Archive for the South Jersey BYOB Reviews Category

CATELLI DUO

Posted in Catelli Duo with tags , , on December 23, 2012 by ballymote

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 , in the Main Street area of Voorhees, NJ, was a popular location for South Jersey “foodies”. They closed up there about a year ago but the chef and owners have opened a new version, Catelli Duo, in the Voorhees Town Center next to the Echelon Mall. The construction in the area continues and by the spring of 2012 it will be the site of several new restaurants and many unique shops.

 Catelli Duo and their food offerings takes a little bit of explanation. The menu is quite extensive and it is unlikely that there won’t be several items that pique your culinary interest. Most items are offered in two columns, one marked “Social” and the other “Duo”. Quite simply, the “Social” portion is half the size of the “Duo” portion and usually priced at half the cost. They are similar to the “small plates” or “tapas” that many restaurants offer. The “Duo” portion is twice the size and usually can be shared with others. The same rules apply to the entree portion of the menu.

Our party of eight arrived at Catelli Duo (the reservation made on Open Table) and were promptly seated at an oval table that comfortably seated six, as was evidenced by the six place settings that were already there. The hostess proceeded to add two additional place settings and the eight of us tried our best to squeeze into the area assigned. Even with our twice daily trips to the local gym and our six-pack abs, the seating was uncomfortable. The restaurant was packed and it quickly became apparent that there was not going to be an alternative seating spot for our group. We decided to drown our sadness in drink but my first choice from the drink menu (this is NOT a BYOB) of a Brooklyn Lager was not to be as was the Sangria selection. They were out of both (it is 7:30 PM on a Saturday evening). Different selections were made and the drinks arrived. I ended up with an Arrogant Bastard Ale. The Hostess stopped by to inquire as to how the food was so far. Since we had only been served bread, it was a little difficult to make an appraisal.

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 Afer studying the menu I selected a “social” size portion of the Cheesesteak Eggrolls. I thought they tasted just “ok” but others at the table thought they were excellent.

 

 

 

 

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  Next, I chose from the pasta portion of the menu and selected the Spaghetti. It came with 2 small meatballs (this was also the “social” portion) and was bathed in a tasty red sauce. I really liked this item. I thought it was nicely prepared and had lots of flavor. My wife had a Chopped Salad and she also enjoyed that.

 

IMG_6116 Some of the others went with the Lobster Bisque which they thought was good but wondered why it wasn’t titled Crabmeat Bisque since there was no lobster present.

 

 

 

 

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 I must have been in a very pasta mood because as my entree I chose the Capellini Catelli, where you can have shrimp or crab in either a red, white or fra diavolo sauce. I went with the crab and fra diavolo (our server, Diane, declared it her personal favorite). This time I went with the “Duo” size portion. Often, when you order a fra diavolo sauce, the Chef seems to be afraid to make it too hot. This was NOT the case with this entree. It was HOT!! I think I needed three refills of my water-glass to get through the dish. My mouth was burning and I wanted to stop halfway through but to be honest, it tasted so damn good I kept going back for one more mouth torturing bite until my plate was clean.

 

 

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 Some of our friends went with one of the evening “speciasl”, a Veal Porterhouse served with mashed potatoes and green beans. They were all picking every last morsel of meat from the bone so I would assume they thought it was excellent.

 

 

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                                                                                                                               My wife ordered the Seafood Ravioli, homemade pasta filled with shrimp crab and lobster cream in a pink blush sauce. She enjoyed her selection. She also chose a Malbec wine to accompany her meal.

 

We passed on dessert as we were going back to one of our party’s home for coffee and cake. The dessert menu did have some tempting choices on it and would be a “must do” next time. We got off to a bad start at Catelli Duo and I actually considered renaming it for this review, Catelli Buo, but the food redeemed them. I would say, Catelli Duo is a place for food, it is noisy and apparently popular. There are no romantic nooks to be found. It is definitely worth a visit.

MARLENE MANGIA BENE

Posted in Marlene Mangia Bene on November 11, 2012 by ballymote

 Woodbury, NJ is not the first area to come to mind when seeking a good BYOB in South Jersey. We had heard some good things, though about a fairly new restaurant called Marlene Mangia Bene and the eight of us decided to give it a try last night. Located at 43 South Broad Street on the main drag of Gloucester County’s seat of government. It is certainly an area that could use some nice dining spots so we were all anxious to see if it would live up to its advanced billing.

 My wine choice for the evening was a 2008 Almesa, Syrah, Paso Robles, CA. I had purchased four bottles of this wine from an internet site called WINES TILL SOLD OUT (WTSO). Each day they send out 4 or five emails featuring a greatly reduced wine, averaging about 40 or 50% off the previous best price, and the deal remains on until, as you may have guessed, the wine is sold out. They also offer free delivery if you purchase four bottles. This was my first time buying from them and I actually knew nothing about the Almesa Syrah. I am happy to report that the wines was great and the price was fantastic. It was a great food wine with plenty of dark fruits with hints of pepper and spice all in a nicely balanced structure.

 There were some nice choices on the appetizer section of the menu and Gerry went with the Eggplant Involtini. The eggplant was stuffed with goat cheese and he really enjoyed his choice. Joe had the stuffed long hots and although they were very good he felt that for $10.00 there should have been more than two of them. I had no trouble making my decision as I had to try Marlenes Meatball Medley, 3 homemade meatballs stuffed with mozzarella, pork and tender veal and topped with ricotta cheese and marinara sauce. They were delicious and a decent size portion also at $10.00.

                                                                      Carol’s appetizer was the unique Shrimp Limoncello, jumbo shrimp on crostini toast with limoncello sauce and crushed tomato. One of the staff explained that this dish was created from an accident when someone inadvertently spilled limoncello on a shrimp dish. Everyone tried it in the kitchen, they all liked it, and it was added to the menu.

 My wife, Kathy, had a bad cold but she couldn’t resist ordering the Lobster Tomato Bisque. I tasted it and it was good. I think lobster bisque should be served without any additions. I mean. why add tomato flavor to something as totally delicious as lobster? At $12.00 for a soup offering I expect it to be more lobster and less tomato.

  There was a pretty decent delay between appetizers and entrees which didn’t bother us because we were busily engaged in conversation, mostly about the results of the recent Presidential election and exactly how quickly Andy Reid should leave town. When the main course did arrive, three of party selected the Chicken Martino (actually, one had it as a veal dish. This dish came with chicken ($20.00) or veal ($22.00) and consisted of sauteed medallions, wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes with a light demi-glaze sauce served over a bed of capellini. Everyone was pleased with their order but one of the dishes was overpowered with the sauce and very light on the portion of capellini. It was very noticeable with the two other orders to compare it with. The restaurant was kind enough to not only replace the dish but took it off the bill and provided a free dessert. It’s a great sign of caring about your customers and your business when such service is provided. Mistakes can happen and as in this case they often provide an opportunity to show your professionalism.

 Joe had the Harvest Pork Chop, bone-in pork chop grilled to perfection and topped with a fig, apple and grand marnier topping and served with veggies and scalloped potatoes. There was nothing left but the bone when Joe was done with his meal.

Sue had one of the specials of the evening a Chilean Sea Bass which she really enjoyed. It looked like an outstanding piece of fish. Gerry had a Veal Chop and he had no complaints whatsoever.

 For my entree I went with the Jumbo Sea Scallops, pan seared scallops in a grand marnier glaze served with roasted plum tomatoes and sauteed baby spinach. The four scallops were indeed jumbo and the grand marnier glaze was the perfect topping. I really liked my dish. It was done perfectly and the spinach made a nice accompaniment to the scallops.

                                                                                                                 We topped off our dinners by passing around the Hi-Five cake, multiple layers of a rich chocolate concoction topped with creme fraiche and drizzled with more chocolate. The house also offered each of us our choice of three different appertifs, a basic limoncello, a basil-infused limoncello and a spiced apple concoction. Although they were all tasty, they were also very weak without any taste of alcohol noticeable.

We all thoroughly enjoyed Marelene Mangia Bene. It’s a breath of dining fresh air in a town that badly needs fine dining. I’d say the prices here, compared to much of Collingswood, would be slightly on the high side but the food quality is there so I can’t complain about the pricing. I’m sure we will return and I would recommend this dining establishment to anyone who enjoys well prepared dishes.

MELANGE

Posted in Melange with tags , , , , on October 27, 2012 by ballymote

 Four years ago, Chef Joe Brown moved his New Orleans themed restaurant from Cherry Hill to Haddonfield. Although I had been to the Cherry Hill location a couple of times this would be my first visit to the Haddonfield location.

 I liked the interior of Melange. Dark chocolate walls and lots of jazz themed prints of New Orleans gave this Cajun eatery a nice southern feel to it.

 I had a wine with me that not only was unfamiliar to me, I wasn’t even sure where I got it. The 2009 Planning Mill Red, Columbia Valley, Washington is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%) with some Syrah, Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc thrown in. I thought it was surprisingly good for the the price (about $12.00, I think).  My wife, Kathy, also was impressed with this one. Joe had a 2009 Mario Ercolino, Sassarello, Sicily. I didn’t try this one but neither Joe nor Carol seemed impressed with this bottle.

 

I am so far behind in my reviews (it’s now 7 weeks since I began writing this one) that I am going to do some abbreviated reviews in order to try and catch up.

 

 

 

 For our appetizers Kathy and I shared the Baked Lobster Mac n Cheese which I thought was terrific and Kathy thought was OK.

 Joe had the their signature Tomato Crab Bisque infused with sherry. It looked good and he gave it a thumbs up.

 

 

 

 

 For her entree Kathy chose the Baked Chicken and Shrimp served over whole wheat linguine and the chicken was moist and flavorful. The shrimp huge and nicely done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I selected the Buttermilk Fried Breast of Chicken with Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes topped with Country Ham Gravy. I thought the dish was perfect. The chicken was great and the sweet potatoes went well as a accompaniment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We finished off an excellent meal by passing around a Kahlua Pound Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.

I love the menu at melange. It’s chock full of interesting items all prepared with a tangy, spicy Louisiana flare. I know my love affair with all things Cajun isn’t shared by all but it’s always a treat for me when I get the opportunity to enjoy this type of cooking done well as it is at Melange.

MIRKO’S A TASTE OF EUROPE

Posted in Mirko's Taste of Europe, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 16, 2012 by ballymote

 While searching for a new BYOB in South Jersey, one that I had not yet experienced, I came across an unfamiliar name, Mirko’s A Taste of Europe. I checked the reviews and they seemed pretty good and then I paid a visit to their website. Their web page is worth visiting even if you have no intention of dining there (although, you probably would enjoy it). It turns out that Chef Mirko, aside from being an excellent cook, also has some unique marketing skills. Here is how the place works. There is a flag next to each appetizer and entree. The flag represents the country which is home to the particular food item represented. They have a dining program called “PASSPORT” and the following explains how it works:

 

Euro Travel Club

 

passportsAs a member of this prestigious club, you are entitled to travel to any European country, spend as much time as you like, and return as often as you like. Your luggage will be transported with no fees from destination to destination. We recommend purchasing additional club memberships for your friends or loved ones, since traveling with our Euro Travel Club is more enjoyable with company.

As a proud member, we will issue you your own passport, so no hassle for forms and fees are needed. The passport will also be your ticket to enter as many European countries as you wish, and there will be preferred seating for Club members in any country you visit.

We guarantee sunshine and lots of fun at any destination, and we encourage you to come with an appetite to enjoy the cuisine and culture of Europe.

Each time you enter a new European country you need to get flagged and stamped (in your passport, not you!) This is important, because we offer our club members free dining after every 6th country. So, every time you collect all 6 countries and stamps, you dine on us! Who needs reward points if you could have a great meal just like that?

The Club offers you additional great benefits not to be missed. You will automatically be registered in our Birthday club where we are honored to recognize your birthday with a “buy one get one free”, because we want you to travel with one of your loved ones.

As a Club member, you also have the benefit of having us organize a special occasion for your needs. Simply call us, make a reservation, and tell us the occasion and the country you’d like to visit. We’ll get your “luggage” ready by getting flowers, arranging for a special beverage we could pick-up for you, having a special ending dessert prepared, or any other needs for your event.

To recognize frequent travelers and club members we would also like to invite you and a guest to a private appreciation party in January designed to recognize all the miles you have shared with us, and to welcome you to a new year of traveling Europe. For an amazing price of $30 per person, we will be serving specialties from Europe in small bites, and then have a family style multi-course dinner, bringing great memories back from past travels. Live music and wine service will be just part of the evenings travel arrangements.

You can stay in contact with the club members via Facebook, Twitter, or just by visiting our web site.

Membership fees are $10 and do not include airfare at this time.

Happy traveling and thank you for joining one of the fastest growing clubs in NJ!

When the six of us visited there earlier this month they were celebrating Italy (each week is a new country). Italy Week would mean extra dishes representing the cuisine of that nation.

 Our server for the evening was, Tasha. She was charming and capable. She opened our wines and took the time to explain the Mirko’s concept. It was apparent that Tasha, and the rest of the wait team are enthusiastic and happy to be a part of all that is happening at Mirko’s taste of Europe. The service throughout the evening was excellent.

 My wine for the evening was a Spanish red, the 2009 “Petalos” del Bierzo. There was a nose of red licorice and camphor and in the mouth plenty of red berries and menthol. It had a medium body and a medium finish. A solid, if not exceptional wine. Joe B. had an interesting bottle, the 2011 Andean Vineyards, The Waxed Bat, Mendoza, Argentina. This was a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec. This wine was smooth with some nice dark flavors. It is reasonably priced and affords a good accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes.

 I had some camera problems this particular evening as I had damaged my regular lens and was awaiting arrival of a newly purchased replacement. I had to use a telephoto lens and this made it too awkward to capture all of the dishes. I only did my appetizer and entree and a small pizza appetizer that my wife selected. One of the evening specials was a fish that was served on a bed of Lobster Risotto. I wasn’t interested in the fish but I did ask Tasha if it was possible to order a portion of the Lobster Risotto as an appetizer. She checked with Chef Mirko and I was happy to hear that it wasn’t a problem. I was even happier when the dish arrived, complete with some crustacean shells. The rice as perfectly cooked and had an abundance of rich lobster flavor. It was delicious. Not quite the equal of the same dish served at Tisha’s in Cape May, NJ but certainly a fine effort that grabs second place in my Lobster Risotto world.

 Kathy’s Naple’s Pizza appetizer had plenty of cheese some fresh tomatoes and arugula and I was glad she offered me a slice.

 Although there were no pics of what our friends enjoyed, I know there were some orders of the Weiner Schnitzle and the Classic Goulash, so both germany and Hungary were well represented. I decided to visit Great Britain, as did my wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 We both ordered the Fish and Chips, beer battered cod served with Fried Potatoes and malt Vinegar dip. There was plenty to eat as each order contained not three or four but FIVE nicely coated pieces of fish. There was plenty for the present and plenty for another meal the next day. I did not care for the potatoes. I am just not a fan of this type of spud. Give me the all-American steak fry any time. These potatoes also did not re-heat well at all in the microwave. It’s OK, the fish was good and I can forgive the fries which are a personal taste sort of thing.

 

 

 

Overall, the six of us enjoyed our meal at Mirko’s. I would certainly recommend the place to everyone. They are located in the Ritz Plaza in Voorhees and judging from our experience, they appreciate your business and make every effort to make certain you have a great dining experience.

LA FONTANA COAST – SEA ISLE CITY

Posted in La Fontana Coast with tags , , , , on July 29, 2012 by ballymote

  La Fontana Coast is a BYOB on Landis Ave. in the heart of Sea Isle City, NJ. Four couples who were enjoying a sun-drenched weekend at the Jersey shore had Saturday night reservations at this Italian eatery. It is worth mentioning that La Fontana Coast has a very colorful and informative website. One item on the website, however, requires an explanation. That would be the line where they proclaim in describing the restaurant ” with an elegantly infectious Southern Italian seaside villa décor with an amazing view of the ocean”. I won’t argue about the decor but the place would have to be 12 stories high and you would have to be dining on the roof to have ANY view of the ocean, let alone an amazing view of it.

 Other than taking certain liberties with the “view”, La Fontana Coast is a pretty nice place and a fine choice for dining out in Sea Isle City.

 As usual, we had some nice wines with us for the evening. I didn’t even get to try them all.  I had brought a white wine which is unusual but I knew even the folks in our crowd who don’t like most chardonnay’s would be happy with the 2009 Wente, Riva Ranch, Chardonnay. It has that Rombauer-like creaminess with lots of vanilla and caramel notes. I didn’t sample all of the wines but I did have some of the 2009 Frog’s Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet and the 2009 Joseph Phelps, Napa Valley Cabernet. Both of these wines were very good although the Phelps naturally falls short of its big brother, the Insignia.

 

 While we were all busy making our dinner and appetizer selections from the menu, we were presented with a couple of lovely plates of antipasto that included several varieties of cheese, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives and pickled cucumbers. It was a nice and generous presentation by the La Fontana kitchen and our appetizer selection was made for us.

 

 

 

 

 For my entree I selected the Capellini Positano, angel hair pasta tossed with crab meat and capers in a light marinara sauce. The dish was wonderful and a nice sized portion. It may have been enough to take home for another meal but as we were not headed home after dinner I managed to finish the entire dish.

 

 

 

 

 Several of our dining companions chose some form of chicken including the Pollo Fontana, Pollo Fantazia and Pollo Franchese. Each of these entrees were nicely presented and everyone seemed happy with their selections.

 

 

  The fish lovers in our group had plenty to choose from and there were orders for the Tilapia, with sun-dried tomatoes in a lemon garlic sauce, the Salmon Florentine with a side of homemade bruchetta and even a special Mussells dish for the shell-fish guy.

 

 

 I topped off my meal with a Coconut Sorbet served in a shell and it was just the right light and sweet ending I was looking for to culminate the feast.

 

 

 

 

La Fontana Coast would be an excellent choice for anyone spending some time at the Jersey shore, especially if you are in or near Sea Isle City.

a’ PIZZE TUSCAN GRILL – SWEDESBORO, NJ

Posted in a Pizze Tuscan Grill, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2012 by ballymote

 a’ Pizze Tuscan Grill is the successor to the infamous Barone’s Tuscan Grill in the Center Square Shopping Center in Swedesboro, NJ. As I have mentioned many times on this blog, Barone’s Tuscan Grill, which was at best a mediocre dining spot, was far and away the most read review in the history of South Jersey Wine and Dine. To this day, I have no clue as to why there was such interest. Most of the comments about Barone’s were of a negative nature and I doubt that many tears were shed when they closed their doors permanently about eight months ago.

Chef Mimmo from Toscana in Mullica Hill has opened a new eatery in Swedesboro. a’ Pizze has been open for about a month now and it’s a BYOB, which is great news. For those who arrive without wine, there is a JB Liquors just a few feet away providing many choices of beverages to accompany your meal. We (my wife, Kathy and I) arrived early last Friday night with my son Brian and his wife, Jenny and their three young children, Drew, LeighAnn and Braydon. The place was just starting to fill up and became increasingly crowded over the next 90 minutes. The menu is quite similar to what is served at Toscana, in fact, Chef Mimmo was there to greet patrons at each table so the place is very reminiscent of Toscana.

 My wine was a 2009 Schild Estate, Barossa Shiraz. I have had the Schild Shiraz in the past and always thought it was an excellent example of Australian shiraz. This particular vintage didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t a bad wine, it simply didn’t offer much other than some dark brooding fruit and a hint of black pepper. The finish was simple and not very lengthy.

 The menu at a’ Pizze, as I mentioned before, bears a strong resemblance to that of its sibling, Toscana. That means that The Wedge might prove to be every bit as good as a starter here as it is there. It did not disappoint. A big fresh quarter of crisp, iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled egg and just the right amount of blue cheese dressing. I was going to order this as a $4.99 appetizer but virtually every entree comes with a smaller version of the same wedge. Kudos, Chef Mimmo, we are off to a good start.

 Brian and Jenny ordered the Caprese Tower, home-made fresh mozzarella, layered with ripe tomatoes, basil, oregano, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar served on a bed of greens. This dish was nicely constructed and both of them enjoyed their appetizer. I ordered the mozzarella sticks which were nothing special although the grand kids seemed to enjoy the stringy cheese.

 For my entree I selected the Chicken Siena, served with sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula on a bed of capellini. The dish was nicely presented. It was a decent sized portion of chicken but in proportion to the mountain of capellini it was nowhere near sufficient for someone like me who likes to have a bite of each on all forkfuls. I left enough chicken to take this home and have enough for another meal. The flavors were pretty good.

 My wife had the Chicken Risotto and my son had the Chicken Alfredo. Both enjoyed their meal and had enough remaining to box up for the next day. My wife felt her chicken was a little over-cooked, my son had no complaints.

 We passed on the desserts although a large plate showing samples of each treat offered did look appealing.

 Overall, I felt that a’ Pizze has potential. The service needs some work. They use the team concept with various servers bringing you each course. They didn’t always clear the table of empty dishes and this sometimes led to not being able to find a place to put down what they had brought out from the kitchen. It appears that everyone wants to do a good job and with some additional training and a display of consistency that Chef Mimmo may possibly have another nice restaurant. This one is located in an area where the folks are dying to find a go-to dining spot that they can frequent on a regular basis. I wish them “buona fortuna”.

NUNZIO RISTORANTE RUSTICO

Posted in Nunzio's Ristorante Rustico with tags , , , , on April 28, 2012 by ballymote

 It’s hard to believe that in all of our many trips for dinner in Collingswood, NJ that Nunzio’s has never been a destination. I know I have been there more than once but not in the almost three years I have had my blog. Two Saturday evenings ago, with my wife off on a trip to New York City for a show and dinner with some girlfriends, I played the odd man out and joined three other couples for what we hoped would be some nice Italian food. There was a little confusion to start as they had the table set for six despite an afternoon call changing the reservation to seven. The matter was corrected in a short time and we had a nice round table near the windows.

 My wine was a 2009 Summers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Napa Valley. I picked this one up on the recommendation of my wine guy at Wine Works in Marlton, Charlie Beatty. It’s a nice cab, the first effort from the Summers winery and garnered 91 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. I’d score it a point less than that. It has some nice blackberry and currant notes and drinks smoothly but I prefer a little more fruit forward wine. It’s priced just under $20.00 so it’s still a nice value wine and went well with my food.

    Our group seemed equally divided in their dinner choices between fish and meat with some opting for the Lamp Chop on the left and the Bronzino and Tilapia pictured below. All entrees in both the fish and meat category were served with some nice looking mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I decided to go with the ultimate Italian meal, Spaghetti and Nunzio’s Homemade Meatballs. There were four decent sized meatballs (it’s important to me that there is enough meatball to match the amount of pasta). I need not have worried this evening because the portion of spaghetti served was nowhere near what I have seen in most restaurants. The meatballs were very good. It has almost become the norm that there is enough to take home. I did not leave hungry but there was never hope that this would make two meals. It was good so I guess we could say they served quality over quantity.

 

 

 

  Since none of us had an appetizer or salad we all had room for dessert and I chose the Tartufo Affogato, chocolate& vanilla  ice cream encased in a ball of espresso and sambuca with strawberries and pineapple surrounding it. It was also drizzled with chocolate and made for a nice ending to the meal.

 

 

 

 

 All of the others selected the Blueberry Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream. I am not a huge blueberry fan but all of my dining companions were raving about this dessert. They thought the tart, which they described as being like a pancake or waffle in texture, was absolutely delicious. I even heard Joe B. say “this one is special”. Lots of contented sounds surrounding this dish.

 

 

 

 

 Chef Nunzio Patruno stopped by the table to see if we were enjoying our meal. I think that’s always a nice touch when the Chef/Owner comes out to greet his customers.

 Nunzio’s certainly holds it’s own with the many other fine dining spots in Collingswood.

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