We Have Applebee’s to Thank for Chef Ben Nerenhausen
These days he’s garnering accolades for his creative, globe-trotting small plates at Mistral in Princeton – like the chicken liver spread with charred strawberry, celery, and peanut with toast, pictured above. Yet despite a childhood spent mostly in Pakistan and Egypt, this Wisconsin boy points to a college job at Applebee’s for sparking his chef fire. Read my full interview in the Fall 2014 issue of Edible Jersey. (It starts on page 36.)
Buttons Creperie + Trenton Farmers Market + Teresa Caffe + HomeFront = Farm-to-Table for a Good Cause
I’m going on Sunday, September 21 to a special fundraiser that brings together some of my favorite people and establishments to benefit one of the most effective nonprofits around. Here’s why I hope you’ll join me there:
- I’m partial to the made-to-order sweet and savory crepes and other fare that Lauren Sabogal, Buttons‘ young owner/chef, and her crew cook up at both the Trenton Farmers Market and the Stockton Market.
- She’s teamed up with another local chef on the 5-course seasonal dinner that’s planned: Frank Caponi of Princeton’s Teresa Caffe. Caponi, a graduate of Mercer County College’s culinary program, is also Sabogal’s fiance.
- The dinner is being held inside the historic, wonderfully ungentrified Trenton Farmers Market, which has been around since 1948.
- Best of all, a portion of the proceeds goes to HomeFront, which helps families in the Trenton area break the cycle of poverty.
Other draws: The dinner utilizes the harvest of many area farms, is limited to 50 guests, includes live music, and, as in years past, features a lovely sit-down setting that Sabogal creates just for the event. Here’s this year’s menu:
Appetizer: Three crepe chips with different toppings: roasted corn and tomato salsa, marinated Shibumi Farm mushrooms with goat cheese, and end-of-summer salsa verde and eggplant.
Salad: Terhune Orchards butter head Bibb, carrot puree, toasted almonds, agrodolce (i.e. sweet and sour) carrots, warm shallot-fennel vinaigrette.
Soup: Shibumi Farm mushroom soup with Oak Grove cornmeal dumpling.
Entrée: Lima Farm braised short ribs with Terhune apple cider reduction, new potatoes, Brussels sprouts, whole grain mustard, and roasted fennel. (A vegetarian and gluten-free option will also be available.)
Dessert: Seasonal fruit trifle.
Buttons Creperie’s Third Annual Farm-to-Table Fundraiser takes place on Sunday, September 21, from 5 pm to 8 pm at the Trenton Farmers Market, 960 Spruce Street, Lawrence Township. Tickets cost $45 and must be purchased in advance at Button’s Creperie. For information phone (609) 865-5063 or visit buttonscreperie.com.
Lucky Marlton Gets Sister Restaurant to Philly’s Popular Estia
Be honest: Couldn’t you be convinced the above photo is of a tiny roadside taverna on a Greek isle, or maybe one tucked away in Athen’s ancient Plaka district? In truth, I carefully cropped my photo of the entrance to Estia Taverna to evoke just that – in particular memories of a glorious day I spent years ago on Aegina, a small island that’s a half-hour boat ride from Athens. (If you could pan out, instead of a shack along the waterfront on that charming island, you’d see the stucco facade of a rather sizable restaurant located on busy Route 70 in South Jersey.)
But the lunch of traditional Greek fare that I and a guest were treated to recently at Estia Taverna in Marlton (there’s another one in Radnor, PA) really did evoke that long-ago meal because of its emphasis on fresh, simply prepared seafood, its generous handfuls of fresh herbs and greens, and its lighter-than-customary hand with even hearty staples like this moussaka ($16):
Not only is it more photogenic than most, but that beautifully bruleed bechamel is made with kefalograviera cheese. Other pluses include very fresh tasting pomodoro sauce and the merest wisp of cinnamon.
The signature starter here is Estia chips ($14), this dramatic presentation of paper-thin slices of zucchini and eggplant, lightly fried and served with tzatziki:
That same tzatziki – rich, fluffy, and thankfully not too heavy on the garlic – features in the platter of 3 Mediterranean spreads ($9). From a choice 5 we chose that, plus eggplant (nicely smoky) and tarama (carp roe) that my companion termed “like a cloud.”
My single favorite dish, though, is charcoal-grilled octopus over fava (the Greek term for yellow split-pea puree):
Fish of the day was succulent broiled dorade ($14), classically enhanced by a drizzle of fine Greek olive oil, fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lemon. (The mushy, one-note ratatouille-like vegetable mix with it didn’t do it justice, though.)
Sweet, generous desserts include baklava (of course) and ekmek, which has thin layers of toasted pistachios and egg custard smeared between shredded phyllo and whipped cream:
Estia Taverna also boasts a handsome setting, Greek-themed cocktails, a beer list that includes 3 Greek beers as well as local craft beers, and a global wine list that puts the spotlight on Greece, too.