Monday, June 8, 2009


Last week I had the good fortune to eat at TWO terrific new restaurants in Trenton.
Yes, Trenton.

There's been a bit of a culinary lull in the town, with the departure of several Chambersburg places for the outlying suburbs, but these two new places are very good news indeed.Last Sunday I joined friends for a great dinner at the new La Tropical, corner of Lalor and Centre Sts., in the place that was once The Corner Inn. The re-do is impressive, cream and pumpkin colored plaster walls, new large windows and some skylights. Spaces that were once in shadows at The Corner Inn are now inner porticos with romantic tables for two.

The food here is classic Puerto Rican, with pasteles, rellenos de papa, exquisite pernil and the best mofongo I have had anywhere, including 3 trips to Puerto Rico (and the mofongo landmark, Ajili Mojili).We ordered a plate of pasteles, pastellidos bistec and pernil, and relennos de papa, and they were all terrific, light, greaseless and filled with well roasted and seasoned beef and pork. The rellenos de papa are huge and as addictive as crack. Be careful with them, at just 2/$2.50, they are a huge bargain. In fact the entire menu is quite inexpensive.There were a half dozen aguas, and we tried them all; I liked the tamarindo and horchata myself. Kids liked them too.At the hearty recommendation of a friend who had been there several times already, I ordered the pernil as my entree, a heaping platter of roast pork and crispy skin, rice with pigeon peas and plantains, with soupy red beans in a dish on the side. 11 bucks. But the highlight for me was the mofongo. We ordered a mofongo with shrimp, and it was a huge ball of mashed plantain, overflowiong with good fresh shrimp studded inside and flowing outside of the mofongo. Moist, flavorful, with broth for dipping, though it was not necessary.Best I've ever had. Killer.

Grilled chicken and skirt steak with onions were the kids' dishes and they were both superb. The kids menu has some expected stuff, but I ordered traditional stuff for them from their menu and they, and I, enjoyed the platters. Portion are huge, even for the kids' meals. 4 adults and 4 kids, dinner check was around 90 bucks. Amazing.

THE VERY NEXT DAY, I found myself in an unfamiliar place: downtown Trenton, a wasteland of a downtown if ever there was one. But rounding the corner onto E. State St, I spied a large sign on a newer building that said "KEBAB HOUSE", and I had to find out more. Kebabs, felafel, hummus, gyros, salads on the menu in the window. It's at 226 E. State St. and they have a website: It was just past lunchtime and a patron exiting the place, says: "Good stuff, man. Gotta try the place."

And so we did. Nice enthusiastic staff, including the owner, a Turkish man who formerly owned a limousine service. A co-worker is dropping fresh felafel mixture into a bowl to make patties. I order a felafel sandwich and a doner kebab gyro platter. Lentil soup. Chicken kebab, too. Salads come with the platters, dressed a zingy lemony dressing. Lentil soup arrives and is pureed red lentils, redolent of mint and garlic. Fantastic. It's always on the menu, the waitress tells us. I can see why.All the other food arrives next and it's madness at the table, but fun, Good french fries, good hummus, good grilled pita for dipping.. Felafel and gyro sandwiches are huge. Chicken for the chicken kebab platter comes in large chunks, expertly grilled. Owner checks on us quickly, and we're too engagged to do anything put give thumbs up. Kids are munching on everything. All is right with the world. I'm a sucker for any felafel, but I must say that the felafel here does fall a bit short, oddly blander than any Ive had before. Everything else we're eating is as well made as any Turkish/Middle Eastern food we've ever had. And we've had a lot of those cuisines. On second inspection, the menu here is quite large, with baba ganoush, other salads, kefta and other Turkish and Middle Eastern dishes. Worth follow-up visits. MANY follow-up visits. I hope they attract the business to stay open. This one is a keeper.

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