Archive for June, 2009

Cake Boss Is Fun And Filling

June 30, 2009

Cake Boss
10 p.m. Mondays, TLC
Cake Boss Website

I know there are a lot of you out there in withdrawal now that “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” has wrapped up, so if you are Jonesing for a Jersey fix we thought we would draw your attention to TLC’s Cake Boss.

The realty show follows the adventures of the “crew” at Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken. JerseyCool has caught the past two episodes and, though we are sure the Italian Anti-Defamation League is probably not a fan, we found the show to be a creamy treat.

Buddy Valastro is the "Boss" in Cake Boss

Buddy Valastro is the "Boss" in Cake Boss

Cake Boss is centered on Buddy, the son of the original owner and “Cake Boss” of the shop. Most episodes feature two or three of the more elaborate requests that come into the bakery. There are plenty of wedding cakes for sure, but there’s also a graveyard zombie cake, a roulette table and,most recently, an elaborate, old-style Italian wedding cake build around a cage with live doves.

There are also customers. Some easier to deal with than others.
The crew at Carlo’s is mostly made up of family-members and long-time bakers, some who worked for buddy’s father, now deceased. Buddy’ mother is also a flamboyant character, in one recent episode taking her son to task for making “one of those cakes”, otherwise known as an erotic, bachelorette party cake.

Cake Boss has been carefully baked by TLC. Featured after the network’s “Jon and Kate Plus 8” it was destined to succeed. However, it remains to be seen if it can carry the night now that “J&K+8” is officially on hiatus.

TLC has built a nice promotional site for the show. There is the obligatory blog, or flog from Buddy depending on how you look at it, and there is also a sketch book featuring the cakes seen on the show.
For those interested in the craft and artwork involved in making some of these culinary delights there are probably better shows out there (Ace of Cakes comes to mind). Cake Boss is much more like a light, family sitcom. If it weren’t a reality show, it might make for a good sitcom pilot.

As over the top and camera mugging as the show can get (in this week’s episode two bakers go to a park to try and capture doves for the wedding cake above, C’mon!), the show at its center has a good heart.

While some of JerseyCool’s more militant Italian brethren may have some bones to pick with the stereotypes on the show, most of us will be reminded of the old-style family bakeries we all grew up around.
Perfect as a dessert and perfect for summertime viewing.

It Takes Calandras to Build a Village, an Italian One

June 23, 2009

Calandra’s Italian Village (Caldwell)
234 Bloomfield Ave.
Caldwell, NJ 07006-5101
973-461-1308
www.calandrasitalianvillage.com

Checked out Calandra’s Italian Village this weekend and was not disappointed. The restaurant/bar/bakery/market/wine store/gelataria is everything you would expect and perhaps a little bit more.

Calandra’s is the kind of Italian market JerseyCool used to run into in Queens and Little Italy and we are sure that is no accident. Italian music is ambient when you walk in, and the store opens to a large bakery but there is much, much more.

You can get a meal, a dessert, a sandwich,  or all of the ingredients to make what you want at home. Heck there’s a store selling Team Italia clothing so you can stock up before the World Cup. There is also a Tavern adjacent to the restaurant with a large black bar and big screen TVs for sporting events (see World Cup).

It was raining so we couldn’t try the outside seating but there are enough tables that Calandra’s should be a nice addition to the outdoor dining scene.

Calandra's Italian Village Opens to a large Italian-style bakery.

Calandra's Italian Village Opens to a large Italian-style bakery.

Now, to the important part. We didn’t try out the restaurant, which was about half full late on a Saturday. Not a bad sign. We did try the gelato and it was, as most gelato is, fabulous. The ice cream was sweat but not as sugary as regular ice cream, which is the point .Try the Baci Gelato with broken bits of the Italian candies. You can also find traditional nocciola, amarena, stracciatella and zabione and most other easily recognizable flavors.

The wine store has a limited selection of vintages from Italy. Most, if not all, are available for sampling on request and we picked up a couple of bottles from the Calabria region of Italy.

From the bakery we got a fresh  baked ring and it too did not disappoint. The fine crust was complemented nicely by a sweat, soft interior. We spent the evening dipping bread into olive oil and cheese. Dr. Atkins was rolling in his grave but it was worth it.

The bakery advertises fresh bread on the hour and we saw nothing that would have contradicted that.

As for the restaurant, online reviews have been less than kind, but we’ll reserve judgment until we get a chance to sample the fare. With a well-stocked market featuring hard to find pastas and imported specialty items, Calandra’s is well worth a stop to pick up goods for a home-cooked Italian meal. It won’t be the real thing but, from what we sampled, it might be close enough.

New Jersey is YankeeLand

June 11, 2009

If you think more people in New Jersey wear pinstripes, you’re right. At least so far as their baseball rooting interests are concerned.

NY Yankees Logo

NY Yankee fans rule NJ

A new Quinnipiac University poll found that Yankee fans outnumber Philly and Mets fans combined in the Garden State. The numbers are particularly strong in North Jersey, not surprisingly.

“Dress New Jersey baseball fans – men and women, young and old – in Yankee pinstripes. There are just about as many Yankee fans as there are Phillies and Mets backers combined. Only in the Philadelphia suburbs do the Phillis dominate,” said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

One interesting side note is that Red Sox nation has about 5 percent of the fans in New Jersey. Since the Yankees can’t seem to beat the Sox this season those 5 percent are living mighty high on the hog right now.

Springsteen Lets Fans Down, Adding New ‘Final’ Show Smacks Them in the Face

June 4, 2009

Usually, when Bruce Springsteen adds shows to his tour, especially here in Jersey, it’s a good thing. However, this week’s announcement that two more shows were added to the alleged-final -concert stand at Giants Stadium actually was bad news for a sizeable number of Bruce Springsteen fans.

The original three shows sold out so “due to overwhelming” demand and more shows were added. Thee shows were billed as the “final” concerts at Giants stadium. This means people who bought tickets to the Oct. 3 show [in the interests of full disclosure Jerseycool is one of those people]  thinking that would be the last concert ever at Giants stadium now have tickets to the next to-next to- last show at the stadium. Not bad but it isn’t the LAST show.

Some people have become blasé about this. There hasn’t really been any outcry in the media except for a few message boards online. In all honesty, this affects truly only the 70,000 so suckers who bought the Oct. 3 show. Still it doesn’t make it right.

Artist do this all the time. Last year Billy Joel sold out the final show at Shea Stadium and then sold another final show at the stadium. People at the first show got to see a great show; people at the last got to see Paul McCartney. It simply isn’t the same.

Bruce Springsteen is a different story. He has always presented an image of being for his fans and coming on the heels of recent problems with Ticketmaster, it’s sad to say but Springsteen seems to have lost his mojo as the man of the people.

Some will say, well, they didn’t expect these shows to sell out and they want to accommodate as many people as possible. Poppycock.

They could have easily back-added shows and left the Oct. 3 date as the final show. This would have been fair and it would have been honorable, but I suppose the lure of being able to market a second FINAL show was too much to pass up. Who knows? Maybe a third Final show will be added. Heck, maybe Springsteen will be singing Jingle Bells at the Stadium in a foot of snow on Dec. 24.

It seems anything goes these days. Perhaps we’ve come to expect this sort of soft consumer abuse. The added shows will sell out. People who bought the Oct. 3 show will either accept the fact they were scammed or they will need to try to upgrade to the new final show at the stadium. Either way, 70,000 fans will have a bad taste in their mouth when these shows come up in the fall.

Bad job Sports Authority.

Bad job Bruce.

JerseyCool hopes the money is worth it.

Nirvana Will Wait a Little Longer for Xanadu

June 1, 2009

An article on NYTimes.com [At $2.3 Billion, This Mall Could Be Too Big to Fail] today recounts the troubled history of the Xanadu project at the Meadowlands. The troubled übermall was supposed to have opened last Fall and the ribbon cutting has now been postponed indefinitely. Many in parties in the story are quoted as saying the project is sumply too big to fail. Well, tell that to someone who used to work at Lehman Brothers.

Anyone who has driven by recently has been hit by the fear that Garden Staters will be left with nothing but an ugly eyesore off of Route 3 and the turnpike for years to come. However, it appears the inside seems to look nice, according to the article. Something to look forward to if and when Xanadu ever opens.

NOLA in New Brunswick? The Old Bay Might Be It

June 1, 2009

Old Bay Restaurant
61-63 Church Street
New Brunswick, NJ, 08901
732-246-3111
http://www.oldbayrest.com

Recently, we took a road trip from Jerseycool headquarters in Montclair down the Garden State Parkway to our old stomping grounds in New Brunswick. The town has changed quite a bit over the last decade. Obviously, there is still a college-town feel, all of the well known haunts along Easton Avenue are there –  the Scarlet Pub, Ye Old Queens Tavern and the Knight Club – The Court Tavern is still rocking, but the Melody Bar is long gone, and that, my friends, is more than a little sad.

The Old Bay Restaurant, New Brunswick, NJ

The Old Bay Restaurant, New Brunswick, NJ

Among the changes Jerseycool found one constant. There is still good food to be found and we’re not talking about the Grease Trucks. We dined at the Old Bay Restaurant, which has been serving New Orleans style cuisine, in downtown New Brunswick since 1987. The restaurant was gutted and remodeled in 2004 with a greater emphasis put on the bar area. However, the remodel did nothing to the great food, service and atmosphere at the Old Bay.

The standard New Orleans fare is all there including, Shrimp Creole, Crawfish Etouffee and Chicken and Sausage Jumbalaya. There’s also some exotic fare – well exotic for Creole cooking – namely a Duck and Orzo Jumbalaya, as well as Pecan encrusted Catfish.  Jerseycool had the fish special, a Pecan encrusted Grouper, which was tasty as all hell.

One of the highlights was an agave flavored Magic Hat pilsner called Odd Notion that our server said had just made its way down from Burlington, Vermont. Unlike a lot of flavored beer, the agave was subtle and didn’t overwhelm the beer. The Old Bay prides itself on its beer selection, especially its selection of Louisiana’s Abita beer on tap. Our recommendation foodies is to skip the vino and treat yourself to one of the specialty beers, which you are unlikely to find on tap anywhere else in the area.

Prices are moderate with Jumbalaya costing about $14 while a whole crispy Snapper will run you $26.

The atmosphere also did not disappoint. We did not stay to hear the band going on after 10 p.m. but a steady stream of blues was played throughout the night, not loud enough to drown out the person sitting across from you but loud enough to let you know The Old Bay was about having a good time. Live music is still played at the Old Bay on weekends and the restaurant hosts a number of festivals including, Octoberfest, Halloween and, of course, Mardi Gras.

Getting to the Old Bay is still not exactly fun. New Brunswick’s hopping restaurant scene, especially on Church Street means parking can be an adventure. The early and lucky can find on-street parking but most will need to make do with the parking deck across the street.  We arrived for a 7 O’clock reservation and were at the top of the parking deck.

The Old Bay is walking distance from the train station in New Brunswick and, though not next door to the theater’s on George Street, is close enough to be considered walking distance.

There are fancier locales in New Brunswick but for a fun night out or a casual dinner there is little to quibble with the Old Bay.