Wednesday, March 28, 2012
THE STICKY WICKET
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
2465 S. Broad Street
Hamilton, NJ 08610