Archive for the ‘Jersey Eats’ Category

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

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.


NOLA in New Brunswick? The Old Bay Might Be It

June 1, 2009

Old Bay Restaurant
61-63 Church Street
New Brunswick, NJ, 08901

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.

Ahem, Bad Pizza in Montclair?

March 28, 2008

Dear loyal Jerseycool readers,

Someday our day boss will get off of his ass and hire enough staff to let Jerseycool maintain this blog better than he has over the past several months. However, until that  day comes, or until the recession makes Jerseycool our full-time gig, we will pick an choose our moments. This is one of those moments.

We turn our attention to Joel Schwartzberg’s blog on where he subtly implies that one of the local pizza haunts up here in Jerseycool central was less than superb the other night.

Now we can list our favorites for Joel: Naunas, Mama Leone’s, Villa Victoria, Marzulla’s but JC thought our readers should have a crack at this one. So here it is folks. Fire away at Joel and tell him where he about your favorite Montclair Jersey pizza.


It Was a Very Good Year

December 19, 2007

Art Namendorf over at the Artful Diner has listed his top restaurants for 2007. No JerseyCool favorites made the list but for the most part we’ve found the Artful Diner to be spot on. So heres an early gift for foodies.


Sesame Adds Flavor and Flair to Eastern Cuisine

December 2, 2007

400 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ, 07042

I have a friend who won’t eat at a Chinese restaurants that has pictures of the food on the wall. Well, Sesame in Montclair would be on the short list of Chinese places she can eat at since you won’t find any pictures on the wall, instead there are large photos of scenes from ordinary life in China on the nicely decorated interior of Sesame.

Boasting a red brick interior and two-tiered dining hall, Sesame has the look and feel of an Italian restaurant. It sits in the same building as the historic Roberts Wellmont Theater and you can see attention has been paid to maintain the same historic feel.

The food lives up to the surrounding. We dined there a few weeks back and as always we sampled the steamed dumplings, which were warm and flavorful. Several groups around us ordered groups of appetizers and picked off of each others plates, which isn’t a bad strategy for groups since the menu is extensive without the daily specials.

We settled on the Moo Shu Pork and C had the duck special. Often JC finds duck to be a bit on the fatty side but Sesame’s was tender, juicy and well proportioned. The Moo Shu comes in a large plate and the initial plan was to bring home leftovers for lunch but it was simply too good to not finish off.

My personal best Moo Shu is still over at the Bean Curd in Chatham but Sesame’s isn’t far behind. If I was blindfolded and doing a taste test, not sure which would come out on top.

Sesame is open for lunch and dinner and there is a jazz brunch on Sunday, which is a holdover from the Blue Sky Café days at the same location.

If you are looking for quality Chinese food that goes beyond the typical menu, Sesame is will meet your need.


Lalezar Rounds Out Montclair’s Diverse Menu

November 21, 2007

718 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ 07042
(973) 233-1984

Ethnic food in Montclair is a bit like driving up Claremont Avenue, there are a lot of stops and plenty of time to look around. There are dining establishment with everything from sushi to Ethiopian to Cuban cuisine and everything in between, but one of the best and most consistent spots in town is Lalezar, at Turkish restaurant tucked away on the western slope of Bloomfield Ave.

Lalezar’s exotic tapestries and décor complements the fine Turkish cuisine. The quality of the food is evidenced by the large groups of families and locals that crowd into the two-tiered dining hall for the good eats inside. The families are also indicative of some of the fairest prices in the city with hearty meals between $10-$20.

We’ve eaten at Lalezar several times over the past few years and have yet to be disappointed. If you’re a first timer try several of the generous mideastern spreads on the menu. Hummas, babaganoush and the usual suspects are all there but we recommend the Ezme, chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and walnuts to start the evening off with a kick.

Another favorite is the Sigara Boregi, crispy phyllo wrapped with feta cheese and parsely.

There are several tasty fish dishes on the menu but lets face it when you go to a Turkish restaurant it’s all about the lamb and there is much to choose from at Lalezar, namely the doner kabobs, Kuzu Sis, lamb chops and the superlative Adana Kebap, ground lamb with onions, red peppers and garlic. Be warned it has spice to it.

Lalezar also has live Turkish music on weekends (there is a cover), belly dancing and makes good use of its Web site with an extensive listing of the menu and a new order online feature for people taking out.


Polish Meltdown

September 26, 2007

Sad news from the world of Jersey City last week. Tania’s one of our favorite restaurants in the Garden State shut its doors. The polish eatery on Grove St. has been vacant for the past couple of months now and no word on what will ultimately replace it.

Trouble started over the winter when the polish family that owned Tania’s sold and the new owner attempted to add some Turkish items to the polish cuisine. People went to Tania’s for the hearty eastern European fare not funky fusion.

Anyway, we raise a hearty glass of  Zywiec to Tanias and will say a prayer that someone, somewhere has the recipie for their potato pancakes.


Crowds Haven’t Petered Out at Cuban Pete’s But Food Sure is Tasty

September 19, 2007

Cuban Pete’s
428 Bloomfield Ave

Cuban Pete’s, Montclair most crowded restaurant, is something of a mixed bag. It clearly is the party restaurant of choice in Jersey’s restaurant capitol. The place you go for atmosphere, the place you show off to friends and get a pitcher of sangria, albeit Shirley Temple-strength. However, the food can be hit or miss and the crowds can simply be annoying.

We checked out Cuban Pete’s on Labor Day weekend hoping that the holiday may have thinned out the crowds but apparently everyone else in town had the same idea. It was a 10 minute wait in the cramped alcove, not bad, but we really had hoped that by now the restaurant would have done more to make waiting for a table more comfortable.

Still, all things considered, 10 minutes isn’t that bad, we got a seat inside and had probably our best meal at the Cuban joint. Now, don’t misconstrue our food comments, we’ve never had a bad meal at Cuban Pete’s, it’s just that we’ve never been floored either. Culinary, Cuban Pete’s has always left us wanting a bit more.

The paella has always been OK. The grilled meat serviceable but nothing special They do make some mean plantains and this coming from a decided non fan of the banana relative but plantains will only get you so far.

Happy to report that for the first time Cuban Pete’s lived up to the hype.

The night did not start off promising. We ordered the goat cheese fritters, one of our favorites, and normally the balls of fried cheese are perfect but this batch just didn’t have the same bling as on others occasions.

It was an inauspicious beginning.

Cuban Pete’s has a nice selection of fish dishes but face it, this is a meat lover’s paradise. I opted for a ground beef and rice dish while C spotted one of her favorite dishes on the menu and ordered the suckling pig.

We were not disappointed. The ground beef was perfectly done and the suckling pig was moist and juicy. We also have to say the service was good for a packed place. When Cuban Pete’s first opened there were obviously some false steps. We won’t even go into the whole is there or isn’t there alcohol in the sangria debate.

But the restaurant has become part of Montclair culture and it looks like the food has improved dramatically. We’d like to see a Web site, perhaps one that took reservations to help cut down on the waiting, but Cuban Pete’s isn’t just a fun night out anymore, it’s also got some good eats going for it as well.


Net Experience at Azora Dissapoints

August 2, 2007

Azora Japanese Restaurant
407 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ

Azora is the sort of Japanese place you really want to like. It may be one of the nicest dining rooms in Montclair. High backed booths along the right side of the restaurant, nicely spaced tables in the center, and a wooden lattice motif that evokes the kind of Japanese-fusion the restaurant is going for. We really wanted to like the food and we really wanted to like our experience but we were left wanting more.

We came to Azora on busy Friday night, which may have been part of the problem. Like many of the smaller places along Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, Azora suffers from noise problems. It may be somewhat better in the high backed booths but at the tables where we sat it was terribly hard to have a conversation.

It’s a bit out of the restaurants hands, but we really wish some of these places would invest in noise dampening materials (yeah, we’re talking about you Table 8).

The first hint of trouble came with the waiter. We ordered from the fusion menu and C promptly asked about her cashew allergy.

“We don’t cook with cashews,” the waiter replied.

“But it’s on the menu, here” we said pointing to the items that listed cashews as part of the ingredients.

Blank stare.

Anyway, after being assured there were no nuts in what we ordered, C tried one of the fusion sushi dishes, which was quite good. While I opted for a tuna steak.

It took a solid 20 minutes or so for the food to arrive. Probably because the place was busy, still no one bothered to check on us and we had to ask about the food before it was brought out. A cardinal sin for any establishment.

Anyway, as feared, my late arriving Tuna was, how shall I say, a bit on the done side and not in a good way. It was OK but for what Azora charges I was looking for more than OK.

So, we’ll raise a glass of sake to Azora’s decor and hope we have a better experience the next time. If any readers out there have a better experience to report, we are all ears since we’re pretty sure that the place has to be popular for a reason.


You Won’t Get Burned at Toast

July 30, 2007

700 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ, 07042

Montclair’s western slope is undergoing a bit of renaissance these days. On one small block across the street from the arts museum you can find Turkish lamb, Indian Tandoori, and Moroccan couscous in the form of Lalazar, Taj palace and Marrakech respectivly. All of this a stone’s throw from Luna Stage, Wholefoods and the 07402 Starbucks.

The little area on the corner of St. Lukes Place and Bloomfield Ave. is becoming a destination spot for foodies.

Add to that the nouveau dinner spot Toast. Deciding not to compete with its more exotic brothers on the block, Toast serves breakfast, lunch and brunch on a menu that is long on variations of traditional American breakfast fare. The Crab Cakes Benedict, for example, is a tasty combination of seafood and egg that at first glance wouldn’t go together. We sampled and though fish and egg isn’t our speed it’s worth a try.

We also had the sausage and pepper omelet, which is more like a stuffed crape than a traditional omelet. Omelets, of which there are many to choose from, come with whole grain toast and tasty potatoes that justify the $5 bump in price over a similar meal at a dinner. The unsweetened ice tea is also a good call.

Toast has a crowded interior with a few high-backed booths on the side. It fills up quickly and was nearly full this past Friday around 1 p.m. We ate outside and found the service to be attentive if unspectacular.

With menu items like shrimp and bacon sandwiches, lobster rolls, stuffed French Toast and California Scramble, Toast doesn’t do much to hide it’s ambition to compete with Raymond’s over on Church St.

And though brunch will cost you a bit more than you’d pay at a local diner or even IHOP, our Friday brunch clocked in at a Montclair-reasonable $28, including an 18 percent tip.

We weren’t blown away by Toast but were intrigued enough to go back, which is what a new place ought to strive for. We’re particularly intrigued by the restaurant’s site, which promises seasonal menus and a store in coming months.

It’s worth a trip to the edge of town and judging by Toasts’ initial success it should be more of hit than recent tenets of the spot.