Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive!

Today IS the day. My personal favorite wine day of the year.  But first, a little background:

At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!(The New Beaujolais has arrived!)" One of the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world has begun.
By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production, will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour.
Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine. In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born. By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.
(courtesy of

*****TASTING NOTES: This year's Nouveau (I'm drinking Georges Debeouf's version, $7.33 with my Bottle Club discount at Joe Canal's in Lawrenceville. There are other bottlings, but they can be difficult to find) explodes with fresh cherries in the nose, filling the glass and eventually the immediate vicinity of the glass with cherry aromas. Also strong hints of raspberries in the first sip, along with earth, then vine, then semi-sweet grape jam as you swallow. The finish leaves a distinct grape-jam-on-toast taste on the palate, a deja vu from childhood. There's some structure here, though, and more tannins in subsequent sips than you might expect. This wine will pair superbly with the herby-spicy stuffings on Thanksgiving, as well as the buttery mashed potatoes, green vegetables and even cranberry sauce served over the holiday.  I actually think this might be a great quaff with the turkey sandwiches made from leftovers on the holiday weekend, too.  Pretty strong edition of Nouveau this year.*****

I know the enthusiasm for Nouveau has died down a bit in and around Philly. Celebrations around the world are expected to be more restrained than usual, as a very bad harvest has limited the production of the wine to about half of what is typically produced. It is still an unofficial holiday today in Washington DC. And in cities such as Chicago and Seattle there are still big celebrations and avid celebrants.

This remains a great day to quaff this simple, earthy, slightly fizzy preview of the French Gamay Beaujolais vintages for 2012, and to toast friendship, life and love.  And to score some bottles for Thanksgiving. It's still my favorite beverage on Turkey Day, an almost perfect foil for the savory and sweet flavors that mash together on the holiday.

So raise a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau today. There's still a lot to celebrate.  Many of us on the East Coast have survived an horrific hurricane unscathed. And love is in the air.

Au votre sante!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Saturday marked the 9th Annual NJ Hot Dog Tour, and for my fifth year, I was on it.  The Tour, conceived by retired  NYC police officer Erwin "Benzee" Benz and noted hot dog authority John Fox, who hails from Union, NJ, is the one of the best gatherings of food nerds I've ever met.  The folks on the Tour are something beyond hot dog aficionados; they are fanatical in their love of tube steak. Some, like John Fox, are as interested in the provenance of  their dog (where it was made, the meats used, the style and seasoning of the meat, the relative size per pound, the nature of the bun, the cooking process) as anything else.  It makes for fascinating conversation along the Tour, and spirited debate and discussion, post-Tour.

TWO busloads of the fanatics assembled at the traditional starting point for the Tour, the famous Galloping Hill Inn in Union.  Big hot dogs here, with large (too large, in my opinion) custom buns and a variety of toppings. I won't get into those nerdy details here; you can visit and the Hot Dog Nation page on Facebook for all the picayune details.  I'm gonna post some tasty pics here and a little bit of commentary, and that's all. Below: my dog at Galloping Hill, with mustard, chili and onions.

This year's Tour featured stops at some old favorites from previous Tours, as well as a couple of new stops. I tried to tweet live from each stop, but you can get caught up in the joking and sheer gastronomic fun of it all, and perhaps miss a few shots, but I think I caught most of everything sampled by the group on Saturday.

Case in point with the photo at the top of this post: that what's left of my hot dog from Marcie's Dog House in Clark, a well-equipped truck stationed in a municipal park, dispensing  a natural casing Sabrett hot dog, topped with a special sauerkraut, a blend of mustard, relish and cabbage, a terrific topping and a terrific dog.
Marcie's also turns out an excellent version of the North Jersey style Italian hot dog (pic below), a deep fried dog tucked into a half-moon of pizza dough ("pizza bread" in the local lingo) hollowed out to fit the dog, onion, peppers and fried potatoes. My tablemates thought highly of Marcie's version:

Next, we hit another hot dog truck, Uncle Petey's Weenies in Colonia, with a tasty chili dog and a special quarter-pound German-style dog, pictured below. I went for the chili dog, pacing myself and trying to hew as close to my low-glycemic-index diet as I could.  But this was a popular choice among a lot of the Tour-goers:

We headed to Elizabeth next, and two classic hot dog vendors virtually next door to one another. Jerry's Famous Frankfurters is as old-school and low-tech as it gets, just a simple walk-up window, strictly takeout, but for me, they make my favorite hot dog on this year's Tour, a grfilled, natural casing dog with a good snap, with mustard and red sauced cooked onions.  Simply spectacular:

Just a few doors away sits Tommy's, serving from a similar walk-up window both Italian sausage and hot dogs, and specializing in the North Jersey style Italian dog. Tommy's serves the best version of the genre I've ever had. Diet notwithstanding, I ordered one, pretty much passed up on the pizza bread and potatoes, and enjoyed the dog, onions, peppers, mustard and ketchup:

(yes, there's a hot dog in there somewhere)

Our last stop is an appropriately raucous and fun place, Manny's Texas Weiners in Union.  It's a fun place in part because owner Manny Niotis is a gregarious, back-slapping host and showman. It's also because he serves up righteously good dogs and a huge menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites.  The pick here is the classic texas weiner, with mustard, onions and "Greek sauce", an earthy, dark, spicy ground meat sauce with noticeable clove, cinnamon and nutmeg in the mix, in the traditional Greek sauce tradition. "We open in 1979, and we've been busy since then," Manny told us as he greeted us in the parking lot of his busy restaurant.  No doubt due in great part  to this terrific dog:

So I've been on 5 of these NJ Hot Dog Tours, and this was the first one on which I didn't feel stuffed, bloated or otherwise uncomfortable.  I avoided as much bun as possible at each stop, drank water instead of any beer (I had permission from my doctor and dietician to eat on the Tour, but had to pick my indulgance; it was a hot dog tour after all), and didn't finish but a couple of dogs.  We also only hot 6 stops; previously we had hit as many as 8.

But it was great fun, in no small part to Benzee and Fox, who timed and mapped the Tour flawlessly, briefed us on the busses about our choices at each stop,and kept an even keel and good humor from start to finish.

Next year's Tour has already been scheduled: September 21, 2013. You should be a part of this bunch next year. You'll have a blast.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I thought a lot about what to cover when I returned to blogging after an over 2 months absence. A vacation in the US Virgin Islands with the kids that included the impeccable beaches of St John?  Beers for my birthday at the St John's Brewers brewpub, the only decent brewpub in the Caribbean? Visiting the oldest active synagogue in the Western Hemisphere on St Thomas of all places?? Swimming all summer with the kids in the sweltering heat?  My ever expanding list of ailments and afflictions? I have to admit, none of that got my journalistic juices flowing.

But this week's haul from the Honey Brook Organic Farm caught my attention. The photo above shows you just the tomato portion of this week's share. That's 47 POUNDS of tomatoes in huge baskets and bowls on my kitchen counter, the single largest take-home of tomatoes we've had in the 7 years we've belonged to the Farm. In the foreground are two bowls of just heirloom varieties, in shades of green, purple, yellow, orange and dark pink. The background bowl and basket hold 30 lobs of "regular" and sauce tomatoes.

Yes, there will be ample amounts of insalata caprese  served at Casa Lawrenceville this week and next.and gallons of  fresh tomato sauce to be made.  And I suspect there will tons more tomatoes still to be shared in the coming weeks.

I better get to work. First up: some stuffed red peppers with fresh tomato sauce for dinner!

It's good to be back.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Sweet Jesus, it's been TWO MONTHS since I posted my last entry here.

We have a LOT of catching up to do!

Sorry for the absence.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Mom and Pop

I've met a lot of successful small business people in my day, and I'll bet they held this belief in one form or another as they operated their business.  The above statement comes from Louie Desiato, chef/owner/winemaker of Mamma D's restaurant and winery in Pipersville, PA, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing last week for an article I'm working on.  Louie is the textbook definition of ebullient, and the embodiment of the tirelessly ambitious entrepreneur.

He runs one hell of a terrific Italian restaurant (get the meatball sliders and the gnocchi) and winery and is now venturing into the world of hard cider making.  And like everything he does, he seems to pour his heart and soul into it, and he makes one HELL of a cider.

Louie posted the above on his Facebook page, and I felt compelled to share it. Makes you want to visit his place every week. You should.

Fratelli Desiato Vineyards
 Mamma D's Restaurant 
6637 Easton Road 
Pipersville, PA 

Thursday, May 31, 2012


The most joyous time of the year for beer aficionados arrives in Philadelphia in less than 24 hours. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 5th Annual Philly Beer Week, a 10-day celebration of the city's rich diversity and rampant enthusiasm for the brewer's art. Excitement for this year's festival has been building for weeks, thanks to the well-timed pre-publicity and very active presence of the participants and the organizers of PBW.

Several helpful and terrifically useful articles dropped in the Philly papers today, the best by Don Russell (aka "Joe Sixpack" in the Philadelphia Daily News), who also acts as Executive Director for PBW, full of tips and suggestions for maximum enjoyment of the week's festivities. The Inquirer's Craig Laban chimes in with a look on the rapidly growing beer scene and the several small breweries and brewpubs opening in the 'burbs.

But I'll tell you what my main resource for scoping out the what's-what of PBW will be: Jared Littman's brilliantly ambitious website, where Littman will track - and preview - the tap offerings for every participating bar and  restaurant during the festival. Not only is the website easy to navigate, it's very easy to read, even on a smartphone (which may become a factor the further one explores each day's events).

Here is how Littman himself describes his format for Philly beer Week:

This is what we're going to do:   During Philly Beer Week, from June 1-10, we are going to post the tap lists for the current  and following day right here -- BOOKMARK THIS PAGE!  We are also going to post lists for particularly appealing future events.  To make this service even more valuable, we have included the descriptions of the beers (where available) so that you know what these new beers are.  We already posted a whole bunch of tap lists for June 1 and June 2, and we will post more everyday so please check back.  Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and check out our blog, "Tap Talk," where we will be highlighting exceptional tap lists and events.

I think this website will make for a stress-free week of beer in and around Philly.  Now all that remains is the drinking--and sheer enjoyment--of the best beer-drinking city in America.  I hope I'll see you out there. Let's enjoy a few together!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Green, Green...

The most beautiful words of the Spring: "the farm in Pennington is now open."

And with that, the farm season at the Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington has begun. Our first pickup for this year was Sunday, and it was an impressive first day haul: a huge bunch of leeks, 4 enormous heads of curly green leaf lettuce in shades of deep green and chartreuse, a pound of baby bok choy, a pound of dark green, spicy arugula and SIX pounds of spinach.

Do you have any idea how much SIX pounds of spinach can be?

The farm was buzzing with eager members when we arrived on Sunday after church, everyone standing in line to sign in for the season and receive their fluorescent pink ID badges, milling around the counters filled with all of the greens we'd be taking home that day, kids playing out on the lawn under the giant gnarled tree and on its branches. It was a great first day, bursting with enthusiasm.

When I got home I bagged everything as quickly as possible for the fridges, trimmed and julienned the leeks for quick grilling next to the London broil I planned for dinner. Much of the leeks ended up sprinkled atop mashed potatoes, a nice little garnish. One of the giant heads of lettuce and a big fistful of arugula made more than enough salad for dinner, along with rainbow grape tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and chick peas.

On Monday, I knew I had to start utilizing the spinach and searched online for a recipe for "chicken and spinach". Here's what I selected, from

Bowties with Chicken and Spinach



Units: US | Metric


  1. 1
    Boil the pasta until done.
  2. 2
    Meanwhile, cook the chicken in oil over medium-high heat.
  3. 3
    Add the onion, red pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper with the chicken.
  4. 4
    Continue to cook and stir 5-7 minutes until chicken is almost cooked through.
  5. 5
    Add the broth and spinach then cook until spinach is wilted and chicken is done.
  6. 6
    Combine chicken mixture with hot drained pasta and toss well.
  7. 7
    Top with cheese and parsley then serve.

    It turned out to be a great recipe. I had twice the amount of boneless chicken breast, so I just doubled up all of the ingredients.  Sophie wisely chose tomato-carrot farfalle, which we had on hand in the pantry, for the bowtie pasta and it really made for an attractive dish.  I amped up the garlic a bit, and used about a pound and a half of the spinach. Simple, full of spring/summer flavors, and it used a quarter of the spinach. Now I need to figure out what to do with the rest of the spinach.

    Any ideas?

Saturday, May 19, 2012


One of the hallmark food events in Mercer County takes place this weekend, with the 37th Annual St George's Greek Festival in Hamilton, NJ, on he grounds of St. George's Greek Orthodox Church. It is a huge, loud, music-filled, laughter-washed, joyous weekend of food, dancing, Greek beer, wine, retsina and ouzo, but most of all, authenticity.

The weekend is a quick and almost seamless immersion in Greek culture, tradition and society, but it's the food and people that draw me there every year. If you want to know what pride looks like, step up to the buffet line set up for lunch and dinner in the school gymnasium and carefully watch how your servers dish up your food. It is with a love and care rarely seen outside the home kitchen, and that is really what sets apart this festival from other ethnic festivals in the area. The elder members of the church do all of the cooking (and you can see them in the easily visible kitchen fussing over their respective dishes). The food, to me, is of the highest quality imaginable, and at ridiculously low prices. Moussaka, Pastitsio, Souvlaki (made with filet mignon!), flawlessly roasted, lemony chicken, garlicky shrimp and huge roasted lamb shanks are just a few of the entrees served at prices as low as $10, topping out at $14. And that includes golden,roasted potatoes, rice, tomato-sauced green beans, feta-flecked salad, rolls. Additional sides of spanikopita (spinach pie) and trikopita (cheese pie) and stuffed grape leaves are also available at a nominal charge. No skimping on food here.

At three different locations there are tables selling all manner of Greek pastries and breads, and another table selling Greek comestibles, like Greek oregano, bay leaves, coffee, feta and kasseri cheeses, grape leaves, olives, meatballs and other savories. It's a foodie overload. There's also a flea market set up in various classrooms of the adjacent Greek school, a bar with Mythos beer, Greek wine (including one labled "My Big Fat Greek Wine"), retsina (a wine made from pine tree resin, actually quite refreshing and crisp) and ouzo, the licorice liquor with which you absolutely must toast the evening and the people of St George's.

 And I almost forgot the outdoor grills, where you can snag a big, soft Greek pita stuffed with souvlaki (inexplicably made from pork instead of lamb, but still quite tasty), or gyro meat, that composite, spit roasted meat sliced paper thin and doused with garlicky,cucumber yogurt sauce called tzatziki, along with tomatoes, onions and lettuce. Two gyros were MY entree of choice last night when I stopped at the festival with the kids and the Queen (more on her later). Those gyros are STILL the best gyros served in all of Mercer County, and I just wish it wasn't just for 4 days in May. You have two days left to experience this fantastic ethnic celebration. Don't miss it. Get yourself to the Greek!

 St. George Greek Orthodox Church
 1200 Klockner Rd. Hamilton, NJ
 Sat: 11;30AM-11:30PM
 Sun: 12 Noon-6:00PM

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


We are rapidly running out of national treasures, even more quickly running out of regional icons that we can treasure. Jim Weaver may help to change that trend, at least here in New Jersey. I've just finished reading Weaver's personal story, Locavore Adventures (Rivergate Books, Rutgers University Press, $22.95), and I now realize what a significant impact he has had on our state's food culture, its farmers, farm markets, restaurateurs and families. As the chef/owner of Tre Piani restaurant at Forrestal Village in Plainsboro, NJ, and co-founder of Central New Jersey's chapter of Slow Food, he has been able to change how we understand the rich bounty of the Garden State's farms, how we buy our meats and produce, and how we make a healthier place for ourselves and our children. And he's also shown us how to run a restaurant creatively, with respect for the seasonality of food and the importance of coming together at the dinner table.

Weaver's first book is a breezy read, from his discovery of the Slow Food movement, to his immediate enthusiasm toward promoting it and spreading its gospel of fresh and local food, simple artisinal cooking techniques and ecological responsibility. But Weaver's epiphany and evangelism have roots is something in which we can all believe: the sheer convivial pleasure of a good meal shared with family and friends.

Locavore Adventures is full of Weaver's personal photos of places and colleagues and suppliers that anchor and support his locavore sensibility, from the Griggstown Quail Farm, famous for its heirloom poultry, to the Viking Village fishermen from Long Beach Island, to Lawrenceville's Cherry Grove Farm and Hopewell's Brothers Moon restaurant. Woven through the compelling stories and photos are 40 tasty recipes that prove Weaver's argument more eloquently than any passage of the book: we can, in fact, eat much better and more simply prepared meals, less expensively than we might think, and save local farms, dairies and producers, restore and preserve the green spaces we use and once again ENJOY our meals and use them to relax, restore and really feed ourselves well, despite the hectic and uncaring pace of daily life.

New Jersey and Mercer County has a new treasure worth cherishing, and his name is Jim Weaver. One engaging read of Locavore Adventures and you'll know why.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When 13 Is Your Luckiest Number

It seems like just a few weeks ago when we encountered Friday The Thirteenth and, best of all, the beer event that tops all others, Friday The Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge in Northeast Philadelphia.

The only beer festival dictated by the calendar, FTF takes place THREE times this year, the result of the quirky leap year calendar. When we last told you about FTF, it was January, and tomorrow, April 13, brings another spectacular celebration of cask beer, served elegantly from firkins atop the bar, the mini barrels holding just 5.5 gallons of fresh, gravity-poured deliciousness.

This month's lineup is as strong as ever, numbering 20 rare or specially-brewed-for-FTF beers, from both local and cult-favorite breweries:

Current Cask List

Cricket Hill Hopnotic IPA
Dark Horse Crooked Tree
Dock Street Rye IPA, dry-hopped
Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA
Flying Fish Farmhouse
Free Will Citra Pale Ale
Ithaca Nut Brown
Manayunk Oatmeal Stout
Nodding Head TBA
Philadelphia 1892 Stout
Prism White Lightning
Ruddles Country Ale
Sly Fox Chester County Brown
Sly Fox Oatmeal Stout
Sixpoint TBA
Stoudts TBA
Troegs TBA
Victory Headwaters Pale Ale
Yards Brawler
Yards ESA

The beers start flowing at NOON tomorrow, but some insiders know to arrive a little earlier to grab a barstool and stake out their territory. But have no fear, this is not a rowdy nor manic crowd, but quite the opposite; you'll meet some of the nicest, most hospitable and friendly folks you'd ever expect to encounter. Beer people are like that. I maintain that Friday The Firkinteenth is the most friendly, civilized beer festival on earth, hosted in a cozy neighborhood pub that was named by Esquire Magazine as one of America's Best Bars.

Find out for yourself tomorrow. I'll see you there at about 3.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I know this is kinda sudden, but sometimes that's how things happen. Details to follow, as we formulate them.

I'm SO happy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


First things first: The Sticky Wicket makes a great tomato pie. A beautiful, flavorful crust, the judicious balance of cheese and sauce, it ranks among the very best tomato pies anywhere. On the menu, they call it pizza, but, make no mistake, this is a classic Trenton tomato pie, in the style of Palermo's and Pete's Steak House in Ewing and the Pete's Steak House Tavern in Hamilton (sorry, I can get a little nerdy about tomato pie). It was one of many surprises when the kids and I had dinner there last night for the first time.

It wasn't my first time at the Wicket. I had dined there many years ago (before the twins were born) for a business lunch, but like so many things for yours truly, never managed to get back there. I remember a good "bar pie" and a good burger from that first visit, and they are both still on the menu. Can't really explain why I'd never been back since that time, but I will not make that mistake again. The Wicket is a terrific restaurant.

Writing about restaurants over the last 30 years or so, I'll admit to getting a little jaded about the whole restaurant experience. The addition of kids to the mix does change the whole dynamic of where to go and what to eat most of the time. But I also use the kids sometimes as a gauge to measure a restaurant's hospitality, flexibility and family-friendliness. Many restaurants will claim to be "family-friendly" or "kid-friendly", but their afterthought "kids menu" and indifferent service end up turning me off.

The Sticky Wicket is not that kind of restaurant. Their kids menu contains 11 entrees, more than I have ever seen in any restaurant with a kids menu. Someone put some thought into it, too. Prices range from $4.25-5.25 (for baby back ribs!) and include things like chicken or cheeseburger sliders, pizza (more on that later) and those ribs along with usual suspects of chicken tenders, hot dogs, spaghetti & meatballs, etc.

What lured us to the Wicket last night was their Sunday-Tuesday promotion, where kids "pay what they weigh". In any economy, but especially this one, a brilliant and welcome promotion. We arrived on the night of a community fundraiser, a frequent occurance at the restaurant, whose owner, Dave Eide, is known for his enthusiastic support of many local causes.

Ben chose a hot dog and fries, Sophie chose the "kids pizza" and I chose "English Fish & Chips", along with an appetizer of Sweet Corn Nuggets, and Jalapeno corn nuggets, mini corn fritters by any other name, one batch with the added zip of chopped hot peppers.

Food came relatively quickly, considering the enormous crowd on hand. The corn nuggets were an inspired take on an heirloom starch stretcher; the sweet corn nuggets came with a cup of honey mustard dip, while the jalapeno version was served without a dipping sauce, which seemed odd to me. I would have served the spicy fritters with some ranch dressing to offset the considerable peppery bite. Just a thought.

Entrees came soon after, interrupting the kids' crayon coloring time (the kids menu doubles as a 4-page coloring book/puzzle book). But they both quickly dug into their food. Sophie was damn nearly ecstatic over her pizza, a full 12 inches in diameter, very generous portioning. My kids know their tomato pie, and Ben immediately wanted a taste; Sophie was glad to give him a slice, the pie large enough to be shared by two small kids. She offered me a slice, too, and one look at her pie told me to accept. The bottom crust had a nice tomato pie char, the aroma said fresh tomatoes and the cheese had that little extra tang from the addition of white cheddar or sharp American cheese. As previously stated, a superior tomato pie. Ben, on the other hand, took a bite of his hot dog, but played with and consumed his french fries in earnest (they were good fries). I could tell he didn't care for the hot dog. "It tastes plain," he said. Asked to clarify, he added, "It has no taste." I took a nibble, and the boy's palate was indeed on target: a duller doggie than the Dietz & Watson ones we usually serve at home. His generous sister offered him more pizza, and he was sated.

My entree was a huge platter of fish & chips, a giant cod filet, bigger and thicker than a large strip steak, beer battered and expertly fried, with an equally big mound of those good french fries. Billed as "English style", it came with requisite bottle of malt vinegar. All that was missing was some mushy peas. I actually wish some restaurant would serve the traditional English side dish with fish & chips, just to see if it works on this side of the Atlantic (seriously, Mr. Eide, a green vegetable would be welcome and healthy addition). It was a tasty version nonetheless, and I could barely polish it off.

The kids enjoyed ice cream sundaes after they finished their entrees. I enjoyed the last sips from my pint of Guinness.

Another pleasant surprise at The Sticky Wicket is the staff. Out booth (complete with TV and headphones for the kids--I'll reserve my comments on TV viewing during dinner for another time) was covered by at least 4 servers during our meal, each of them unfailingly pleasant and cheerful, and all of them talked to my kids as well as me, while helping with the serving of food. It seems like a very good team concept at the Wicket, and these are some of the best waitpersons I've encountered in a long time. The place was overrun with people last night and every table was occupied, but these servers didn't lose their cool . They're a real asset to this operation.

I'm glad I made it back to the Sticky Wicket,and I have a feeling I'll be returning frequently. Next time, I want a tomato pie all to my own.

The Sticky Wicket
Independence Plaza
2465 S. Broad Street
Hamilton, NJ 08610

Thursday, March 15, 2012


The Madness has begun. And if, for some reason, you don't know what I'm talking about, just keep surfing. Something will attract your wandering eye eventually.

This year, I've filled out EIGHT March Madness brackets,simply because that's how many I found by noon on Thursday. I'm hoping to do somewhat better than our Commander-in-Chief (that's Barack Obama, if you're still not sure what's going on here), who I think picked a fairly safe bracket with few if any upsets or surprises.

Here is one of my brackets, on the CBS Sports website for the bracket games:

We'll just see, now, won't we?

I LOVE this time of year.

Monday, March 5, 2012


It's been more than a few years since I've ventured north to Montgomery, NJ to eat at Ya-Ya Noodles, a sister restaurant to one of my favorite Chinese places anywhere, Tiger Noddles in Princeton. It was more than just geography that kept Ya Ya Noodles out of my culinary peripheral vision. It was the food. It was just not up to the quality of its older sibling in Princeton. Sure, the presentations were more contemporary than the homestyle cooking of the older mothership, but the dishes were just too bland, too Americanized, too blah. Were they playing is safer for the suburban crowd? Perhaps.

Well it's been about 10 years now, and Ya Ya has a new manager, Judy Tung, who's worked in the Princeton restaurant for longer than I've been dining there, and she's whipping Ya Ya into shape. We had dinner there Friday night to surprise her and congratulate her on her well-deserved promotion.

"So what's good here now?" we asked. "Chef here is very good with Thai dishes. Thai style is very good here," said Tung. This branch of the 3-location mini-chain (there is another Tiger Noodles on Route 1 South in West Windsor, next to a Whole Foods market)is a much larger place, seating about 125-150 maximum, and its menu is also a larger adventure, with more appetizers, several more Chinese entrees (including Creaky Chicken, a terrific dish) than the other two Tiger Noodles, a full page of Thai dishes and an extensive sushi menu.

Yes, Ya Ya Noodles is one of those hybrid Asian restaurants that merge 3 or more cuisines onto one menu. I am not a big fan of this style of Asian restaurant, and there are usually disappointments just waiting for a knowledgeable palate. But I have faith that Judy Tung will be making sure that each menu segment will be authentic and expertly made. Her personal standards for Chinese and Thai food are very high (we've dined with her many times and she's taught me a lot about what REAL Chinese should taste like, as well as Thai). I'm not a big sushi fan, but Tung is. The sushi at Ya Ya's gonna be fresh and expertly crafted, bet on it.

Friday night we ate around the menu a bit, mostly at Tung's direction. Seafood dumplings (it's Lent after all) were gossamer thin wrappers plumped with ground shrimp and scallops, pan fried to a nice golden shade. Popular at Tiger Noodles, these were a new addition to the Ya Ya menu and a good move. The kids loved their won ton and won ton egg drop soups; the wontons looked as delicate as the larger dumplings on my plate, a good sign of skilled handwork in the kitchen. A plate of spare ribs was also ordered, and they looked larger and meatier than any I've ever seen in a Chinese restaurant. But Lenten adherence kept me from sampling them, of course. Entrees included a zippy jumbo shrimp dish in a red curry sauce, with peppers and eggplant, dramatically served in a large handmade clay bowl; chicken in garlic sauce, the chicken, onions and peppers,sliced into matchsticks for an impressive presentation; another shrimp dish, this one with a fiery Szechuan sauce into which was tucked peppers, onions, mushrooms and crunchy broccoli crowns; more broccoli came with Ben's go-to dish, chicken with broccoli, and his empty plate at dinner's end said enough about what he thought of his choice.

Judy Tung has Ya Ya Noodles humming, with well-trained servers and highly skilled chefs in her kitchen. Expect more improvements as she gets settled into her new position as manager of the place. There will be serious Chinese, Thai and sushi in Montgomery at last. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Every now and then you just get lucky. Sunday was one of those days. I got an e-mail from, who usually supply some terrific cooking ideas. Sunday's e-mail was one of those terrific ideas: Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken. I know it's just chicken, and when you see the recipe,you'll see that it's ridiculously simple and mistake-proof, but seriously, this was an elegantly simple dish with a real depth of flavor. And my eclectically-fed (and increaslngly fussy) kids loved it. Case closed. This goes in the recipe rotation as Casa Lawrenceville. Keeper. Sure shot. Slam dunk. Add your own catch phrase.

I played with the recipe slightly, substituting fresh garlic for the garlic powder listed in the original recipe (see above link), and omitting the onion powder. I also used a Trader Joe's spice blend called "21 Seasoning Salute", which includes dehydrated onion and a bunch of dried herbs and spices, instead of the dried herbs specified. Gave the chicken a really bright fresh flavor and kitchen-filling aroma.

So try this utterly simple recipe, make a big pot of Jasmine rice (I like Trader Joe's brand, very clean and sweet), and steam or stir fry some whole green and yellow beans with some diced red pepper. I paired this dish with the new Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye ale, and the beer went beautifully with it. I would pour an Italian Pinot Grigio or Spanish Albarino with this as well.

Dinner in under 30 min. Thank me later: post your results!

Adapted from

Makes 4 servings

1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
3 tsp Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute
(or Mrs Dash's if easier to obtain)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 Tbls finely chopped garlic
Juice from one lime

In a small bowl, mix together salt, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, and seasoning blend. Sprinkle spice mixture generously on both sides of chicken breasts. Rub spice mixture to completely coat breasts on both sides.
Heat butter and olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute chicken until golden brown, about 6 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with chopped garlic and lime juice. Cook, covered, for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently to baste breasts with sauce. Serve chicken on a small platter, spoon sauce on top.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Last night I ate a tremendous meal, and I ate it in Trenton. And I ate it at a restaurant that I'm betting most followers of this blog have never heard of.

The kids and I joined friends (Dr. John Hamada, his son Joe, Joe's schoolmate Max and John's friend Teresa) for dinner at The Blue Danube, tucked away on tiny Elm St., just off Broad St. not too far from the Sun Bank arena, in Trenton's South Ward. John is a chiropractor and accupuncturist, and before moving to quieter and safer Pennington to practice his healing arts, he had a well-known and vital office practice just a few blocks away from the restaurant.

It was one of the best dinners I've had in a restaurant in years.The Blue Danube is old school, and it specializes in Hungarian, Romanian, German and Polish cuisine. But instead of the
heavy gravies and sometimes leaden preparations that are often associated with these cuisines, the dishes we enjoyed last night were executed with a light touch and a deft hand. Some of this food brought back echoes from my childhood, growing up with both Italian and Polish grandmothers who were themselves terrific cooks.

At the Blue Danube, Peter Pulhac, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Margaret, is the chef and he is a master of his domain, an extensive menu of the familiar and not so familiar. We started with soups: a dark, rich cream of mushroom filled with a dice of several mushroom varieties; a chicken-spinach-egg drop soup with an intensely chickeny broth, shreds of chicken and tangles of spinach and egg, a spectacular soup; and cream of potato-tomato, a blush pink, surprisingly light cream soup with a whisper of dill, a really stunningly simple cup of potato and tomato goodness. Pierogies were also surprisingly light dough wrappers plumped with potato and cheese, glossed with sauteed onions. Potato pancakes were two big, golden, greaseless, peppery-oniony discs that overlapped the salad plate on which they were served. They were firm but amazingly light.
Entrees included chicken parmigiana and spaghetti for the kids, and one of the best versions of chicken parm I've ever had in a restaurant. Beef Stroganoff was a silky, creamy stew of beef over feather-light spaetzle, the beef almost sweet with hints of nutmeg and wine; pork schntizel was a huge, flawlessly, greaselessly fried cutlet atop a puddle of brown gravy, sided with some curly buttered noodles and sauteed spinach studded with garlic; beef goulash was intense with paprika,dill and onion notes with more of those good noodles, and brussels sprouts studded with bacon alongside. Entrees were in the low teens. Low teens. Low teens!

Desserts were a glass goblet of tira misu that was so good, we ordered another; a Romanian flaky pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese; a chocolate mousse pie that my son Ben gobbled up in about 4 bites, and some very good coffee.

The dining room at Blue Danube is small and cozy, the service is gracious and deferential,the music is gentle polkas and various folk music and the wine list features some well chosen Hungarian and Eastern European wines, a few domestic bottles for the unadventurous, and some decent German, Polish and Czech beers.

This was a deeply satisfying meal, at a place worth discovering. Savvy Trentonians have been eating here for years, but I'm betting many of you have never heard of the place. Don't wait. This is a restaurant worth supporting. I plan to be back soon--and often.

The Blue Danube
Elm & Adeline Sts.
Trenton, NJ 08611
Facebook: Blue Danube Restaurant

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Watch live streaming video from trentonian at

Trenton food history changes tonight. Delorenzo's Tomato Pies of Hudson St., of whom I have written in the Philadelphia Daily News once and here many times, is closing tonight after 64 years. Owners Gary and Eileen Amico say they need a rest, need to step back and assess, and maybe contemplate a move someday to Pennsylvania (to Newtown, PA is the persistant rumor).

Tonight, after I get some dinner into the kids (rigatoni with vodka sauce and turkey meatballs), I may try to make my way down to Chamberburg, if nothing else to shake Gary and Eileen's hands and thank them for all of the great tomato pies they've served me over the past 20 years. And for teaching and supporting their son Sam, who keeps the Delorenzo's Tomato Pies flame alive at his own place in Robbinsville, NJ.

But check the video above. It may still be a live stream when you visit this blog, because the very hip Trenton paper, The Trentonian (full disclosure: they feature this blog on their website, are streaming live from inside a packed Delorenzo's to document this historic, bittersweet night in Trenton history, with reporter Joey Kulkin doing his level best to capture the feelings and comments of the regulars and lucky souls who waited outside all day (some camping out starting on Sunday morning)and braved 20-degree weather and winds to have the last tomato pies on Hudson Street. For the record, the final pie was a large half sausage, half pepperoni pie, made by Gary Amico himself. A crowd of about 20 or so stood and watched, snapped photos and videos of the moment, and applauded loudly. A priceless moment.

History tonight, dear reader. And you can watch some of it, maybe even live. Bring that last pie close to the camera, Joey, one last time from Hudson Street.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Luckiest Thirteens

What a great year this is about to be!

I assure you that this is not boilerplate PR hype, nor motivational speaker-speak, nor the results of any random wisps of reverie resulting from too much cold medicine (leave me NOW, oh phlegm of Satan!). Well, OK, maybe it's the last one.

This Friday is a Friday the 13th, one of three Friday the 13ths that occur this year (dontcha just LOVE Leap Year?). But the real significance here is that this Friday will be the 24th FRIDAY THE FIRKINTEENTH at the Grey Lodge in NE Philly, and to my mind, still the greatest one day beer festival in the world.

That's owner/publican Mike "Scoats" Scotese in the photo, tapping a firkin of fresh ale at one of the previous Firkinteenths, my favorite picture of the man who has quietly created an international phenomenon. This Friday, starting at Noon, the Grey Lodge will begin to tap up to 30 firkins of fresh ale, 7 at a time, some of which were specially made for this day by craft brewers from across the country, and this year, from England as well.

It is the most friendly, civilized and yet raucous fun time that one can possibly have drinking beer, and it takes place in a hip, cozy bar that also happens to serve terrific food. And it's the only beer festival dictated by the calendar.

If I've whetted your interest, and you're thinking about attending, try to arrive earlier than later (I'm planning for a 3PM arrival myself), as the roster of beers change fairly quickly (each firkin holds about 85 pints of beer) and the variety of brews is impressive. A firkin of England's Old Speckled Hen should be a highlight, as well as a first-time appearance of Landslide IPA from 50/50 Brewing Co., in Truckee, CA, a beer from multiple medal-winning brewer Todd Ashman, a good friend and an outstanding beer magician. There will even be a cask cider this year, made locally by Bucks County's Desiato Cider Co., and a tasty quaff at that. These firkins are set atop the bar in the Grey Lodge, tapped the old fashioned way with a hammer and the beer inside is served by gravity. The result is a smoother, silkier beer, the taste and feel of which you'll never forget.
Also, make use of smaller 7 oz. glasses so that you can sample a wider variety of beer. And drink LOTS of water, to hydrate your body and cleanse your palate. And stop and grab something to eat upstairs, like all the savvy beer aficionados do.

Here's the lineup for this Friday's Firkinteenth:

Current Cask List
Bavarian Barbarian First Snow
Boulder Mojo
Cricket Hill Colonel Blide’s Bitter
Desiato Cider
Dock Street Rye IPA, dry-hopped
Duck Rabbit dry-hopped Brown Ale
FiftyFifty Rockslide IPA
Flying Fish Scarlet Fever
Iron Hill West Chester Anvil Ale
Lancaster Milk Stout
Manayunk Rye of the Tiger
Nodding Head 60 Shilling
Old Speckled Hen
Philly Joe Porter
Prism Bitto Honey IPA
Ruddles County Ale
Sixpoint Gorilla Warfare
Sixpoint Vienna Pale
Sly Fox Sly Fox 113 IPA (113 on 1/13)
Sly Fox Robbie Burns Scottish Ale
Stone Stone Stone Smoked Porter - dry hopped w/ Chinook
Stouts Chocolate ESB
Victory ESB
Voodoo Four Seasons IPA
Weyerbacher Fireside
Yards Brawler

I hope to see you there! If, not, the next Firkinteenths will be in April and July!

Gotta LOVE Leap Year! And the Grey Lodge.