Saturday, May 8, 2010

Veronica's - Haddonfield, NJ

We received an e-mail from the owners of Veronica's a few weeks ago, that we needed to come out and check out their new restaurant in Haddonfield, NJ.  After driving past a few weeks ago on our way to Cafe Melange, tonight we decided to head over to Haddonfield and give it a try for ourselves.

We walked in tonight with no reservation, and immediately noticed the very cute dining room, which seemed a bit formal.  The colors in the restaurant were gorgeous, with a nice fireplace, gorgeous big white wood work, a black and white checked floor covered by a large area rug, and a big chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling.  The dining room looked gorgeous!  White tables clothes adorned the tables, with dark red napkins.

We were greeted by a woman and her child who were waiting to order some take out, and we looked around the dining.  All the tables but two were filled, and there was one two top that was waiting to be bussed.  There was a couple sitting in the window with their 3 children, and a bunch of other two tops seated.

We were greeted about 10 minutes later, by our server who seemed to be a bit overwhelmed.  Yes, we waited quite a long time before a member of the staff even came out of the kitchen.  This is definitely something that needs some work, and how do you not have someone working the front of house in a new restaurant on a Saturday night?  Or how are the server(s) or bus staff not checking on the restaurant for that length of time.  It almost made me wonder if the server was also in the back doing the cooking.

We were finally greeted by our server and seated, and I pulled out our Riedel stems from their carrying case, as well as a 2007 Auteur Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard.  Our server opened it commented on how we were the first people she had ever seen who bring their own stems, but we do like to drink good wines out of good glasses.  You just never know these days what kind of stemware restaurants have, and more often than not you find those horrible Chianti bowls that do absolutely nothing for the nose or flavors of your wines.  She gave us some menus, and retreated back to the kitchen to grab us some water.

In the meantime, we were looking around the restaurant, and perusing the menu.  The kids at the table in the window seemed a bit annoying to me, and it makes you wonder why people bring their young children, who are not all that well behaved out to an establishment that I consider pretty upscale.  From the decor in the restaurant at least, this looks like a classy restaurant.  Dad of course was yelling at the mother to get the kids in line, and he had your typical "Jersey Shore" mentality.  From his t-shirt, to cut off jean shorts, and baseball cap turned backwards, he could have been one of the kids off of "Jersey Shore".  Who dresses like that to go to a restaurant, in Haddonfield nonetheless?

Out came some freshly warmed pita, with a sauce that reminded me of tzatziki.  The sauce was good, but I have definitely had better if it was indeed tzatziki.  Regardless, this was nice, and something to snack on before our appetizer came out.

Our soups came out about 10 minutes later.  I thought it was a bit odd that the soup came out before the appetizer, but that is OK.  The soup du jour was a chicken noodle, and the flavors were nice.  The stock definitely tasted homemade, with large chunks of chicken, carrots, parsnips, and a rice noodle maybe?  It had a certain sweetness to it, and I couldn't put my finger on it.  It may have come from the carrot and parsnips  I have no idea, but I found it interesting, as well as appealing.  I don't think that Zelda was crazy about it.

While waiting for our appetizer, we noticed quite a few things that shouldn't be happening in an establishment like this.  First, we noticed that a table had gotten their salads, and by the time the server brought them to the table, she had immediately returned to the kitchen, grabbed their entrees, and brought them to that same table.  The look on these women's faces was nothing but annoyed, and the server offered to put them back in the kitchen to keep them warm on the line.  With good judgement, the women took the entrees, and pushed their salads to the side.

Meanwhile, the table seated behind us has been sitting waiting for their dishes to be cleared.  This was a much older couple, and they seemed to be waiting forever.  The woman had asked to have her dish wrapped, and the gentleman asked for their check.  It was a good 10-15 minutes before they finally got their doggie bag, and their check so they could be on their way.

Our server came back over with our Falafel appetizer a few minutes later.  This came out as 5 pieces, and was extremely dark and overcooked.  The inside however once you got past the overcooked outside was OK.  It definitely wasn't the best Falafel we've ever had, but it also wasn't the worst either, but may be in the list of our bottom 5.  The seasoning inside was OK at best, but the sauce that it was served with was very thin, with very little flavor.  Had I been tasting this blind, I would have thought that it had no flavor whatsoever.  Sure, it was wet, and you could tell it was there, but it really had no flavor to it.  The sauce needs some revamping, and I would definitely change it, and serve it with something with a lot more flavor.  Maybe a tzatziki would be nice? 

I'm not sure what I would do to improve the Falafel, but it needs something.  It's lacking something, but not being an expert on this cuisine, I am not sure what that something is.  Even so, it needs to be cooked correctly, and definitely doesn't need to come out looking like a black olive.  See picture above.  One thing to note is that the Falafel had a very fishy taste to it, and I can only assume that it was from the calamari that the table next to us had ordered.  Maybe they only have one fryer, and maybe these were being cooked at the same time.  Maybe they do not change or even filter their oil on a daily basis.  I cannot say for sure, but that it just a guess.

One suggestion I would have for the Falafel other than the fact that it doesn't need to be over cooked is that the plate needs some kind of garnish.  Serve it over a small bed of lettuce or something to give the plate some color.  Put a slice of tomato on the plate.  Anything at all to dress up the plate would be improvement.  Finally, make sure that these are drained, so they are not overly greasy as we could have rung them out like a sponge.

As we waited for our entrees, we enjoyed our Willamette Valley pinot noir, and talked more about the restaurant.  Since then, the table with the kids had ordered desserts, and two of their desserts came out (those for the adults), and they were told that their fondue was on it's way.  A good 10-15 minutes went by, and the two desserts were long gone before the fondue arrived.  Meanwhile, Dad was sitting with his elbows on the table, biting his finger nails, and picking them out of his mouth.  Have manners gone out the window in public these days?  The kids were starting to get restless and whining, asking where their dessert was.  Mom pulled out a can of Pepsi from her purse, and that kept the kids quiet until their fondue came out.  Thankfully, as soon as their fondue came out, Dad asked for the check.

Our dinner came out a while later, and Zelda opted for the Chufta Turkey Burger, which was ground turkey seasoned with Serbian spices and parsley.  This was served on a chiabatta bread, and was just OK.  There wasn't all that much to this, and it definitely lacked in inspiration, but it sounded good to her tonight.  Zelda is always on the search for the perfect turkey burger, and thought that this was nowhere close.  From the bite I tried, it was kind of blah at best, and could have used some more seasoning.  It was very bland, lacking in spices and inspiration.  There was just nothing to it, and quite frankly, it didn't smell all that appealing. Zelda made the comment that it smelled dirty. The side sauce was red nothingness that had little to no flavor.

At Veronica's recommendation, I ordered the Cevapi (mici), which is a mix of ground beef and lamb with special Serbian seasoning.  It was served with a side of sour cream, and a red sauce of sorts that was delicious.  I have no idea what they call it or what's in it, but it was almost like a Mediterranean marinara sauce.  This same sauce was served on the side of Zelda's burger.

The flavors of the beef and lamb sausage were gorgeous, and the flavor that the grill has is awesome.  I am assuming that they grill a lot of kebabs on this same grill, and the flavors were phenomenal.  These were cooked very nicely, and I was very pleased with this.  Again, I would work on presentation here.  As you can see from the picture above, the sausage is just thrown on the pita on top of the plate, and even the sour cream and red sauce were in metal cups on top of the pita.  Dress this up!  Cut the pita in half and stack it.  Add a mound of lettuce, a side of tomato and onion, anything at all to make this dish more appealing.  For $14, I thought this was a heck of a great deal, and the flavors were absolutely incredible.

I kindly reminded our server that we had ordered 'fresh cut fries', half way through our dinner, and she chuckled and said she had forgotten to put them in. Then, she went to the pack and told the staff she forgot to add fries to the order. In about 10 minutes, she returned with the fries and they were good but not outstanding. She asked if we wanted ketchup and then went back into the kitchen.

Meanwhile, another table behind us sat with their finished plates for a good 15 minutes before the server asked them if they wanted anything else. They were obviously annoyed and when the woman stood up to leave, it was obvious that she was very pregnant and very annoyed.

So for dinner, I think we went one for two as I enjoyed mine.  By this time, the restaurant was down to 3 tables, and we had a nice conversation with the two other tables in the restaurant, hearing about some of their favorite restaurants in the area, and talking about some of our favorite restaurants.  Thanks Jane for the add on Facebook, and to others feel free to add us in the top right hand corner of the main page here on our blog. The server joined into the conversation and began asking questions about a local store with a Jamaican theme and asked whether the store had 'bongs.' The 'mature' couple next to us looked astonished that she had asked the question and left shortly there after.

At one point, the smoke in the dining room was overwhelming, so our server had opened the front door and had made a mention that something was wrong with the exhaust hood.  We finished our wine, asked for our check, and got ready to leave.

My thoughts on Veronica's are this:  the restaurant definitely has potential, but it needs some work in both the kitchen, as well as the dining room.  I cannot help but think how Zelda and I could tear this restaurant up with a good chef in the kitchen, Zelda working the front of house, and me working the dining room as the server.  Even with this dining room packed, one server and a mediocre bus boy could handle this restaurant, and could make good money doing it.  The key is to get customers in, and to turn tables.  Marketing is key here, and they need to do something, and do something fast as rent in Haddonfield is not cheap.  Reviews like this one however will not help their cause.  Even so, with their pricing, they could do well if they could turn tables.  The menu is affordable, and the food could be great, but that is reliant on the kitchen staff.

With the Mediterranean and Eastern European cuisine, add some decor to suit the theme.  It was almost as though there was an identity crisis in the dining room, and came across as a fine dining feel.  That is not a bad thing, but give the decor some more influence on the menu, and finally, get rid of the paper napkin on the table.  The cloth napkin was enough, why take away from that with a paper napkin as well?

In short, we may go back and give it another chance in the future, but we'll give them a while to work out the kinks.  Train the servers to give good service, and have enough staff on each night to cater to your customers!  Or higher Zelda and I to consult one night a week, and we'll get this restaurant in tip top running order in no time!  The potential is definitely there!  Cheers!  -F. Scott and Zelda

Veronica's Restaurant
26 South Haddon Avenue
Haddonfield, NJ  08033
Phone:  (856)616-1520


Anonymous said...

what a disappointment on Mother's Day...the food was horrible...server was even your money go to Collingswood if you want good food.

Anonymous said...

We didnt think it was that bad at all, We thought the place was very nice and our server Scott was very pleasent...We are no critics, but we had an over all good experience,
I ordered the cevapi(serbian lamb-beef sausage) which was amazing and unique,and my wife ordered the lamb kabob and she liked it as well... nice little unique restaurant with a comfortable atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

My family and I dined at Veronicas a few weeks ago and I would have to agree about the decor of the restaurant not being slavic or much greek but i still had a wonderful experience there. The food was awesome and different and my server was very helpful in describing alot of the different foods that are on the menu. Id definately go back!

NJFoodies said...

Below is an e-mail we received from Veronica after reading our post:

Hey Scott and Zelda,

I'm sorry you didn't have a great experience while dining with us. Unfortunately, Saturday night I had a wedding to attend so I couldn't be there. I was expecting you on Friday which would have been perfect because we didn't do one table after 6:00 pm. Our busiest night ever in our short history, I'm unavailable, two food critics, and the mayor’s office shows up; talk about Murphy’s Law! I would like to invite you back to the restaurant, at your convenience, with your dinner on the house. I know we can do a better job and would like the opportunity to show you that. I would like to thank you for your comments in the article because it’s only going to make us better in the future. If I know what the problems are, I can fix them! I hope you take me up on my offer sooner then later.

Thank you for your honesty,
Veronica Ralic

NJFoodies said...

And here is a comment that we received from a member of their staff:

Dear Mr. Scott and Ms. Fitz,
I just got the chance to read your review about Veronica’s in Haddonfield. I was your server Saturday night when you graced the restaurant with your presence. I’m sure you get a lot of hate mail, for obvious reasons. That is not the case this time. I only wanted to take a few moments to “critique” and correct a few of the statements you wrote in your review.
It was nice that your impression with the atmosphere was that of an “upscale restaurant”. However, I’m not quite sure how “upscale” or “high-end” an eating establishment can be when the average prices on the menu range from $10.00 to $15.00 dollars. I was also wondering if you noticed our “Children’s Menu”? That is usually a dead give away that children are welcome! Unless of course we are viewing it from your perspective, and in that case would mean that if you are a family with children living or traveling through Haddonfield your only option of dining out is McDonalds. How dare those parents bring their children out for a family dinner to a restaurant with a “kids menu”!
When you said that I was overwhelmed you were absolutely correct. In server terminology its referred to as “being in the weeds”. Have either of you ever actually worked in a restaurant? I was just curious. Anyway, while I was doing my best to wait on 8 tables at once, running back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen, I’m not quite sure how you stood in the foyer completely unnoticed for 10 minutes, before being greeted. A bit of exaggeration perhaps. Now, who doesn’t love Jamaica? Without trying to be stereotypical, everyone knows Jamaica and marijuana are completely related. Well, maybe not in your world, still not sure what world that is. Back to the point, I recall one of the patrons discussing the Jamaican store around the corner, I simply said “Oh, I just noticed that store today on my way to work, it looks like a cool little place”. I was informed that it is a great place, primarily focusing on children’s items,
( that dreaded word again ) So I replied jokingly “I guess they don’t sell bongs then”. Not “Wow man ya think I could score a bong dude” Give Me A Break!! Just one more part of your personality that you lack, a sense of humor.
When I first went to Veronica’s it was impressed upon me how excited they were to open a fun, down to earth, restaurant with great food and sincere and kind hospitality that would make everyone feel welcome. A place to come and unwind and enjoy a good meal with friends and family. Why they ever contacted you is beyond me! The only thing I am certain of is that I would rather be placed in the company of the poorest of the poor than to be in the company of people like you. I wouldn’t want to walk in your shoes for even one day. Maybe you should consider stepping off you High Horse, or perhaps even falling, Be careful not to break your “stems” on the way down. Try to get your facts straight next time. Cheers.

Chris said...

I think the red stuff is Ajvar, made with red peppers and eggplant. I had cevapcici in Munich loads of times and I remember them being spicier than this - but I might be wrong, and I did enjoy the flavor of these.

I'd say Veronica's is not intended to be high end, we both had dinner for less than $60 incl tip - not McDonalds, but hardly high-end. We enjoyed it, and will definitely go again. I'm hoping the front of house service will improve as they get more organized and into a rhythm.

mirella said...

well i live in haddonfield nj and was a bit sad that we lost our italian restaurant thats been there for many years.needless to say i LOVE italian food love it!!!! .so i ventured into veronicas for a quick bite for lunch thinking i was gonna have italian love the decor and it almost made feel as if i were in a italian bistro .i looked at the menu and was a bit confused never seen a slavic/balkan menu before my friendly male server(forgot his name)i think its mark was telling me about the cevapi (lamb, beef rolled into thumb-like sausages) . originally i was not sold on it because I'm not much of an adventurous eater but today i figured i would give it a shot . I had a taste of the sauce on it's own and not loving red peppers I thought it might be a little too much. But when you get the combination of delicious meat mixture sausage and chewy warm pita with the red special sauce it is heaven.i do plan on going back for dinner with friends and i hope they have plenty staff available .

Artisan Vineyards said...

It's so unfortunate that people don't feel it's necessary to have manners these days. There is nothing more that ruins a meal for me then loud kids and obnoxious people. As you had mentioned service is a key as well!

After receiving that e-mail from the waitress I hope she realizes that this is the stuff that's more or less a guaranteed pink slip. Not a very smart move.

NJFoodies said...

I don't think that it is Veronica's passion to be a high end restaurant either, and I think their prices are more than reasonable. I really enjoyed the Cevapi, and had she not suggested it, I probably would have ordered something else. I absolutely loved it.

I just hope to see some improved service, and see them build some clientel. The restaurant industry is tough in the current economy, and as low as their prices are, I would like to see them survive. Time will tell!

Anonymous said...

The food was absolutely amazing!!! I loved it from the moment it was placed in front of me. I am of slavic descent and have been around these kinds of meals, and by far Veronica's has the best tasting food. Having different foods from the usual ethnic varieties definitely adds to the venture of being different and for that I wish them all the best.

arizona glass said...

Lamb with Serbian seasoning sounds delicious

Anonymous said...

To NJFoodies: Do you proof-read your reviews before publishing them on your website? For wine snobs such as yourselves, you may want to improve your writing skills before judging other people's creative dreams laid out in real life. I do not know Veronica, and have yet to eat in her restaurant, but I want to congratulate her in fulfilling her passion of opening and running her own establishment. In the meantime, Scott and Zelda, get a thesaurus and learn proper comma placement.

NJFoodies said...

I will be the first to say to say that I am not the best writer in the world, but I have never said that I was an English major. Most of the time, notes are from my Blackberry or iPad, and in this day and age, I don't have countless hours to spend blogging. I wish I did though, but this is not how I make my livelihood.

As for judging people's creative dreams, I am not sure that you understand what this blog is about. This is where we talk about restaurants and wine. How can someone write something without judging? Would it be more interesting for people to read if we gave every restaurant or wine we've tried wonderful ratings? Would that bring us more credibility? Absolutely not!

My intention was not to squash Veronica's creative dreams at all. It was to let other people know about our experience at her restaurant. I gave an honest review, and really didn't think it was that harsh. My entree was wonderful as I stated, but the service was mediocre. That's how the story reads, and from comments we've received, some have agreed, and others have disagreed. That does not bother me a bit, and I am glad when I hear about great experiences when we have had a mediocre one.

My suggestion to you "Anonymous" is to start leaving notes after you have signed in. This brings more credibility to you and your critique. This would also lead me to your blog if you have one, so I can take some pointers from you on writing as obviously my writing does not meet your highstandards. In the meantime, I have downloaded a thesaurus app on my iPad, and I look forward to putting it to good use. Once my writing skills improve, maybe we'll be featured AGAIN in the NY Times and Smart Money Magazine.

Bottom line: I write honest reviews, good or bad.

Anonymous said...

We ordered cevapi here last week and were terribly dissapointed. It looks like they have raised the price considerably - $18 for 6 very small sausages. They should be embarrassed. Absolutely nothing like we had in the former yugoslavia where you can find this dish on every street corner for about $5.

Anonymous said...

After going here last week and being disappointed, I did a Google search and came across your blog. I too had the cevapi as it came highly recommended. The flavors were nice, but it was a bit undercooked, and for the price, I though I would get more meat. Brad had the Greek Eggplant that came highly recommended from our server who seemed as though she was on something. Or maybe she was finishing the wine or beer that customers left on tables. The dining room seemed stuffy and uncomfortable. While very elegant, it didn't seem to fit the overall them of this restaurant. Wouldn't go out of our way to go back. -John Mayfield

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you went to the same restaurant? What is there not to like about this place? Great food at amazing prices! What more could you want? Sounds to me as though you have something against the family that owns and operates this Haddonfield gem. One of the top 3 restaurants hands down!

Stick to your bbq'ing briskets redneck. Obviously your idea of good food is different than 95% of people in the Philly metro. This is one of the few restaurants that I have ever heard of that you have "blogged" about....if you consider "this" blogging. Two words: try harder! 5 more words: you such as a writer!