FORAGING IN THE WOODLOCH FOREST

My parents introduced Woodloch Pines to me in the late 70s, and Woodloch and I have been having our summer fling ever since (with a winter rendezvous thrown in), except now with friends joining along. We are both not the same as we were in the 70s. We have each grown and improved. To begin with my metamorphosis, Woodloch was never able to lure me with food because eating, to me, was obviously a Medieval form of torture as a child. The dish that came closest to piquing my interest was Woodloch’s famous Scandinavian pancakes, which I recall to be deceivingly consumable in a few bites. That’s about how long it took for my stomach to lose interest, not realizing unrolled, this griddled batter would be larger than my head.

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Friendly servers

These days, as June/July nears, like Pavlov’s dog, it triggers visions of those pancakes, but I have not experienced a Woodloch breakfast in many years. So the moment I arrive for lunch, I live out my Hawley, PA morning reminiscence by ordering a crumb cake to take home and savor for days to follow (okay, maybe it lasts a day). In case you haven’t noticed the transformation, food is now the generator of jovial taste buds, which yield a glowing smile. And here, many happy bellies strut through the main dining room after being treated like a king with all the offerings.  In this dining room, the focus is on family-style, country-comfort cuisine; however, there are nine dining facilities that range from grab-and-go bites at the Lakeside Grille to the epicurean-inspired “farm to fork” at The Lodge at Woodloch. Corporate Executive Chef Stevan Sundberg has expanded the offerings to elevate the dining experience.

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Chef Sundberg

The menu items not only have increased in number to satisfy today’s diverse food lifestyles – with multiple vegetarian options – but also in class. Chef Sundberg needs to dispel any stereotypes of a “Dirty Dancing”-type resort with campy food. Today for lunch, we ordered the Tomato/Basil Soup, Slow Cooked Beef Brisket Sandwich, Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and a Charbroiled Cheeseburger for the young one’s unadventurous palate. A refreshing Cucumber, Tomato, Chick Pea and Red Onion Salad was already on the table.

I was always impressed, although there are only a handful of entrée offerings, how the servers never write down the orders. What’s more impressive is how Chef Sundberg is able to churn out the potential of 600 dishes in a relatively small timeframe (seating 12:30-1) and maintain the consistency of perfectly cooked food…and it always is. The choices these days lean towards healthier combinations, but nobody can resist dipping their hands in the basket of boardwalk fries. And if you’ve gone that far, you might as well pour on the cheese sauce!

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Fries and Cheese Sauce

But wait, there is dessert with lunch, and it doesn’t matter if you’re going swimming or waterskiing immediately afterwards. You’re in PA, but ask for the Mississippi Mud Pie, even if it’s not on the menu. They’re hiding some back there…always. Otherwise, I am a connoisseur of maple walnut ice cream. It doesn’t show up in supermarkets, ever, so I must have a dish with chocolate sprinkles when here. A more recent dessert is the warm Chocolate Chunk Skillet Cookie a la mode. It partners nicely with that already existing scoop that was ordered. A little gluttony in the middle of the Poconos is forgivable.

I experience a guilty pleasure at this point. More than satisfied, my logical German mind begins to map out dinner options so as not to be repetitive: beef for lunch equals no Prime Rib for dinner. While I’m intensely paddling a kayak, a standout upgrade to the food is evident to me – the dish presentation, focusing now on color, texture, garnishes. I P1010553certainly don’t recall microgreens topping any fish of years past.  Even the sides have been modernized. Today’s broccoli with roasted garlic, EVOO and asiago used to be steamed broccoli with the reliable cheese sauce.

 

It’s around 4 p.m. when my high metabolism begins to drive me to ingest something, anything. All that biking, climbing, swimming on a warm day begs for an iced coffee and a small, on-premises-baked item. It’s the first summer Gigi’s Coffee House is open for guests to enjoy a

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Gigi’s Cafe

locally roasted cup of java (the difference in taste quality from the dining room pot of coffee is more than apparent for coffee lovers). Premium foodP1010534 deserves…no, demands premium coffee. It can be accompanied by a blueberry scone or bran muffin with honey butter or, in my case, a peanut butter cookie. They’re all tasty tie-overs to the grand supper.

Hints of dinner linger in the air as I suspect preparation happens around that 5 o’clock hour. If you are prematurely hungry, stay away from the front lawn. Delectable smells of roasted meat and baked fish will leave you in a food coma, robotically playing the ring-toss until that traditional dinner bell resonates through your olfactory system granting permission to begin replacing calories.

My self-imposed dress code on a Saturday night is comparable to going out to dinner in New York City with friends. I couldn’t help but peek at the dinner menu lunch time to mentally prepare myself for the tasting journey ahead. Before our hospitable server could get the word “shrimp” out, I blurted out, “Yes, please” for the shrimp and corn

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Shrimp & Corn Chowder

chowder. It provides the proper taste bud awakening with a mild kick of spice; perhaps some red pepper. The other opening choice this particular evening was the Burrata with Pea Tendrils, Blistered Tomato and Crispy Prosciutto. Never say no to burrata; it’s fresh mozzarella resting on a creamy cloud. And in case you really can’t wait a few minutes, a healthy-looking family-style bowl of Greek salad greets you at the table. Shortly thereafter, a basket with two different breads is laid upon

the table also: olive and banana walnut, the latter being another fundamental in my Woodloch food memories.

The servers push their carts of food at a swift pace, stacked with covered dishes of food selections. The guests cross their fingers hoping the next sound of wheels in this food-cart derby will be arriving at their table. And here comes the Slow Roasted Prime Rib of Beef, the cover lifted to display itself in all its simple elegance with just a sprig of

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Prime Rib

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Potato Lyonaisse

rosemary. A helping of the Roasted Potato Lyonnaise worked well as the required starch side dish. Then came the dressings: a boat of au jus and some creamy horseradish sauce. Next to be revealed is the Lemon-baked Halibut with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fried Capers and Basil Oil. The thick cut of fish is flaky and moist, and the sweetness of the tomatoes is balanced by a baked, thin slice of lemon atop the steak. The Lime-grilled Chicken with Zucchini Noodles, Falafel Cakes, Roasted Tomato and Cucumber

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Halibut

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Lime Grilled Chicken

Yogurt followed. The Mediterranean flair of the ingredients and the color palette made this a fun dish to want to dive into. The flavors complemented each other.

I was remiss in not ordering Woodloch’s Traditional Jumbo Butterfly Shrimp this time, but it was in the past few weeks that I had the delight of dipping those succulent, crispy-coated crustaceans into both tartar and cocktail sauce. Fried to golden perfection, there is no unhealthy evidence left upon your fingers. However, any diet should be cast aside to delve into the featured dessert, which tonight was House- prepared S’mores with graham cracker crust, chocolate ganache, topped with roasted marshmallow. The portion is not overindulgent, so there is room for another scoop of maple walnut ice cream! And

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S’mores

to work it all off, we strolled down to the night club to dance to the sounds of The Company, which had a remarkable guest singer, DaVido, before the theme show.

Whatever your gastronomic preferences or requirements are, Woodloch Pines is able to not only satisfy them, but exceed your appetite’s expectations. Your taste buds will be celebrating with you!

Fly Over to the Uncle’s

I rarely order takeout food. It’s either cook at home, heat up leftovers or dine out. Recently I discovered the need for a quick meal that might be divided into multiple meals with no preparation time. It was a forced issue, taking care of two hospitalized parents at the same time and running around with other everyday matters. Where could I save time and satiate my hunger without sacrificing my taste buds or my cholesterol level, which remains ideal? I could have thrown together a salad, but my belly needed a little warming and there was no time to drive back home.

It was only a few weeks ago I was reminded of Uncle Paulie’s Peruvian Chicken in Maywood, NJ. I was at my office when a delivery guy walked in with a food order for Evelyn. It certainly wasn’t for me. It so happened that there was another Evelyn down the hall. When I ran into the delivery guy on the way out, I asked, “By the way, where is that food from? It smells really good.” He answered enthusiastically, “Uncle Paulie’s in Maywood. You should try it.” Well I had tried it before and was now gustatorily charmed to try it again.

A whole rotisserie chicken marinated in their ‘special ‘ Peruvian sauce can be taken home for only $10. If that’s not what you walked in for, you will be tempted to get one as you become hypnotized by the rows of seasoned whole chickens rotating behind the front counter where you pay. The chicken is served quartered, making it easy to divide it into meals or deliver half to someone else. There are many other Peruvian-style items, but if chicken is in the brand name, make chicken your first order here. While chicken is never a leading star, the seasoning combined with the moisture of the meat makes it a winner.

According to the web site, Owner Paul Padro had fallen in love with the Peruvian cuisine of his wife’s native country. There was an absence of Peruvian food in Bergen County. He found he had to travel to further towns like Passaic and Paterson. His establishment has been open in Maywood since 2009. Fly over there when you’re in a rush to bring something home to the family or if you don’t mind sitting in a pizzeria-type dining area for a homey (a Peruvian home) meal.

In a Sicilian Kitchen

I admit it – for the most part, I don’t like when a friend recommends a restaurant.  That’s a facet of my entertainment life I’d like to hand pick. Maybe it’s because I love to explore and research and dive into the “About Us” of the restaurant before dining there. I want to go in feeling confident that the food is going to be good and I will thoroughly enjoy it. Everyone has different tastes and preferences; some are food discerning and some are quantity satisfied.

So when my friend Eddie suggested a New York City restaurant to me for casual Italian food, I almost ignored his recommendation. First understand Eddie. He loves to eat and does it as often as I do, but he finds a favorite dish at a restaurant and orders it every time. He literally licks the plate clean. He appreciates food like I do but within his own confines. I see the pleasure run from his mouth, through his body and settle warmly in his belly. I understand it. We used to enjoy Bocconi in Hackensack, NJ and have been hit and miss finding similar home-cooked-feel restaurants with quality food and family-like hospitality. It wasn’t until Eddie said, “They serve your food in the pan it’s cooked in, and there are only about 10 tables,” that I knew this had potential.

I made a lunch reservation (I wasn’t ready to fully commit to dinner) at Piccola Cucina on Spring Street, NYC. Mind you, it’s not Italian; it’s Sicilian food. The servers all have an accent; although one has a South African accent – it all sounds good. Okay ladies, they do hire for eye candy appetizers it seems.

Without a reservation, I’m not sure how you get in or where you stand. It’s small, and I’ve come to find out they have a larger location with a different type of menu around the corner on Prince Street. But with small comes personal. From the moment the servers and bussers approached our table, I felt like we were friends in another country. A birthday celebration was happening and all the lights were turned out as dessert was brought to the birthday child (not in an Applebee’s manner); everyone was singing and the kitchen staff rhythmically was hitting the pots and pans with utensils. It was a momentary party at someone’s house. Aside from the welcoming staff, let’s get down to the food.

Lunch and dinner are listed as separate menus on the web site, but I can’t see 20170513_173841the difference. Highly recommended by me now, and at the original suggestion of server Misha, the Eggplant Parmigiana Rivisitata is a fun and delicious “revistation” of the traditional dish. Served with grilled toasts and mixed green salad, the glass jar is layered with a pureed eggplant/basil mixture, topped with a creamy tomato sauce and finished off with a fluffy ricotta. We were instructed to reach from the bottom with the small spoon and scoop up, then spread it on toast. Delicioso! Close your eyes, and it’s a lighter, deconstructed version of eggplant parm coming back together in your mouth.

Another appetizer worth trying is the Polpette della Nonna con Caponata Siciliana  -Homemade grilled MeatbIMG_3990alls. But the apogee of appetizers was the special Grilled Octopus delivered on a cloud of burata cheese with olives and cherry tomatos. It was tender and smokey, and it turned a non-octopus-eating friend into a fan. The visual alone drew her in.

 

For the main course pasta dishes, these were all easy home run hitters:

  • Tagliatelle verdi con ragu’ di cinghiale aromatizzato alle erbe di campagna e scaglie20170319_142111 di tartufo  – Green Tagliatelle in a wild boar ragu’ with fresh herb aroma topped with black truffle shavings
  • Ravioli agli spinaci e ricotta con ragu’ di salsiccia – Spinach and ricotta ravioli with sausage sauceIMG_3931
  • Linguine all’astice 25 Lobster linguine served with half grilled lobster and tomato sauceIMG_3930

The only Second Course entree that made it in front of me was:

  • Composizione di crostacei al vapore  – Steamed Shellfish with vegetables

My only gripe might be that the same basic sauce is seen among several dishes. That might get boring after the love affair loses its luster.

The Prince Street location right around the corner is a bit roomier (larger) and focuses more on the fresh seafood displayed in a case but has similar dishes just IMG_3986as wonderful. While the servers tend to run back and forth between the two, sometimes to grab a cup of cappuccino or espresso from Prince St. for the customers at Spring St., my allegiance is now to Spring St. and my friendly waiters.

Their coffee rocks, but I admit I walk the .4 mile to Pasticceria Rocco‘s for dessert and a visit with my other fairly new hard-working Italian ‘friends’.

Hush Hush I Smell It Calling My Name

Aumm Aumm means “Hush Hush” in the Neapolitan dialect. Well, I’m letting this secret out. I never find myself in North Bergen, but I’ll be visiting frequently now. A friend who works at the elite Le Bernardin – need I say more – had been posting photos of dishes from Aumm Aumm quite often in the last six months. I trust the culinary opinion of someone who is employed at a number one New York restaurant. So back in December, with no reservations accepted, a group of us tried this self-proclaimed “wine bar and pizzeria”…which neither descriptive piques my gustatory sense.

It’s name it was: Aumm Aumm the surprise. I dislike the name; I dislike the tagline. Neither of them provide the golden key to this restaurant – fresh food! Because we waited 20 minutes, our hunger was building. It was best to order a cold throw-together dish to share. The Tagliere is a chef’s selection of 20161216_201942imported cheeses, imported coldcuts, olives, nuts and fresh fruit. It’s the perfect traditional way to begin.

Another cold dish followed: the Insalata Aumm Aumm. A signature dish should be the popular one, and it was among us, as far as a salad can be. Baby arugula, endive, raddichio, artichokes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cacciocavallo cheese was all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.20161216_201312

I’m not one to dine out and order pizza, but with a bunch of people sharing food, one is tempted to try it, since it’s claimed in the name and you sit facing the opening of the large brick oven stove. Choices 20161216_200701are red or white pizzas, round or the larger oblong. We went with a round, red one – the Cappriciosa. It was topped with tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, Gaeta olives, artichokes and mozzarella. The flavors popped, but as is often with brick oven pizzas, the dough has that lovely charcoal crisp on the outside, but is soft and chewy on the top side. I am a crispy bread freak too, so I was a bit disappointed to get strips of pizza dough in our bread basket for starters.

They carry 150 types of wines. Several primi pasta dishes were ordered, and all were cooked al dente. On the first visit, we tried the Sciallatielli allo Scoglio with fresh pasta, baby clams, shrimp, octopus, PEI mussels, calamari and cherry tomatoes. The second time we went with their new frequent patron, my friend, and the same dish was twice as large and came out inside a pizza dough crust to absorb all the seafood flavors.IMG_3902

Seared pork chops, fish of the day, grilled octopus, among other second courses are worth exploring. Now that Aumm Aumm is no longer on the down low, they may need to change the name…please.

 

What’s in a Restaurant Name?

Merriam has been telling people who speak the English language that the noun “tavern” is ‘an establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold to be drunk on the premises’. By that definition, I always picture a bunch of locals enjoying libations together and perhaps snacking on some simple food items that can quickly be grilled or fried, all in the most casual of atmospheres.

Either Tavern 5 in Pompton Plains, NJ, picked the wrong name for its restaurant, or Merriam needs to get with the times. It’s not exactly around the corner from me, so I
might not have even given the menu a look if it were not for my familiarity with the food styling of Executive Chef Anthony LoPinto, whose food I tasted long ago in a cooking class.

It was a Friday night, a packed house, and it’s a reservation-free zone. My preconceived notions were quickly put aside as I took in the wood and brick textures, which felt like a modernized farmhouse. The large bar area with high-top tables was full of friendly chatter, chewing and sipping beneath the copper-tiled ceiling. The dining area consists of two rooms, one with bench seating against the wall and booths. The back room leads to an outdoor dining area, but it was winter, so we only saw the potential of the garden.

I knew we were in store for a little more than typical pizza and burgers when I gimg_3739rabbed hold of the leather (-like?) menu cover with a logo-stamped copper piece inlay. Sure, the recognizable pub-food words popped off the page: meatballs, wings, tacos, and one’s eyes start to sarcastically roll until the eyes catch a glimpse of the heightened descriptions that change these routine food items into something desirable to order:

SPINACH & MEATBALL – rich meat broth, veal meatballs, spinach, egg

WINGS – Jim Beam maple glazed chicken wings, fresh chives

TACOS – Steak tacos, avocado, queso blanco, champagne img_3742vinegar slaw, chipotle aioli, tortilla chips

All the elaborations were so flavor-enticing, the four of us each ordered something different so we could share in the exploration. For the first round, we tried the Crab Cimg_3743akes with noticeable jumbo lump crab, citrus aioli, baby greens. There was a special stone-fired Clam Pizzimg_3741a with clams out of shell, arugula and garlic. The dough had an intentional chewiness and was laden with too much garlic for this vampire. Garlic lovers would devour it though. The Arrancini was not the baseball-sized fried rice balls; they were five bitable munchkin-sized balls with bacon, cheddar, sweet corn, on a sufficient smear of chimichurri sauce. The New England Clam Chowder was nicely flavored with the typical potato, bacon, cream and clams, with the addition of carrots. The chowder was not predominantly potato, as some can be.img_3748

The main courses were near faultless. The generous six seared scallops were plump with a little breadcrumb crunch, nestled in butternut squash risotto, surrounded by a moat of greeimg_3746n apple broth. The Linguini Bolognese consisted of three different meats that are braised separately, so each is cooked perfectly: veal, short rib, pork. The pasta was fancifully presented, almost stacked like a pyramid. The Chicken Tacos may sound boring, but they three soft tacimg_3747os sit in a holder, filled with blackened chicken, pico de gallo, slaw, avocado and cilantro crème. They order different components with the steak and fish tacos.

The prize dish of the evening, though was the Braised Short Ribs, braised with red wine and coffee. The meat was cooked to tender, but herein laid the near faultless: there was a slight heavy hand on the salt, which we all agreed upon. Otherwise, delicioso. (I’m not sure why reminiscing on those ribs just turned me Italian.)

 

I was full enough at the point, but I needed to try the coffee they boasted about on img_3750Facebook, directly from Toca roasters up the road. And of course,
this had to be accompanied by ice cream from a small batch shop in the Hudson Valley.

It may be difficult not to judge an eating establishment by its name, but unfortunately, in this fast-paced world, we dismiss quickly on the glance of a label. Don’t dismiss Tavern 5; if you put your glasses on, the logo on the web site has a tagline of “Neighborhood Restaurant”.

 

 

 

It’s not so offal when you add fruits and vegetables

In summer of 2015, I noticed a “farmer’s market” open up in Bergenfield where a large clothing store had been. I put the term in quotes because there seems to be a trend of these predominantly fruit-and-vegetable stores opening up in Bergen County.  To me, they are mini supermarkets focusing on produce. I envision a farmer’s market to be outdoors, such as the ones that pop up temporarily in the summer in Dumont, Fort Lee, Englewood, Paramus, Teaneck, Ramsey and many more.

I paid a visit quickly for fear it would disappear again. In addition to rows of fruits and vegetables, this new market has a deli counter and a butcher. From a distance, the meat looked fresh and appealing. As I came closer to the case, the appealing part turned to intriguing and a bit squeamish. But that’s just me because I’m not an offal person. Feel free to deduct points off of my foodie score card. I’m okay with it. Maybe I just can’t comprehend what a human would do with a cow’s tongue. It seems illegal. It feels dirty, but I don’t want to insult any cultures that revere it to be a delicacy. It must be tasty. I may have even had it once, sliced, at a Korean bbq restaurant in Palisades Park. I’m not telling. And in the case alongside the tongue are the other parts of the cow, neatly separated – the large heart, the feet, the intestines. This is an unusual place. Yes, you can get some of this at your local ShopRite, especially in Hispanic-populated neighborhoods, where I’m guessing a lot of nicely flavored broths are made with these components. I chose to move along to the fruits.

I was drawn to the inexpensive price of the avocados – Hass only 99 cents each. A package of red striated beans sat there, leaving me in wonder again.  This is the store you go to when you have that recipe with some nontraditional ingredients such as these beans, sour oranges,

prickly pears, dragon fruit and some unidentifiable tubers. Even the Red Delicious apples looked different..like they were on steroids for 79 cents/lb. It’s fresh food for the adventurous; it’s a delight for many Europeans, Asians and Africans wanting to cook dishes from “home”. Let’s see if offals become a new food craze in America as sushi did. Maybe we’re missing out.  I’m not ready to sing: “Something tells me I’m into something good.” Please explore the market for yourself though. If nothing else, you might find a less-expensive-than-anywhere can of wonderful Lavazza coffee or ….wait for

it….ten different flavors of SPAM! I choose to remain a SPAM virgin but will grab some Lavazza or Fair Trade Melitta coffee and a sampling of fruits and veggies.

Middle Class Menu; Upper Class Value

My husband and I learned of a restaurant in the late 90s on Hamburg Turnpike in Riverdale, called Rosemary & Sage. It was small and blended on a made road between houses. We drove past it, trying to find it the first time: pre-GPS. The interior was simplistic – solid colored walls with a few splashes of color in paintings. The establishment is owned by husband and wife CIA graduates Brooks Nicklas and Wendy Farber. Wendy’s brother Bruce served most of the tables while Wendy conducted the entire front of the house. It’s a family affair with a loyal customer base.

One of the draws was the constantly changing menu. Customers didn’t want to miss out on one of Brooks’ new creations. Some recent examples included: fish du jour – sautéed medallion served with seafood beggar’s purse, tarragon sauce, broccoli and roasted potatoes (28) and blackened pork chop with mango salsa, bbq Israeli cous cous and butternut squash (27). So even though it was about a 25-minute drive, we would treat ourselves; however, like for many other people, the cost became prohibitive for us. Still, I was extremely disappointed to learn that after 23 years, Rosemary & Sage’s story was ending. I would have liked to eaten there again.

In the same sentence; however, I was ecstatic to read that Brooks and Wendy were just changing the formula. Serving the 1% was no longer their target. They decided to appeal to a larger customer base…the middle-class. What more could I ask for? I knew the quality of the food would be as high as it was before. The menu items would just be restructured to allow them to reduce their prices.

I immediately made a reservation. The only seating expansion was the addition of an actual bar with high-top tables, and they now have outdoor seating, albeit on a busy Hamburg Turnpike. Wendy’s friendly face was still roaming table to table. Although she hardly remembered me (it had been over five years), I fondly remembered the basket brought to the table were her mini muffins, pepper jelly and butter. It’s always a surprise as to what type of muffins. This time they were poppy seed and carrot. Every time they are good.

Between two visits, the following dishes were sampled, and all ranged from $20.95 to $22.95. The portion size was not reduced and all the dishes were composed with CIA quality. Just listen:

Shrimp Pineapple and Cashews with Thai curry coconut sauce

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Tilapia in Phyllo, crab and pecans stuffing with spring onion vinaigrette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They now also offer fancy pub fare such as pulled pork on a brioche roll. This will certainly expand their customer reach, making if more tempting for those who think Phyllo is a musical instrument. And for those who still think it’s too highfalutin, they added a takeout menu as well.

The desserts are still made in-house too. My one disappointment in the change is the name. I loved the sound of Rosemary & Sage. It sounded classy and culinary. It has been changed to Brookside Bistro, which I think understates the type of food here. I believe in brand recognition and would like everyone to recognize it’s the same ownership, the same high standards.

IMG_3222IMG_3223All you New Jerseyans who appreciate four-star quality but have two-star pockets, this place is made for you.