Posts Tagged ‘Hackensack’

No More Soul (food) Searching

Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern US. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations such as Charleston, Atlanta I call it “down home” cooking and think immediately of one of my favorite places packed with memories: New Orleans. While NOLA has its own brand of Southern food – Cajun – it’s all about soul too. My vision is an African-American family cooking together.

This is not a particularly health-mindful cuisine as many of the original cooks could not afford shortening to fry. They would use and re-use the cheaper lard. In order to be more appealing to a more food-educated society, some tradition is overlooked to save a few arteries, but ethnic preservationists argue that taste and tradition are sacrificed with the use of vegetable oil and the substitution of pork.

But what about the sweet potato? It saves the day with its beta carotene, and collard


Candied Yams

greens are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, helping to mask the other high levels of starch, fat and cholesterol. That’s why I highly recommend those two items as sides at Paula’s Soul Food Cafe in Hackensack, NJ. It’s easy to drive right by and not notice it among the two continuous rows of retail storefronts that comprise Main Street. But the word “Soul” got my attention.

I had just eaten lunch but needed to check it out for future reference. The cafeteria-style display of foods allowed me to get an overview and see its potential. Okay, I had to try something small, so I left with a side of candied yams.  That was enough to make me want to return for lunch the next Saturday.

I left there feeling a sense of culture, of family working together, even though we are in the North and the owners are Hackensack natives, which is not a town in Georgia. The Baileys opened their first location in the Bronx, and after two years, embarked on a hometown location. I saw a middle-aged gentleman dressed in a suit on the patron side of the counter, pointing at the younger man hustling behind the counter with other family members, proudly exclaiming to another: “That’s my son!” No sooner did he take off his jacket, roll up his collared shirt sleeves and jump behind the counter to assist.

After you peruse some of the items they have to offer – don’t miss out on the seafood offerings that may not be visible – you place your order and pre-pay. The food gets dished with generous portions on a plate and complemented with a piece of their cornbread (I missed the texture of some whole kernels in this version).



Your name is called for pickup.

Generally, I am turned off by deep-fried foods because I imagine the unhealthy effects taking place the moment it is being ingested. There’s something about fried okra, though, 20171119_134046that transports me geographically and emotionally. It reminds me of gumbo (which can only be eaten in New Orleans in my opinion) and of my husband, who so often spoke about not being able to get good fried okra in this part of the country, and I agreed. So he made pickled jars of okra at home. Prepared any other way, it tends to have a slimy texture, but fried adds the exterior crisp needed to enjoy this vegetable. The South has a love affair that the rest of the country doesn’t understand. They fry, pickle, grill and add the green pod to stews. It contains potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, folic acid, and calcium. It’s low in calories and has a high dietary fiber content. And Paula’s does it right, so go for it!


Beef Short Ribs

A true testimony to the quality of food here: My tennis partner and I recently celebrated a winning match. He’s Jamaican, and I dared to suggest having a soul food lunch. As he viewed his options, he discounted the oxtail and told the woman, “I’m from Jamaica; I’ll try something else.” Our other friend got an order and offered a taste. Our MVP exclaimed, “Mmm, goodbye Jamaica!” There’s also chicken galore: baked, barbecued, fried, smothered; but the large turkey wings wound up being the dark horse.20171119_133817


Sampling Away


Hot for Ice Cream

I’ve written before about my favorite local ice cream shop: Bischoff’s in Teaneck, NJ. It’s been a summer (and other season) staple for more than 80 years. I bypass the supermarket when I crave some all-natural maple walnut ice cream. After all, it’s difficult to get ANY maple walnut ice cream pre-packaged. Tell me oh all-natural Breyer’s – what is so challenging with a little maple syrup and some chopped walnuts? You do my right by your white-colored Mint Chocolate Chip….or as it sounds more natural to me: Chocolate Chip Mint.

I don’t want green or blue or pink-colored ice cream! I don’t want that poisonous-looking food coloring. For some reason, it’s been three years since Ice Cream by Mike has been churning its homemade ingredients into delectable cold desserts on Main Street in Hackensack, and I am just learning of it now! I must attribute it to poor marketing. I could not be so out of the loop when it comes to a glacier, as Mike’s card is titled, being only about two miles away from me. I would’ve smelled it. I should’ve heard it. I could’ve been eating it all this time!!

Tonight, closing time was 10 p.m., and I made it in the door at 9:52. I got a visual sneak preview on the Facebook page of Mike making his own caramel, of caramelized vanilla beans, of his own hot fudge. It doesn’t get more from scratch than this. He has about eight flavors at any given time, and they change daily.

My friend ordered a cone of the Valrhona Chocolate. Mike knew it was great; why? Because, “I use the best chocolate.” Valrhona is a French premium chocolate manufacturer based in the small town of Tain-l’Hermitage in Hermitage, a wine-growing district near Lyon. They claim to produce the world’s finest gourmet chocolates. Me being half Swiss, I might ask them to prove themselves.

I looked at the board and looked in the freezer case. I wasn’t matching the name on the board with any of the tubs I was seeing. But my poor Baskin-Robbins brainwashed eyes didn’t recognize it, even thought I don’t eat that ice cream. It’s the way we see it growing up; it’s the way we see it in every horribly processed carton of store bought ice cream. Do you know what this is?


I’ll give you a moment. Coffee? Caramel? No! It’s pistachio with whole pistachio nuts that taste like they were just popped out of the shell. And the ice cream tastes like…oh, real pistachio. Imagine that. Well you can do more than imagine. You can go taste it yourself.

Mike gets creative with flavor combinations. He mentioned he would be making a batch of peanut butter honey tomorrow. Maybe this was his subtle way of getting some quick repeat business.

For sit-down atmosphere, I may still opt for my guaranteed availability of maple walnut at Bischoff’s. If I’m open to any other flavor and need a quick fix, I’m heading to Hackensack. Mike’s place has a few iron tables and seats on the sidewalk, but they’re facing a construction site on the other side of Main. I will give him major points, though, for the music being piped outdoors – some Nat King Cole, Bennie Goodman, Louis Armstrong.







Don’t Leave the East Coast if You Love Italian Food

You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone (enter the 80s Cinderella song in the background). This adage has recently come to light regarding New Jersey’s and the Metro Area’s quality of food and abundance of, particularly, what we call Italian food.


In the past couple of months, we have had friends visit from out of state – Texas, Oklahoma, California, Florida. Some were first-timers; some were original New Jerseyans who were wooed across the border for one reason or another. For the friends who left this state to avoid wearing gloves and scarves, they blissfully sat with us at Bocconi in Hackensack awaiting their simple dishes of linguini and red clam sauce and zuppa di pesce. The smiles overtook the room. While I thought it was partially our company, the confession came: “You can’t get good red sauce in California! Boy, do I miss this.” Who knew the combination of Jersey tomatoes and Italian-American cooks had such an impact on a New Jersey native’s taste buds?


OTTO 005In another instance, we ventured to New York City for a last minute invite on Fourth of July to meet with friends visiting from Oklahoma. We suggested Lupa. I offered to order the prosciutto for everyone to share. The woman with us asked, “What is prosciutto?” I nearly giggled, but politely assumed that she just never tried it growing up. Her husband, who has been to the East Coast, said, “You don’t understand. We can’t get prosciutto in Oklahoma or Texas.” Not that I eat it often, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of not having the ability to have it when the craving came on. He admitted mostly everything was barbecued foods. Oh those sadly deprived people. They quickly understood what they had (in NJ) and that it would be gone as soon as they left.


Blind Pig Logo 006Our plans for the Floridian, original Jerseyan, involved a walk through Harriman State Park, just over the North Jersey border, after we were barraged with complaints of the lack of properly cooked pizza in the sunshine state. The plan was to rescue his long-lost memory of crispy, thin-crust Jersey pizza by stopping for an early dinner at the ever-popular Kinchley’s in Ramsey.

A phone conversation with a business associate in Southern California ended with a joke’s punch line being Italian ices. There was silence. He said, “I don’t get it. What is that?” I explained, and the response was: “Oh, we have Hawaiian shaved ice.” I proudly said in disgust, “That’s not the same. Our ice is smooth and blended; yours is hard and crystallized with dye poured on top. Who wants to see that process?”


228409_1023274422337_2524_nOn any given night if I want to go out for Italian food in Northern NJ, I can easily head to Good Fellas in Garfield, Luka’s in Bogota, Sergio’s Missione in Lodi, and of course, Bocconi in Hackensack. You may have 75-degree sunny weather you transplants, but just remember what it was like to be able to get a fresh Italian meal or a slice of non-grease-dripping pizza within a mile of your house any day you desire! And there’s further proof – when we were in Venice, Italy, we had lunch in a restaurant off the beaten path, and Sammy Hagar and his family were the only others eating there. After a brief conversation, Sammy said to us, “You guys have better Italian food in New Jersey than this place. It rocks!”


Back to Bocconi again and again*

It’s a typical Friday evening, heading home from work. I make the anticipatory and, at the same time, dreaded phone call: “Where do you want to have dinner?” There’s always an attempt to suggest restaurants to which we haven’t been locally, but at the end of the work week, comfort always seems to win. While many aspects of my life are regimented, I like my food and travel to be multifarious. So when the answer from either one of us is ultimately, “Let’s just go to Bocconi,” there’s an air of ambivalence.

We try to fight that response, but deep down, both of us know that our mouths and stomachs will end up

Pear Salad with endive, radicchio and a balsamic reduction

Pear Salad with endive, radicchio and a balsamic reduction

much more than satisfied and our pockets won’t be heavily emptied, which weighs greatly in the dining decision for many people. In order to reject the repetition in some fashion, I insist on ordering something different each time. Could it be some sort of nefarious attempt to sabotage my will to return so quickly? Am I hoping that the next dish just might not be that good or that Chef Mario will have an “off” night? Maybe it’s more because there are numerous specials that consistently have been winners, and I have yet to try them all.


Veal Milanese

Perusing the menu, I’m perplexed that I had always overlooked the veal milanese, topped with an arugala and cherry tomato salad. The fear of non-tender veal must have always blinded the item from me. I can’t believe what I was missing, especially after my eyebrow raised and furrowed when told that the breading is made from chopped pretzel. I resolved it might be unusual, unconventional, and not as pleasing as my preconceived image of a wiener schnitzel breading. I sat corrected and embarrassed for pre-judging and not having confidence in such a consistent chef. After all, I thought, this isn’t Bouley or Le Bernardin where alteration from tradition is demanded. Tender was the veal!

I admit, we have betrayed Owner/Host Frank on many Friday nights, but most times, when we solicit such an inexpensive harlot that Yelp reviewers speak so highly of, we’re the ones who leave feeling cheated – our desirous tastebuds left unfulfilled. The adage goes “you get what you pay for”, but that’s why we love Bocconi. It breaks the expression because you get more than what you pay for in quality, quantity and a wealth of hospitality. Shhh, don’t tell them.

Save room for the bananas flambé. The tableside prep fascinates the young and not-so-young alike.


* My addendum to previous post More Than a Bite at Bocconi.