Objective & honest Restaurant & Wine Reviews by F. Scott, AKA "Jersey Foodies!" Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!
Friday, September 17, 2010
West Side Gravy - Collingswood, NJ
We walked in and saw about 5 tables seated at West Side Gravy, and this was a shock to me on a Friday night. Why this place is not packed night in night out is beyond me. We were immediately greeted by the same waiter who waited on us the last time we had visited. He is super personable, and just a nice guy. He asked if we wanted the same table in the window that we had sat in last time, and we said sure, why not! It’s a great place to sit and people watch.
Our server Mai Ling (I think that was her name) came over and greeted us. She had recognized us and said that it had been a few months since we had been in. Wow, that is some good customer service. She also made a mention of the blog, and said, “You guys are F. Scott and Zelda right?” Too funny, and it is good to know that there are actually a few people that read what we have to say! It’s good to know that I am not just brushing up on my typing skills here for nobody other than myself! LOL! In all honesty, it really is nice to know that we have people reading here, that are actually interested in what we have to say.
At this same time I reached into the Riedel carrying case, grabbed out stems, and grabbed a 2006 Carlisle Syrah Sonoma County. I opened it up, and Mai Ling came back and told us about their new chef, which we had actually heard about from our friend Sherry earlier in the day. It turns out that Chef Capasso had hired a new sous chef for West Side Gravy, and her name is Siobhan Allgood, a Philadelphia native, who just happened to be on Season 7 of Hell’s Kitchen. What is there to say other than awesome!
Mai Ling asked us if we would let Chef Allgood put together a tasting menu for us, and asked us if there were any restrictions. We told her that we were definitely up for this, and the only restrictions were first that Zelda doesn’t eat beef or pork, and secondly, that the West Side Gravy Fries with the pinot noir gravy are an absolute must! What is there to say other than awesome? Needless to say, we were very excited that she wanted to do something special for us, and give us the chance to taste a bunch of her new creations!
In the meantime, we sat and were looking out the windows, and wondering why the restaurant wasn’t absolutely packed. We looked down towards the Pop Shop, and there was no line there either, however, the Tortilla Press had a line 5-12 people deep over the course of the evening. This is surprising to me, as we’ve been there, and I didn’t think it was all that good. Maybe it is a niche market, and maybe they have their fans, I don’t know. I really wanted to go over there with some menus and try to get some people to come over to West Side Gravy, but that really isn’t our place to do that. If only these people knew that they were missing out on!
Out came our first dish, and it was Chef Allgood’s take on Amuse Bouche. As you can see from the picture, this is a single shrimp that was poached in a coconut milk, served cold, and cooked perfectly, atop a wasabi cucumber sorbet. What is there to say about this dish other than fresh? The sorbet is absolutely delicious, and quite possibly one of the freshest, most refreshing things I have ever eaten. This is a very innovative take on sorbet in my opinion, and it works very well. With the freshness of the shrimp, the sliver of chive on top, and the sorbet, it is just awesome and amazing! I would love to suck these down on the beach all afternoon on a hot day! The wasabi is mellow and subdued, and then the freshness of the cucumber hits you. Two totally separate entities, but both are awesome. Definitely not comfort food here, but I am not complaining in the least. This gets a big thumbs up!
Next out is one of my favorites, and that is the hand-cut West Side Gravy Fries with the pinot noir sauce and awesome. I love the fact that these skins are left on the potatoes before slicing them, as it gives it a nice element. These are sliced nice, small, and thin, and they come out straight from the fryer, steaming on. As I said the last time we were here, I am not a big fan of gravy type sauces, but this is a gravy that I could put on anything. It is great on the fries, but would be awesome on a hot Chicago style beef and cheddar sandwich. It is good to the point where you could practically drink it. What is there not to like about this?
Next out was a soup, and in all honesty, had this not been brought to us, it is something that I probably would not order just based on the name or description. This was an apple soup with carrot and paprika oil, and let me tell you, it was something that blew my hair back. The site of this alone was gorgeous, with the different colors from the vegetables, to the oils, creams, etc that topped this soup. For me, I think that the apple was the star here, as the carrot seemed to be more in the background. Neither flavor overwhelmed anything here, and it was yet again a nice, clean soup. This was drizzled with a smoked paprika oil, and was topped with a dehydrated carrot, and it rocked! Again, I never in a million years would have ordered something like this off of a menu anywhere, but my mind has definitely been changed. This rocked, and was once again very innovative. Nothing comforting about this dish at all in my opinion, but it worked, and worked well. I would love to eat this any day of the week!
From here we were served the Signature Salad, made from farmer’s greens, with Granny Smith apple, gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans, dried cranberries, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I can still remember when salads like this started popping up in restaurants, and how awesome I thought they were. I still think that this is the case, and I think that it has turned into a comfort food of sorts. The greens were fresh, the fruits were fresh, and the dressing is made with love, and very homemade. There is nothing not to like about this salad, and it was great. I am however wondering how much longer this salad might be around as it seems to be getting “played out” as everyone seems to have it now. But with that said, it is obviously working, and this one definitely did. It hit the spot, and the dressing couldn’t have been any more delicious. It all just works nicely together!
From here, we were heading south of the border and were both brought some Baja Fish Taco’s! These were made from fresh Pollock, then lightly battered and fried, served on a miniature tortilla. The Pollock is the perfect pairing for this, and the batter on the fish is super light and airy! This is then topped with a thin shredded cabbage, and a secret sauce that has some nice, smoky, chipotle elements to it. This is another dish that I could eat on a daily basis, and it was a heck of a good appetizer! This too is something that I would order off of the menu in a heartbeat, and their rendition of this classic puts Surf Taco to shame! Sorry Surf Taco, I still love you, but there is no comparison!
At this point, I am comfortably getting full, and really starting to wonder how much more food we are going to get! Then out came the mains! Holy moly I need to take a deep breath so I can make some more room in my belly! I also saw a couple outside who was looking at the menu, just as many had throughout the evening. Maybe some of these folks had already eaten, and were just curious for their next visit to town. This couple however was not getting away, so I went outside to talk to them. They lived in town, and they said they have wanted to stop in, but that they really love Thai Basil down the street. So I told them that they have eaten at Thai Basil plenty of times, and that they need to come in and try West Side Gravy. I gave them a quick little insight to Blackbird, and then mentioned the fact that Chef Allgood was now here. The girl actually had a friend who was on Season 6 of Hell’s Kitchen, but I forget who her friend was. Needless to say, my persuading worked, and they came in. This was a great feeling, and by the time they finished their dinner and left, they absolutely loved it, and they will be back again! Score one for us and for West Side Gravy!
For my entrée, Chef Allgood prepared a braised short rib, with a horseradish mashed potato, fresh spinach, and the ever so lovely pinot noir sauce. Let me say that these short ribs were some of the most tender short ribs I have ever had! Short ribs is by far one of my favorite dishes of all times, and I have had them at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant London, No. 9 in Lambertville, Darryl Wine Bar, Bobby Flay’s restaurant, etc. Just the fact that she chose these is awesome in itself since this is a staple in my book, and not something that everyone can do correctly. These however were done right, and they were awesome. This was a great cut of meat, and these were cooked better than I could cook them myself. The fat in these was minimal, and they were just delicious. The spinach paired perfectly, served in between the potato and the short ribs. It was not only tasty, but it looked beautiful as well.
For Zelda’s entrée, Chef Allgood chose a seared Ahi tuna, served over rice. This was nice, sushi grade tuna, that was sliced and seared to perfection. There was a nice pink line going through the center of the tuna, and they were topped with pea tendrils that make a great garnish, and compliment the dish nicely. I could actually eat pea tendrils like popcorn as they are so tasty. The dish was surrounded by a nice foam, that had drizzles of an oil of sorts. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what either of these were, but they were good, and they complimented the tuna nicely! Yet another solid dish!
At this point, we were absolutely stuffed, but we knew that dessert was yet to come! Hopefully it wasn’t something too heavy! Before dessert, Chef Allgood came out to introduce herself, and we had a nice 5 minute or so conversation. She was very personable, and we asked her about her experience on Hell’s Kitchen, and she seems as though she thoroughly enjoyed it. We asked her a whole plethora of other questions, ranging to where she was from, where she has worked, what she thought of Chef Ramsay, her fellow contestants, etc. Needless to say, she was great, and seemed very genuine.
Moments later, Chef Capasso appeared from the kitchen, and had come over from Blackbird. He had his usual rounds around the restaurant, and then came over to our table to say hello. Again, we congratulated him on such a great venture, and on his recent hiring of Chef Allgood. As our dessert appeared from the kitchen, he described the homemade Snickers Bar, the West Side Gravy pudding, and the Orange Dreamsicle inspired cake. All of these were great, but that was expected. The Snickers was actually better than the real thing, with better homemade flavors. The butterscotch pudding, or whatever it is actually called is a staple, and it should be a food group in itself. The Dreamsicle cake had very nice orange flavors, and was served with a sweet, caramelesque sauce. All the desserts were wonderful, and at this point, I couldn’t take another bite of anything! WOW am I stuffed!
I have to say that so far in 2010, there have not been many new restaurants to pop onto the scene that have gotten me excited, but West Side Gravy is by far the most exciting of the new restaurants we have frequented. Based on Chef Capasso’s menu. These are comfort foods at their finest, and on steroids. He takes dishes that people love, and puts his own special twist on them, and I am assuming now Chef Allgood is putting her twist on them as well. Then they put them on the menu at under $15, and they have a gold mine in the making. The most expensive entrée that I remember on the menu is $18.50, and that was the steak frities. Most of the items were in the $14-$16 range, and small plates anywhere from $8-$10. Appetizers or small plates started around $5.50, and went all the way to $8.50, and salad were $7-$9. In this economy, these are bargains! But my question is, why is this place not full every night of the week with these prices in this economy? Was it Craig LaBan’s rude headline on Philly.com titled “What’s Up with Alex Capasso’s West Side Gravy?” (http://www.philly.com/philly/restaurants/20100916_What_s_up_with_Alex.html) I seriously hope not, as he clearly states in the article that he has never been there. He does however state that the space seems uninviting. Well let me ask you Craig, what exactly is uninviting about this space? As for the comment that it is “still trying to find its crowd,” I gotta say that every other time we have been here, the crowd has been there, so I think the crowd has definitely been found.
To me, the space at West Side Gravy is awesome! I love the tables up in what used to be the Woolworth’s window display, and this is where we always love to sit. It is a great place to people watch, and to see what the other restaurants in town or doing. As far as the interior of the restaurant goes, it has nice hardwood floors, and I love the tattoo inspired “food art” on the walls. It is just very cool artwork, and a bit on the retro side. It is just a cozy restaurant to me, and I don’t get what Mr. LaBan’s beef is with the restaurant. But in all actuality, can you really take his word for if seeing as he has not eaten there? To each their own I guess, and I really doubt that this article has any bearing whatsoever. But if you have been to the restaurant, leave a comment about the article like I did!
I think it is just a matter of time before people discover West Side Gravy. At this point, there is no website, and I have yet to see any publicity. Maybe this has been done on purpose, but once word gets out as to who is actually involved in this restaurant, being Chef Capasso, who the sous chef is, the type of menu, and the pricing, I think that they are going to be hoping that they had more space. This is a gold mine in the making, and everyone will see this in time! By the time we were ready to go, we had seen another dozen tables come in to be seated, so it is good to see them getting some decent foot traffic. Next time, we'll recruit more people to come in, and again, they will be giving us some praise for luring them in!
In short, if West Side Gravy was here in town, we would probably eat there a minimum of 3 nights a week! And starting tomorrow, they will be serving Sunday Brunch! Stay tuned for more exciting happenings coming on West Side Gravy! I have much more to say, and it is only going to get better! Cheers! -F. Scott
PS: as always, the pictures from the Blackberry just do not do the food justice. I really need to start bringing the Canon out with us, but I think that is a bit rude!
Welcome to F. Scott's Foodie and wine adventures in and around New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and more recetly Old Town Alexandria and the DC Metro! Stay tuned for reviews of the latest up and coming East Coast establishments, and up and coming wineries! Cheers!
Born in Illinois, I spent my younger years as a local Chicago Foodie checking out restaurants in the city, and working as a waiter at many of the finest restaurants in the suburbs of Chicago. Look for me visiting a restaurant near you, or at one of the many local wine offlines throughout New Jersey