Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Belly Buster's - Browns Mills, NJ

Well, this used to be a great place, and I had heard that the owners had change a few years ago.  Went back for the first time in years, and th place is still pretty much the same. 

Still pretty much a dive bar, and still the same bar crowd from way back when I think.  The girls working in the place were nice, but the cheese steak has definitely changed since way back when.

The bread is different, but the cheese steak is still god.  Not the best in the area by far, but definitely edible.  The service was a bit slow considering we were the only people in the restauant eating.  The first 2 cheese steaks came out, then the other 2 about10 mintes later, and then another 10 minutes after that.

Nice flavors, but again, the bread isn't as good as it was.  Service definitely needs to be faster, but still a decent option in this culinary waste land.  Maybe in the Top 10 places for the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst area, but I wouldn't go out of my way to go here.  Definitely used to be better, but need more restaurants in this area.  OK at best.  Cheers!  - F. Scott

Belly Busters
98 Lakehurst Road
Browns Mills, NJ  08015
Phone:  (609)893-7779

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TC's Stone House Eatery - Wrightstown, NJ

TC's hands down has to be one of the busiest restaurants in the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst area, and today was no different.  You walk in, and the line to order is all the way to the front door (the counter to order is in the back right of the restaurant).  But even so, they get you through the line quick, and in the mean time you are scrambling to fnd a table.

Today, we have 5 of us for lunch, and while waiting in line, we saw a table open up, so we immediately threw our hats on

It took about 10 minutes for us to get through the line, and I ordered the tilapia sandwich with fries, and sat down.  Meanwhile, the orders were coming out of th kitchen like clockwork, as a young girl was calling out order numbers.

Mine came out a few minutes after some of my colleague (they ordered grilled chicken wraps which obviously don't take as long), and again, it was a nice portion of thin tilapia filet, perfectly seasoned, with a perfect char.  This is just a damn good sandwich, and one of the few restaurants in this area that knows how to blacken something correctly.

I definitely don't come here often enough, but that is because I am usually pressed for time.  Now that I know I can call in my order and make my way to the front of the line (no waiting for you takeout if you call it in ahead), I will definitely be taking advantage of this resource!  It's great to still see TC's thriving!  I was there for their grand opening several years ago when they first opened next door!

Check it out for yourself, and if you lovea good fish sandwich, try one of the many they have on the menu, from tilapia, to catfish, to tuna, to flounder, etc.  All 4 of the blackened versions are awesome!  Cheers!  -F. Scott

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sugar Cane (Carribean Restaurant) - Wrightstown, NJ

I have driven past this restaurant countless times the last few years, and at the urging of some of my colleagues that I am in a class with at the USAF Expeditionary Center, we finally visited this place.

The restaurant might not be a lot to look at from the inside or the outside, and maybe it's not the cleanest place with the friendliest service.  The first thing I noticed today was the heat.  Yes, it was hot outside, but it was also hot in the restaurant.  Maybe their air conditioning was having a problem keeping up, but it was hot.  To the point where I almost left.

Regardless, we stayed, and waited in line for about 10 minutes to place our order.  I ordered the jerk chicken with red beans and rice with peas, and a bottled fruit punch for just over 12 bucks.

I had just seated, and my colleagues were still at the counter, and out came my large portion.  Obviously, everything is pre-made, but I guess you kind of have to do that with a menu like this.

The chicken had good jerk seasoning, but was a little dried out, and actually a little burnt in some places, but the jerk seasoning helped hide this.  The rice on the other hands was very dry, and the beans in the rice were rock hard.

I also sampled a colleagues spicy shrimp appetizer, and it was definitely spicy.  The sauce on the shrimp was OK, but the shrimp tasted gritty and dirty to me.  Sure, I understand that you really cannot clean shimp when serving them shell and head on, but this just wasn't appetizing to me.  They can still be sliced down the back and cleaned in my opinion...but then again, I am not an expert when it comes to this cuisine.

Overall, Sugar Cane was mediocre at best.  While the place was fast, I didn't find the service all that friendly, the atmosphere all that clean, and the heat in the restaurant today was borderline ridiculous...especially with it being a "blues Monday."  Not the coolest uniform after all.

If I ate there again I would try something different and do takeout as I think it would be mor savory to eat at my own desk.  I wouldn't go out of my way to re-visit here though.  Just my 2 yen.  Cheers!
Sugar Cane
68 Fort Dix St
Wrightstown, NJ 08562
Phone:  (609) 353-1532

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Il Fiore - Collingswood, NJ

 

What is there to say other than we found yet another gem in Collingswood!  Stay tuned for a full review, but both of these main entrees were under $13 for lunch!  Awesome!

Il Fiore Restaurant
693-695 Haddon Ave
Collingswood, NJ 08108
Phone:  (856) 833-0808

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hamilton Grill Room - Lambertville, NJ

Friday night fireworks in Lambertville from Memorial Day to Labor Day?  Did I hear that right?  Every single Friday night?  If that's the case, then how about a little dinner at Hamilton Grill Room!

We once again took a chance tonight, and Zelda ran up to see if she could use her charm and grace with the well dressed maitre d, and it worked!  Moments later, she sent a text to my iPhone to let me know that "we were in!"

Once again we sat in the grill room, where we had a good eye on Mark, who mans the grill!  If there is one thing I can say about Mark, he is cool, calm, and collective, and he knows how to man the grill.  This guy has got some skill, and I would love to have just a fraction of the knowledge that he does.  While I think I do OK on the grill in the backyard, my skills do not compare to this mans!

I pulled out our glasses and popped and poured yet another wonderful 2006 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast, and this one may have been the best one yet.

For appetizers tonight, we started with the crab cake appetizer, just to see how they were.  The funniest thing about this was that we heard Chef Mark say to our waiter, "I need a crab cake on table 1."  This guy really knows what is going on, and I find that tough considering he is separated from the main kitchen.  This guy is on the ball, and really knows his stuff!

But back to the topic at hand, anyone who knows me knows my love for crab cakes, and how I make mine with as little filler as possible, and jumbo lump crab meat.  Well, these too were made with very little filler, and while not entirely jumbo lump, they still used good crab in here.  There was a slight crunch from some celery in here, but it was not overwhelming or offensive in the least, and if anything, added just a little texture.  If I had to complain about one thing, it would be the fact that there was too much citrus drizzled over the crab cake.  While I am not a big fan of citrus, it is more or less the fact that I want to taste the crab.  Nonetheless these were still good crab cakes, and next time I would ask for no citrus.  The citrus mustard sauce on the side was however a nice accompaniment.

For entrees tonight, Zelda went the salmon route, made fresh on the grill of course, served over a bed of beans of some sort.  This came off the grll with nce flavors, however, I think the kitchen took a little too long to plate this once Chef Mark pulled it off the grill, as it came out a bit on the cold side, and one end started to get a bit mushy.  Regardless, it was just a small corner of the fish that made it that way,and the grilled flavors were nice.

For my entree tonight you bet your bottom dollar that I was ordering a steak, and I went for the grilled Wagyu Strip, served over a bed of mashed potatoes.  Again, it is the grill that gives this restaurant the praise that it deserves, and this was cooked to a perfect medium.  While the sauce for this steak was absolutely delicious, it wasn't needed at all.  But even so, I enjoyed it!

We also enjoyed a side of pomme frites, and these are always delicious at Hamilton Grill Room!  We skipped coffee tonight, but we did however spit their grappa cake of sorts, which is almost more like a flakey biscotti.  I wish I could describe it better, but I really can't.  Even so, it was good, and served with fresh blackberries.

All in all, the tab was just under $100 pre-tip, and worth every penny in my humble opinion.  We got out of there, and walked down to the bridge, and were just in time for the Friday night fireworks to kick off!  All in all, another great meal, a delicious bottle of wine, and great fireworks!  Cheers!

Hamilton Grill Room
8 Coryell Street
Lambertville, NJ 08530-1727
(609) 397-4343

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Manila Cafe - Mount Laurel, NJ

Zelda heard about this restaurant while she was presenting to the Medford Rotary about a month ago, so she suggested we give it a whirl for lunch today.  That said, I jumped on the iPad to ensure they were open, and they were indeed today.

This was very easy to get to for us off of Route 295, and conveniently located in a strip mall.  The location is a little off the beaten path, and quite honestly, I don't think I have ever drive past here.  I can assure you however that I will be making many more trips to this area now!
Sunday Manila Cafe serves breakfast from 8AM-11AM, and then lunch from 11AM-3PM.  For breakfast, they have anything from tocino, to longanisa, to eggs, to garlic fried rice (a Filipino staple). 

Sunday lunch however consists of anything from lechon kawali (crispy fried pork), to pancit (noodles), to chicken adobo, bistek, fried milkfish, caldereta (beef), etc.  Like mos Filipino restaurants in NJ, everything is served buffet style, and pre-made.

Zelda opted for some chicken adobo with pancit, and this was delicious.  The adobo sauce seemed authentic, and the chicken was falling off the bone tender, consisting of nice peices of wings.  The panci was flavorful as well, but could have been served just a tad warmer.  Even so, it was delicious.

I ordered the lechon kawali, which is a crispy fried pork, and it too was good.  I opted for the white rice, and it made for a nice meal, and the perfect size portion.

In th bak of the store, there is your typical Filipino grocery store, and we picked up a few bottles of Filipino BBQ sauce, that I will use for "pork inihaw," also know as Filipino BBQ.  We also got a bottle of soy sauce, and two packages of dried mango.

Add a couple of soda's to our tab, and with lunc and groceries, the total came to $30 and change!  Does it get any better than that?  I don't think so!  That being said, this was a great bargain, and a heck of a good value!  I'm not sure the exact cost of the dishes we have, but our grocery bill was about $17.

All in all, this is good, authentic Filipino cuisines, and we'll definitely go back.  Note that this is more of a takeout place, however, they do have 3 tables for your dine in pleasure.  While this may not be Manila Bay in Northeast Philly (RIP), it is a welcome addition to this area, and we wish them the best of luck!  That said, check it out!  It's worth the trip!  Cheers!

Manila Cafe and Asian Mart
200 Larchmont Blvd, Suite 7
Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
Phone:  856-222-0604
http://www.manilacafenj.com/

Friday, July 8, 2011

West Side Gravy - Collingswood, NJ

It's been way to long since we've made the trip down to West Side Gravy, so why not on a rainy Friday night?  We parked out back as the streets were packed, and as we walked up, we could see that Blackbird was absolutely packed.  For those that don't know, Blackbird is Chef Alex Capasso's first restaurant, that moved to this location earlier in the year.  Now, Chef Capasso has both great restaurants under the same roof, working out of the same kitchen.  It just doesn't get any better than that!  Pretty awesome!

As we walked past West Side Gravy, I was super disappointed to only see one other table seated in the restaurant.  Maybe it was the rain ad weather, maybe it is the nasty construction in Haddonfield.  I don't know, but for the quality of fare you get here for the price, I just don't get why this restaurant isn't packed every night of the week, especially the weekends!

Our server came over and opened our wine, and we started off with some apps.  Zelda ordered the lentil soup, and not being a fan of lentils, I actually really liked te flavors and texture of this.  The flavors in the soup were great, and for once, the texture of the lentils didn't bother me in the least.

We also had the ahi tuna tacos, which we have had on many ocassions here, and these were delicious. Awesome sushi grade ahi, piled onto a mini flour tortilla, and topped with avocado, a rice noodle of sorts, and a sweet chili sauce. What can I say other than the fact that we love these. The tuna is always fresh, and the flavors are just so nice.

Zelda opted for the mac and cheese tonight, which again, is always a treat!  This is made with shell shaped pasta, and made with cheddar, gruyere, fontina cheeses, fresh herbs, and toasted breadcrumbs.  Again, this is another favorite, and some of the best mac and cheese around.  Add some fresh lobster, and this is mac and cheese at it's best!

I opted for the steak frites tonight, and this was absolutely delicious!  This is a nice, thin rib eye, cooked to a perfect medium, and packed with flavor.  The flavors from the seasoning on here were perfect, and guessing it was just a little salt and pepper.  The flavor from the grill however are what makes this dish a thing of beauty.  The grill is nicely seasoned, and busting with flavors.  The fried onions added a tasty element, and I opted for the truffle oil upgrade for the fries.  Awesome!

We ended up skipping dessert tonight as we were both stuffed, and I have to say, that for under $50, this is one of the best bargains in New Jersey.  Where else can you go and get great entrees for under $20?  From a kitchen with this much talent nonetheless?

There has been a lot of criticism as of late from friends who's restaurants we've supported as of late, but when you have bargains like this, it is hard to support restaurants where entree's are $25-$40.  If only there were more restaurants like West Side Gravy!  Keep up the good work Chef Capasso! 

2007 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

 
Picked up from offsite today, so why not after a 6 hour decant in the cellar. Poured back into the bottle, and then brought to the restaurant.  Unfortunately, I had e-mailed my storage facility telling them I wanted the 2007 "Red Wine," and they instead pulled the cabernet sauvignon.   I didn't realize which wine this was until I got to West Side Gravy, and unfortunately for me, this was a $125 mistake, as I never would have popped one of these this early.

Dark purple color in the glass, with a nose dominated by oak and alcohol.  Some nice dark black fruits, but nothing really stands out.  Some sweet vanilla and herb round out the nose.

More dark fruits on the palate, with some plum, blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry.  Definitely a lot of heat on this wine still as it is so young, but there is definitely some qulity fruit n here.  Lots of creamy oak on the palate as well, so ge your tweezers ready to pull out the splinters.  Lots of heat on the finish, HUGE tannins, and the finish does linger for a good 30 plus seconds. 

I'll hold our remaining bottles, but can be drunk with a 6 hour decant IMHO, but no where near it's potential. I'd wait, and never would have popped this open now had I known it was the cab and not the red. Total waste of a wine that will be awesome in 10 plus years. Thank you moron at offsite for pulling the wrong bottles.  Cough this p as a $125 lesson learned.  Popped a baby here, that is dinking nowhere near it's potential.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vienna Beef - Genuine Chicago Style Hot Dogs!

Well, a trip home over the 4th of July wouldn't be a trip home without having some true Chicago style hot dogs. When you hear the term Chicago style, you know that I could only be talking about Vienna Beef!


So as I wait in the terminal for my flight to Philadelphia, you bet your bottom dollar I am going to have my last Chicago style hoorah. Even though it's at the airport, they were are still good, and they are still the real deal:


Start out with the genuine Vienna Beef dog, and put it on a poppyseed bun! Add some yellow mustard, chopped onion, neon green relish tomato wedges, a pickle spear, and sport peppers, then hit it with a little celery salt! That my friends is greatness, and if you even mention the word ketchup when referring to a Chicago style dog, you are likely to get your Chicago passport revoked!


Add a bottle of Coke and a bag of Jays, and you have the best lunch ever! Even warranted at the O'Hare price of just under $13. But the bottom line is the fact that I would probably pay 3 times that if I had to. This is what Chicago is about baby! Can't wait to get back home again next year! Cheers!