Posted in Daddy Mim's (2nd review) with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2012 by ballymote


 In less than a month removed from our first visit, Gerry and I were so impressed with our previous experience at this Phoenixville BYOB that we couldn’t wait to have our friend, John, discover for himself what we had raved about. So, with our wives off on a week-long jaunt to St. Maarten the three of us had a Tuesday night reservation at this Creole restaurant. On our previous visit we had Heather as our server, we were slightly disappointed upon arrival to find that Heather was no longer there, but Melanie proved to be a capable replacement. The picture I took of Melanie turned out blurry and in fairness to her I shall leave it out of the review. She did prove to be both charming and attentive and was truly concerned that the three of us enjoy our meal.




 We can never know for sure that our food will be first-rate but we can usually be fairly certain that we will have, at least, three good wines to share. I usually bring a second bottle to make sure we don’t run dry and I am doing my best to have Gerry and John subscribe to that same generous way of thinking. Unfortunately, it’s a slow process and I haven’t yet won them over to the “second bottle” program. By the way, one of the great joys of having your own blog is being able to shade the truth without any dispute. Anyway, we had some nice wines with us. Left to right in the photo is my 1994 Far Niente, Napa Valley,  Cabernet Sauvignon. I had traded for this with a co-worker several years ago giving him some Eagles tickets in return for this 18-year-old classic cabernet. We had some trouble opening the bottle as the cork fell apart but Chef/Owner John Mims took the bottle back to the kitchen and worked his magic and in just a short time had cleanly removed the broken cork without even noticeable pieces dropping into the wine. We let this sit in our glasses for about an hour and watched the color change to a darker red and the funk burn off to reveal some nice notes of cedar and chocolate on the nose. The tannins were virtually non-existent and the soft berry flavors were well-balanced and smooth as silk. The finish was medium but we were all glad to see that the life had stayed in this one for almost 2 decades. Gerry had the 2007, Paul Autard, Chateauneuf du Pape, Cuvee Juline. This one has many years of life remaining. Nose of cedar and oak with dark cherries then smooth on the palate, mild tannins, hints of leather and cinnamon mixed with the blackberries. A very nice wine. John had brought with him the 2005 Fattoria Galardi, Terra di Lavoro, Roccamonfino. This dark Italian beauty is produced in an area about 40 miles north of Naples using some unusual grape varietals. It’s composed of 80% Aglianico and 20% Piedirosso and shows dark red with hints of leather and tobacco mixing with the dark berry fruits. It has solid structure and the wine went well with lots of the spicy Creole dishes we had.


 Gerry was determined long before we arrived that he was going to order the Lobster Tasting Special Menu that he had enjoyed immensely on a prior visit. He spent little time looking at anything else on the regular menu. John, however, is more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy and he was examining the menu until he found out that the main course on the Lobster Tasting Menu included a small filet and that was all he needed to make his decision., So both of them had made the same choice and the parade of food was on for them.


 Both Gerry and John raved about their soup, the Lobster Bisque. They thought is was absolutely perfect with one of them declaring it was in the running for the best soup they had ever tasted.





 The Crab, Lobster and Crawfish Cake was another hit. A nice blend of Creole flavors drew more praise from both of my dining companions. It looked like Daddy Mims was headed toward another culinary crowd pleaser.





 When the main course arrived it looked initially like a home run. Unfortunately, it ended up as just a long “foul ball”. John and Gerry were very disappointed with both the lobster and the filet. The lobster was described as “nothing special” and lacking in any flavor. The steak was so poor it made the lobster seem delicious. As both of them shared a small portion of their “filet” with me, I would have to agree. This was not a good piece of meat. As I mentioned earlier, Gerry had ordered this same item on a previous visit and loved it. I guess any place can have an off night or a disappointing course. Remember, the both loved their soup and crabcake course.












I had opted for the four course, Chef’s Tasting.


 My first course was the New Orleans Style Red Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage. Although the soup was good ( really like cajun spices in my soup) and the beans were plentiful, I was unable to find any semblance whatsoever of “smoked sausage”. I actually blew the photo up to 10x on my computer thinking the sausage had to be in there somewhere but not a piece was to be found. Perhaps they had simply waved the sausage over the soup. Anyway, a tad disappointing but tasty nonetheless.




 My next course, the blackened Louisiana Redfish topped with lemon aioli and served over gingered string beans was excellent. The fish was perfectly cooked and the sauce blended well with the spicy string beans. I was mucho pleased with this one.




 My main course, the Braised Short Ribs topped with salsa and served over a jalapeno jack cheese quesadilla was pretty good. The beef was nice and the sauce was perfect but the quesadilla added nothing and I would have preferred it resting on some nice mashed potatoes bathed in the same sauce. Overall though, I was pleased with my meal. If you had to please one guy and disappoint two, at least they chose the right one to please.




  Their menu ended with Banana’s Foster and mine with Strawberry Mango Butter Cream Cake with fresh berries. Both desserts were satisfactory.

 Overall, we went into Daddy Mim’s with great expectations. As I mentioned before, our visit last month had been top-notch. This one didn’t live up to our own built-up hype. Daddy Mims certainly deserves another chance based on our first visit.



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”.


Posted in Ralph's Restaurant, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 28, 2012 by ballymote

 Ralph’s Restaurant, in the heart of the Italian Market in South Philly, may be just about as Italian and just about as South Philly as you can get. Ralph’s lays claim to be the oldest family owned restaurant in America and the second oldest Italian restaurant (Fior D’Italia in San Francisco 1893 being #1) overall having been serving food to the public since 1900. The list of luminaries who have dined at Ralph’s is lengthy and includes Teddy Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rocky Marciano, Heather Locklear, Connie Mack, Frank Rizzo and hundreds more. Parking can be difficult but they have valet parking for $8.00 and that may well be your best choice.


The menu at Ralph’s is extensive and you will most certainly find more than one item that will tempt your choosing.

It is not a BYOB so wine lovers will have to choose something from their somewhat decent wine list which is not greatly over-priced in comparison to many other restaurants. We went with a 2007 Columbia Crest Merlot. This went well with a variety of dishes.







 I began with the Bruchetta, toasted Italian bread topped with plum tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil. It was OK, nothing special and each of you has probably experienced a better version at any one of a number of restaurants.




 My entree choice was their Spaghetti and Meatballs. This very basic dish was reasonably priced at $13.00 and the spaghetti was excellent cooked al dente which is not a style I find in many places but proved to be very enjoyable. The meatballs were delicious and my only complaint was the I thought there should have been a third meatball. Most Italian restaurants give you so much with this order that you have enough to take home but this was not one of the larger portions. Nonetheless, I have no complaints because it tasted great.




Others in our party enjoyed the Black Lobster Ravioli with shrimps and capers in a cream sauce, The Fettucini Braciole and an interesting dish that combined veal and scallops.


 For dessert the group had either the chocolate cake drizzled in syrup or the traditional Tiramisu. Both were very good.




 There was a minor dispute when the check came. They had added an automatic gratuity of 20% to the total. I understand that it is common practice to add the gratuity for parties of 8 or more (we had 10). However, I think 20% is too much for an automatic add. Most places seem to add 15 or 18 percent and then you can add additional if you want. I personally think to assume 20% is a little presumptuous. We tip 20% or more on all occasions but there is just something about automatically adding 20% that bothers me. At any rate, they had calculated wrong and instead of adding 20% they had added 22% and it took them quite some time to recalculate. It does not appear that math is their strong suit. I enjoyed my meal but several others were less than impressed by Ralph’s.


 When I began this review about a week ago I mentioned that Ralph’s was the second oldest Italian restaurant in America; second only to Fior d’Italia in San Francisco. In the past few days it has been reported that Fior d’ Italia has closed its doors which now makes Ralph’s Numero Uno on the list of oldest Italian restaurants. That in itself is reason enough to give them a try on your next visit to the South Philly Italian Market.





Posted in Glassboro South Jersey Wine Festival - Part 1 with tags , , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by ballymote


 A beautiful sunny afternoon in Mid-May with temps in the 70’s, a nice breeze and plenty of wine and food available was all it took to draw thousands to Rowan Blvd. in Glassboro, NJ for the Glassboro Vintage South Jersey Wine Festival. Judging by the smiles and laughter visible throughout the grounds, a good time was had by all. Speaking of judging, the purpose of my visit was to sample many of the  red wines offered by the 14 wineries of the Outer Coastal Plain who attended this event. Before I give my opinions of the wines I sampled, I would like to offer a few thoughts on my feelings about New Jersey wines both prior to Sunday and after a day of tasting.

 I have several friends and family who enjoy New Jersey wines. I have not been among them. Many of those who enjoy them like sweet wines. There is an abundance of sweet wines produced locally. In my opinion, adding blueberries, strawberries, peaches or cranberries, to a wine takes that beverage out of the “wine” category and into something that I call “frine” (fruit + wine). If you like that, more power to you. I prefer the dry red wines done so well in areas like California, Oregon and Washington here in our country and in several others throughout the world. Quite honestly, I had not sampled a great number of dry red wines from South Jersey but the several I have had have not been enjoyable with the notable exception of a Sharrott Winery Cab Franc which was quite good.


After an afternoon of sampling wine at the Glassboro South Jersey Wine Festival, I would say I have a slightly higher view of our local wine production. In particular, there appear to be two grapes that our South Jersey vintners appear to be utilizing to create some very drinkable wines. Those grapes are Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin. Cab Franc I have enjoyed for years both on its own and as a grape added as a blend with lots of wines from all over the world. Cab Franc makes up two-thirds of the grapes in the world-class Chateau Cheval Blanc. It’s heartier than Cabernet Sauvignon, less dark and with a spicy pepper component and a touch of violets. Chambourcin is another hearty grape that seems to grow extremely well in this area. Local producers seem to be using it on its own and as a blend with other grapes. It offers up flavors of plums and cherries, pepper and licorice and I must confess, I found it to be consistently, the best varietal regardless of the overall quality of the winery. Chambourcin is not a grape that will be found in California. Its resistance to weather makes it perfect for holding up well in seasons of the East Coast.

It was fun to get to know some of our local wines. Most of the folks standing nearby when I sampled seemed to prefer the sweet “frines” and that’s ok. The people manning the booths were friendly, knowledgeable of the product and in many cases, extremely proud of the wines they were producing. In my next article I will review the wines I tasted with scores for each.


Posted in Charley's Steak House - Orlando, FL, Florida, Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2012 by ballymote

 A four-day visit to Disneyworld to watch the grandkids experience their first trip to the Magic Kingdom resulted in a Mothers Day dinner for my wife and I at Charley’s Steak House on International Drive in Orlando/Kissimmee. Much to our surprise they were having a Mother’s Day special where “Mom” gets a free filet dinner with any entree purchase of equal or greater value. We thought that was a great promotion. We did not have reservations so a 15 minute wait for our table seemed quite reasonable. There are four Charley’s Steak Houses in the area and they are part of a restaurant group called “Talk of the Town”.





 Our server conducted a 10 minute table-side dissertation on the meats selected by Charley’s. We were told the beef was all Grade A Choice and that they were all cooked over an open flame at 1200 degrees. He described each cut, the sirloin, the bone-in rib eye, the porterhouse and the filet mignon. Since my wife was having the Mother’s day special “free filet”, a ten ounce portion, I opted for the 14 ounce filet.





 We started our meal by splitting an appetizer. We selected the crab cakes. These were two nicely cooked cakes, virtually no filler, rich in crab flavor with a mango salsa topping. A  little spritz of lemon on top and they proved to be an excellent prelude to our meal.





 The House salad was delicious. The lettuce was fresh and crisp and the dressing which was a seasoned vinaigrette added the perfect touch. I don’t often rave about salads, except perhaps my favorite, the Wedge, but this one really was exceptional and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We had each ordered a glass of zinfandel with our meal.





  My filet was very good. It was cooked medium-well and stuffed with Maytag blue cheese dressing. Lots of flavor and a good-sized portion of quality steak. I had the Smashed Potatoes with gorgonzola cheese and apple bacon to accompany the filet. They were okay. I’m not sure what would have made them better. My wife had the Au Gratin potatoes with her filet and I think I liked her potatoes better. Unfortunately, her steak was almost inedible. It was certainly not a smaller version of my filet. It was a tasteless piece of meat that should never have been served. She thought it might have been because it was “free” but I told her it must just have been an accident because they wouldn’t offer a special and then purposely disappoint diners with a poor cut of meat. We joked that she should have them take it off the bill but since it wasn’t ON the bill in the first place, that would have been impossible.

We passed on the desserts but had an opportunity to see the choices and there were HUGE slices of chocolate cake and carrot cake and some creme brulee and cheesecake. Overall, my meal was very good and it’s ashame hers was ruined by an inferior piece of steak. Charley’s appears to be a place with frequent return guests as we observed the servers giving hugs to quite a few patrons. They do a professional job and only once did I notice my water glass was not refilled promptly. I think we can call my wife’s filet an aberration and thus I would give Charley’s a thumb’s up for fine dining in the Orlando area.


Posted in Outer Coastal Plain (AVA) with tags , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by ballymote

An  AVA  (American Viticultural Area) is a specific, designated wine growing area within a state. In New Jersey there are three such designated areas, Warren Hills, Central Delaware Valley and the Outer Coastal Plain. South Jersey is home to the vast Outer Coastal Plain (2.25 MILLION acres) which is ten times the size of the other two areas combined. The OCP includes an area that stretches from just northeast of Trenton to Cape May, NJ and includes approximately 34 current wineries. As I mentioned several times on this blog, I am not a particular fan of New Jersey wines but I am willing to put in more time and tasting allowing for the (unlikely) possibility that I am actually missing the boat on some good local wines.

There are 2 primary reasons why I don’t feel attachments to the local wines. First, many of the wineries seem to have a compulsion to add some sort of fruit to the wines. Call me an irrational wine snob but, to me, wine is made from grapes, not grapes PLUS blueberries, or grapes PLUS peaches. Even if these fruit wines tasted good (and I realize many folks think they do), I would still not consider them to be wines. Maybe they should fall into an entirely different category of beverages which we could call “Frines”. This alone disqualifies many of the locally produced bottles from any consideration as serious wines. The second reason for my less than favorable view is that many New Jersey wine makers buy grapes from California and then blend those grapes with some from their own vineyards. This may, or may not, make their wines taste better but, in my opinion, it disqualifies them as New Jersey wines. Additionally, if the current marketing campaign wants to sing the praises of NJ wines and constantly remind all of us that “Jersey soil and our climate is reminiscent of that of Bordeaux”, bringing in grapes from out of state seems to shoot major holes in that theory.

What type of grapes are we producing in the vineyards of the Outer Coastal Plain? It seems among the reds there is a great deal of cabernet and merlot, some syrah, cab franc and a grape that seems to grow particularly well in this region, chambourcin. On the white side there is plenty of chardonnay, some sauvignon blanc, vidal blanc, pinot grigio and some riesling. Of all of these, I am intrigued by the chambourcin. In the next few weeks I intend to properly sample wines made from this grape.

The Glassboro Vintage South Jersey Wine Festival is being held the weekend of May 19th and 20th. Thirteen South Jersey wineries will be taking part and there will be opportunities to taste and purchase wines on the spot. The event takes place from Noon until 5:00 PM each day and tickets are available at the site for $25.00 or, in advance, at the website for $19.00. I intend to visit the festival on Sunday and sample a minimum of 40 different wines from among the participating wineries. I will report on what I liked and what I didn’t like shortly after the festival. It’s a great chance to enjoy both the weather and the wines so come on out and take part. Your admission even includes a souvenir festival wine glass.


Posted in Daddy Mims Creole BYOB with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2012 by ballymote

 Phoenixville, PA is much like Collingswood, NJ, a rejuvenated town brought to life by a preponderance of good BYOB restaurants. The difference between the two may be that Phoenixville adds in quite a few bars amidst the eateries giving the town a little more lively feel on the weekends. My wife and I, and our friends Gerry and JoAnn, had tickets to see Two Funny Philly Guys (Joe Conklin/Big Daddy Graham) at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville last night. We had decided on Daddy Mims for dinner and I was looking forward to some good Cajun cooking. We were not disappointed.


 Matching wines with Cajun food can be tricky but both of us settled on zinfandels. I brought the 2009 Ridge, Pagani Ranch, Zinfandel. This one scored 92 points from the Wine Spectator and had a nice nose of leather and blueberry . a smooth mouthfeel with intense red and black berries and a hint os pepper and spice. Gerry had a 2008 Cakebread, Red Hills Lake County, Zinfandel. This one was from an area north of Napa and the dark fruits and flinty vanilla proved a good match for the spicy food we were sharing.

 Daddy Mims is a family affair while John Mims the Chef/Owner works his magic in the kitchen both his wife and step/daughter, Heather, are out front providing great service while evidencing total knowledge of the menu and displaying a terrific attitude. Heather opened our wines while going over the various menu options, and there are quite a few. There is a prix fix Cajun menu,  a Chef’s Tasting Menu and a special Lobster menu. We considered all three of them but ended up making our choices from the regular menu which offers more than enough choices to make things difficult.

 Kathy and I began by splitting my personal favorite salad, The Wedge. One half of a head of fresh lettuce with bacon, tomatoes and lots of rich blue cheese dressing always make this a perfect starter to any meal. It may have been the only food item that was not clearly creole.

 Each of us chose a different appetizer. Mine was the Chicken and Andouille Gumbo. Nice pieces of chicken and lots of andouille sausage in a classic New Orleans gumbo that had just the right amount of peppery spices to put the taste buds on full alert.

 My wife, Kathy, had her heart set on the mussels which she had spotted on the website menu. On this particular night they were substituting clams for the mussels. She was going to switch to something else but Heather explained that the clams were served out of the shell and in the same sauce (a white wine, Asiago and garlic butter concoction) that housed the mussels. Based on her recommendation, Kathy went with the Clams and thought they were very good.

 Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, Gerry was totally enjoying, not just both of the zinfandels but, his appetizer selection of Grilled Andouille Sausage topped with carmelized onions and mustard; another typical Louisiana dish that Chef Mims has mastered.

 JoAnn liked her appetizer every bit as much as the rest of us liked ours. She went with the Blackened Shrimp Remoulade served with a Cajun tartar sauce. There was a nice pace to the meal as we watched the dining room quickly fill early on this saturday evening.

 For my entree, I went with the Braised Beef Short Ribs topped with Port Wine demi-glace and served over cheesy fondue mashed potatoes. This dish tasted every bit as good as it looked. I sometimes find that as tempting as the short ribs always sound and you know the meat is going to be tender, they sometimes lack a lot of taste. This was NOT the case with these ribs as they were full of flavor while the potatoes were the perfect partner and the demi-glace was excellent.

 Kathy wasn’t 100% sure her stomach could tolerate a whole lot of Cajun spice so she was delighted to see that the menu offered a couple of choices that weren’t totally creole flavored. She chose the Chef’s Cut Filet served over truffle fries. Her medium steak may have been slightly closer to medium-well but she had no real complaints and enjoyed her dinner enough to bring home a good portion that may serve as tonight’s meal. I will have to settle as an observer as I had nothing left from my entree to wrap up and take home.





 Gerry had the Cajun Seafood Pasta, shrimp, crabmeat and crawfish served over pasta in a rich Cajun cream sauce. This one was chock full of seafood and it wasn’t long before his plate was clean.





 JoAnn probably went more New Orleans than any of us with her entree selection of Louisiana Red Fish with Crawfish Etouffe served over Jambalaya. She thought her dinner was outstanding.




We still had a little room for dessert and I had asked Heather prior to our meal while trying to decide which menu to choose from, if we could order the Coconut White Chocolate Cake which was only on one of the special tasting menu and not a part of the regula dessert menu. She said that we could, so each of the couples had a piece to share with one another. The cake was good but I thought the portion was much too small. It wasn’t until today that my wife suggested that may have been since it was part of a tasting menu and not an actual menu selection. Whatever, it’s the only small blemish on what was a terrific meal with great service by the entire staff. Our water glasses were filled constantly and our silverware changed more than once. Daddy Mims Creole BYOB is a great choice for dinner in the Phoenixville area. By the way, if you have never seen Joe Conklin in a live performance, it is truly a treat.