Tag Archives: Blue Rooster Bakery Cafe

Doing Good While Dining Well

I love it when these two things come together. Usually, it means patronizing a high-end food and wine gala that raises funds for a worthy non-profit. Each of the three instances below, though, offers a different take on dining well while doing good.

Elijah’s Promise: Community Supported Dinners

How I wish I lived or worked in the New Brunswick area! Elijah’s Promise, the multifaceted social enterprise non-profit that started out as a soup kitchen, is offering a new slant on the CSA model. Instead of buying shares in weekly farm produce, subscribers get a weekly gourmet dinner to take home that’s prepared by the folks at their Promise Culinary School. You sign up and, beginning June 1st, you pick up dinner for two or four each Friday afternoon at either their New Brunswick or Highland Park location.

Elijah’s Promise has already launched a successful Community Supported Bakery program along the same lines. This one offers dinners that use seasonal, locally sourced, sustainably produced ingredients prepared by their staff and students.  Each includes a starter, entree, and side, with meat or vegetarian options. Here is a prototypical menu from their globe-trotting offerings:

Starter: Watermelon, feta, and mint salad

Entree: Beef brisket braised in tangy bbq sauce

Side: Old-fashioned potato salad

Now, the meat for this meal comes from The Student Sustainable Farm at Rutgers, the nation’s largest organic farm managed by university students. (Be proud, New Jersey!) The watermelon is an heirloom variety. The tomatoes are grown by First Field (originally known for their Jersey ketchup) and processed by teen volunteers from an affiliated program, Urban Mitzvah Corps – how great is that?  I think the dinners are a bargain at $12.50 or $15 apiece. The money not only goes into the coffers of a terrific organization, it also furthers hands-on culinary training for deserving folks trying to get back on their feet.

Click here (then scroll down to the bottom of the page) to get complete details and to download an order form.

Outstanding Farm-to-Table Restaurants in NJ & Westchester County

Are you familiar with the free, county-based series of Health & Life Magazines? In the spring 2012 issues I spotlight one outstanding farm-to-table restaurant in each of three NJ counties and provide a statewide list of the top ten. When you dine at any one of these places you’re assured not only a first-rate experience, but you’re helping them support responsible local farms and fisheries. Hence, dining well and doing good.

English: Natirar Park and Mansion, Somerset Co...

English: Natirar Park and Mansion, Somerset County, New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can check out online my story and pick for Morris/Essex County (it’s Ninety Acres at Natirar), and for Westchester (it’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns). The Westchester edition includes the top 5 farm-to-table restaurants thereabouts.

Out in print, but not yet online are the Bergen edition (Picnic in Fair Lawn is my choice) and the Monmouth edition (JBJ Soul Kitchen).

My choice for Middlesex (The Blue Rooster) will appear in the summer issue of Middlesex Health & Life. Look for it soon.

You’re Never Too Young to Do Good While Dining Well

yea.... It hasn't changed much

yea…. It hasn’t changed much (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

..or at least trying to dine well. Have you heard about the 9-year-old Scottish schoolgirl whose blog about the sorry state of her cafeteria’s lunches got results after just a few posts? While also receiving a comment from none other than Jamie (“Food Revolution”) Oliver? Here’s one newspaper story about the phenomenon. Be sure to follow the embedded link in it to the neverseconds blog. You’ll find that this youngster is a talented and engaging blogger as well as food crusader.

Reviews: 3 Casual Eateries in Central Jersey & Adara in Montclair

I’ve been dining around again, both on my own and for NJ Monthly. For the latter, read my take on Adara, the state’s first all-molecular-all-the-time restaurant here. Below are reports on new ethnic places in Hightstown, Princeton, and Hopewell – plus an update on the Blue Rooster in Cranbury, which I featured in a previous post.

First up, though: this photo that made me laugh when I came across it on Michael Redmond’s Facebook page:

Mercer Street Charcoal Grill & Deli, Hightstown

Mercer Street Charcoal Grill & Deli on Urbanspoon

The first house my husband and I owned was on Mercer Street in Hightstown and oh how I wish Carlos Guerrrero’s cheerful spot existed back then! His Latin and Latin American grilled dishes are standouts – provided you like red meats cooked the traditional way: marinated and then grilled to at least medium (often a bit beyond) and slightly chewy. No pink or bloody steaks here! Just incredible smoky, char-grilled flavor. Which I enjoyed in the trio combo, a ridiculously generous portion of pork rib, beef “rib” (seemed more like a small steak to me), and a quarter of a chicken. The chicken, by the way, is the exception: it’s moist and silky as well as deeply flavorful. The dish comes with a choice of two sides for the grand sum of $15. I chose fried sweet plantains and beans. Both were abundant and delicious but the smoky, moist, tender beans were exceptional. Also good is the Cuban sandwich ($6), made fresh to order and featuring the proper soft roll. Only the homemade potato chips fell short. I’m a big fan of flan (try saying fan of flan three times fast) and the version here has a satiny (not rubbery) texture and a deep, almost boozy caramel (for a mere $3.25). Even the espresso is outstanding. Mercer Street Grill also serves breakfast all day and offers a full roster of American deli sandwiches and burgers.

Efe’s Mediterranean Grill Comes to Princeton

Efes on Urbanspoon

You may know Efe’s, the Middle Eastern restaurant with a Turkish slant, from its original location on Easton Ave. in New Brunswick. Efe’s recently expanded, taking over the space that had been Kaliente! on Nassau Street next to Thai Village. I asked my friend Anne to join me there for a ‘test’ dinner. I chose her because she is the pickiest person I know when it comes to Middle Eastern. The space is casual in the extreme – it has always been set up mainly for takeout – and we were expecting nothing more than OK quality. (Which would still have been fine because downtown Princeton isn’t overrun with good Middle Eastern spots.) Instead it exceeded my – and more importantly, Anne’s – expectations. Among the test dishes that passed with flying colors  are hummus, spinach in labne, and zucchini pancakes, which here are crunchy, golden brown fritters, not oily and with a creamy, almost ethereal center. We went so far as to try the shepherd salad, and even in March in NJ its tomatoes and cukes were uncommonly tasty. For $2 extra we got it generously showered with grated dry feta.  The pita that came to the table was creditable, and the entire food tab came to $21.65. Next time we’ll try the doner kebab or one one of the other Turkish kebabs.

Da’s Kitchen, Hopewell

Da's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Da’s is the little Thai restaurant that could. First it scored a review in the NY Times when it opened inside the Princeton YWCA, a spot it later vacated under unhappy circumstances. Once that happened a Hopewell customer and fan offered to set up Da DeToro and her restaurant on Hopewell’s main drag. That has come to pass and Da’s is now ensconced in attractive, casual digs that include tasteful Thai artifacts and sidewalk dining. Lunch dishes at $10 (and $12) offer a bargain-basement way to sample the wares. Thai Drunken Noodles, which our attractive server recommended, are quite good. At this point I feel compelled to make a shocking admission: I am lukewarm when it comes to Thai food. As a reviewer I’m often asked if there is any cuisine I don’t like. I truthfully answer no, that when well and properly prepared by a knowing hand, all ethnic fare is good. But somehow Thai food has never grabbed me; has never gone beyond merely pleasant. So I wound up ordering pho – the quintessential dish of Vietnam. It was OK – the broth needed good-sized dollops of hot sauce to come alive – but that’s what I deserve for ordering Vietnamese in a Thai place. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderfully sweet Thai iced coffee. If, unlike me, you’re a fan of Thai, give Da’s a try.

Update on The Blue Rooster in Cranbury

In a previous post I wrote about a terrific dinner I had there at the hands of Chef Richard Lipshanic. Blue Rooster’s owner, Karen Finigan, reports that he has moved on, but not before thoroughly training his second-in-command. She feels confident that the quality will remain the same.

I’ve Been Dining Around Central New Jersey

On average, I dine out more than 150 times a year.

Only a small fraction of those meals wind up as restaurant reviews for NJ Monthly. (Speaking of which, check out my latest one online there: Hopewell’s Bell & Whistle.) Others turn out to be nonstarters. Still others, while noteworthy, don’t fall within the parameters of a full-scale review.

Here are two such places. Both are small, charming mom-and-pop byobs situated in small, charming Central Jersey towns. Bon appetit!

You may already be familiar with Blue Rooster Cafe & Bakery,  which opened in 2008 in a lovely Victorian house on Cranbury‘s historic Main Street. It soon developed a following for its fabulous breakfasts, baked goods, and lunches. Dinner, not so much. ‘Expensive and mediocre’ was the comment I heard most often.

That situation began to change last October when owners Karen & Bob Finigan brought in a new chef, Richard Lipshanic. Just this week I got to sample his wares for the first time. Impressive. His classical training and experience – last at a resort in Maine – is evident in a tightly focused winter menu of 7 starters and 8 entrees that sent me scurrying to my food dictionaries to look up sauce salmi, capote capers, and pomme Macaire.

Long story short: fantastic lobster bisque soup of the day – and only $5; ravishing housemade butternut squash ravioli, $9 for four diminutive but flavor-packed crescents; and olive oil poached wild Scottish salmon with bitter greens and sweet balsamic dressing that my companion rightly termed “the best salmon I’ve ever had.” The sizeable portion is a steal at $24. Plus baker Bob Finigan’s elegant French sourdough dinner rolls, classic desserts at $5 a pop, and French press coffee.

Long story even shorter: Give dinner here another try. Apps average $9; entrees, $24. The current winter menu should be up on the website any minute, but for now, check it out on the Blue Rooster Facebook page.

Update: Lipshanic has departed, but you should still give this place a try.
The Blue Rooster Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Alps Bistro

There are so few German restaurants left in New Jersey that I jump at the chance to dine at any new one that comes along. When good reports on the Alps Bistro in Allentown starting coming my way, I assumed it was located in the old mill on this sweet Monmouth county town’s Main Street that had housed mediocre German restaurants for decades. Not so!

Its eight tables are in a storefront location further up the street. I’m not going to mince words here: I found the fare – which includes all the German and Austrian staples, but also a few Polish and even Hungarian dishes – solid, reliable, and well priced. I’m just not as crazy about it as just about everyone else who has weighed in – including the two couples I dined there with, one member of which is a bona fide German expat! He loved it, so who am I to quibble?

The unrivaled standout dish, we all agree, is chicken paprikash, a special that as far as I can tell is often available. Leek and potato soup, too, is very good, and curry wurst – the popular, slightly sweet German street food – is the best part of a mixed wurst plate that, like many dishes here, comes with several accompaniments of your choosing, among them German potato salad, spaetzle, red cabbage, and sauerkraut. Sauerbraten with gingersnap gravy, rouladen, schnitzel – standard but creditable and hearty versions are all here.

The most endearing part of the Alps Bistro for me is the amiable, sincerely hospitable folks behind it, Ginger and Marty Locke. On a cold winter evening, the golden glow emanating from their sweet little place is an accurate beacon for what lies within. Alps Bistro doesn’t have a website, but check it out here on Facebook.