Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The World's Best Diner

We have a few diners within easy driving distance, but this one is legendary:


As much as I adore fine cuisine, I want my diner stuff. We can argue about french fries, or eggs benedict. One has better fries, but the other has better Hollandaise.

Everready is there for you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Love Tomatoes

This time of year, fresh tomatoes, even those sold still "on the vine," can be rather tasteless. Even the ones we canned ourselves last summer are gone by now. Never fear; commercially canned ones can work just fine.

Inspired by ThePinkPeppercorn, I made a take-off of her friend's recipe for roasted tomato soup. As Gail said, the basic recipe can be customized, and it's really good. I'm not going to repeat that basic recipe here -- read it on Ms. Peppercorn's blog.

My version is probably a little thicker than Gail's, but I like it that way, if it's going to make for a filling dinner, with half a grilled cheese and ham on foccacia sandwich. All I aim to do here, is mention what I did differently.
  • used four 14.5 oz. cans of tomatoes, two of which were "stewed," and two of which were "diced," with all the juice
  • used two medium-sized onions
  • used four cloves of garlic, sliced, with the butt end cut off for the trash bin
  • added basil, which got whoosed with the rest, at the end, so you can't really see it in the picture
  • rushed it a little, using six hours in a 225F oven, after the initial stovetop treatment
  • used grated romano to "garnish" it
I happened to use a well-seasoned cast iron dutch oven, for no other reason than it'd fit into my oven better than a tall stockpot. Cast iron is priceless for certain types of cooking, although perhaps any old slow cooker would have done just as well with this one.

Add to that bowl of soup one 3" x 3" grilled ham and cheese, and you've got a rib-sticking dinner.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Recipe: Onion Soup

If you don't happen to have any crusty French or Italian bread loaves around, you can still make onion soup.

Yield: 2 servings
Time: 45 minutes

  • One really huge onion or two medium-sized ones, sliced in half rings
  • a clove or two of garlic, depending on how big they are
  • a little dry white wine
  • a pint of beef broth
  • a bay leaf
  • salt
  • pepper
  • a little olive oil
  1. Sautee the onions in the olive oil until they become translucent, then add the garlic, and sautee for another few minutes
  2. Dump in the white wine to deglaze the pot
  3. Give it a few minutes to burn off, then add the beef broth, and the bay leaf.
  4. Let it simmer for half an hour, uncovered, remove the bay leaf, and serve with a broiler-toasted crouton and mega-cheese, if you have it, or if not, use grated parmesan.
  1. It's not the end of the world if you don't happen to have toasty bread, a boatload of cheese on hand, and crockpots that can go under the broiler
  2. It's not Kosher -- not with the beef broth and cheese. Use veggie broth and cheese, or the traditional beef broth, and skip the cheese, to make it Kosher.

Recipe: Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

I've been on a bit of a soup kick, lately, with the well below freezing outside temperatures. For whatever reason, it never really occurs to me to take pictures of soup, because we all sort of know what it looks like. Nonetheless, here's my best attempt to replicate the delicious version of "crema di funghi zuppi" from Basilico.

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 75 minutes

  • olive oil
  • approx. 4 Tbs. of butter
  • one large, or two small onions
  • one large leek, white and light green parts sliced (~ 1/8" wide rings, or you could use ~ 1/4 cup of diced shallots)
  • 3/4 lb. of mixed wild mushrooms (shiitake, portobello, and porcini are good choices; personally I want the dark color for contrast with the cream base, so I leave inoke or oyster mushrooms out of this)
  • scant 1/4 cup of flour
  • 3/4 cup of dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 3/4 cup of half-and-half
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. of thyme, depending on your taste
  1. Brush off the mushrooms with a damp towel, and remove the stems to use for stock
  2. Chop the stems, and mushroom caps
  3. Sautee the mushroom stems, onion, a pinch of the thyme, 3/4 tsp. of salt, and half that of freshly ground black pepper for 10 - 15 minutes, in 1 Tbs. olive oil and 1 Tbs. of butter
  4. Add 4 cups of water to the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered for half an hour
  5. Strain the mushroom stock, and discard the solids
  6. Sautee the leeks in the remaining butter, with an additional 1 Tbs. of olive oil, on low heat, for about 10 - 15 minutes, until the leeks start to carmelize
  7. Add the chopped/diced mushroom caps and flour. Cook for another minute or so
  8. Add the white wine to deglaze the pot, scraping and stirring up the goodness (this takes about a minute or less)
  9. Add in the mushroom stock, remaining thyme, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil
  10. Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes
  11. Add the milk and half-and-half, and heat through, but don't boil it
  12. Adjust salt and pepper as necessary
  13. Serve as is, if you prefer, or whoosh it with a "boat motor" mixer to turn the mushrooms into flecks rather than chunks
  1. The wine is optional, if you're a teetotaler, or don't have any on hand, but it does add something.
  2. Basilico whooshes the soup, which I prefer, but I consider that optional.
  3. This makes a slightly-thick, creamy soup. If you prefer something thicker, richer, and more calorie-laden, just increase the flour content a little, and use light cream instead of a mix of milk and half-and-half.
  4. I don't bother garnishing it with anything, but I only serve it at home
  5. The recipe may sound more difficult than it is. It really only takes about 20 minutes worth of full attention to what's on the stovetop, during the two sautee processes, and the rest is just simmering, until the dairy goes in at the very end.
  6. If the idea of a light roux to thicken it makes you want to barf, calorie-wise, just use a slurry of cornstarch instead.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Super Bowl Eats

I'm tossing around a few ideas for Super Bowl food. Super Bowl Sunday isn't the time to force people into fruit and veg, but there's no reason to pig out on total junk. I'll be rooting for the Steelers, but Cardinals fans won't be forced to eat celery. ;)

It won't necessarily be vegan-friendly, although vegans can find a few things to eat, and vegetarians who allow seafood and dairy will have a few more choices.

  • Tortilla chips with homemade salsa (diced tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, lime juice, and chopped cilantro)
  • Crudites, with a chive dip that uses plain low-fat yogurt with a pinch of sugar, instead of sour cream
  • Pretzels
  • Crispy potato skins, filled with mashed potato and a few bacon bits, topped with extra sharp cheddar, a little bit of the plain yogurt with sugar substitute for sour cream, and a sprinkle of scallions for garnish. I'll make a few that skip the bacon, and have chili beneath the cheese, to give people a choice.
  • Bruschetta, some with a topping of well cooked-down mushrooms, and others with a thin slice of fresh mozarella, thin slice of roma tomato, and a chiffonade of fresh basil
  • Mushroom caps, stuffed with crabmeat
  • Four-cheese mac & cheese, for those who feel really decadent (cheddar, swiss, fontina, and a little bit of morbier, which I love)
  • Pasta with an olive oil pesto sauce
  • Gingerbread (recipe from James Beard's Beard on Bread)
  • Fruit salad (clementine supremes, grapes, and pineapple, since the only fresh berries and melon we can get this time of year are rather tasteless)
I probably won't make all of these, but if I make an assortment of things that include a few veg-friendly items, nobody's going to starve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Onion Soup

After having a bowl of S's chili for lunch, I wanted something lighter for dinner. I didn't have any good crusty bread for a crouton, or any white wine, so this is hardly traditional, for those who have fond memories of French onion soup, with the toasted crouton, and gobs of cheese melted under the broiler. Yet, it was really tasty. After I made it, I checked for French onion soup recipes, and was pleasantly surprised to see something similar to mine, from Ina Garten. She uses butter, sherry, cognac, and wine, but, otherwise, it's very similar.

I didn't take a picture. Truth is, it didn't occur to me to do so, but we all know what onion soup looks like, right? S is away on business, and doesn't really like onion soup very much, so this was the perfect opportunity for me to make an old favorite just for myself.

Yield: 2 servings
Cook time: 30 - 40 minutes

  • One huge, or two smallish onions
  • 1 - 2 cloves of garlic, depending on size, minced
  • approx. 1 Tbs. of olive oil, maybe a little more
  • 1 pint of beef broth
  • a bay leaf
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • grated parmesan
  1. Peel the onions, and cut them in half, then slice them fairly thinly
  2. Mince the garlic
  3. Sautee the onions with the garlic, bay leaf, and a little salt and pepper in the olive oil on medium heat until the onions get translucent and turn a little yellowy (10 - 15 minutes)
  4. pour in the beef broth, stir well to deglaze the pan, and let simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
  5. Add a little extra water, if necessary, to make up for the steam loss during simmering
  6. Remove the bay leaf
  7. Adjust the salt level to taste, if necessary
  8. Ladle the soup into a bowl, and top with grated parmesan cheese
Note: the grated parmesan will sink, and turn the soup cloudy, but it's alright, and doesn't detract from the taste at all. You could also make a Kosher version by substituting vegetable broth for the beef broth, but it's not the same. Leave off the cheese, and the Kosher version becomes vegan.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Match Made in Heaven

I used to collect matchbooks from restaurants. Nowadays, they're almost non-existant, since smoking is illegal practically everywhere but outdoors, or inside your own home. I have a fish tank full of them. The picture you see is basically only a handful. Click on it, for a full-sized view.

Some of these restaurants are long gone. The saddest matchbook I found was the one from Windows on the World. I couldn't bear to put it in the picture. Remember 9/11, and the WTC? That's what happened to that restaurant. It used to have a great brunch. I was at work, in Lower Manhattan, when the WTC towers fell.

Girafe and The Ryland Inn are also gone. The Ryland Inn was once one of the best restaurants in NJ, but it never really recovered after a huge fire.

I've no idea whether the Stonington Beach Hotel in Bermuda still exists. It was next to Elbow Beach, but sort of tucked back in its own cove, up the hill. Society Hill in Philly, and Grand Concourse in Pittsburgh bring back tasty memories. The flip side of the Grand Concourse matchbox shows a stylized crab.

I'm pretty sure the Yale Club and University Club still exist. The University Club used to have segregated dining for men-only, and men who brought women to dine. I thought it was funny that I had to eat in a segregated room with my dad (while I was wearing full business attire in the mid-80s), but the place had phenomenal eggs benedict, so I dealt with it, and left on a really full stomach, with no complaints about the service.

Basilico, Campanile, and Telephone Bar still exist. I don't remember where The Spinnaker, or The Privateer were, but it's pretty obvious by their names that they were seafood joints.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Yield: One 9" x 13" loaf
Time and Temp: 35 minutes at 375F

  • 1-1/2 cups of warm water (110 - 115F)
  • 1 packet of yeast (1/4 oz.)
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 - 3 1/2 cups of flour (all-purpose is fine)
  • olive oil
  • rosemary, about a teaspoon (freshly chopped is better, but dried is okay, if you crush it up a bit)
  1. Mix the first three ingredients in a small bowl, and leave it until it gets foamy
  2. Mix 3 cups of the flour and the salt in a large bowl
  3. Stir the foamy yeast mix into the dry ingredients, and mix well (it will be sticky)
  4. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface, and knead it for a few minutes, working in more flour until it's still soft, but no longer sticky, and has a nice elasticity (3 - 4 minutes or so)
  5. Coat a large bowl with olive oil, form the dough into a ball, and place it in the bowl, turning it to coat it thoroughly with the oil
  6. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double in size
  7. Punch down the dough
  8. Coat a 9" x 13" baking pan with olive oil, and press out your dough into it, working it all the way into the corners the best you can
  9. Drizzle olive oil all over the top of the dough, spread it out, and poke dimples in the dough with your fingertips (it's fine if they fill in with olive oil)
  10. Sprinkle the rosemary on top of the bread
  11. Bake at 375F for 35 minutes
  12. Let cool on a wire rack or a stovetop burner
  1. This bread makes great sandwiches, toasted or untoasted, if split in half horizontally.
  2. Although I simply used rosemary in this case, it's like pizza dough, and you can top it with practically anything you like.
  3. The basic dough itself, w/o the oilve oil and rosemary topping, makes good pizza dough.
  4. If you make this in a chilly winter house, you may want to use rapid-rise or instant yeast, instead of regular, just to speed up the rising process.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lemon Bars

Yield: 2 dozen
Cook Time and Temp: 45-50 minutes, at 350F

  • 1 c. of all-purpose flour (self-rising works, as well)
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) of butter, softened
  • 1/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. of lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon peel (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • extra powdered sugar, for dusting the cooled cookies (about 2 Tbs.)
  1. Heat oven to 350F
  2. Mix together the first three ingredients, and press the dough into an ungreased 8" x 8" baking dish, working the edges up the sides about 1/2".
  3. Bake for 20 minutes
  4. Beat together the sugar, lemon juice, peel, baking powder, salt and eggs with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes on high until fluffy, and the color gets a bit lighter yellow. Note: a whisk will work, but it takes forever.
  5. Pour the filling into the hot crust, and return it to the oven for another 25-30 minutes
  6. Let cool, and dust with the additional powdered sugar.
  7. Cut into bars
Note: the filling will form a very thin crust as it cools, which is normal, but gets hidden by the powdered sugar. The filling comes out smooth and soft, with a slightly sweet, crunchy bottom crust.

This recipe can be doubled, if using a 9" x 13" oven dish.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Carrot Cake

Yield: One 13" x 9" pan, a double-layer round cake, or a boatload of muffins
Cook Time & Temp: 350F for around 40 - 45 minutes (muffins take less)


  • 1.5 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of oil (or two sticks of butter, but butter will make it dense, not light)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1.5 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. of baking doda
  • 1 tsp. of vanilla
  • 0.5 tsp of salt
  • 0.25 tsp. of ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups of shredded carrot
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts
  • cream cheese frosting (optional)
Shredding the carrots is about the only thing I ever use the food processor for. It takes forever, if you use a box grater, but that'll work, too. Do not skimp on the butter/oil, because it'll be dry and inedible if you do. It sounds like a lot, but any less won't work well. I just eyeball the spices in the palm of my hand, but really do measure the oil, if I use it instead of butter.

As is usual, mix your wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, then add the wet to the dry, stirring them together into a batter.

Dump out the stuff into a greased and floured pan. I suppose you could use cooking spray, but I've never tried that with carrot cake.

Let it bake at 350F for 40 minutes, then check on it. It might need a little longer. Use the toothpick or bamboo skewer test on it. If it's done, take it out, and let it cool.

Optional cream cheese icing:
  • an 8 oz. pack of cream cheese
  • half a stick of butter
  • 2 tsp. of milk
  • 1 tsp. of vanilla
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
It's a lot of powdered sugar. This frosting recipe can be cut in half, if you don't want a thick gooey mess on your carrot cake. You can skip it altogether, if you want, although, if I'm going to eat junk, I want it with the works, so to speak.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Type: Pub Grub
Location: 411 Beach Ave., Cape May, NJ, 08204
Price Range: Low - Moderate

As is typical of pub grub, you can pay $10 - $15 for either a dinner-sized salad, or fish and chips, etc., and get a beer for around $4. What surprised me is how well the food has come along over the years. I used to hate this place, and tried to avoid it like the plague, but no longer.

Carney's is actually good nowadays. The "fish and chips" is decent, with no overabundance of batter on the fish, and the fries come out crispy. All you need is a bit of malt vinegar, which they will bring, if you ask for it.

Don't go for the pizza, though. That's what turned me off to the place, all those years ago. The crust is crispy-thin fine, but the toppings are, um, well . . .

Pros: easy walk from anywhere in town
Cons: too much nightlife, if you catch my drift

Jackson Mountain

Type: Pub Grub
Location: Washington St. Mall, Cape May, NJ, 08204
Price Range: Inexpensive

Yeah, it's pub grub, but you can get a Yuengling or Boddington's there. The odd thing is that your potato chips come in a small still-sealed bag from Wise. Get over it, tuck the bag in your pocket, and bring it home.

The burgers are grilled just right, but the "crab melt" is way too rich for one person to eat. It comes on an English muffin. If there are only two of you, I'd ask to split the crab melt. It does not reheat well, as leftovers.

Service is fine, even when the joint isn't that busy, around mid-afternoon. Around dinner time, it really gets hopping, but your waiter or waitress won't leave you neglected. Please give your server a good tip. They really work for it.

Pros: right there in the center of town; good pub grub
Cons: leave your car at home, and just walk there


Type: Mexican/Southwestern
Location: Carpenter Sq. Mall, Cape May, NJ, 08204
Price Range: Low - Moderate (~$20 per person)

Try to eat inside, if you can, during off-season. The food gets cold way too quickly, if you're outside for dinner, unless it's beach season. The menu is currently more diverse than I remember from previous visits, and now includes rabbit, duck, and venison.

The rabbit is a bit dry, but comes with a nice, thick sauce, that really makes the dish. Without the sauce, it's nothing to write home about. The venison, on the other hand, is cooked just right . . . medium rare slices of tenderloin, with a bourbon-apple juice sauce that doesn't overwhelm the meat. Next time, I think I'll try the duck.

Gecko's is a good place to go when you want something a little different from pub grub or seafood. It's got chicken, too, which I have grown to (almost) hate, given the 1001 ways my mom used to foist it off on us when I was a kid, but I have yet to see another diner who's ordered it, and not tucked in with gusto.

Pros: within easy walking distance of just about anywhere in town; fairly inexpensive; chef is from NM, and knows his ingredients
Cons: it's metered parking only in that part of town, if you can even find a space, so walk there; it's BYO, if you want something stronger than iced tea

Cafe Monet

Type: French
Location: 309 Millburn Ave., Millburn, NJ, 07941
Price Range: Expensive

It's a bit hoity-toity, and expensive, but the food is damn good. They cook fish perfectly -- flaky, but not dry, and not uncooked in the middle (which is my biggest complaint with chefs who seem to be afraid of fish). Their steaks are also cooked perfectly. When you order a steak medium-rare, it comes out darkish pink and juicy, but not oozing red juices.

Monet is open for lunch on Wednesdays through Fridays, but I prefer it for dinner. The salads are good, as are the fries, but c'mon, you can get good fries at a diner or pub, and make a salad yourself.

I've never had a problem with service, but others have, so perhaps it's a bit uneven. The joint is BYO.

Pros: excellent food
Cons: you may have to park in a lot a block or two away, and walk

Ginger Snaps

You know you want this. It's a ginger snap. Yes, it's a nice crunchy bit of goodness in your mouth that may bring back memories of childhood.

Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them

Bake Time: 10-11 minutes per batch, at 375.


  • 1 cup of brown sugar, packed (light or dark is irrelevant)
  • a stick and a half of butter (nuke it if you have to, or melt it on the stovetop)
  • 1/4 cup of molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/4 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp. of baking soda
  • 1 tsp. of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. of ground cloves
  • big pinch of salt (maybe close to 1/4 tsp.)
  • extra granulated sugar, for the rolling thing
Mix the first four ingredients in one bowl, and the others in a different bowl. Pour your wet ingredients into the dry ones, and mix really well. This is going to make a really stiff dough. You might want to use a sturdy metal spoon for it. It's supposed to be this way.

Chill it in the fridge for maybe an hour, or the freezer for half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 375F, and when you are ready to bake these suckers, get out a spoon, ball up a scoop in your hands, roll the top half of it in that excess sugar, and just plop them onto your cookie sheet, sugar side up.

I lightly grease my cookie sheet with a little canola oil, because it's aluminum, but if you have a non-stick one, skip that.

Tip: between batches, stick the dough back in the fridge, because if it isn't cold, it'll get sticky, and won't roll into balls very well.


Type: Italian
Location: 324 Millburn Ave., Millburn, NJ
Price Range: Semi-Expensive (easily $50 per person for an appetizer and entree for dinner)

As is typical, Basilico's lunch menu contains fewer options than the dinner menu, for a few dollars less. The cream of wild mushroom soup (crema di funghi) is to die for, but can be a bit too salty, even for this salt-lover. Order it, savor it, and deal with the salt overload later, with your entree. The mushroom soup is why I keep coming back to Basilico.

Lunch portions aren't that huge, if you order pasta, but if you order the Luca panini, be prepared to ask for a doggie bag. It's that good. And, no, they won't give you a snooty look, for asking for one. The Luca is smoked turkey, brie, romaine, and tomatoes, on a killer foot-long piece of crusty Italian bread. It comes with some strange eggplant concoction, but that's alright, as long as you scrape it away from the bread, so it doesn't get soggy. Prices for panini are around $9-$10. I can easily get two meals out of one of those.

Dinner portions are huge. I've always ordered some sort of fish for dinner, and can never finish it. Others in my party have ordered chicken and veal dishes. Nobody complained.

The menu is semi-seasonal, so do go to their website to see what's there at the time.

Pros: excellent food; attentive wait staff
Cons: parking in downtowm Millburn can get nasty, but there are a couple of lots, only two blocks away

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Algonquin

Type: American Grub
Location: 4770 Lakeshore Dr., Bolton Landing, NY, 12814

The Algonquin is an old standby. It's neither great, nor bad, but it's accessible by car or boat, and there aren't too many restaurants around, without going all the way down to Lake George Village, or all the way up to the top of the lake, so people keep going there. It's got mostly seafood and pub grub.

Even when you stay at The Sagamore, which is really the only place to stay at Bolton Landing, you need to drive out of town for dinner (The Sagamore has restaurants, but go elsewhere). There is a really nice greasy-spoon diner within a half-mile walk -- back over the bridge, and about three blocks down into town. I hate to admit it, but I love shit like bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes, French toast, waffles, beignets, and all the fixin's. Those can be had for around $4 a person.

For fancier stuff, go down to Lake George Village.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Half Moon Saloon

Type: Pub Grub
Location: 108 West State St., Kennett Square, PA, 19348

This place has nice appetizers and entrees for decent prices.

The mushroom bisque and Buffalo-style chicken tenders are good. OK, they aren't "wings," but I prefer "tenders," as long as the dipping sauce is aces.

I had a hell of a time choosing between the kangaroo and buffalo, but in the end, I went with our native bison. It's lean, tasty, and I get to pretend that I'm eating the mascot from my old undergrad alma mater.

Prices run from $5-$12 for lunch, and the same for dinner. How often do you see that?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Landing

Type: Eclectic American
Location: 22 N. Main St., New Hope, PA, 18938

Many years ago, this place used to insist on reservations for dinner. It no longer does. The menu changes from time to time, in keeping with what's fresh and available from season to season. There's an outside bar and terrace which overlooks the Delaware River; it's nice in the summer, but is closed most of the rest of the year.

Stellar burgers and sushi-grade tuna is available there, even at 3pm. The lobster & shrimp spring rolls are to die for -- no weird dipping sauces here -- just wasabi-tartar and orange-sesame. It's perfect.

They have bivalves, if you like them, but I prefer fish that actually swims, or crustaceans. If you order seafood, you can be sure that it's fresh, and cooked properly. And, even if you eat inside, you can still get a nice river view, and a good selection of wine.

Pros: no reservations needed; easy parking somewhere within a block or so
Cons: it can get crowded on a Friday or Saturday Night

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Black Horse Pub

Type: Upscale Pub Grub
Location: 1 W. Main St., Mendham, NJ, 07945

Price Range: soups and salads start around $5; entrees range from $10 - $33.

This is our go-to place for pub grub. It has gotten more expensive over the years, but what can I say? It's as reliable as ever. If you go on a Friday or Saturday night, you'll need to get there by (or before) 6pm, to avoid a long wait. Otherwise, go for lunch or a late afternoon "dinner." Once they get busy, and have a line out the door, your 20 minute wait could easily turn into 45, and it gets really noisy inside. Bear in mind that this pub was once the stable for the inn next door, and dates back to the 1800s; the roof structure is completely exposed, beams, sheathing, and all, so the acoustics are awful.

The biggest hitch, however isn't the wait. It's the valet-only parking, if you use their adjacent lot, and by the time you do that, you're sort of stuck waiting, unless you want to fork over a couple of bucks to the valet to have him bring out your car, so you can go elsewhere. Chances are really good that the valet doesn't know how to drive a manual shift car, so if you have one, you may have to give him a crash course. On-street parking in Mendham is very limited, unless you want to use a side street and walk a few blocks, which is fine in the summer, but not in the dead of winter.

On to the menu: you can get everything from French onion soup, to burgers, to club sandwiches, to boiled lobster with the usual clarified butter. In the old days, it used to serve a really nice chicken pot pie, but that's no longer on the menu. What is still a classic on the menu, though, is a bacon & blue cheese burger. It's one of those huge-ass 8 oz. ones, so I peel it off the (really good, lightly toasted, challah-like) bun/roll, scrape the cheese onto the burger, and eat it essentially naked, because I don't want to waste valuable stomach space on the bread. The bacon/blue burger is always cooked just the way you order it. I like mine medium-rare. It's a fail-safe option, and a really good burger.

Pros: reliable grub; on-site parking
Cons: pricey for pub grub; very noisy during dinner hours; kids running all around; long lines after 6pm on weekend nights

Chen's Restaurant

Type: Chinese
Location: 1268 Springfield Ave., New Providence, NJ, 07974 (just east of the South St./Passaic Ave. intersection)

Chen's now delivers. You used to have to either go there for sit-down or to pick up your phoned-in order. It's mostly Chinese, as the name implies, but it also has sushi, with a sushi bar and chef. For lunch, there are $6-$7 specials from the Chinese menu, and $7-$11 ones from the Japanese menu.

Chicken dishes run between $10 (for ordinary offerings from the Chinese menu), and $14, for half a Peking Duck. Rice and noodle dishes run around $7 or $8, even for my fave -- Singapore Mei Fun. Most seafood dishes run between $11 and $18. The Japanese stuff runs a bit higher, but not much more than a dollar or two, for what you might expect.

Their hot & sour soup is a great appetizer, really inexpensive, and doesn't contain any strange strips of "mystery meat." Get a bowl of soup each, and split an entree, if there are only two of you. Unless you're really starving, it will be enough for two, and should come in at around $15-$16, including a 15-20% tip.

I've never had a bad dish from Chen's, but the ones I like the best are "Ginger Chicken," "Diced Chicken with Hot Pepper Sauce & Peanuts," "Beef with Pepper, Baby Corn, Scallion, Hot Pepper Sauce," and "Jumbo Shrimp with Ginger Sauce." The shrimp with honey-coated walnuts is pretty good, too, if you want something that isn't spicy.

Pros: inexpensive; good food; attentive wait staff; huge parking lot behind the place; does take-out, and now, delivery (within a limited area)
Cons: No dumplings, dim sum, or any sort of japanese noodle dish like sukiyaki, or a ramen bowl

Monday, January 05, 2009

Trap Rock Restaurant & Brewery

Type: Upscale Pub Grub
Location: 279 Springfield Ave, Berkeley Heights, NJ, 07922

We've been to Trap Rock several times, and have sampled both the dinner and lunch menus. The lunch menu is essentially the same as the dinner menu, with a few less options, costing anywhere from the same, to a couple of dollars less per entree. If you go during late afternoon, there's a limited bar menu, that nonetheless has some really tasty options.

The Trap Rock burger and BBQ pulled pork sandwich are aces. Both come with fries, made on the premesis, served in a cute little copper-clad bucket lined with an unbleached coffee filter, and about four forkfuls of cole slaw. The crab quesadilla is also really good. The grilled cheese has gruyere and tomato, but ask for it without the carmelized onions, if like me, you think onions have no place on a grilled cheese sandwich. These, and many more items, are available on both the lunch and dinner menus. The prices for items on the lunch/pub menus range from about $10 - $17.

Dinner is where it can get pricey, if you order appetizers, an entree, and side dishes to go with your wonderful beer (brewed right there in the restaurant) or wine. Entrees range in the mid-high $20s for fish, lamb, pork, beef, or duck breast, and in the lowish $30s for steak. Appetizers are in the same price range as the lunch menu.

The good news is that a dinner "appetizer" is plenty of food for anyone who either has a small-ish stomach capacity, or isn't really that hungry. I would recommend the Tasting Trio of chicken satay, chili-lime shrimp, and mini crab cakes, with all the requisite dipping sauces. The Lobster Spring Roll is another good option, but I'm not sure what they're trying to do with the trio of dipping sauces: the chili-lime, spicy mustard, and a pickled ginger viniagrette. From either Mexican or Thai (can't figure out which), to Chinese, to Japanese . . . it's an odd combination.

Pros: reliable food; on site parking; on-site brewery visible from most tables or booths
Cons: parking can get tight after 7pm on a Friday or Saturday; a bit pricey for pub grub