Archive for the BYOB Restaurant Reviews Category

TORTILLA PRESS – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Tortilla Press with tags , , , , , , on July 24, 2010 by ballymote

This was a spur of the moment Friday night venture to another of the many SJ restaurants taking part in Farm to Fork Week. It had been a couple of years since I was here and I was excited about the prospect of a return visit. Tortilla Press was offering a four course prix fix menu at $30 per person and the eight Friday night regulars were all hungry. Hunger and food are always a good combination.

The interior of Tortilla Press is bright and cheery with colorful Mexican themed paintings adorning bright orange walls. We had the table at the window and some of our group were able to watch the stream of wine-toting diners advancing to and from the many excellent restaurants in the Collingswood neighborhood.  Our server brought out some chips and salza, both spicy and mild, and we munched away while trying to make decisions from the special four course menu. There were three appetizer choices and our group ended up with all three.

On the left we had my selection, Dressed Classic Ceviche “Taco Tostada”
Springdale Farms pico de gallo, extra virgin olive oil, avocado & our classic ceviche
tossed together & served over greens in a crispy mini corn tortilla bowl. In the center is Joe B.’s Fried Masa Planks
with roasted tomato, zucchini & local peppers salsa
zucchini & peppers from Flaim Farms and on the right is Jerry C.’s Flaim Farm’s Squash Blossom Soup
With zucchini, potatoes, poblano peppers & corn in a lightly creamed vegetable broth. All of these starters were well received by everyone with the lime dressed ceviche having a nice tangy flavor.

I ordered the Mexican Cobb Salad
With mixed lettuces, corn, cucumbers, yellow grape tomatoes, black beans, bacon & queso fresco cubes tossed with roasted jersey tomato vinaigrette. Tomatoes & corn from Springdale Farms. It didn’t look like much but the flavors blended together nicely to make this an enjoyable salad.

My entree choice was the Grilled Pork Loin with Schober Orchard Peach~Serrano Chile Salsa
Served with peach cider~ancho chile glaze, coconut rice & sautéed garlic jersey green beans. Jerry C. also had the pork and when I mentioned that mine was little tough he had me try his which clearly was a better example of the same dish. It wasn’t enough to send back but it certainly was a flaw in the meal.

Joe B. went with the Pan Seared Scallop and Shrimp
Served in a Flaim Farm cilantro pesto sauce garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds & pine nuts
Served with a Mexican style roasted eggplant & zucchini ragout. He was happy with his choice. The blend of unique flavors adding a certain charm to the dish.

Sue C. went with the third of the prix fix entrees the 

Chile Rellenos & Cheese Enchiladas Verde Platter
served with red rice & black beans… poblanos & tomatillos from Flaim Farms. This offering looked more like the typical “Mexican food” entree one would expect and she thought it was very good. My wife, Kathy and Tom T. both ordered off of the regular menu and Kathy had the Salmon with peach flavored barbecue sauce with chipotle potatoes. She finished what she could and the remainder is currently resting comfortable in our refrigerator.

 Tom T. can’t eat a lot of spicy foods so bringing him here to Tortilla Press was a little bit like bringing an alcoholic to a keg party. After lengthy negotiations with our server they signed a treaty forever to be known as the Tortilla Press July Accord and worked out a dish that featured steak and grilled shrimp with some veggies and a baked potato. Tom was at peace with his meal.

Most of the crew had opted for margaritas with Carol and Joe bringing a bottle of tequila and Tortilla Press providing pitchers of margarita mix, one lime and one mango (we were only charged for the lime).

I brought a bottle of the 2007 Susana Balbo, Signature Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. This wine was a cut above her regular Malbec offering and the bright cherry flavors were a good match for the south of the border spices in our dinner. I wish I had picked up a couple more bottles of this one. I should have offered Joe some but I didn’t think he would get the true flavors of the wine to cut thru the margarita.

Dessert was part of our four course meal and we couldn’t refuse that part of the meal. Most of us opted for the Peach & Blueberry Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
while the remainder of our party went with the Flan with Jersey Blueberry Compote. Both desserts were good and overall it was a pretty good experience. As nice as the prix fix deals are, there is still something to be said for being able to order from the full menu. My dinner was good but I’m not sure it’s what I would have had the same meal if there had been more selections.

A FEW WORDS ON CATELLI’S RESTAURANT IN VOORHEES, NJ

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Catelli's Restaurant (not a review) with tags , , on July 18, 2010 by ballymote

This is NOT a review of Catelli’s Restaurant in Voorhees, NJ. We went there on Friday evening as it was the setting for a surprise 75th birthday party for a family member. My wife, Kathy, and I did not expect anything other than that we would, at some point, be fed some type of meal. As with many of these pre-planned functions, there was a limited choice of four  items from a specially created for the occasion menu. I do NOT consider this as a fair representation of their menu and that is why I had no intention of treating this as a dinner where I would do my customary review. The reason I am writing this is to give you a very brief account of what was just a fantastic dining experience and one that was totally unexpected.

The four entree choices were Veal Florentine, Chicken Marsala, Filet Mignon and Onion Crusted Salmon Balsamico. It would have appeared to be a no-brainer in choosing the Filet Mignon, but for some strange reason both my wife and I selected the Salmon. Many of those who selected the filet remarked that it was wonderful, so tender you could almost cut it with your fork. Kathy and didn’t care because our salmon was better than that. It was absolute cooked perfection. The carmelized onions and rich sauce, in combination with the melt in your mouth potatoes, was just sheer culinary magic. There is nothing better than having low expectations and then being stunned by a meal that was simply splendid.

We can not wait to make a return visit to Catelli’s for a full-course dinner.

THE FIVE BEST RESTAURANT EXPERIENCES OF THE PAST YEAR

Posted in A La Maison, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Dream Cuisine Cafe, Food and Wine Lists, Gilmores Restaurant, Modo Mio Restaurant, Sonata Restaurant with tags on July 15, 2010 by ballymote

It was my original intention that this list would be titled “My FIVE Best Restaurants for the Past Year”. The problem with that was that two of my selections would have only fit that title on the first visit with the second visit falling somewhat short of the first. I decided on the current title because I really did want to include those two eateries because the original visit was outstanding. Keep in mind, therefore, this isn’t a ringing endorsement of any of these restaurants but simply a reflection on MY experience while dining there. The five are in no particular order as it is tough enough to select five from a group of 60 without listing them in order. Here they are then, my TOP FIVE DINING EXPERIENCES IN THE PAST YEAR:

 A LA MAISON    53 W. Lancaster Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003

 The food and service on our visit here were outstanding. It was just a few days before Christmas with plenty of snow on the ground but the mood inside was warm and inviting. Our server, Fabien, was a guy who knew his job and did it well. Great stemware for our wines, a first class menu and great conversations including a nice chat with owner Darlene Boline-Moseng made dinner at A La Maison an easy choice for my Top Five.

GILMORE’S            133 E. Gay Street      West Chester, PA 19380

Gilmore’s is a BYOB that makes just about every “foodie’s” Top 5 List in the Delaware Valley. That’s the kind of high expectations that I had prior to our visit and fully expected it might be a letdown. It was NOT. We had the second of the two nightly servings at 8:30 on a Saturday night in March and words just don’t adequately describe the outstanding food and service. Visit my review on this website and just look at how tempting the food photos are. I don’t think any restaurant I visited in the past year did as good a job as Gilmore’s at food presentation. This one was an easy choice for my TOP FIVE.

MODO MIO        161 W. Lehigh Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19123

Located in the shadow of the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Brewerytown, Modo Mio is one of the two BYOB’s that did not perform as well on the second visit as it did on the first. In the case of both, the first was so enjoyable that they qualified for the list despite a less than stellar encore performance. Tha first visit last March, following a day at the Franklin Institute, was absolutely terrific. Our server, Maher was top-notch and Chef Peter McAndrews was on the top of his home-style Italian food game. Obviously, another visit to this popular Philly BYOB is required to clarify the culinary confusion. Still, it was so nice it qualified for my TOP FIVE.

DREAM CUISINE CAFE    1900 Marlton Pike (Rt. 70) Cherry Hill, NJ 08003

It was a dark and stormy night last October when we ducked into the somewhat difficult to find Dream Cuisine Cafe tucked into the shadows of the Tuscany Marketplace on Rt. 70 in Cherry Hill. The brightly lit room broke the gloom of the weather and Chris, our enthusiastic server helped make the setting just right. We had some great wines to go with Chef/Owner Vincent Fanari’s creative dishes  and all in all it was just a perfect evening. It was so good that we were anxious to bring other friends to share what we had found. Unfortunately, the second visit was not quite up to par but, that October meal still qualified as a bona fide entry for my TOP FIVE.

SONATA           1030 N. American St.    Philadelphia, PA  19123

This Northern Liberties gem was unknown to me until I found some reviews on it while looking for a BYOB located equidistant from 3 different areas. I am so glad I found it because although parking wasn’t easy, the food and ambiance were first class. Chef Mark Tropea does a fantastic job of creating flavorful dishes that sound good on the menu and taste even better on the plate. This is another BYOB that didn’t take a lot of thought in making my TOP FIVE for the year.

MORTON’S STEAKHOUSE – NOT A BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Morton's Steakhouse, Philly BYOB Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by ballymote

I’ve been to a few different Morton’s Steakhouses over the years. When they are good, they are very good, when they are bad, they are memorably bad. Morton’s in the King of Prussia Mall is VERY good. Our company was hosting some out of town visitors and this was one of three dinners they will attend during their two weeks in town. If the other two are as good as this they should leave Philly a few pounds heavier. We ordered from a pre-arranged limited menu but what it lacked in quantity of choices it made up for in quality of product. It seemed that none of the eight diners were able to ascertain what the letters S-A-L-M-O-N spelled because no one ordered any and the same held true for C-H-I-C-K-E-N. It was if they had all attended a secret meeting before arriving where someone whispered to them “Psssst….if you go to Morton’s, order the S-T-E-A-K.” Fortunately, I was able to persuade Kelly from Charleston, SC to split the chicken with me so that I’d have another entrée photo for the blog.

Our server was also named Kelly and although she shared my pain that we were both missing the evening’s episode of “The Bachelorette” she did a great job of  unobtrusively making sure that all of our dining needs were taken care of all evening.

She suggested a couple of appetizer sampler trays, one cold, and the other baked. The trays were huge with heaping portions of shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters and clams on the cold tray and yummy scallops wrapped in bacon, mini-crab cakes, huge breaded coconut shrimp and other delights from the sea on the baked plate. The warm onion loaf bread was also delicious and if the meal ended right here I’m sure none of us would have left hungry.

We had a couple of nice wines. The first was the always dependable Estancia Meritage, a 2006 vintage. The other was a 2007 Duck Pond Pinot Noir from Oregon. When Kelly saw how much I enjoyed the Pinot she brought us a sample of the 2007 Tony Soter , Mineral Springs Ranch. It was terrific and I rightfully ordered the rest of the bottle. Everyone at the table seemed to enjoy the wines and the conversation was lively and enjoyable as we all learned things about each other.

The chatter around the table came to a screeching halt as the steaks arrived, each accompanied by perfectly cooked green beans and a piping hot baked potato. The lone chicken platter arrived the same way with not one or two but THREE large portions of tender breast meat. Most of the guests tried to finish as much as they could because they were staying at a hotel and had no way to protect leftovers. I was more fortunate as I took most of my chicken and potato home for another meal. We would have all been ready to stagger away from the table but there was dessert to come. A tempting slice of cheesecake made it’s way to some; a delectable key lime pie found a home with a couple, and most had opted for a devilishly sweet chocolate mousse. All provided a nice ending to a very enjoyable meal. If good food, good wine and good conversation all make for memorable evenings then Morton’s did a good job of making that happen.

BARONE TUSCAN GRILL – BYOB

Posted in Barone Tuscan Grill, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, South Jersey BYOB Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2010 by ballymote

Barone Tuscan Grill in Woolwich, NJ is new;VERY new. It’s the latest edition to the Barone Restaurant mini-empire. Their website has no information on this location except to say it is “coming soon”.  The Woolwich/Swedesboro area of southern Gloucester County is a fast-growing area for young families that was blossoming quickly before the real estate debacle took place. It’s evident even now that once the situation improves it’s an area that will continue to see explosive residential growth.

My son and his wife (Brian & Jenny) recently moved to this location from PA and we had dinner with them and our friends Jerry and Sue C. along with their son Tim, and his girlfriend, Kristen. We met here at Barone as a torrential summer shower drenched us on our run from the car to the shelter of the restaurant. Inside it was bright and cheery with a full house on this Friday evening. The front of the restaurant is lined with windows while the back features walls with large black and white scenes of Tuscany.

The strip mall that houses Barone Tuscan Grill also has a JB Liquors and I was able to pick up a couple of bottles for dinner.  We had the 2006 J Vidal – Fleury, Cotes du Rhone and it went very well with the rich, Italian foods. There were a few other bottles at the table, a German Riesling and a 2008 Falesco, Vitiano, another dependable inexpensive wine that JB’s sell for $11.99. We never did open the 2008 Erath, Pinot Noir, Oregon so that made the ride back home with us. Our server, Stephanie, confessed that she had not opened more than 8 bottles of wine in her short career at Barone Tuscan Grill so we gave her some assistance and told her that it’s a good thing that she admits that up front. She did a good job all night seeing to our needs.

We started with a few appetizers for the table, Mussels “Your Way” which in the case was in marinara sauce, Arancini, fried risotto balls stuffed with wild mushrooms and fontina cheese in a parmesan cream sauce and Parmesan Crisp, a flatbread Parmesan Crisp, herbed parmesan cheese with infused white truffle oil and melted provolone. The meal was off to a good start.

The rain was letting up and the late evening summer sun was beginning to peek thru the dark clouds which lit up the room. Several of our party mentioned that it was warm in the room. I’m not certain I recall what everyone had as an entree but I will do the best I can.

I wanted the meatloaf entree but was informed that it had been devoured by earlier diners so I went with my second choice, Pollo Rollatini, chicken breast stuffed with prusciutto, spinach and fontina cheese with a rich mushroom sauce. A nice portion of capellini accompanied the dish. It was tasty and a good-sized portion and I took half home and finished it for dinner just moments ago. My only minor gripe is that there were too many mushroom present but that’s just my anti-mushroom bias and many would take that news as a plus.

Kristen ordered the Ravioli Rosa, fresh lobster-filled hand-made ravioli in a pink basil cream sauce. This dish had beautiful color and Kristen thoroughly enjoyed what she finished before also taking some home for later.

Kathy can never pass up an eggplant dish so she predictably ordered the Melanzane Rollantini, eggplant rolled with ricotta and basil and served with mozzarella cheese. She chose the vermicelli as her side pasta dish and she also found the serving large enough to provide a second meal.

My daughter-in-law selected the pasta topped with crabmeat while my son had the Tuscan Alfredo, chicken in a lemon zest alfredo sauce. Both were a little disappointed in their meals feeling it lacked a lot of taste.

Sue had the Vitello San Angelo, egg battered veal with asparagus and mozzarella in a madiera demi glace. I thought her dish looked great and the ziti was a nice addition to the plate.

Tim was not in adventurous mood and he ended up with the old reliable Chicken Parmesan. For Kristen and Tim, the leftovers they took home will be there last American meal for three weeks as they left today for Australia and a fun-filled summer vacation diving off the Great Barrier Reef.

Because Barone Tuscan Grill (I want sooooo bad to called it Barone’s) is located so close to my son and his wife’s new home I am sure this is not our last visit to this place. They are experiencing the usual “new opening” pains but they are trying and the place certainly shows potential. The prices are reasonable and the portion sizes are good. There is a review of one of their other restaurants, Villa Barone,  in Collingswood, located elsewhere on my blog.

THE FIVE BEST THINGS I HAVE EATEN IN THE PAST YEAR

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Food and Wine Lists, Top Restaurant Lists with tags , , , , , on July 5, 2010 by ballymote

It’s no easy task to reduce a year of great dishes down to the FIVE BEST. I went back through each post and mentally re-tasted each yummy morsel. There were several that stood out but most of the top five were ones I have often thought about during the year.  Interestingly, the final list is composed of one soup, two appetizers and two entrees. There were certainly other items that I hated to leave off the list but five seemed to make more sense than doing ten.

Here then, in no particular order, are the TOP FIVE BEST THINGS I HAVE EATEN IN THE PAST YEAR:

The CRAB CHOWDER at The FAYETTE STREET GRILLE.  There is nothing quite as tasty as a well done crab or lobster chowder and the one offered at the Conshohocken eatery is absolutely first class. Generous portions of crab interspersed with potato and veggies and tantalizing spices made this one an easy choice for the list. Hopefully, a return visit for more of this scrumptious soup is not too far away.

The LOBSTER RISOTTO at TISHA’S FINE DINING in Cape May, NJ. This appetizer was so good that the picture on the left is NOT that of the dish I had. I got so caught up in the taste-tempting creation that I neglected to take a photo of it. This is just a “losbster risotto” pic from the internet. For the real thing, you have to head down the shore….but not yet. Tisha’s has moved from their “on the beach” location to the Washington Street Mall and their much anticipated re-opening is scheduled for July 14th.

The LOBSTER MAC n CHEESE at RITZ SEAFOOD in Vorhees, NJ and the LOBSTER MAC n CHEESE at the BLACK LAB in Phoenixville. It may just be that it’s hard to NOT make a great lobster mac n cheese. But both of these restaurants do a fantastic job of creating an appetizer that you wish was your entree. They were both delicious and both worthy of a spot on my Top Five.

The CHICKEN INDORATI at LoBIANCO’S in Collingswood, NJ. This place is one of our favorites as it is consistently good. This dish with the truffled potatoes, baby spinach and glazed fontina atop the perfectly done and full of flavor chicken breast was a perfect example of why our friends thoroughly enjoy this star of the Collingswood culinary scene.

As I mentioned in my review, the dish pictured here may not totally stir your taste buds but it’s truly a case of looks being deceiving. The HOMEMADE POTATO GNOCCHI with CRABMEAT which is one of the signature dishes of Chef Alex Capasso, who presides over the kitchen at BLACKBIRD RESTAURANT, one of the shining stars on the Collingswood, NJ dining scene. The dish is just perfect. Light, great flavors, perfectly seasoned and available as both an appetizer and an entree. You can also chop six dollars off the price by skipping the crabmeat but you do NOT wanna do that.

There they are, the FIVE BEST, my apologies to a few others that came so close. I’m looking forward to another year of great food and great wines.

MARLY’S RESTAURANT – BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Marly's Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on June 26, 2010 by ballymote

Another spur of the moment wine dinner with my friend Gerry who lives in Oaks, PA led us once again to downtown Phoenixville. Tonight it was Marly’s. This area reminds me so much of Collingswood NJ with the main difference being Phoenixville probably has more dining spots except fewer of them are BYOB’s. Having said that, there are still enough to visit several times without having to repeat any of them.

As this was a Tuesday evening and lots of places were closed, we were happy to see Marly’s open. We virtually had the place to ourselves which was nice for us but not so good for the owners. It was also a bit unfair as the food here certainly deserves to have more people enjoying it. I’m sure they do well on weekends but it’s often those midweek customers who keep a place going.

We can never be 100% certain we will find good food but dining with Gerry always means there will be some good wine. Tonight he brought the 2007 Stefania, Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the best of a stellar Stefania lineup and offers a nose of ripe plums, red fruit and a hint of menthol The tannins are smooth and the finish lingering. My contribution was a 2006 Reverie, Diamond Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. This one edged out the Stefania. I thought it was close but Gerry thought this one was decidedly better over time. It was very smooth with some bright berry fruit and licorice with subtle smokiness. Both wines went well with our entrees.

Gerry passed on appetizers and had the Caesar Salad as a starter. he thought it was crisp, fresh and well-made.

I have no idea what I was thinking when I ordered the Watermelon Gespacho. Maybe I envisioned liquid watermelon in a bowl. I certainly was not counting on what tasted like cold tomato soup that someone drizzled some watermelon into. I am not blaming Marly’s. This one was entirely my fault.

We both fared much better with our choice of entrees. Gerry enjoys shrimp and he went right to his first choice the Shrimp Reggiano – served with fresh torn pasta sauteed with cherry tomatoes, and artichoke hearts served in a fresh basil, reggiano-seafood sauce – 23. He shared a small portion with me and the flavors were excellent. It really was a nice combination that teased the taste buds.

I could have chosen several different eye-catching items from the menu as there were some terrific fish entrees and plenty of dishes that came served over various risottos. In the end, I selected the Marly’s “Cheese steak”- Pan-seared Filet mignon, topped with a Roquefort-walnut crust served with the potato of the day – 29. The Roquefort topping went perfect with the flavorful potatoes and the filet was nicely done and super-tasty. If I could add a minor gripe they could have removed the walnuts and had no resistance from me. The dish was perfect with the full-bodied wines and I thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, the drinks and the conversation.

Marly’s proved to be another really good Phoenixville BYOB.

CUTILLO’S RESTAURANT – NOT A BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Cutillo's Restaurant, Philly BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners on June 25, 2010 by ballymote

Cutillo’s Restaurant in Sanatoga, PA (near Pottstown) is a spot that my wife and I have visited a few times over the past couple of years. Our son, Brian and his wife, Jenny, live(d) in that area and this is why we found ourselves there for a Father’s Day dinner.

It was probably going to be our last trip out that way as they were moving back to New Jersey the following week.

Although we had made other visits to this dining spot, most had been for drinks and snacks or a buffet type meal following a special event. This was our first “dinner” at Cutillo’s. Our server, Drew brought us menus and we ordered a bottle of 2007 Ravenswood Zinfandel. At $20.00, this was not a bad price for a restaurant wine list even though it’s not a very special wine.

We decided to skip the appetizers and we all started with a Wedge Salad, iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, bacon bits and blue cheese dressing. The salad was not bad but having enjoyed some great wedge salads this one wasn’t near the top of the list. It’s tough to be as sympathetic to the entrees.

 My son, Brian, chose the Filet Mignon, “9 ounces of tender filet cooked to your liking and topped with béarnaise sauce.” When his filet arrived it was not a very impressive looking piece of meat and he even asked me “is this a filet?” It wasn’t a very good looking piece of meat and for $28.00 this was certainly overpriced for the quality.

 His wife, Jenny, fared no better with her choice, which was very nearly my choice as it sounded wonderful on the menu. She ordered the Chicken Esquire, chicken breast wrapped around jumbo lumped crab imperial filling, deep-fried and baked then smothered with jumbo lump crab lobster cream sauce. As I’m typing this I am almost wishing I could order it except that the memory of the dish lingers in my mind. Whatever that “sauce” was it quickly congealed over the tasteless chicken breast and was not very appealing.

 I would have been exuberant over the fact that I did NOT choose the Chicken Esquire except that I chose the equally bland Vermicelli and Meatballs. The online menu had shown it to be angel hair pasta but, although I was originally disappointed to find they had substituted the vermicelli, the truth is it wouldn’t have been any better. It was the sauce that killed it. Actually, the meatballs sent it to the hospital and it was the sauce that made it necessary to pull the plug on the entrees life-support system. I ate about one-third of the dish and had no desire to bring the rest home.

 My wife, Kathy, found her Chicken Parmesan with a side of vermicelli just as dull as the rest of our dinners. To be fair, the kids were a little bit fidgety and that may have put a damper on the entire experience but that in no way hampered Cutillo’s ability to cook their food. It’s always been my policy to try and say good things about every dining experience but I’d have to say we were all very disappointed with our dinner at Cutillo’s.

DuCLAW BREWING COMPANY – NOT A BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, DuClaw Brewing Company, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on June 24, 2010 by ballymote

DuClaw Brewing Company is a local Baltimore purveyor of micro-brew beers and unique pub grub. They have locations in Bel-Air, Arundel Mills, Bowie Town center and BWI Airport. In most of the reviews I have read on DuClaw, the beer draws rave reviews while the food seems to get mixed opinions. On Saturday, my wife and I drove down to the Bel-Air location to meet out son, Frank and his wife, Jen. It took us about 90 minutes to make the drive down I-95 and the restaurant was not very busy at the early 5:00 P.M. reservation time. Frank and Jen had their two young daughters, Samantha, age 4 and Maddie, age 19 months.

Choosing a beer amongst their many choices is no easy chore and they were nice enough to provide me with three “samplers” to assist me in making up my mind. I was given the Misfit Red,an amber ale,  the very dark and Guinness-like, Celtic Fairy and the Euphoria, a toffee nut-brown ale. All of them were tasty but I settled on the Misfit Red. My wife, and daughter-in-law chose the Bare-Ass Blonde Ale, DuClaw’s most popular offering.

We split an order of Loaded Nachos at $8.29 which came with the usual suspects of toppings but somehow lacked any cohesion to make the dish memorable. Others had the Wine and Garlic Mussels which were passable without drawing any glowing praise.

Their were crayons and coloring sheets for the kids to keep their attention as our entrees were being prepared. Frank went with the Arizona Burger, dusted with “Arizona seasonings (what are they??), lettuce, tomato, apple-wood smoked bacon and gouda cheese, served with a side of chipotle aioli.” An order of fries completed his dish. The burger looked appealing and he seemed to enjoy his choice. Kathy must be in her “I want ribs” phase because for the second night in a row she chose the half-rack of baby backed ribs. This one came with cole slaw and potato salad. She didn’t eat a whole lot and gave most of her portion to Frank and Jen to take home. I don’t think she was disappointed with the ribs; it seemed more that she just didn’t have much of an appetite. Jen had the Huli Huli Salmon, topped with a roasted pineapple ring and huli huli sauce. It looked good and was a nice size portion. I found the menu offered a wide variety of interesting possibilities and finally settled on the Pepperjack Penne Pasta, tossed in pepperjack cream sauce, julienne peppers, onions, and topped with diced tomatoes and blackened chicken and served with an asiago toast point. I would be lying if I didn’t say this concoction was excellent. I finished as much as I could of the tangy pasta and took enough home that I had a nice helping for dinner last night and found it just as good as a leftover.

The children split a Brownie Sundae for dessert and Frank, the biggest child of all, had a helping of their Peanut Butter Pie. It looked delicious on his plate and it didn’t last long, either. I’d say that DuClaws is a good choice for some unique pub food with a great selection of beers that you won’t find anywhere else. The only REAL problem is that the DuClaw Brewing Company is ONLY located in the Baltimore area so don’t look for any in Philly or South Jersey.

MAX’S SEAFOOD CAFE – NOT A BYOB

Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Max's Seafood Cafe, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by ballymote

Max’s Seafood Cafe has been a neighborhood fixture in Gloucester City ever since we first came to New Jersey some 37 years ago. My wife, Kathy, and I have been there many times  but it’s been a few years since our last visit. It’s a touch more upscale than we remember but it still has that local “feel” that long-standing neighborhood establishments convey. Our Friday night dining group converged there this past Friday night. I would have preferred a BYOB but I was still anxious to see what the place had to offer. For starters they offered fresh bread and butter and most of us had a beer to begin the evening. I chose a Smythwick’s which they had on tap. They have quite an extensive list of domestic, imported and Belgian beers.

I ordered the Dungeness Crab Dip which came a a large cup of”warm cvrabmeat-cream cheese dip with toasted Pita triangles.” There was plenty of dip and a generous supply of pita triangles. The only problem was that the crab dip was virtually tasteless.  I’m not quite sure how you manage to put crabmeat and cream cheese together and totally remove all taste but, they did it. I had given a portion to my wife and she agreed with my observations. Although not pictured, I would be remiss in not mentioning that the blue cheese dressing on the salads was equally tasteless and did nothing to enhance the fresh ingredients evident in the salad. Why would you dilute blue cheese dressing??

Since we were dining at a seafood place we all went with some form of sea creature.  

I was in my “Creole is King” mood and I opted for the “New Orleans Jambalaya, with grilled chicken, baby shrimp, andouille, peppers, okra and risotto. It wasn’t bad and my only complaint, which other might consider a good thing, was that the dish was overpowered by the baby shrimp. Not so much chicken or andouille but more shrimp than even Bubba Gump could handle. The flavor was good, though and it was a nice size portion.

Joe B. ordered the Pan-Seared Jumbo Scallops, canelinni beans, spinach, roasted red peppers and balsamic syrup. He thought it was very good and the scallops were done to perfection.

Sue ordered the Fried Flounder and mixed veggies while Carol had the Broiled Jumbo Shrimp Stuffed with Lump Crabmeat, served with a fresh lemon-butter sauce and accompanied with a serving of cole slaw.

My wife Kathy, and Barb T. were elated to find Fried Select Oysters with cocktail and tartar sauce and a helping of cole slaw. Having never developed a taste for oysters I am always surprised when someone else finds them so enjoyable.

Tom T.. had no trouble finding what he wanted on the extensive seafood menu. He chose the Max’s Crab Cakes, two 4 ounce cakes in a roasted red pepper sauce with summer veggies. The crab cakes looked nice and full but he still kept eyeing Carol’s stuffed shrimp in an effort to calculate whether she had more crabcake stuffed into her shrimp than he did in his entire order.

Most of the entrees (mine excluded) came with a plate of Sweet Potato Fries. I did get to try a few and I am happy to report that they were outstanding; hot and crisp on the outside with lots of sweet potato filling. This is an item more places should add to their menus. Overall, I would have preferred a BYOB as I miss my opportunities for wine on a Friday evening. I’d give Max’s a C+ or maybe even a B-.

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