Archive for June, 2009

The South Jersey Food Bloggers United 100

Whatcha eatin’?  In South Jersey, between the shore, the bay, the farms, the upscale restaurants in refurbished downtowns and glitzy casinos, and the mom-and-pop joints in quiet neighborhoods – you have a lot of choices.  A group of food bloggers that call South Jersey home got together, and, with very little blood spilled, put together a list of 100 South Jersey food experiences that they think are worthy of your attention.

In reality, this list will never be ‘finished’, as if time were to just simply stop.  It will be revisited, as newer experiences will eventually push some of these out of the way.  This will also be an interactive list, and those who read it and wish to make suggestions will also influence the changes made.  We don’t profess to be the ‘be-all, end-all’ experts here.

So…let’s get started, shall we?

For Your Dining (and Diner-ing) Pleasure
What restaurants and diners do we really enjoy?  For a classic upscale meal, some places have withstood the test of time.  In Cape May, 1) The Ebbitt Room and 2) 410 Bank Street continue to satisfy their guests.  For fine French dining, 3) La Campagne in Cherry Hill is excellent.  And for a night out where every detail is taken care of, 4) The Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City is just your kind of place.  There are certainly a plethora of Italian restaurants in South Jersey, and two that stand out for us are 5) Catelli Ristorante in Voorhees and 6) Andrea’s Trattoria in Newfield.  If you like your meal to be more eclectic, 7) Blue in Surf City is a real treat.  Hankering for a good steak?  Well, you certainly can’t go wrong with 8) The Library 2 in Voorhees, 9) The Pub in Pennsauken, or 10) The Chophouse, also located in Voorhees.  11) The Tortilla Press in Collingswood and 12) blueplate in Mullica Hill have been very much a part of the trend of using local ingredients, and 13) Farm to Fork Week, run by SJ Hot Chefs, is a week-long event celebrating food grown by local farms.  And speaking of special restaurant events: brand new in 2009 was 14) Atlantic City’s Restaurant Week, the biggest of its kind in South Jersey with over 70 participating restaurants.  A good restaurant that’s kid-friendly is not easy to find, but 15) Sweet Jenny’s in Barnegat fits the bill rather well.  We love our diners here in Jersey; after all, where else can you order a plate of fries and gravy and a chocolate milkshake at 2AM?  The two South Jersey diners that stand out for us are 16) Mastori’s Diner in Bordentown (especially their cheese and cinnamon bread) and 17) Ponzio’s Diner in Cherry Hill (especially their pancakes and chocolate mousse cheesecake).

Comfort Food, South Jersey-Style
You say hoagie, and I say sub.  While the name debate rages on, our collective taste buds found three that we enjoyed the most: 18) Carmen’s Deli in Bellmawr, 19) White House Subs in Atlantic City and 20) Giovanni’s Italian American in Vineland.  The cheesesteak is known far and wide here in South Jersey, and one name stands above all others in making a great cheesesteak: 21) Gaetano’s Steaks & Subs in Willingboro (and other locations).  Other great sandwich places include 22) The Kibitz Room in Cherry Hill, 23) The Pop Shop in Collingswood (for their grilled cheese sandwiches) and
24) Kavanaugh’s Irish Pub & Grille in Malaga (try the broccoli rabe, roast pork and provolone sandwich).  With the aforementioned plethora of Italian restaurants comes the multitude of accompanying pizza joints.  We settled on four that we liked: 25) Panzone’s Pizza and Pasta in Beach Haven, 26) Pietro’s in Marlton, 27) Mack and Manco’s in Ocean City, and 28) Shady Rest Restaurant in Bayville.  Buffalo wings may come from, well, Buffalo, but we enjoy them here as well.  Two places that serve excellent wings are 29) Pic-A-Lilli Inn in Shamong and 30) The Jughandle Inn in Cinnaminson.  Those of us who live in Ocean County have a special connection with 31) Surf Taco and their tacos and burritos.  South Jersey has its share of roadside food, and we picked 32) Dewey’s Dogs in Forked River and 33) Uncle Dewey’s Outdoor BBQ in Mitzpah, which keeps up the great tradition of roadside barbecue stands in South Jersey.  Speaking of ‘cue, 34) Ben’s eXtreme BBQ in Forked River is the real deal.  If you enjoy your comfort food festival-style, check out the 35) Rock ‘n Roll ‘n Ribs ‘n Chili Cook-off in Vineland and the 36) New Jersey State Barbecue Championship in North Wildwood.

Putting the Garden in The Garden State
There’s a reason why New Jersey is called The Garden State, and we have the proof right here in South Jersey!  Let’s count the ways: 37) Jersey corn (and cook it the same day it’s picked!), 38) Jersey tomatoes, 39) Jersey strawberries, 40) Jersey blueberries (from Hammonton, of course), and 41) Jersey peaches, for starters.  But why stop there?  You can also find 42) wild broccoli rabe as well as 43) asparagus from the well-known Walker Brothers in Pittsgrove.  With all this wonderful produce, you can be sure that there are plenty of good farmers markets and stands as well.  Those that we like include 44) the Collingswood Farmers Market, 45) Brassie’s Farm Stand in Vineland, 46) Levari Farm Stand in Richland, 47) Happy Valley Berry Farm in Bridgeton, 48) Silverton Farms in Toms River, 49) Emery’s Organic Berry Farm in New Egypt, and 50) Mood’s Farm in Mullica Hill.   And we like to celebrate our produce with festivals!  In Hammonton, the 51) Red, White and Blueberry Festival is a big event.  At the Gloucester County Fair, you have the 52) NJ Peach Festival.  And let’s not forget another famous Jersey crop – the cranberry!  Enjoy the 53) Cranberry Festival in Chatsworth.

Seafood, Eatfood
South Jersey is surrounded by water, so it makes sense that seafood would be enjoyed here.  Some favorite local treasures of the sea include 54) Cape May salt oysters and 55)
blue crab.  If you like catching your own, 56) doing your fishing and crabbing at Turkey Point is one way to go.  If you’re not into catching the seafood, you can go buy some at 57) the seafood market at The Lobster House in Cape May or 58) Gregory’s Seafood in Manchester.  Need a way to prepare your crabs?  How about 59) a crab and spaghetti dinner cooked Jersey-style, by cleaning the crabs with beer and garlic.  Or maybe you just want to go out and have someone else prepare your seafood, like maybe some 60) she crab soup from Busch’s Seafood in Sea Isle City or the 61) garlic clams from Mud City Crab House in Manahawkin.  Care for a seafood festival?  62) Chowderfest on Long Beach Island and the 63) Festival of the Sea in Point Pleasant are very good and popular events.  Newer to the scene is the 64) Seafood Festival in Vineland.

Need Something Sweet?
All this talk of food, and no dessert?  Don’t worry – we got you covered.  If it’s a bakery you want, we like 65) The Sweet Life Bakery in Vineland, 66) McMillan’s Bakery in Westmont (try the cream donuts!), 67) Cacia’s Bakery in Cherry Hill (their bread and pizza are also excellent), and 68) Penza’s Pies at The Red Barn Café in Hammonton.  Even our farm markets make yummy treats, like the 69) cider donuts from Springdale Farms in Cherry Hill.  Summertime brings folks down to the shore, and all that time out in the sun makes one crave an ice cream cone.  Satisfy that craving at 70) Rich’s Ice Cream in Toms River, 71) Hoffman’s Ice Cream & Yogurt in Point Pleasant and 72) Kohr’s frozen custard on the boardwalk.  Summer also brings out that classic neighborhood ice cream treat – 73) Mister Softee!  Who hasn’t jumped up and down, waving their arms and yelling “over here, over here” at the ice cream truck – even if it’s March 1st and snowing outside?  So…do you have to get to the shore for good ice cream?  Puh-lease.  74) Sundaes homemade ice cream and water ice in Berlin doesn’t need any sand to taste good.  Want something else at the boardwalk?  There’s always the classic treat of 75) salt water taffy.  At the Ocean City boardwalk, you can enjoy 76) Johnson’s Caramel popcorn.  And you can wash all of this down with 77) a root beer float from Weber’s Famous Root Beer.

Liquid Refreshment
One of the best kept secrets in South Jersey is 78) our many wineries.  One style we like very much is the 79) viognier from Bellview Winery in Landisville.  When Thanksgiving rolls around, you might want to serve 80) a cranberry wine from one of our wineries.  You can celebrate many of our wine varieties at the 81) Cape May Food and Wine Festival.  Although not a hotbed for microbreweries, South Jersey does have a good one with 82) Flying Fish in Cherry Hill.  Looking for a nice place to have a drink?  For wine, try the great wine list at 83) Annata Wine Bar in Hammonton.  If you want to step back in time, go to 84) The Brown Room at Congress Hall in Cape May with its art deco feel.

Shops With That Special Something
Sometimes, you need to go somewhere outside of a grocery store to get what you need.  For hand-made sausages, we like 85) The German Butcher in Forked River and 86) Serra Sausage in Vineland.  Italian specialty shops are all around, and the ones that we found to be the best are 87) Severino Pasta Company in Westmont, 88) Conte’s Pasta in Vineland and 89) Bagliani’s Italian Market in Hammonton (and ask for Joe the cheese guy).  Want something more in your morning cup o’ joe?  South Jersey has two world-class coffee roasters in 90) Kaffe Magnum Opus in Millville and 91) Crescent Moon in Mullica Hill.

Uniquely South Jersey
And then there are some things that can only be found right here.  First off, only in South Jersey can you get 92) a real panzarotti, not just a generic pizza turnover.  Have you ever considered eating…muskrat?  Well, they have a special 93) Muskrat Dinner in Salem County every year.  Love them or hate them, lima beans do elicit a reaction.  If you’re a fan, come celebrate at the 94) Lima Bean Festival in West Cape May.  And if you’re ever driving around the shore and want to hear something fun on the radio, check out 95) Ed Hitzel’s ‘Table for One’ radio show on Saturday mornings.  If anyone knows their culinary way around South Jersey, it’s Ed.

What?  You say that’s only 95?  Where’s the other five?  This is where YOU, the reader, come into play.  We know you have your own ideas, and we’d like you to express them.  Leave your comments and suggestions of places that we might have missed, and the five that get the most passionate votes will complete the list.  So…give us an earful!

The South Jersey Food Bloggers United

This list was created by these fabulous South Jersey food bloggers and can also be found on their blogs:

Melissa Gaffney is a writer and a foodie in her own right. She blogs here and writes here, and currently is eating her way through New Jersey, one cupcake-bagel-steak-salad-sandwich-general dish at a time.

Lisa Grant loves to cook and write about it in her blog, Jersey Girl Cooks. She is a stay at home mom of two children and enjoys doing some part time freelancing as well as entering various recipe contests.

John and Lisa Howard-Fusco started John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey to share about their food experiences. Both grew up in South Jersey and after spending some time in North Jersey (Lisa in the publishing world and John in the financial industry), they have come back as freelance writers and bloggers to rediscover what they have missed and spread the word about the great food here.

Robin Shreeves is the founder of the South Jersey Locavore blog where she writes about where to find all the delicious food and beverages our region produces. She’s a freelance writer, the eco-friendly food blogger for the Mother Nature Network, and a 98lifelong resident of South Jersey.

Mike Staff writes about eateries and other locations he visits around South Jersey in his blog South Jersey Places.

Stephen Wilson owns The Sweet Life Bakery in downtown Vineland with his wife Jill McClennen.  They are committed to using fresh local foods at the bakery whenever possible.  Stephen writes a weekly column for a newspaper, The Grapevine, and gets the opportunity to share his food philosophy and experiences with every household in Vineland (~23,000 copies printed).  He republishes these articles on his blog.





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Greek Festival 2009!

I made plans to go to the Greek Festival every night last week, because the food is so good and because the festival is a major fundraising event for St. Anthony’s church, but a Thursday meeting ran late and so Friday was the first day that I made it.
We organized the usual crew to go, friends and family and the like, which included our new extern from Atlantic Cape Community College, Kate.  She brought her boyfriend, Greg, and I was excited to bring them because Kate had never eaten Greek food before.  Ariana came as well, and she had never been to the Greek Festival, so we were happy to invite her and her boyfriend, Will, to the festivities.

The line for the food was long, but moved steadily, and so I got in line while Jill went to the bar and got a pitcher of Yeungling for the group.  The smells of roasting lamb were tantalizing and as we inched closer to the food, I began to get very excited that it was time, yet again, for the Greek Festival.

But what should I get?  That is the question that always burns my mind when I go to a place with many delicious options.  Should I go with the standard gyro?  Roast lamb, sliced thinly, and placed on a warm round of pita bread with sliced onions, tomato wedges, and tastziki (a yummy sauce of cucumber and yogurt).  If you’ve ever had Greek food before, it was likely a gyro, the reason for this being that it is simple and so good.

I always get the gyro though, and the alternative options were catching my eye.  The mousaka sounded good.  Mousaka is generally a layered dish consisting of sliced potatoes with ground meat and thin eggplant all topped off with a thick layer of creamy béchamel sauce.  Oh, how I do love mousaka.

But what I ended up getting was the pastitsio; long tubes of pasta mixed with feta cheese and ground meat, and topped with the same béchamel sauce as the mousaka.  Brittany got an order of soulvaki, skewered grilled chicken on pita, and we all got some appetizers including marinated artichoke hearts, briny black olives, crumbly feta cheese, and crispy triangles of spinach and cheese wrapped in thin layers of phyllo dough.

We sat down at the long full family-style tables and toasted our meal with a loud ‘OPA!’
The food, as usual, was amazing.  I remember last year genuinely feeling like Jill and I were back in Athens, sitting at one of their outdoor markets eating and drinking with crowds of people going about their daily lives.  Of course here in Vineland, we knew many of the people around us, which is the other reason we go to the Greek Festival… the socializing.

While there, we ran into folks that we knew… people that Jill grew up with, guests of ours from the bakery, people that we work with through the Main Street program downtown, and faithful readers of The Grapevine and of my column.  The food and the people… I have to give serious kudos to St. Anthony’s for putting on such a wonderful event.  If you missed out on the Greek Festival this year, you don’t have to wait until next year to get your fill of Greek, you can always head to Olympia Restaurant on Delsea Drive for some awesome Greek food (and wonderful French fries!).
Which brings me to a thought I had…

The Greek community is relatively small here in Vineland, but they are tight knit because there is a strong cultural presence… the festival not only showcased the culinary traditions of Greece (my favorite part!), but featured dancing, singing and more.  At last years International Festival in downtown Vineland, the Greek contingent was strong, with Lefty working the booth serving food and the Hellenic Pride dancers out on the Avenue.  Unfortunately though, there seemed to be many groups of Vineland’s diverse cultural makeup missing.

So I’m going to give a ‘shout-out’ to the community groups that form the background of our fair city.  I’d love to see a more diverse representation at the International Festival this year because I believe it will show a more true representation of Vineland.  I’d love for people to try a delicious curry and naan from India, real rice and beans and roast pork from Puerto Rico, potato stuffed peirogi’s and kielbasa from Ukraine, tamales from Mexico, soul food from the south, jerk chicken from Jamaica…

My point is that there are many groups of people here in Vineland, and I do believe that is what makes us a strong and interesting community.  ‘You are what you eat’ after all, so let’s get to know each other our various cultures through our food at this years International Festival on Landis Avenue on August 22(???).  So start organizing to get your cultures culinary gears in motion!  Contact Donata Dalesandro for more information at 856-691-0693.

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When guests are visiting from out of town, the question on my mind is always ‘what are they going to eat?’  Every meal offers the opportunity to show visitors who we are, by offering to share the best of what we eat.

Last weekend, we were honored to have had our dear friend Gabby and her boyfriend, Greg, visit us from New York City.  They are both chefs who, due to the current economic situation, have found themselves unemployed and so the opportunity for them to come down and see Vineland (as well as us old friends) was too great to pass up.

I picked them up on Saturday in Philadelphia, where they had taken the bus from New York.  We drove into Vineland in the afternoon, and got to the bakery right before the beginning of Thunder on the Avenue.  Jill was very excited to see Gabby, and no one had eaten lunch so we needed something fast and delicious.  I thought that Jamaican would be perfect, so we sent Gabby and Greg down a few blocks to A Taste of the Islands with our friend Elizabeth to pick up some take out.  They soon returned with platters of jerk chicken, jerk pork, and curried goat.  Each came with rice and beans (Jamaican-style with red beans and spices), as well as greens.  We tore into the platters, and as usual, the chicken was my favorite.  I enjoy eating Monica’s jerk chicken not only because the flavor is spot on, but because she always gives it a few whacks with her large cleaver before placing it into my platter on top of the rice and beans.  This roughly cut, bone-in roast chicken is very participatory, a primal way to eat your food, and so everyone got deeply into their lunch licking fingers and having a good time.

Later that night, after cleaning up the bakery, we packed some goodies to take to a bonfire at a friend’s house.  We sat around the fire talking and drinking cold Yeungling from the cooler.  At one point, our friend Kristen who was home for a few weeks from college remembered about a bottle of homemade cherry brandy that her father gave her earlier in the day.  She went into the house and declared that is was a 2007 vintage, the very year that Jill and I made brandy with Kristen and her father Sam (you may remember this brandy from an article I wrote last summer).  I was so happy that Gabby and Greg had the opportunity to taste this bitter flavorful south Jersey liquor that Jill and I had a hand in creating.

The next day, before a canoeing jaunt down the Maurice River, the four of us went to the bakery for espresso and breakfast.  I started cutting tender green spears of asparagus, and I cracked brown speckled eggs that we get from a local farmer.  In with the eggs went some organic 2% milk, and into my cast iron pan went diced onion, salt and pepper, and the asparagus.  The eggs then went into the pan with a sizzle, and in a few minutes we had some awesome scrambled eggs.  With some sliced avocado and a fine grating of Grana Padano cheese, the asparagus flecked eggs went onto rye bread that Grandmom supplied.  It was the perfect fuel for a canoeing trip and we gobbled it all up.

After a few hours floating peacefully down the Maurice and building up quite an appetite, we headed for our house, where a backyard BBQ was planned.  One of the best facets of owning the bakery is the ready access to a professionally stocked kitchen, and I took advantage of this by preparing some items ahead of time.  I boiled beets I got from my local farm stand; I washed ruffled green leaves of lettuce that I picked from my garden; I made salad dressing with EVOO and the homemade raspberry vinegar that John Cassadia gave me a few months ago…

When we got back to the house, Grandmom had made potato salad and my mother-in-law had created a batch of her amazing deviled eggs (also from the local brown eggs).  Greg and Gabby wanted to help, so Greg butchered a free-range chicken that I picked up at Bagliani’s in Hammonton while Gabby made a bangin’ marinade with lime juice, garlic, brown sugar, EVOO, and salt and pepper.  Greg then grilled the chicken outside with John, along with local asparagus, thick slices of onions and whole jalapeño peppers.  Gabby peeled, diced, and dressed the beets that I cooked the previous day while I made a quick salsa with a can of organic black beans, fresh garlic greens, oregano, tart crisp rhubarb (all the from the garden), a plum tomato, and EVOO.  I then threw together some guacamole from ripe avocados I had picked up at La Plaza on Landis Ave.

Everything came together nicely, and after heating some fresh corn tortillas on the grill, dinner was ready.  Everyone was starving, so we laid everything out on the dining room table and dug in.  We made little tacos with the tortilla and various fillings, and everything was quite tasty. Fresh Jersey strawberry shortcake and Jill’s homemade lemoncello finished off the dinner wonderfully.

We were very proud to have served such a locavore meal.  So much was locally grown or raised and seasonal and fresh, it really would have been hard to mess it up.  We wanted to share the bounty of a south Jersey spring with our friends, and I know that they were impressed not only with the food, but with Vineland and our whole region.  I think they’re already planning their next trip back.

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The verdict is in, and Forest Grove fire department had by far the most votes in my search for the best chicken BBQ in south Jersey.  I had heard about this BBQ before, it’s a McClennen family favorite, so I was somewhat familiar with it already.  The other BBQ that got my attention was the one put on by the Dorothy Fire Hall.  Of course, they were both held on the same day last weekend, so I was in for a lot of chicken!

Forest Grove started serving at noon, so Jill and I got there at about quarter after twelve and as expected, we encountered a long line.  (We were informed that there would most likely be a line.)  The line was occupied by all sort of people; young, old, black and white, all patiently waiting for two things… some tasty chicken and the legendary potato salad.

The line, for as long as it was, shuffled along rather quickly.  It was hot out that day, and it was a relief when my section of line moved inside, into the shade.  Ahead, I could see the end of the line and into the kitchen area, where a dozen or so people were swiftly and efficiently preparing the plates for the folks in line.

Jill, who had gone off to take pictures while I waited, reappeared from a side door trailing a man in rubber boots.  She had a big smile on her beautiful face, and she thanked Tom (the man in the rubber boots) for showing her around.  She then snapped a few pictures of the people working in the kitchen and then walked over to me.  She began to tell me about the scene that she had witnessed behind the fire hall.

Long cinder block fire pits had been built behind the fire hall for the sole purpose of the annual chicken barbeque.  In the pits were the burning embers of charcoal, glowing with pure heat and sending off plumes of bluish smoke. As the smoke wafted skyward, it encountered hundreds of chickens infusing them with a wonderful smoky flavor.  The chickens had been halved and placed into flat, palate-sized cages that were blackened from use.  A long line of these cages sat over the coals, each one filled with a single layer of chicken.  As they cooked, two burly men on each side of the roughly four foot wide pit flipped the chicken cages to ensure that they cooked evenly and on both sides.  The men made their way down the pit, flipping one cage after another until they had done them all.  After being cooked on both sides, the chickens were then sauced with the homemade barbeque sauce and finished over the hot coals.  It was very hot, and the air was thick with smoke, so I commend the guys in the back that were working the fires.

When the chickens were done cooking, they were put onto plates and moved inside, into the kitchen where a small army of folks put lettuce, potato salad, tomatoes and pickles on the plate.  A giant Kaiser roll on top finished the platter, and the plates were then placed into brown paper bags.

Some people even brought cardboard boxes to put the platters that they purchased into, although we only got one platter.  I gave a woman my ticket, and the older gentleman standing next to her passed me a bag.  All in all, it was a very smooth transaction considering all the food that was being produced.  In the foyer area, Newfield Library was holding a bake sale in conjunction with the BBQ to raise money for the operations of the library, and the standard bake sale goodies were available.
Before we ate the Forest Grove BBQ though, Jill and I then went to Dorothy to try their chicken.  The layout was similar, the fire pits and saucing looked just about the same, but the whole affair had more of a party atmosphere.  There were games and a hayride for the kids, and beer and clams for the grown-ups.  Many people were eating their chicken and licking their fingers while sitting at one of the dozens of faded red picnic tables.  Jill and I sat and ate the Dorothy platter, which came with corn, potato salad, corn and pickles… it was excellent.  The chicken had a nice smoky flavor, and we left satisfied.

We then went home to eat the platter from Forest Grove.  It was still warm, and it looked really good.  I went right for the legendary potato salad, which did not disappoint.  Now I’m kind of picky with my potato salad, but this really was worth the hype.  A good about of sauce, differing sized chunks of soft potato, and a dressing that balanced salty and creamy perfectly.  I was told that around 1800 pounds of potatoes were cooked this year, and it was all prepared from scratch by volunteers who starting making the salad on Friday evening at midnight, and who worked in rotating shifts!

The chicken was great as well, juicy and impregnated with a hint of smoke.  The skin was wonderfully salty, and we definitely enjoyed everything.  Congratulations to Forest Grove Chicken BBQ!  I can’t wait until next year…

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