Suburbia

On a recent rainy Saturday in suburbia, I had such a delightful lunch that I figured I should blog it. This restaurant isn’t just good for a lazy day road trip, it’s good for a New York City restaurant.

I know how snobby that sounds.

Don’t worry, I promise to watch trashy tv and eat an awesome Doritos Locos Taco as penance.

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I found 3 West on my favorite app, Foodspotting, and loved the atmosphere from the second my family and I walked in. Cozy, warm, and inviting with brass fixtures, heavy wood paneling, and a rumbling fireplace. It’s the kind of place that is upscale but not snobby and where you could easily take your well-behaved kids for a brunch treat. Even better, get a sitter and come here with your significant other for a few drinks off of the extensive cocktail menu.

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Crispy shrimp spring rolls

Just what you imagine. Crispy, light, filled with aromatic vegetables and such mild, buttery shrimp that it might as well have been pork. Served with sweet-spicy chili sauce and a garlicky aioli, these could easily be eaten by the tray. They are juicy but not soggy and served piping hot – nothing worse than an old eggroll.

If that isn’t a saying, it should be one.

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Wasabi edamame hummus

WHOA. I rarely order hummus off of a menu unless it’s at a mediateranean or middle eastern restaurant, and I didn’t order this – my mom did.

Mama knows best.

This hummus is craveable. It uses chickpeas, garlic, onions, lemon, AND edamame, wasabi, and various asian spices. It’s savory, it’s thick and has some texture, and it has that wonderful, nasal-clearing property that wasabi has. I wish it had a little nutty component form some sesame oil, but other than that it was top-notch and spot on. SErved with freshly fried wonton crisps, we made quick work of this.  Forget Tuscan Hummus, it’s all about this Asian version.

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Spicy chopped salad flatbread

This is pretty much everything I love about food.

Fresh vegetables – check. Creamy chip0tle dressing with a slow, gently burn that heats up to a pleasant frenzy? Check. Buttery avocado and crispy bacon? Check. Crumbly, salty feta – double check - they aren’t stingy here! Warm, freshly fired pizza dough with a charred underskirt and pillowy top? Check.

Yeah, I ate this like it was my job.

The desserts here aren’t special, but everything else is! The service is personalized and attentive (ie, they heard us talking about my upcoming nuptials and brought us a celebratory cookie at the end of the meal), the atmosphere is lovely, and the food is well priced and just delicious. If this were in the city, I would be here week in and week out. I just can’t say enough about it.

Plus, when you are done with lunch, you can go to Target.

Who doesn’t love suburbia?

Portuguese Fare at Chateau Mediterranean

There are days that you plan around elegant lunches; taking off from work and getting a glass of wine to specially remember a wonderful meal.

Then, there are days when you are in New Jersey and stop in at the one place that seems to be open.


IMG_20130924_121249_970 Mediterranean Chateau isn’t the type of place I usually seek out. It has a vaguely bar mitzvah feel with its cavernous spaces, bar area in the front, and 1980s linen tablecloths. It was empty when we arrived, but quickly filled up with ladies who lunch, suburb style.

Don’t laugh…that day, I was one of those ladies. Minus the wine spritzer.

And I loved it.

Beneath the cheesy feel, however, lays some very good Portuguese food. Take a look:

IMG_20130924_121640_929 Caldo verde

This famous Portuguese soup is as homey and familiar as clam chowder. A thick, creamy soup that isn’t at all gluey, is laced with tender kale ribbons, soft hunks of salty sausage, and potatoes. It isn’t overtly meaty or bitter from the kale. It’s just the thing you want on a nippy fall afternoon, with a freshly baked soft sourdough roll form the breadbasket.

I didn’t even need that wine spritzer…I was already feeling high.
IMG_20130924_123145_928 Portuguese sausage

If you have ever had breakfast in Hawaii, you will recognize this wonderful, garlicky sausage as linguica. The kind served here is from a local butcher and it’s some of the best I have had on the east coast – soft, pleasantly greasy, crisp on the outside and savory inside. The rounds are fried and served with hot pickled vegetables that are not unlike giardiniera. The bright, vinegary pickles cut right though the sausage’s fat and the plate is a wonderful appetizer.  IMG_20130924_124450_538 Bacalao Portuguese style

Beware of bones. I was warned, but I ignored. That’s all I have to say about this dish that, while tasted wonderful, was so riddled with bones that I could barely get a bite without having to pick them out of my teeth.

#sexyandiknowit

That’s too bad because the flavor is spot on. A bright, garlicky, onion-y tomato sauce with tiny, creamy potatoes and flaky, mild cod. It could have been great. In fact, I am going to try to recreate it at home.

Sans bones.

I can’t say that the Chateau Mediterranean is a “must visit,” but it did open my eyes  - Portuguese food is awesome! And the service was great and it was – wait for it – really, really cheap. NYC has ruined me – I forgot that normal people can have a 3 course meal for $20 some places in this country!

Sometimes the only place that is open is the only place that you would want to go, anyway. 

Stuff Yourself Silly at Harold’s New York Deli

I know deli food.

I love the aroma of garlicky pastrami, the noisy clatter of knives being dropped as knishes as big as footballs crowd them off plates, and the sight of sweet grandmothers stuffing crackers into purses “for a bite later.”

Please don’t tell me it was just mine who did that when I was a kid.

more pix 062 Harold’s New York Deli in Edison, NJ, is a first rate deli. 
more pix 063 Harold Jaffe, who opened this, spent years managing Carnegie Deli and took everything he learned and applied it to his own namesake deli…
more pix 064 starting with cakes the height and weight of a toddler.

A very tall, chubby toddler.

more pix 067 The space is pure family – plastic chairs, laminated menus, and paper napkins. Once the server takes your drink order, feel free to help yourself to the pickle bar while you mull over your dining choices.

What pickle bar, you ask?
more pix 071 Why, this pickle bar, of course. The world’s largest. Take a look, why don’t you? You are allowed to eat as much as you want.

more pix 072 Sour pickles, half sours, garlic, and dill.

more pix 073 Pickle chips, pickled tomatoes, hot pickled peppers, and sauerkraut.

more pix 074 Rye bread, butter, and a wonderful oil and vinegar salad called health salad.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how crunchy the pickles are, how tangy the kraut is, or how wonderfully caraway flecked the rye bread is.

Be careful of those cherry peppers – they pack a really lip-tingling punch.

more pix 075 Chicken salad sandwich

This is the small order. It feeds between one and three very hungry people who have already embarrassed themselves by stuffing their faces at the salad bar. The chicken salad is almost as good as my mom’s. Mild, creamy but not mushy with juicy chicken, crunchy celery, and enough pepper to make the tiny dices of onion pop. It’s homestyle to be sure and not for a dieter, but it is the chicken salad of every kid’s dreams.

You will definitely need that extra rye bread from the pickle bar for this one.
more pix 076 Corned beef with coleslaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing

I wasn’t gonna try the pastrami, because why would I cheat on Katz’s like that? The corned beef, though a little dry, fits the bill. It has that uniquely hearty corned flavor and is thickly sliced. It is bolstered by the exceptionally tangy Swiss cheese and the thick, relish flecked Russian dressing. The slaw is crisp and piquant, dotted with poppy seeds, and if you are smart you will layer some of the slaw on the sandwich.

I’m obviously quite smart.

more pix 077 No matter how much food you order at Harold’s, you will always be left with this site at the end of your visit. The food is served in enormous portions, but it’s also really tasty. If you order like we did, you will eat for $15 per person until you are full to bursting. The service is so sweet (NOT always the case in a classic deli), the value is good, and the food is up to my discerning standards.

Now, turn away while I pocket some rye bread for later. 

Harold's New York Deli on Urbanspoon

Ice Cream Bender at The Bent Spoon

The East coast is so hot right now that all of my freckles have officially melted off of my face.

It’s steamy. It’s humid.

And the only thing that gives any of us a break is ice cream

Okay, and air conditioners…but you can’t get hot fudge on air conditioners, now can you!?

more pix 080 The Bent Spoon is a Princeton, New Jersey institution.

It’s known for its outlandish ice cream flavors, made mostly from seasonal and local produce and dairies.
more pix 082 If the line outside looks long, don’t panic (like I did.) The staff is amazingly efficient, and before you know it, you will be up at the counter ordering your favorite summertime treats.
more pix 085 There are assorted baked goods, including some seriously tasty looking cookies, but I was here for one reason only…

more pix 086 The gorgeous ice creams and sorbets. The flavors change frequently, so you might not be able to eat what I did…

But for your sake, I hope you are.
more pix 087 Chocolate Sorbet

To call this sorbet seems almost disrespectful. I mean, any cocoa, water, and sugar based frozen dessert can call itself chocolate sorbet. This is more like chocolate nirvana. Incredibly creamy – so much so that we had a hard time believing it is dairy free (it is.) Deeply chocolate but not bitter – somewhere between milk and dark, where it’s sweet but deep. It isn’t icy or gritty the way that most sorbets are. It’s so smooth and intensely flavored that it really tastes indulgent. This is a major win.

more pix 088 Ricotta ice cream with Peach Berry sorbet

So delicious that I almost cried. The peach berry sorbet had a soft but traditional texture. The standout is the bright flavor – sweet, honeyed peaches and tart, fruity blackberries. The flecks of blackberry and its purple juices stain the ice cream purple, but the peach flavor is really prevalent. The flavors work beautifully together. The ricotta ice cream is even better. Very rich and eggy, with notes of orange zest and cinnamon. It is like eating a tres leches cake. It is so silky and buttery that I couldn’t eat the whole scoop myself.

That was a total lie. Of course I ate it all myself.

more pix 089 Mint nib croissant sandwich

Ice cream stuffed into a croissant? Brilliant. Like nutella and baguette, this sweet and savory mixture is awesome. Plus,m the coruissant is easier to bite than cookies, resulting in way less mess. This mint was not my favorite – it was so menthol-y that it almost made me dizzy – but my mint obsessed sister loved it.

The Bent Spoon is the best ice cream place I have been to since Eddie’s. What it lacks in seating space and history, it makes up for in some truly outstanding ice cream. Homemade with local products, it has the best sorbet I have had on the East coast. The ricotta ice cream is a dream. And I didn’t even get to try their famous banana whip yet.

Guess I’ll have to journey back.

Bent Spoon on Urbanspoon

Tick Tock Diner Doesn’t Deliver on Breakfast

I love television. I love period dramas like Downton Abbey, fantasy series like Once Upon a Time, and reality shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I watch TV a LOT, and a show that is always on at my house is Diners Drive ins and Dives. Not because I love Guy Fieri (sorry, buddy, you’re just not my type), but because I love the idea that wherever I am in this country, I can eat at a local mom-and-pop joint instead of a generic drive though. As goofy as Guy seems, he has rarely steered me wrong, and I often end up at out-of-the-way places that I would never have known of, had it not been for his TV show.

That’s how I ended up at Tick Tock Diner, on the show for its massive portions of homemade food, where the motto is “eat heavy.” I mean, with a motto like that, how could I pass it up?

At 8 AM on a Tuesday, it wasn’t exactly hopping, but it was clean, servers were courteous, and coffee came fast and hot. Sadly, it wasn’t really the right time for their famous disco fries, I went with my second favorite diner food: an omelette.

Athens omelette with spinach, tomato, and feta served with homefries and toast

I don’t know what I was expecting..maybe an omelette bursting with tangy feta, Jersey tomatoes, and bright green spinach, all blanketed by creamy eggs. Maybe freshly diced potatoes cooked with sweetly caramelized onions until the potatoes were impossibly crispy and salty. Maybe home-baked bread, thick and wheaty next to a pat of melting butter.

This wasn’t that.

It was an ordinary omelette. A fine one, served quickly and to order, but it wasn’t exemplary. The vegetables were fresh but not especially memorable, the omelette was sizable but not gargantuan, and the homefries were more soggy than crunchy. The toast was serviceable but not more than that. This was a fine omelette. One worth getting off the highway? Hardly.

Melon and Cottage Cheese

This wasn’t revelatory either, but it didn’t have to be. Ripe, sweet melon and full fat cottage cheese is just as perfect as it comes.

You let me down, Guy. I marked this place off on the map, expected to be dazzled, and was instead disappointed. If my hopes hadn’t been so high, I am sure that this would have been a very fine breakfast. But, as it stands, don’t get off the road for a breakfast at Tick Tock.

And if Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives comes on at the same time as The X-Factor?

Well, Britney still hasn’t let me down.

Bistro 14 – Making the Rehearsal Dinner the Main Event

When you go to a rehearsal dinner, you are mostly praying for free-flowing wine, food that is thoroughly cooked, and not to be seated next to a creepy groomsman. It’s no use to pray for the food to actually be good, because that just never happens. Except at this wedding. Thank you, Jamie and Larry, for being totally and completely obsessed about food.

Bistro 14 is a globally inspired eatery on Long Beach Island that specializes in the fresh seafood and produce of the area. It is open year round, but in the off-season, only on weekends. The feel is beach elegant, with an airy, wood paneled room with many windows.

Chowder

Whatever you do, whatever you order, GET THIS CLAM CHOWDER. For some reason, the folks on Long Beach Island make a fantastic clam chowder.. The clams are large and sweet, with a pleasant chew and a totally clean aftertaste. The broth is briny and acidic, brimming with fragrant celery, tangy tomatoes, and lots of sharp black pepper. This clam chowder isn’t anything new, but it is made so well that it seems like it is. If only every restaurant in NYC took such care with its clam chowder, I wouldn’t be so thrilled when I tried clam chowder here.

But, as fate would have it, I was.

Green Salad with Crostini

A few salad leaves, some fresh cucumbers and Jersey tomatoes, and some tart, bright vinaigrette. Nothing special, but again, something done with care. The vegetables are crisp and fresh and crisp, the dressing is applied sparingly, and the crostini is spread with light, creamy goat cheese that is none too grassy or funky. It works for people who love goat cheese and people who are wary of it.

Grilled Local Scallops, shrimp, and Crabcake with Herbed French Fries and Coleslaw

Seafood so good I would swear I was at a clam shack in Massachusetts or Maine. Succulent scallops, broiled until just cooked through, so rich that they required no butter. Large shrimp, expertly cleaned and absolutely as sweet as sugar. When I have shrimp like this, it reminds me why I’m not kosher. The crabcake is another winner, with large, mild hunks of crab combined with herbs and mayonnaise until they form a moist, satisfying cake. They don’t’ skimp on the crab here, and put enough seasoning in the mix to complement the crab, making it sweeter next to the savory garlic and herbs. The cocktail sauce is rather insipid, and the tartar sauce unmemorable, but the coleslaw was creamy, tangy, and perfectly crunchy. The French Fries are another winner – overtly garlicky and piping hot, but not too salty. I would have cleaned my plate if my boyfriend hadn’t “generously” offered to help me with my fries and crabcake…thank you?

Bistro 14 hosted a really great rehearsal dinner and I have no doubt that the food is just this delicious when you dine here a la carte. The chef was there at this dinner cooking, overseeing, coming out to chat with the bride and groom…it was a totally hands on situation. He is proud of all the food he puts out, and he should be. The price point is very reasonable, especially to someone coming from Manhattan, and if the service was like it was at this affair, it is more than competent. I mean, this restaurant did the impossible ..it made the rehearsal dinner part of the main event.

Bistro 14 Restaurant and Raw Bar on Urbanspoon

Jayson’s Pancake House – the Biggest Breakfast in New Jersey?

A destination like Long Beach Island has many breakfast options, all with cute names like “Gertrude’s Pankake Haus” and “Uncle Stevie’s Roadside Grill.” So many choices can be confusing, there is always the feeling that you are missing out on the sweetest cinnamon rolls, the freshest eggs, and the cutest knickknacks on the windowsills.

While on the quaint island for a wedding, the groom told us to check out Jayson’s Pancake House, saying that it served some of the most delicious pancakes in town. He swore on it so much that he came there to eat. On his wedding day.

If the man trusts this place to fortify him on the most important day of his life, the least I could do was trust him.

The restaurant is extremely quaint – a totally predictable beachside eatery with checkered curtains, sweet servers who often work at 2 different restaurants in town during the summer, and steaming cups of coffee brought round as soon as your tucchus hits the seat.

Eggs with Scrapple and Toast

2 eggs, cooked until the whites are firm and the yolks are thick but still runny. 2 pieces of wheat toast, served with mound of creamy whipped butter, melting into rivulets on the crusty bread. Scrapple, crunchy without and creamy within – onions and pork prevalent, blending well with the sweet maple syrup served alongside. Perhaps the most memorable component of this dish are the homefries – almost like Greek fries, they are thick cut and very crisp, with fluffy, buttery innards. Barely salted, they are purely potatoey, somewhere between chips and fries, and totally delicious when dipped int he egg yolk and some hot sauce.

Silver Platter Breakfast

This has most of the same food that I had (as well as some very fluffy, light, none too sweet pancakes), but in gargantuan portions. Enough to feed an entire army. Enough to feed an entire nation. Enough to feed a groom and a best man.

Maybe this meal was just great because we were celebrating the wedding of two great people. Maybe we were made hungry by the sea air. But I don’t think that’s all that it was. I think that the food here is really great, honest food, served by kind servers at very reasonable prices. Bring cash and bring your appetite.

And if you finish that silver platter breakfst…bravo to you!

Greenhouse Cafe on Long Beach Island

The trick isn’t always choosing the fanciest or the most locally sourced restaurant – sometimes, those aren’t even possibilities. If you are, say, in an oceanside resort town in the beginning of fall, many places may be closed for the season. If you are there with a huge group of people, your choices get even fewer. You may need to improvise, and this is where the trick turns from choosing the best menu to choosing the best item on the menu.

Greenhouse Cafe is a little eatery in the quaint seaside town of Ship Bottom, New Jersey. Think fudge stores, carousels, and lazy days of picnicking on the beach. This restaurant caters to the local family-oriented crowd and is thus casual, sunny, and leans to an all American bill of fare.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Let’s get one thing straight – this AIN’T Rhode Island clam chowder.  This is a mixture of Manhattan and New England chowder. What it misses in proper moniker, though, it makes up for it taste. This is one of my favorite chowders in recent memory! Thinner than many clam chowders and a dusky rose color, this soup has the best of both worlds. It has the buttery base and creamy potatoes of New England clam chowder and the gentle heat, aromatic celery, and juicy tomatoes of Manhattan clam chowder.

Even better, the clams themselves are fantastic – large and tender, with the salty-sweet taste that only fresh clams have. The small size of this is a  very hearty appetizer, but it is light enough to not be a total gut bomb.

Turkey Cheese Burger

if you are looking for the greatest burger since foie gras, this isn’t it. However, if you are looking for a very ordinary turkey burger served under a blanket of gooey cheddar cheese, with Jersey fresh vegetables, atop a crusty yet supple bun, here is your man! The burger is a little dense and dry, but hey; it’s not the speciality of the house. It is cheap, it is hot, and it is very serviceable when doused in ketchup.

This is what the Greenhouse Cafe is – very serviceable. The service is a bit brusque, but the prices are cheap, the place is clean, and the food is fine. In fact, the soup is sensational – trip worthy for sure. This is the whole point of this post – don’t order the prime rib at the Greenhouse Cafe. Don’t get the Cajun Chicken Pasta. Get the local seafood, a reliable sandwich or salad, and enjoy being with your loved ones.

Come to think of it…eating with loved ones is actually the best tip for enjoying any meal.

Greenhouse Cafe on Urbanspoon