Tag Archives: Rojo’s Roastery

First Report: Greene Hook in JC; Win 30 Weeks of Excellent Pizza; Jersey’s Own Cranberry Sauce

Chef David Drake Lands at 2 Spots in Jersey City

There are few NJ chefs whose food I relish more than that of David Drake. He first came to prominence at the Stage House and later earned my further respect at his eponymous Rahway fine-dining restaurant and then at the first iteration of Daryl Wine Bar in New Brunswick.

Chef David Drake

Chef David Drake (linkedin)

But when he moved up to Alice’s in  Lake Hopatcong, Drake fell outside the geographic bounds of my personal dining sphere. So it was welcome news last spring to learn that he had moved over to the Light Horse Tavern in the red-hot restaurant town that is Jersey City. And even better news is that he is also heading the kitchen at Greene Hook Bar + Kitchen, which opened in September. Both places are owned by Bill Gray (each with a different partner.)

Light Horse Tavern

Light Horse Tavern (courtesy lighthorsetavern.com)

So I and my husband scooped up an invitation from Gray and his team to host us and another foodie couple at Greene Hook. The evening actually commenced at Light Horse, where Drake presented us with a sampling of the menu’s elevated American fare.

Light Horse Mussels

Light Horse Mussels (courtesy Light Horse FB page)

Among the standouts: steamed mussels, a dish that’s always welcome, yet also ubiquitous and difficult to make distinctive. But Drake, who applies his precise, classical training to everything at both restaurants, manages to accomplish just that via a lively tomato-based broth that includes nubs of excellent chorizo and Brooklyn Lager. We couldn’t stop dipping the delicious toast into it.

Light Horse Parmesan Gnocchi

Light Horse Parmesan Gnocchi

Unlike steamed mussels, potato gnocchi is a dish I rarely enjoy. I’ve downed too many gluey plugs in my time. At Light Horse they’re airy and springy, their potato flavor rounded out with Parmesan, sussed out by pan-searing, and further accentuated with roasted chanterelles, cauliflower, and arugula in a mushroom broth to which Drake adds a few drops of soy sauce. Earthy and light at the same time.

Owner Bill Gray himself escorted us from the tavern to Greene Hook, a short walk away. We were tickled to see that Drake had, meantime, ensconced himself in that restaurant’s open kitchen. (He told us he has made the trip as many as 10 times in 1 day.) A recent addition to the kitchen team is Joe Beninato, who came over from another restaurant I held high regard for: the recently shuttered Ursino in Union.

Greene Hook Bucket of Fried Chicken (courtesy Greene Hook FB pag)

Greene Hook Bucket of Fried Chicken (courtesy Greene Hook FB page)

Greene Hook’s menu is more casual than its sibling (although at Light Horse you can get a burger, meatloaf, and fish & chips). Already, Greene Hook’s bucket of fried chicken with mac n’ cheese and jalapeno biscuits ($16 per serving for one; $26 for two) has accumulated a substantial following. The chicken is given the full David Drake treatment: soaked first in buttermilk then cooked sous vide for hours.

But I’ll have to go back to sample that offering, for Drake and company instead had us feast on the likes of fluke crudo with green papaya salad, flat iron steak with milk stout reduction, and the evening’s sea scallop special:

Greene Hook Scallops (courtesy Greene Hook's FB pag)

Greene Hook Scallops (courtesy Greene Hook’s FB page)

of four jumbo specimens, beautifully seared to intense sweetness. With seared maitake, baby golden beets, dried apricot, and salsify, it, too, shows Drake’s finesse. (Plea to chefs everywhere: please deploy salsify, my favorite root vegetable, more.) Textbook-perfect Marcona almond cream sauce makes the dish especially memorable.

Greene Hook Interior (courtesy Greene Hook FB page)

Greene Hook Interior (courtesy Greene Hook FB page)

I should note that both Light Horse Tavern and Greene Hook Bar + Kitchen have different but appealing cocktail, beer, and wine offerings and each has a different ambiance. Bill Gray, a former carpenter and civil engineer, personally designed and executed much of the decor. He sensitively and beautifully restored the historic building that houses Light Horse Tavern. Greene Hook is in a new space (with high-rise apartments above and all around) that combines hand-crafted rustic features – including much reclaimed wood – with modern industrial touches.

I suspect that the bar/kitchen’s younger clientele neither know nor care that there’s an expert fine-dining chef pumping out their bucket of fried chicken. As for me, I’m delighted to have Drake’s fare once again near at hand.

Lambertville’s Liberty Hall Pizza Giving Away 30 Weeks of Free Pizza to Customer who Purchases Their 30,000th Pizza

Chris Bryan, Liberty Hall Pizza. Photo by Guy Ambrosino

Chris Bryan, Liberty Hall Pizza. Photo by Guy Ambrosino

Nine-month old Liberty Hall Pizza figures it will be baking its 30,000th artisanal Neapolitan pizza sometime in the coming days (October 30th is their best guess, so you’ll have to hurry), and just like in those old movies and 195o’s sitcoms, the lucky patron who purchases it for dine-in or takeout will win 1 pizza per week for 30 weeks.

Chris Bryan, an alumnus of Nomad Pizza, is pizzaiolo and co-owner with Danny Popkin. The latter has rehabbed the cool old industrial building just outside of downtown that also houses Rojo’s Roastery. I recently profiled Liberty Hall, a byob, here in the Fall Dining Issue of US 1. The excellent pizzas are baked in a wood-fired Valoriani oven and the menu also boasts fresh salads and Victory draught root beer.

First Field Cranberry Sauce

First Field Cranberry Sauce

First Field Cranberry Sauce

This Thanksgiving if you’re not making your own cranberry sauce, why not buy one that’s made with whole dry-harvested cranberries from independent growers in New Jersey? It’s from the folks at First Field, who flavor it with orange and vanilla. You can find it at Whole Foods markets around the state, at some retailers in the Princeton area, and at www.first-field.com where it’s $8.99 for a 10-ounce jar.

Brooklyn Comes to Princeton; Best Coffee Houses in NJ

Frankies Spuntino @ Whole Foods Princeton for a Good Cause

So how often do I make it to Brooklyn to dine? Try almost never. So when I heard that The Franks – Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo – from Frankies Spuntino were cooking a meal at my local Whole Foods to raise funds for the Whole Planet Foundation, I jumped at the chance. I knew I was in for a great meal, and that happened. But the evening came with several unexpected bonuses.

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Among the surprises? That the evening’s 5-course menu was Sicilian from top to bottom, that assisting The Franks was their director of operations who turned out to be a longtime chef at Princeton’s Nassau Inn (and an old friend), and that the 24 guests included luminaries from the current Princeton-area restaurant scene AND  a 13-year-old whom I predict will someday be a noted restaurant critic.

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

CrudoBeetThe Franks led off with these two light courses: fluke crudo with Sicilian sette anni peppers & pistachio, and blood orange segments with 1 sunburst of a golden beet topped with shards of caciocavallo. The unbilled star of both dishes was the zingy, deep green Sicilian extra virgin olive oil (made from nocellara del belice olives) that Frankies imports and which Whole Foods carries. The can made for a gorgeous centerpiece:

TulipsThese dishes were followed by a pasta course. Not just any pasta: fettuccine with jumbo lump crabmeat in ricci de mare sauce. For the uninitiated, that’s sea urchin. This dish had the evening’s 24 guests unabashedly going back for seconds.

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Among those who named it as their favorite of the night was Shaun Orssaud, age 13, who came from Moorestown with his mother, Lisa.

Budding restaurant critic?

Budding restaurant critic?

Perhaps Mr. Orssaud owes his sophisticated palate  to the fact that he was born in France and lived there until he was 6.

Ribeye with Catanese Olivd Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

Ribeye with Catanese Olive Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

The centerpiece of the meal was this amazing slow-roasted ribeye. It was served with Ca’ Di Ponti Barbera, 1 of 3 wines poured.

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Seated in this photo are Josh Thomsen, executive chef at Agricola in Princeton, and its owner Jim Nawn. (Sitting across from them, not pictured, were Lambertville’s famed Canal House duo, Christopher Hersheimer & Melissa Hamilton. As I said, even the guest list was star-studded!) Serving the 2 men is Chris Harkness, who I knew years ago when he was chef at the Nassau Inn, and who has been working with The Franks for years now. The photo below shows those 3 plus Scott Allshouse, president of Whole Foods’ Mid-Atlantic region.

??????????Proceeds from the dinner went to the Whole Planet Foundation. Maybe I’ve been under a rock, but up until now I’ve been oblivious to the good work this organization is doing. Through its mission to alleviate poverty by providing micro-loans, it has assisted 875,158 women entrepreneurs in 61 countries (89% go to women) with $62 million in credit. To talk about Whole Foods’ charity work was an unexpected star of the evening – Michelle Mac Arthur:

Michelle MacArthurMs. Mac Arthur has been a part-time cashier at the Princeton store for only six months, but during the last holiday season she single-handedly brought in $8,000 for another Whole Foods initiative, Feed4More. By asking customers to donate $10 (or any amount) at checkout, she alone beat out 13 other Whole Foods stores in the region! She’s standing in front of an end display featuring, among other things, Frankies olive oil and the Frankies Spuntino cookbook.

New Jersey Monthly Features Best Coffee Houses from High Point to Cape May

NJ Monthly cover April 2015See if your favorites made the cut in this April 2015 cover story. I contributed these 6 from Central NJ that the powers-that-be deemed among the best:

Buck’s Ice Cream & Espresso, Lambertville
Grovers Mill, West Windsor
Infini-T Cafe, Princeton
Lambertville Trading Co., Lambertville
Rojo’s Roastery, Lambertville & Princeton
Small World, Princeton

Clearly it was a tough assignment, drinking all those wonderful brews. But two in particular linger in my memory: the sidecar at Rojo’s espresso bar in Princeton, which are tandem, half-size espresso and cappuccino ($4) and a small pour-over of Crispy Hippie Dark Roast at Small World ($3.25).