Neighborhood Joints

Posted on September 26, 2018

Trust Me, It Was About Thyme

Not surprisingly the historic Black Horse Tavern on State Street in Newtown closed—it was about time! Mishaps occurred on our last two visits—one incident involved spilling an entire glass of red wine on Russ. Red flag number one. But accidents happen, right?

Red flag number two occurred on our follow up visit as we sat starving and waited over an hour for our dinner to arrive. To everyone’s shocked dismay, the chef came out of the kitchen and started break dancing in the dining room, kid you not! To appease the disgruntled diners, they plied us with several glasses of free wine. (I think the chef plied himself with several free glasses too.) Neither scenario left us wanting to return for more. And online comments from other patrons left similar scathing reviews.

Luckily, in late August of this year, it opened under new ownership as the Thyme Bar & Grill, and we were game to try it out. Their menu includes lunch and pub fare with crab towers, ahi tuna, lobster roll, duck quesadillas, as well as burgers, truffle fries and wings; while dinner options range from jambalaya, sea scallops and rack of lamb, to king crab cakes and pork chops.

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We were seated at a two-top next to a wall in the crowded upstairs dining room. It had been redecorated in soft gray tones with gauze fabric and tiny lights undulating through the rafters. The old stone fireplace prevailed and remains a focal point along with a large gilded mirror on the back wall.

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The waitstaff was very attentive, although you could tell they were still smoothing out the kinks toward becoming a well-oiled machine. Our chosen bottle of red wine was not in stock, but we were given an upgrade to a pricier selection—a nice touch indeed.

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For starters we enjoyed one of three choices of Flat Breads. Ours came topped with Boursin cheese, baby arugula, garbanzo beans and Kalamata olives. I must admit, I was a bit concerned about chickpeas on my flatbread, but it was very good; and the arugula added a nice peppery bite. Our one criticism would be the bread itself was slightly thicker than we prefer.

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Luckily, there was no lapse in service under the new ownership. Our entrées arrived shortly after consuming our appetizer. Russ loved his perfectly cooked to medium-rare Twin Filets topped with sautéed greens and crispy herbed potato croquettes, resting on a bed of their silky house steak sauce.

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I was in a seafood mood and finally settled on their Seared Sea Scallops that came plated floating on a puddle of creamed sweet corn, tomato jam and braised greens. While it may not seem like a whole lot, I was pretty full from the flatbread and took half of my meal home—which made for a perfect reheated lunch a few days later.

This “Thyme” the dinner was a winner!

 

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Posted on September 5, 2018

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Getting Our Greek On

Voted again in 2017 as one of the best restaurants by the Bucks County Courier Times, the Canal Street Grille has been an endeared dining establishment for decades. Nestled in a back alley in historic quaint downtown Yardley, this casual BYOB offers great Greek and American comfort food, with tranquil views overlooking the Delaware Canal—not far from where I used to reside for 25 years.

It’d been well over a decade since we patronized this little gem, and I had heard through the grapevine that the former owners recently bought it back and totally redid the interior. Gone are the old-world spindle chairs, dark paint and checkered tablecloths (if my memory serves me correctly.) Now, it’s a bright, airy dining space with soaring ceilings, swathed in a muted color palette with sparse modern touches such as the stacked stone feature wall lit with twinkling sconces. And love all those windows!

IMG_7120We were seated at a four-top next to a window overlooking the canal.

IMG_7117Our dining companions were Brad and Barb (The B’s), former Yardley neighbors and the folks we were with the last time we ate here prior to the renovation.

Canal Street offers many homemade specialties, from soups, colorful salads, pita sandwiches and burgers, to fresh seafood, grilled meats and, I’ve heard, some of the best wings in town—although we didn’t try any this time around. They also offer daily lunch and dinner specials, as well as various vegetarian and gluten-free options.

While sipping our adult beverages, we got down to the serious business of making dinner choices. When ordering entrées, for an additional $4 fee (over which we were a bit perplexed), you can get a Greek Side Salad which Lynn and Russ chose, or a cup of soup offered in two options that night, either Manhattan Clam Chowder which Barb selected, or Chicken Orzo. Brad refrained altogether.

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For starters, Russ and I shared an appetizer (orektika) of their Greek Meatballs that came plated with five golf-balled sized, ground beef orbs. They were made with Mediterranean seasonings, drenched in a marinara sauce and drizzled with a feta cheese fondue, and were served along with two warm pita wedges. OMG, they were good!!

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The B’s opted to share the Spanakopita, a classic greek spinach pie in a crusty phyllo. Nary a crumb was left on that plate!

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When it came to the entrées (kuria piata), I was intrigued enough to order the Autumn Chicken, two large breasts pounded down and sautéed in a fabulous orange, dried cranberry and sage sauce, then garnished with toasted walnuts and served over an ample portion of rice with a side of perfectly cooked fresh green beans enhanced with pieces of red bell pepper. Delicious!

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My other three dining companions were all on the same page as they each chose the Greek dish of Classic Meat Moussaka, comprised of layers of ground beef, eggplant, potato, and topped with a parmesan béchamel sauce; also served with a side of those tasty green beans. While they all thoroughly enjoyed it, they said it was very filling.

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I am all-to-happy to add another local ethnic BYO to our list of dining establishments. Keep in mind that they only take reservations for parties of six or more, but apparently their rush is over by about 7:00 p.m. so getting seated after that time (which is more typical for us) is not an issue. Yup, we will be back…

 

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Posted on July 31, 2018

Eno Terra: Eat Local, Drink Global

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The best laid plans… My birthday agenda was going to include a fancy dinner followed by a “Monet in the Garden” Fountain & Fireworks (F&F) show at Longwood Gardens—over an hours drive from home. Wouldn’t you know, that Saturday was the first day of a predicted weeks-long rainy pattern, and the hourly forecast showed 100% heavy rain from mid-afternoon until past midnight.

Despite the dismal weather, the F&F wasn’t cancelled, so we altered our dinner plans for another evening, dressed in foul-weather gear, and made the trip to Longwood Gardens. And boy are we glad we did. What a show!! The shows are far and few between and sold out months in advance, but if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend…

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3.IMG_6370I couldn’t help myself by adding this video and a few pics from the event. But I digress…

Back to the food blog at hand (and where I finally had my birthday dinner)… According to their website, Eno Terra is founded on the principle of regionalism and seasonality drawing from local farmers, fishermen, grass fed beef and poultry producers and three season harvests from their Eno Terra Canal Farm. They’ve created an enhanced Enoteca style menu, to complement their farm-to-table multi course format.

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Located in Kingston, NJ, just outside of Princeton, Eno Terra, opened in 2008, is steeped in history and sits on the oldest highway in America—King’s Highway—which was a center point of local commerce. The restaurant itself is the site of the old Fisk General Store and dates back to the 1860s, with original beams and store foundation still in use in their wine cellar (ask to see them when you visit).

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For some reason, their small patio area was not available for seating, even though it was a gorgeous summer evening. Not to complain because the two-story space in a historic, wood-framed general store remains inviting, with its artful wall hangings of lichen and other living greenery. Their menu is Italian in sensibility, while the wine list focuses on Italy and the United States with an abundant representation from France and Spain. So many to choose from!

IMG_6600Russ spends some time reviewing all of the wine offerings, orders and Italian NOE Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, then I enjoy a sip…

Along with a separate detailed wine menu and a smattering of a few nightly specials, the menu is arranged into four segments (plus dessert) starting with their highly touted Salumi & Formaggi offerings. While waiting to be seated, Russ eyeballed the high-end Italian meat slicer (shown below) near the hostess station and just knew he was going to have to start with something in this category…

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IMG_6608…  Russ chose the Piccolo which allowed for four choices from the meat and cheese offerings, letting our very Italian waiter make the selections for him. Along with marinated Castelvetrano olives, also on the wooden plank platter was an array of spiced cashews, a fruit spread, walnut raisin bread slices, and melt-in-your-mouth Prosciutto di Parma and Coppa meats, and creamy cheeses Taleggio and 24-month Parmigianno. A meal in itself!

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Mid-summer screams fresh corn to me, so I began with a small portion of the Sweet Corn Soup. It was ever so delicately spiced with a nod toward the sweet and garnished with fresh heirloom tomato chunks and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Divine! Of course, we both shared a bit with each other so we could experience the entire meal together.

IMG_6611Our next hurdle was choosing from the Antipasti & Insalate or the Primi categories, so we went with one from each. Russ chose the San Marzano Lamb Meatballs, with four golf ball-sized mounds of meat smothered in the house’s bright, tangy roasted tomato sauce atop Anson Mills polenta, with shaved Pecorino and parsley.

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My pick was a Primi, the homemade Tagliatelle with braised veal, succulent Maitake mushrooms, mixed with Swiss chard and topped with rosemary and grated Pecorino. Our waiter raised an eyebrow when I mentioned I was also going to order a Secondi, so he suggested just a half order of the pasta, thank goodness, because that was plenty—and plenty tasty!

IMG_6614For his main dish, Russ zeroed in on the Niman Ranch Flat Iron Steak grilled to a perfect medium-rare and accompanied by grilled asparagus, nantes carrots, rock potato and dressed with a clinging red wine jus. He absolutely marveled at how fantastic the vegetables were, especially the potatoes with their crisp exterior and creamy soft interiors. I had a taste and couldn’t have agreed more.

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An all-time favorite of mine are Scallops, and their line of five plump, perfectly seared dry sea scallops came christened with roasted pepper marmalade. They were paired with a baby kale, shaved fennel and citrus salad, and an artistic swash of Shishito pepper purée decorated the plate. Before finishing this course, we were quite full (surprised?), so about half of each dinner was packaged for home. And BTW, we had them the next day for lunch at the pool—even without reheating, they were amazingly good.

Definitely no room for dessert but it looked like they had some great options from scrutinizing offerings ordered by other diners. The meal was not rushed and the waitstaff was very attentive, making sure to keep our wine and water glasses refreshed as needed. Eno Terra, a new favorite? Quite possibly…

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Posted July 21, 2018

Blue Danube

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Danube so blue, I’m longing for you.
You murmur of home, far over the foam…

Well, not hardly. In fact, not at all.

On a short road trip into the back streets of Trenton with gal-pal Jeremy, we patronized Blue Danube, an old-world rowhouse restaurant featuring Hungarian and German food. The only body of water in proximity is the Delaware River several blocks over, and the color is nowhere near blue. Jeremy had eaten here a few times and said the food was memorable—the neighborhood, not so much. She was spot on, on both accounts.

IMG_6143The Blue Danube sits at the corner of Elm and Adeline streets off of Broad.

Since it was Friday the 13th, I secretly crossed my fingers that when we emerged from eating, her car would still be there. It was, and the weekend night life was just starting to get underway. But that’s someone else’s blog, so I’ll concentrate on our dining experience.

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The restaurant’s main door (on the side) opens to a small, but well-stocked bar, where when we arrived, three elderly folks were enjoying cocktails, while another couple stood in the miniscule waiting area to get seated. We on the other hand, had a reservation and were shown to our table right away. The two small dining rooms consist of only about eight to ten tables total, and for a Friday night, oddly several of them were still available.

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As described by Karla Cook of the NY Times “…it’s an old-timey restaurant where the knickknacks are layered, the flowers are silk and the glasses don’t match. But the soft-focus food hugs you from the inside.” This Eastern European-Continental formula is a recipe for success—at least where the food is concerned. Blue Danube is all about paprikas, wiener schnitzel and goulash, spätzle and mititei, plus cabbage and pierogies. Yes, there are some Italian and Americanized options too in the case of a picky eater.

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Let me just preface the menu by saying if you’re in the mood for mesclun and artisanal goat cheese with balsamic vinaigrette, don’t go to Blue Danube. Trendy it’s not. And don’t be in a hurry, because everything is made to order and the service is slow. The upside of that is, at least one doesn’t feel rushed.

Starters consist of about a dozen cold (i.e. Stuffed Cherry Peppers, Pickle Platter) and hot (Danube Sampler for Two, Turoscuza) choices, and a few homemade soups. The reasonably-priced main dishes are listed under Old World Classics (which include soup or salad), Steaks & Chops, Chicken and Veal Entrées, plus Pastas and Seafood Specialities. So “When in Rome” as the saying goes, we concentrated on the Old World Classics.

Dining companion Jeremy (above left) took some time deciding but finally landed on the Taste of Europe: a large platter loaded with stuffed cabbage, pork schnitzel, pierogies, and homemade sausage on a bed of cabbage and sauerkraut, garnished with a generous dollop of sour cream. As if you need more, the entrées come with a choice of sides and Jeremy chose the red cabbage. Let me tell you, she LOVED her dinner.

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Our side salads were nothing out of the ordinary in looks, but they tasted amazing! And no, those are not french fries on top…

While Stuffed Cabbage is not a typical choice for me, it seemed to be calling my name that evening. The three melt-in-your-mouth cabbage rolls made with pork, beef and rice, are slow cooked and smothered with tomatoes, sauerkraut and shredded cabbage and come with either pierogies or kielbasa—I chose the latter. While my entrée was very good, the side of spinach cooked to the consistency of baby food, was way overdone to my liking, although it was tasty.

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Their desserts run the gamut from Tiramisu, to Apple Strudel, to Savarina and Parfaits and Sundaes. Too darn full—and with take-home doggie bags—we didn’t even consider ordering more food. But on our way out Jeremy noticed a young couple sharing a very large sweet treat, which when asked, they told her was the Tiramisu, indeed enough for two!

As we emerged onto the streets, the evening was growing dark, our stomachs were full, and the car was intact. All-in-all, not a bad dining experience…

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Posted July 11, 2018

Too Soon To Harvest?

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Not if you dine at Harvest Seasonal Wine & Grill Bar… “a high quality, farm-fresh, seasonally-changing menu that offers a range of dining options not typically found in traditional farm-to-table establishments.” If you’ve ever patronized a Seasons 52 restaurant, Harvest is it’s kindred spirit in looks and philosophy.

To source the freshest and highest quality ingredients possible, they work closely with 75 local farmers. While other establishments have only recently begun to embrace organic menu additions, Harvest was built from the ground up with a no compromise attitude towards using local, all-natural ingredients in all of their offerings.

Just before Super Bowl Sunday, we visited a party store in Newtown and happened to notice a new restaurant right next door. Of course curiosity got the best of us and we had to go peek our noses in the window. We were immediately drawn to the modern industrial decor and promise of a farm-to-table menu offering organically grown ingredients. And the grand opening was set for the day after the Super Bowl, so we were excited to try it.

Fast forward about a week and Russ tried to make a reservation for Valentine’s night but they were booked (unless you wanted to eat after 9:00, even late by our standards); although he was able to score one a few days later on a Friday evening. Thank goodness we did make the res because when we arrived, the entrance and waiting area was jam-packed. Luckily our wait was short and we were seated at the far end in a quieter booth—and I’ll use the term “quiet” loosely, as the place was buzzing!

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We were seated in a banquette against a far wall partially blocked off from the central “pit” of diners.

Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic waiter Lance walked us through the menu and took our wine order while we tried to settle on some options. I was impressed to see that most items are 500 calories or less, non-GMO, and contained an extensive list of vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan items. Refreshingly, the menu is updated every three months to address the change of seasons.

Furthermore, the use of sustainable, organic and healthy ingredients doesn’t stop with the menu. From organic cleaning products to recycled glass counter tops and post consumer fiber menus, they utilize green practices daily throughout the overall concept at all of their locations—six of which are in PA; with one each in Moorestown, NJ and Delray Beach, FL.

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Lighting above the booths meshes well with the other decor.

In the end we decided our starter would be the Organic Spicy Pork Flatbread on a very thin cracker-like crust topped with crumbled pork, roasted bell peppers, Kalamata olives and mozzarella curd. It was ever-so-light and a perfect teaser for our future choices.

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While the overall pace seemed to be a bit frantic with the waitstaff trying to keep up with the constant flow of diners, we didn’t feel rushed at all. Instead of focusing on entrées, we decided to split an array of appetizers and chose three items, all with a kick.

IMG_2882Kung Pao Cauliflower “Wings” (top left) with a ginger soy glaze, pickled carrot strips and jalapeños, sriracha, toasted sesame and scallions.

IMG_2884Organic Pork Potstickers garnished with Korean pepper remoulade and Asian Vegetable slaw.

IMG_2885Thai Sesame Beef Lettuce Wraps plated with bibb lettuce, pickled carrots, daikon radishes, edamame, sriracha salted peanuts and a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce.

It was just the right amount of food (although I didn’t end up with a doggie bag), but Russ asked to see the dessert tray anyway. Just as Seasons 52 serves their desserts in large shot glasses, Harvest presents a similar display. Seeing as how they weren’t overwhelming in size, Russ opted to try the Tiramisu, and he loved it! They gave us two spoons just in case…

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First impression was a winner! I couldn’t wait to go back… Although it was over 4 months until we had the opportunity to return at the end of June. They have a wrap around porch with about a dozen or so tables so we were lucky enough to dine al fresco in the warm weather, and it is much quieter than the interior spaces. Albeit, the view is mostly of the parking lot, but there is some greenery too.

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After selecting a bottle of Charge, a California Cabernet (I loved the label) once again we started with one of their delicious flat breads, this time the Jerk Chicken Flatbread with a Jamaican jerk sauce, roasted poblano pepper and mild cheddar—yes, we ate the whole thing! The crust is crunchy and very thin while the toppings are appropriately distributed and perfectly paired.

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For main entrées we went with seafood. Russ chose the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, with fried green tomato relish, a chili corn rémoulade, seasonal baby patty pan squash, roasted fingerling potatoes and a charred lemon half. His opinion? Among the best crab cakes he’s ever eaten.

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I zeroed in on the Seared Sea Scallops that were dusted in stone-ground cornmeal lined up over a bed of sweet corn risotto, accompanied by an heirloom tomato relish with basil oil, corn shoots, and topped with micro basil. OMG, we both LOVED our meals!

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Well, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs because we both took nearly half of our dinners home; which left no room for dessert this time around. All-in-All Harvest has left a good taste in our mouths—literally. So we know that there will certainly be return visits in the future.

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Posted March 14, 2018

Tre Fratelli

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We recently dined at Tre Fratelli (three brothers in Italian-speak), a BYO behind an unassuming storefront in the Summit Square shopping center in Langhorne, right on the border with Newtown. Many years ago we patronized the restaurant with good friends Barb and Brad, but hadn’t given it another thought since then because of the plethora of great Italian restaurants within a ten mile radius.

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But it came back on my radar since I’ve been parking my auto nearby when I carpool with a few other ladies to my Master Gardner class. So I made a res for a Saturday night—again with Barb and Brad—and we were pleasantly surprised over the more modern and tasteful, yet muted grayscale decor. (The front of the house is more casual and caters to take-out and pizzas.)

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Behind Barb and Brad was a large sliding barn door separating the other dining room for hosting private parties.

Tasty pizza and flavorful pasta are the restaurant’s big-ticket items, but we opted for three entrées and a hot sandwich. The main dishes were plentiful (more than enough for an ample doggie bag), and instead of sides of pasta, Russ and I chose their vegetable medley. (Gluten-free options available upon request.) With the entrées came a choice of a garden or Caesar salad, Russ’s favorite if he can get it topped with whole anchovies.

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Veal Parmigiana
, lightly fried and topped with tomato sauce, and baked with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. (Russ)

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Bellagio:
Chicken sautéed with prosciutto in a light plum tomato sauce and baked with aged provolone. (Lynn)
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Domani:
chicken with roasted garlic chicken stock, romano cheese and fresh sautéed spinach. (Barb)
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Steak & Cheese Stromboli 
stuffed with mozzarella cheese and served with a side of sauce. Small and large sizes available. (Brad)
The overall consensus was good, and the sound level was very pleasant allowing for easy conversation. But with all of our other nearby choices, we wouldn’t make this our preferred Italian restaurant. However it’s nice to know it’s there in a pinch.

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Posted December 24, 2018

This Ain’t Your Typical American Pizzeria

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Acqua e Farina brings truly “autentico” Neapolitan-style pizza to Newtown. Their pies are served from the bona fide, Naples-built brick oven, the kind you would find in Italy—transforming 12-inch pies with a crispy crust surrounding a hot, molten center with milky buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce and mouth-watering toppings.

The name of the eatery literally means water and flour, the two ingredients used in the making of the authentic pies. And just about everything inside the sit down and take out eatery on the Richboro Road is from Italy, from the decorative oven that cooks the pies in three minutes at temperatures hovering around 700 degrees, to the ingredients used to make the delectable pies.

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They also have bar seating (it’s a BYO) at the counter with a view of the Italian brick oven.

Acqua e Farina is owned by Pasquale and Anna Palino, who have already built a reputation in Newtown for authentic Italian cooking at their popular Vecchia Osteria, one of our local faves, a restaurant located just down the street. You can bet, it is an experience. There’s nothing pre-made here, it’s all made to order.

So when the three kids were in town for the holiday season, we decided it would be easiest to go out for pizza because we had cooked all day and would be cooking the following day on Christmas Eve. Russ happened to remember Veccia’s newish pizzeria and suggested we go there to check it out.

Since it was a Saturday night, I thought reservations would be in order. But when I called the hostess informed me they only take reservations for parties of 10 or more. Since our group was only half that size, I was a little disappointed. She must have heard the concern in my voice because she mentioned if I called just as we left the house, she’d put our name on the list. When we got there, sure enough they had a large corner table ready.

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David, Lynn, Russ, Julia and Daniel enjoy some wine while waiting for the food.

According to famed chef-author Lidia Bastianich, pizza in Naples should have a puffy, almost blistered rim or cornice, and a very thin center. The puffy cornice should be well roasted and have the taste of the wood oven. The mozzarella should be made from water-buffalo milk and should be in distinctive pieces (not one big oozing, stringy mess.) The tomato should be the uncooked pulp of San Marzano tomatoes, passed through a mill, and not too much of it on the pizza. A few pieces of fresh basil scattered on top and that’s it.

Well, this wasn’t just “a-couple-of-pies” kinda night. The large chalkboard behind us was touting some tempting appetizers so we had to order their Stuffed Meatballs and Gnocchi, which the gang mostly polished off before I remembered to take a couple of pics, but just goes to show you how good they were!

While devouring those, we ordered a pie-per-person (no, we did not finish them all!) All arrived but Dan’s, and when he inquired about his, the waitress told him they forgot to include it in the order, but it was just tossed in the oven. Had he known, we would have just told them to forget it because we had more than enough food. Then, as a consolation, they gave Dan a large order of their marinara-topped bread squares to go—like we needed that!

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One of the pies, the Quattro Formaggio, was no longer on the menu but since Russ had been given an older menu, they decided to honor it. I never understand why restaurants give you bread as an appetizer when you’re ordering a bunch of carb-loaded food?! Anyway, Dan got about a dozen more of these focaccia squares, above, on the house…

In no particular order, here are the pizzas:

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Margherita:
Fresh Tomato Sauce, Buffalo Mozzarella With Olive Oil & Basil

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Contadina: Fresh Tomato Sauce, Buffalo Mozzarella, Roasted Peppers, Kalamata Olives, Eggplant, Zucchini & Mushrooms With Oil & Basil

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Bufalina:
Grape Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, Arugula, Prosciutto Topped Shaved Parmigiano

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Boscaiola:
Mushrooms, Buffola Mozzarella & Sausage With Oil & Basil

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Quattro Formaggio: (Four Cheeses), Mozzarella, Ricotta, Gorgonzola, Parmesan & Basil

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Posted November 12, 2017

Manhattan-Meets-Lambertville

“The hippest restaurant, in the oldest bar, in the smallest city, in the USA… where you can feast on traditional Italian with passion and style.” So says the website, and so say we…

First introduced to DeAnna’s Restaurant by my cousin Tom and his wife Jacqui, it’s now been nearly 5 years (where has the time gone?) since we last patronized the place with other friends, Ira and Beth. Way past time to make an appearance, so that’s exactly what we did on a recent Saturday evening. Lucky for us, they had a last minute cancellation, and we got the reservation.

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Twenty years ago, DeAnna’s began as a cozy 30-seat restaurant then grew to include a bar and expanded seating at the larger current location, with all the original ambience intact. Their food is straightforward, authentic Italian cuisine. Chef-owner DeAnna considers herself a traditionalist but brings an original style and passion to her menu. They have a bar, full liquor license and a well-thought-out wine list.

They offer locally grown organic greens and produce whenever possible, and include a handful of creative daily additions to the menu that always incorporate fish and meat selections—but they specialize in homemade pasta and ravioli. DeAnna’s is able to meet most dietary requests such as vegetarian and gluten-free.

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Famous for their ever-changing themed decor, we arrived a few nights post-Halloween but it was still festooned with holiday ornamentation. After just a couple minute wait—in an almost nonexistent waiting area—we scored a quieter corner table. Oddly, though the weather wasn’t too cold outside, I was freezing in my seat. Within minutes however, I realized someone had raised the window under the blind, which I quickly closed. Crisis averted.

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After a while, a family vacated the seats right next to us. When they left we noticed the entire wall had sofa seating.

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The whole grain garlic bread was worth a taste and melted in your mouth.

With a bottle of tempranillo on the way, and an order of garlic bread getting happy, we both decided to share the most interesting Fried Cheese appetizer (pecorino romano) with seasonal fruit—in this case grapes, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and orange slices topped with mint and a balsamic reduction. Fantastico!

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Our entrées each came with a side salad.

For entrées we both decided on specials of the night, with sides of steamed broccoli as opposed to pasta since we’d already indulged in some of that top-notch garlic bread. For Russ it was all about the Pork Osso Buco which came plated larger than life swimming in a bowl of sauce. It must have been delicious because he devoured it in it’s entirety.

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I was in a seafood kind of mood and chose the Mediterranean Swordfish cooked perfectly medium in a tomato sauce with capers, black olives, fresh chives,  a sprig of fresh thyme and adorned with a gorgeous edible red flower.

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Too big to finish, the swordfish made for a great lunch a few days later.

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DeAnna’s is devotedly managed by her partner, Lisa Nichols, who maintains the beautiful decor, coordinates daily operations and parties and who bakes all of the scrumptious desserts. She is the idea person and aesthetic police. It’s the perfect combination, Lisa in the front of the house with DeAnna creating culinary magic in the kitchen.

 

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Posted October 16, 2017

59 Almshouse

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In early October I started my Master Gardener Certification course with weekly classes about 20 miles from home. The trek, most of which runs by way of Almshouse Road, brings me through several Bucks County towns, including Richboro. Along the way, I had noticed an old restaurant haunt, Patagonia Bar & Grille, now closed and breathing new life as 59 Almshouse, which looked busy every time I passed it. Time for a culinary road trip…

Tagging along with us were fellow diners Brad and Barb. Upon arrival we noticed the parking lot was packed—a good sign—we mentally patted ourselves on the back for making reservations ahead of time! One enters into a large rustic foyer with a busy receptionist’s desk, and off to the right is a beautiful showpiece bar area featuring a 24-foot ceiling and gorgeous natural wood trusses (also packed.) Dining areas are down a few steps to the left.

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Once seated, we started discussing the earthy-toned urban decor which showcased lots of wood and brick elements, and Edison lightbulbs in a variety of drum-fashion metal “cages.” While they worked exceedingly well as rustic elements within the restaurant, Barb and I agreed the light fixtures were not to our particular personal tastes.

The restaurant menu, which changes often, stars a wood-burning grill and a variety of unique menu items using locally-grown, fresh farm products. It is conveniently located within 25 miles of over 70 farms—growing produce from asparagus to zucchini, and raising poultry and beef—perfect fodder for Chef Norm’s locally-sourced creations.

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A blurry photo, but at least it masks our wrinkles 😉   

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Presented with large menus and an additional “dinner specials” sheet, we diligently scanned our options, featuring an assortment of soups, salads, flatbreads, appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, pastas and entrées. While deciding, a basket of fresh bread was brought to our table containing two types of fresh crusty bread. Not one to often indulge, I chose a slice of the whole grain bread with walnuts and dried cranberries. Very good indeed!

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For starters Russ and I chose to split the “special” appetizer Grilled Lamb Meatball Skewers threaded with onions and peppers, with sides of hummus, tzatziki and grilled pita, shown above. We were so psyched to start eating them that it was half gone before Brad reminded me I hadn’t yet taken a photo!

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Speaking of Brad, he jumped right into an entrée salad choosing the Cobb Salad—a common choice for him—plated with a bed of romaine, bacon lardon, avocado, hard boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, black olives, and bleu cheese crumbles topped with a peppercorn ranch dressing. He amped it up by adding the grilled chicken breast option.

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While I haven’t had fajitas in ages, it is one of Barb’s go-to choices, so without much hesitation we both selected Chicken Fajitas as our entrées. They came plated in a hot cast-iron skillet with onions and peppers and many sides including pico de gallo, queso, olives, avocado, sour cream, and of course, jalapeños. With such ample portions, a take-home bag was an added bonus.

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Russ was the most adventurous of the group ordering the Duck Pot Pie, new to the Fall menu. It consisted of an oblong crusted pie stuffed duck confit, wild mushrooms, carrots, peas and potatoes along with a small caesar salad. Needless to say, he loved it!

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Most weekday evenings they offer certain specials such as “Sunday Gravy,” “Monday Burgers,” and “Tuesday Chicken and Ribs.” On Friday and Saturdays they provide live music and as we headed out to the parking lot, the band was on their way in with instruments in hand—the party was just getting started…

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A Cuppa Joe and a Taste of the Arts

Posted September 25, 2017

A Langhorne Borough mainstay, the Langhorne Coffee House sits on the corner of Bellevue and Maple in the center of town in the idyllic Bucks County, PA neighborhood. Dating back to the 1700s this area was known as Four Lanes End—a name that derives from the fact that the site was at the crossroads for travelers from Philadelphia to the Delaware River and Trenton, New Jersey.

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The quiet town of Langhorne played a small part in the history of the Revolutionary War. Beleaguered patriots fled across New Jersey in the winter of 1776 where the NJ Legislature then met in Langhorne. According to Langhorne and Vicinity in Olden Times by Samuel Eastburn “… they met in the house of Gilbert Hicks at Four Lanes End to consider the state of the country.” And this is precisely the building that now houses the aforementioned coffee house.

Although we’ve lived in Langhorne for nearly 6 1/2 years, Russ and I only ate breakfast (wildly popular) there once, and never lunch. So when good friend Paula Graham mentioned she’d like to take me out for a retirement luncheon, the coffeehouse immediately came to mind. On a late-September balmy Friday we made a quick dash over and I made the decision to sit indoors so Paula could get enjoy the full ambience of the place.

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Paula holds one of their mismatched mugs aptly inscribed with a “Friends” message.

We chose a table by the self-serve beverage station that offers a mixed bag of mugs, a selection of fresh-brewed coffee, every variety of loose leaf tea and bags, hot sauces galore, with a selection of accompanying condiments. All smiles, the waitstaff is very friendly without rushing you giving us time to catch up.

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At one point early in the conversation, Paula noticed she forgot to put her rings on before she left home. Shortly thereafter, I was ready to start snapping some pics for this blog when I realized I left my phone at home. Paula commented “that’s even worse than forgetting your rings!”

We chatted away for quite awhile before placing orders of nearly the same thing! The stuffed tomato salad appealed to both of us, mine with tuna, Paula’s with egg; each coming with a slew of pickle slices and a small bag of potato chips. While the meals are nothing super-fancy or out of the ordinary, the food is ample, well-made and freshly prepared.

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Nearly two hours had gone by when we noticed they were closing down for the day, so we headed for the door. Our waitress said goodbye but then quickly shouted “Wait, you DO have to pay!” Never having been given a tab, it didn’t occur to us that we hadn’t paid. Apparently that is more common than one would think…

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This popular little dining spot has both interior and exterior seating (when the weather allows) serving breakfast and lunch until 2:00 p.m. Local artist’s display their wares for sale on the walls and windowsills. The first Friday of every month from 6-10 p.m. is Artists on the Avenue, the coffee house’s monthly Artist Series. Each month a new fine art exhibition is executed and the artist(s) featured that particular month attends the opening reception for a meet and greet. I’m hoping to finally check out one of those very soon… perhaps even be the featured artist one day?

 

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Posted September 8, 2017

An Historic Tavern

Nestled along the Delaware River in bucolic Bucks County, the Zagat-rated Yardley Inn is a great place to enjoy waterside dining near Philadelphia. The historic tavern boasts an elegant and refined atmosphere that fills the bill for a city dining experience without the city. It is located just down the street from my previous home in Yardley, and is less than 10 miles from our current Langhorne residence.

Functioning as a restaurant and inn since 1832, this Bucks County mainstay keeps things up-to-date with a kitchen that’s not afraid to think outside the hotel dining box. Meals here kick off with lighthearted bites such as Korean Wings and chorizo stuffed Devils on Horseback, then move onto mains like swordfish over caponata and miso-marinated local chicken.

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The modern welcoming foyer.

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One of several spacious dining rooms overlooking the Delaware river.

The neighborhood gem, named “Best Restaurant in Bucks” on numerous occasions, is known for its contemporary American cuisine prepared and served by a staff with a passion for superior service. The diverse menu is sure to satisfy any appetite, mood, or craving. The dining room offers a warm ambiance and picturesque waterfront views while the patio provides comfortable outdoor seating surrounded by nature (and some local traffic.)

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The view from our interior window seats overlooked the charming outdoor patio and Delaware River beyond. Shortly after we were seated and the outdoor tables filled, an unexpected torrential downpour occurred and the patrons had to scuttle inside while the waitstaff collected their meals. While the weather intrusion lasted only about 20 minutes, it was just another example of the continuation of our endless rainy summer season.

We were anxious to try the featured wine of the week, a Purato Nero D’Avola. Sicily’s number one red grape variety, Nero d’Avola, is indigenous to the island and is known to have a wonderful structure, soft tannins and is touted to be very approachable. Packed with red berry fruit flavors, it is supposedly ideal with red meat and tomato based pasta sauces—so would have been a perfect accompaniment to my entrée. Unfortunately, our waitress Jenna had to inform us that they had run out of the vintage the night before. Plan B…

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Fresh, hot crusty breads arrived while our wine was being uncorked.

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For starters Russ wisely opted for the velvety Crab Bisque that provided a subtle kick from red pepper. It was creamy, smooth and very flavorful—I know because he let me taste it. Knowing that I wouldn’t be getting any veggies with my entrée, I honed in on the Garden Greens Salad with a light miso vinaigrette that made for an ideal first course.

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Chorizo is one of Russ’s all time faves, so when the menu listed Chorizo Meatloaf as a main dish, he pretty much decided on the spot. It arrived topped by salsa verde and créma all surrounded by a large medley of roasted fresh corn and black beans. The portion was more than ample, so he doggie-bagged half of his meal for a work-week lunch.

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Lynn’s entrée was an unusual pick for her, the Handmade Ricotta Cavatelli with a beef and pork bolognese. The pasta was soft and pillowy, almost gnocchi-like and the flavorful meat sauce included a generous amount of fresh tomatoes. However, it was very filling and I transported more than half of it home—which Russ and I both enjoyed the next day.

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Too full to even consider dessert, and with the storm abated, we gathered our leftovers and made the short trip back home. To really make a night of it, consider making dinner reservations for a Saturday and stay to watch their live entertainment that begins at 8:00.

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Posted August 11, 2017

Comfortfood

Eleven days into my retirement and the day’s outing was with good friend Jeremy Parry, a pro at the retirement scene with 10 years under her belt already, she was practically a baby when she left ;)! Our main mission was to purchase supplies at Jerry’s Artarama in nearby New Jersey for our upcoming watercolor class. With that accomplished, and a few other chores checked off the list, it was lunch time.

Crossing the bridge back into Pennsy, I suggested Comfortfood, a place I’d been hearing about, and that Jeremy has frequented on several occasions. Their hours are limited, serving mostly lunches and closing at 5:00, except on Fridays when they stay open until 8:00. Not convenient to most working stiffs, or those who work far away and late into the evening like hubby Russ.

With time no longer a hurdle for me, and the location close to Jeremy’s house, we made a beeline to the strip mall restaurant only to find it completely full with a waiting line. Not in any particular hurry, we perused the daily menu while waiting for our table to become available.

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In the entrance area you are immediately hit with a huge chalkboard outlining the take-out options in bright chalk—items not available to eat-in diners because, as we were told by our friendly waitress, they are prepackaged in containers ahead of time. Oh well, not like there wasn’t an abundance of original options on the regular menu, which changes daily BTW.

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While inescapably located in a cheesy strip mall, the restaurant interior is charming and comfortable. The decor exudes an eclectic-country vibe sporting tin ceilings, chalkboard surrounds, and funky bathroom fixtures. (Yes, I did take a picture of one of the unisex bathrooms!) Emblematic of the care exercised by Comfortfood is the mint-infused water served from a charming clear glass bottle with Ball mason jars as drinking glasses.

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“Convenient, good food doesn’t have to be expensive or full of bad ingredients,” explains Comfortfood Chef Kim Quay. Over the years, it’s business has morphed from an event-catering business, to take-out catering. Then in the spring of 2015, when the hair salon next door went out of business, Kim took over the space, opened a dining room, and began serving lunch.

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Undeterred that we could not start with a bowl of the Southwest Corn Chowder (it was for take out only), we split an appetizer of the Chicken Buffalo Lollipops with a cucumber blue cheese salad, shown above. The drumsticks had a good tang that wasn’t overpowering and was complimented by the accompanying cool salad.

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For mains, Jeremy chose the Avocado & Pickled Egg Tartine on a bed of arugula and a hit of smoked salt. The portion was quite large and she doggie-bagged half of it. I zeroed in on the Turkey Momos, even after the waitress explained they were more like dumplings in a sauce—intriguing I thought. Well, they were DELICIOUS! Those little momo devils were swimming in a savory tomato cilantro sauce surrounding a center pool of cucumber yogurt and topped with sliced scallions. No leftovers for me!

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Now that I have time during the day, I will definitely be back to Comfortfood. Anyone looking for a lunch date?

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You’ll find local produce and meats in all Comfortfood’s dishes. Quay buys her food from farms in Bucks County and nearby New Jersey, like the Guzikowski Farm (Yardley), Purely Farm (Pipersville), Charlann Farm (Yardley), Gravity Hill Farm (Titusville, NJ), Beechwood Farm (Hopewell, NJ) and Chickadee Creek Farm (Pennington, NJ), many of them organic or transitional organic, and using sustainable farming methods.

The menu changes daily – Quay posts it on her Facebook page every day and posts a photo of the board on her blog – and is priced reasonably. It includes comfort food but goes beyond to a wide variety of dishes.

 

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Posted August 1, 2017

A Revoltionary Retirement Dinner

Over the years, the establishment that is now known as Bowman’s Tavern has operated under a myriad of different names. Just prior to Bowman’s, it was known as Revolutions Tavern, a place we dined nearly a decade ago. Suffice it to say, we were NOT impressed, to say the least, with the food, service or ambiance.

Located outside of New Hope, PA, the restaurant is situated close to infamous Washington’s Crossing, where George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day during the Revolutionary War in 1776, and pretty much turned the tables on the Hessian forces and the outcome of the war. While my retirement dinner was no historical affair, it does one good to seep yourself in a bit of history every now and again.

With the launch of Bowman’s a few years back, it seems to have struck a more successful chord. The combination of the fun piano bar and variety of menu items apparently has the locals coming back again and again. We have often passed the building once it’s name was changed and have heard from friends that it’s worth another try. With a hefty gift card in hand—compliments of my coworkers as a retirement present—we made the trek to see for ourselves.

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Our venture was on a Tuesday night, and Russ exclaimed, “No need to make a reservation on a Tuesday.” Famous last words! We got the last spot in the parking lot and were told the dining room was completely full but we could choose a table in the bar or on the deck. Seeing as how it was in the 90’s and oppressively humid, we opted to sit on a hammered tin hi-top next to a window in the air-conditioned bar.

Both popcorn lovers, we enjoyed the small bucket of fresh, salty popcorn they brought to the table while we scanned the menus. And to toast the occasion, we selected a bottle of Pinot Noir. The hectic waitstaff seemed a little dazed and confused because two different folks swung by several times and asked us the same questions. Plus, Russ saw our appetizers whizz by nearly ten minutes before they were brought to our table with flustered apologies. Oh well, we were in no hurry…

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For starters I selected their hefty Heirloom Tomato Saladcomposed of baby arugula, buffalo burrata, basil oil, malden salt, and a 25-year aged balsamic. It was good, but not over the top. Russ on the other hand, opted for Cornmeal Dusted Fried Virginia Oysters (a fave of his) floating on a bed of tarragon aioli, with toasted garlic, lemon zest, and a sprinkling of pine nuts. Not a fan of oysters, I did however try a swipe of the aioli which was fabulous!

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While they do offer burgers and sandwiches, we wanted to celebrate with special entrées. So after some careful thought, Russ zeroed in on the House Roasted Porchetta with kohlrabi puree, roasted heirloom baby carrots, spring onion, and a chimichurri. The only disappointment here was the undercooked baby carrots, charred on the outside, but hard on the inside.

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For my dinner I ordered the Seared Scallops which came plated with six plump and juicy scallops atop local sweet corn grits with a topping of sautéed wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, and a luscious white truffle oil. I loved it, even though most of it went home with me for another day.

Although there were a few missteps, at least the food was very good, so we will definitely make a return trip—this time with reservations!

 

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Posted June 27, 2017

Café con Leche

A highly-rated, cozy BYO, Café con Leche serves a fusion of American with South-American and Mediterranean inspired cuisine, and is conveniently located in the heart of Newtown, PA. Daniel and Silvia Lucci have owned the cafe since 1997. Daniel, a craftsman of the cuisine, creates the most incredible dishes, utilizing the freshest and healthiest ingredients.

The name, Café con Leche (coffee with milk in Spanish), refers to the Puerto Rican tradition of serving coffee to household guests. A gesture of friendship, hospitality and community.

It had been many years, too many in fact, since we patronized Café con Leche. Back in the late-90’s, I frequented CCL with friends Brad and Barb, but my first visit with Mr. Russ was around the year 2000—about a year after we started dating—and we’ve been back only a few times since. Why? I have no earthly idea because it is a fabulous quaint little restaurant with incredible food!

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The door on the left leads you down to the restaurant; and the side alleyway brings you out onto State Street.

It’s in the basement of a building with offices above. You enter into a nicely appointed but narrow room with lots of windows and tables against the wall. Then, before proceeding into the regular dining area, you pass the tiny hostess and cashier section. The one disappointment of the night was that the grotto-like main eating space was as drab as I remembered it, with unappealing brown walls, exposed vents and pipes, and dated patterned oilcloths. A little could go a long way in sprucing the place up—just sayin’…

But back to the highlights. A healthy vegan menu entitled “Green Tea” was added in 2013 that offers a large and varied selection of 100% plant-based food menu. And as if that is not enough, CCL gives you even more options with their “Daily Specials” menu highlighting seven additional entrees and four more vegan choices.

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While our bottle of wine was being opened, we decided to split the Grilled Portabella Mushrooms with roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and balsamico as our starter. They were delicious, and a good omen of things to come.

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For our entrées, we both were enticed by the “Daily Specials Menu” with Russ selecting a favorite of his, the Carnitas, barbequed pulled pork with Mexican rice, corn tortillas, and homemade guacamole—which was actually almost as good as mine. It was definitely a healthy portion of pork of which I tasted a small bite, and it was indeed phenomenal!

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The Grilled Wild Alaskan Cod was calling my name which came plated with a pronounced dollop of avocado salsa, and was served with a ginger carrot purée that was insanely flavorful and creamy, and a side of perfectly sautéed vegetables brimming with color.

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If you can overlook the dated decor, you’ll find a pleasant and knowledgeable waitstaff, fabulous food, and good service. We will definitely be back, and this time it won’t be years before we do so!

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Posted January 29, 2017

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The Brick is Back? Not Sure…

Originally built in 1763, The Brick Hotel is a beautiful restaurant, bar, and 15-room quaint inn with a Victorian era ambience. The main dining areas are encircled with a glass enclosed porch with very desirable seating as it wraps around and overlooks historic Newtown and their garden, where diners can sit and enjoy the outdoor view. Very charming—at least at one point in time.

Once a popular destination, The Brick denigrated down to a Trip Advisor’s rating of only 2.5. And we can attest to that. In October 2014, Russ, his son Daniel and I went for a Sunday brunch which is supposed to last until 2:00. We arrived at 12:30 and the offerings were all but gone and were not replenished for the duration of the brunch! At $27 per head, it was inexcusable. It was obvious, the aging inn was struggling to maintain the polish for which it was once revered.

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The cold buffet offerings are spread out on the bar…

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…while the hot food is across the way. You can see there were pretty slim pickins.

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A sample of the hot offerings that were scraped together.

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And morsels from the cold buffet.

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Daniel and Russ even found room for dessert.

In November 2015, infamous British culinary and hospitality expert Gordon Ramsay took on The Brick in Fox TV’s Hotel Hell. After revamping the menu and addressing hygiene issues, he and his team gave the walls and furniture a sleek remodeling with a palette of classy shades of grey. Now renovated with a trendy entrance area, The Brick still has many features from the seventeen hundreds still intact, such as the first-floor staircase.

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Gordon Ramsay instructs the waitstaff on the new menu.

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The foyer with the famous revamped staircase.

But our first visit back in quite some time, even before the brunch episode, was the Thursday evening before Labor Day weekend 2014. We made it just in time for the end of their happy hour. The fact that hardly anyone was around, either inside or out, was an indication of the Brick’s slow demise—although we didn’t know it at the time.

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Our view from the garden during happy hour back in August 2014. It’s apparent that there were few, if any, other patrons. Our much younger waitress kept calling us “you’s lovebirds.”

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We shared the dinner menu appetizer Black & Blue grilled flatbread with blackened steak, crumbled bleu cheese and caramelized onions. 

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We also shared a Happy Hour Special called Buffalo Shrimp with a trio of battered crispy tiger shrimp, garlic buffalo sauce, bleu cheese slaw and remoulade. 

Even though recent Trip Advisor reviews are still complaining about the shabby hotel accommodations, we were ready to give it another chance, this time for dinner on a Saturday night. Let’s just say it wasn’t a promising start! Entering into that large revamped foyer, no one was manning the hostess station, so Russ ventured into the bar area, but again nobody there…

He finally caught sight of someone in the kitchen and got her attention (although Russ swore she was trying to vanish). She asked us if we had reservations—are you kidding me??—there were only two other occupied tables on the wrap around porch, and no one else in sight! Finally seated and with menus in hand, we selected a bottle of wine then set about deciding what to order—if not a bit fearfully.

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Russ reviews the menu in the all-but-empty wraparound porch.

The Sherry Infused Wild Mushroom Soup appealed to both of us as a starter, and it was delicious! Russ chose the New York Strip, medium rare, drizzled wth a demi-glaze that came plated over a mound of risotto and wilted spinach. He had no complaints.

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The not very exciting to look at mushroom soup, that tasted superb.

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Russ’s New York strip came pre-sliced.

My entree, Center Cut Pork Chops (something I usually never order when I’m out, so I don’t know what possessed me) arrived over a bed of roasted baby potatoes, sautéd brussels sprouts, and sweet and spicy apples. The accompaniments were probably some of the best I’ve ever eaten, so moist, tender and full of flavor. The chops on the other hand, were dry and overdone, a real disappointment.

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Lynn’s pork chop dish looked great, but the meat was dry and overdone.

In the past couple of years, we have had their bar menu in the garden; their Sunday brunch and Saturday dinner, both on the wrap-around porch. It hasn’t exactly been “three strikes your out” but I imagine if things don’t improve and patron traffic increase, The Brick Hotel will definitely be history—literally…

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Posted January 3, 2017

Once Featured on Triple D; a Step Back in Time

Located between Newtown and New Hope PA, the historic Pineville Hotel was built in 1742, serving as the town’s major landmark. It’s front porch was a central gathering place for locals and the site of sales of public land, livestock and equipment. Since then, the tavern has seen many transformations from feed mill to general store to a hotel.

Pineville Tavern, the old coaching Bucks County pub appears to be a popular local hang out, which built their reputation on a tradition of fresh, homemade food. Having been there only sporadically since moving to Bucks County over 30 years ago, and spurred on by the fact that it was actually featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Triple D) several years ago—one of my Food Network faves—I figured it was time to revisit. And Russ and good friends Barb and Brad were all-to-willing to join me in scoping it out on a recent Friday night.

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Not taking reservations, we were told to call 20 minutes before arriving to get our names on the list. Once there, we were seated immediately at a four-top in the bar area which exuded an intimate vibe through dark coffered ceilings and a rich mahogany bar, both dating back decades. We had a chuckle over the dark red tiled floor because it brought back memories of Barb’s old house in Yardley and the basement from my childhood home in Michigan.

The extensive menu of elevated tavern fare is quite diverse and offers homemade dishes prepared from scratch with a wide variety of options ranging from appetizers, burgers, pizzas, pastas and sandwiches to soups and salads. They also serve a lengthy selection of draft, craft and bottled beers, and a limited array of wine by the glass—plus a full-service bar if you are so inclined.

While Guy Fieri of Triple D recommends the Snapper Soup with the “savory, gravy-like soup with chewy chunks of snapper turtle; and the perfectly balanced handmade ravioli and marinara sauce for pasta lovers;” we opted for other choices.

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The Patty Melt Burger on grilled rye was just the ticket for Brad.

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Barb thoroughly enjoyed her Corned Beef Reuben.

Brad, a self-avowed burger man, chose the Patty Melt Burger with Swiss Cheese and Fried Onions on Grilled Rye with a side of fries. Mrs. Brad (that would be Barb) wasted no time in zeroing in on the New York “Style” Corned Beef Rueben, also paired with french fries. Russ was the only one of us who went for an entrée selecting the Broiled Salmon with Chef’s Vegetables (in his case fries and green beans.)

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I had a hard time deciding, but I knew I wasn’t in the mood for either a sandwich or an entree; or pasta or pizza for that matter. Finally, it was two appetizers that appealed to me: Zucchini Fries with Homemade Ranch Dressing and Jim’s Shrimp. Both were thumbs-up delicious!

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This shrimp appetizer was so full of flavor!

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Zucchini fries were piping hot and crispy on the outside with creamy interiors.

While our food was good, and the drinks not too pricey, the service was not the best. But I do want to return, especially in the warmer weather when the outdoor patio opens back up.

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Posted September 12, 2016

The New Kid in Town

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Oh, my, my… There’s a new kid in town
Ooh, hoo
Everybody’s talking ’bout the new kid in town
Ooh, hoo
Boccaccio come lately, the new kid in town…
(paraphrased from The Eagles song)

For reasons we couldn’t fathom, one of our favorite BYO’s in Newtown, Tiramisu, closed unexpectedly this past spring. Every time we’d drive by the shuttered facility on State Street, we’d anxiously glance to see if a new restaurant had taken over. Finally we were rewarded with the sign “Now Open, Boccaccio, authentic Italian food.”

The first opportunity I had to check it out was a night Russ had other commitments so I enticed my “gal-pals” Rosanne and Jeremy to join me on a maiden voyage. Arriving first, I was greeted by the host Rosalba (who I’d later find out was the owner), and once seated, John our waiter asked about water preference and explained the specials will be revealed when the rest of the party appears.

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Husband and wife team Rosalba and Antonio.

While I waited, it gave me a chance to eyeball the new decor which was fresh and clean, leaning toward the modern, but not drastically changed. With the extra time I also scrutinized their dinner menu, and while not huge in scope, it offers about a dozen choices each under their tempting Appetizers, Pastas, and Main Entrees lists.

My gals appeared shortly and we set about uncorking the wine and chatting up a storm before John came by to entice us with the specials of the night. As we pondered what to order, we received a bread basket containing a few varieties paired with a dish of olive oil layered with fresh herbs and spices.

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As an appetizer we all agreed to share the Gamberoni, consisting of three large, pancetta-wrapped shrimp that were dipped in beer batter, lightly fried to perfection and served with homemade buffalo sauce. OMG, you have to try these babies! The sauce had a bit of a kick to it, but nothing overwhelming.

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Side salads are not usually something to write home about, but I must admit, their homemade dressing  contained stone ground mustard that was just delicious topping the crisp-fresh salad ingredients.

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For some odd reason it is uncommon for me to order pork when we dine out—I don’t know why, I love pork! Although several decades ago there was about a 10-year period when I did’t eat it at all. Again, don’t know why, just didn’t. But I kept going back to the Macellaio on the menu and decided that was the dish for me. Jeremy was torn between a few different items, but in the end, copied me and got the pork too.

The 10-ounce tenderloin finished with sun-dried tomatoes came plated with a crown of broccoli rabe and sliced garlic resting on a bed of the most creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve indulged in recently, all nestled in a shallow wash of marsala sauce. While the broccoli rabe was very tasty, my only complaint about the dish was that the stems were a bit tough to cut through. Nonetheless, the meal was a winner!

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After careful consideration, Rosanne opted for one of the night’s specials, Lobster Ravioli which arrived bathing in a white wine and cheese sauce with pancetta bits and cherry tomatoes—although they weren’t visible to the eye. When Rosanne mentioned that the tomatoes were missing, she was told they were part of the sauce. OK, we went with that…

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As you know, dessert is just not my thing, but Jeremy and Rosanne couldn’t resist sharing an order of the Crème Brûlée, and what a pretty presentation it was. The dessert consists of a rich custard base, traditionally flavored with vanilla, topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel and served at room temperature. A two-spoon effort, I wasn’t hearing any complaints from the gal-pals.

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Crème Brûlée is also one of Russ’ faves, and after hearing our rave reviews, he can’t wait until we go back.

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As noted on their website, Chef Ciro started cooking in Italy at the age of 8 and studied to become a chef in Tuscany, after which he moved to the U.S. and worked in Atlanta for a hotel chain before opening Boccaccio. Lucky for us, Ciro (above in the chef’s jacket) agreed to pose for a photo with waiter John. It was becoming a family affair—and that’s exactly how they made us feel, like family!

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A parting gift, Italian chocolates!

Congrats to the entire Boccaccio team. All hail the new kid in town, who hopefully will become a well-known neighbor for years to come!

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Posted August 9, 2016

Sehr Gutes Essen

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Since 1734, the Newportville Inn has been a Bucks County hub for beer and authentic German food. It is situated in a former grist-mill along the Neshaminy Creek on Lower Road in its namesake town of Newportville, PA. Voted the best German restaurant in the county for three years in a row, it is locally known as the “American tavern with a German accent” and features 18 beers on tap.

Having survived many changes since its inception, the building resembles part roadhouse, part Swiss chalet with its shuttered windows and hillside setting. A winding paved path leads down to the inn, where you enter first a long hallway that serves as a waiting area when needed, complete with benches and a popcorn machine; and then their bar – a throw back in time with brass railings and dark wood.

A quick passing rain storm blew through the area shortly before we arrived which sent al fresco diners scurrying to find shelter inside. But the storm also blew out much of the oppressive humidity that blanketed the area all day. This was a plus for us along with dining buddies Barb and Brad, for we were all too happy to sit on the now deserted brick patio. The hostess asked which of the many tables we preferred and had the staff wipe everything down for us. Perfekt!

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The patio was nearly deserted due to an earlier shower. As we waited for our tables to be wiped down, we noticed one young couple sitting on the knee-wall, but they vacated the premises shortly thereafter.

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Barb and I wondered what was taking our men so long to follow us outside, and then they appeared each with a small tray of the aforementioned popcorn.

Instead of the usual bread basket, they served a bowl of pretzel bits with a side of their famous homemade stone ground mustard. It was so good, the bus boy brought around another batch when he saw we made quick work of the first round. The only negative to slightly dampen our outdoor enthusiasm was the occasional drop of leftover rain falling from the vine on the overhead trellis.

What’s to eat? If you are a meat lover, their menu lists every type of braten and wurst there is: knockwurst, bockwurst, bratwurst and sauerbraten, to name a few. There is always a “schnitzel of the day” and entrees that feature all the classic accompaniments to German sausage, including German spaetzle, sauerkraut, braised red cabbage, and potato pancakes.

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To be perfectly honest as far as ethnic food goes, German fare is not my first preference; nor is beer my beverage of choice. Not that I despise either mind you—but for those of us who are otherwise inclined, they offer alternatives including a veggie burger for vegetarians, and wines and mixed drinks.

Speaking of libations, when Jimmy our waiter inquired about our drink choices, I asked what types of red wine were available by the glass. His list started with Pinot Grigio, White Zinfandel, Merlot… causing our eyebrows to rise in unison. Clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to knowing his wines, he at least was knowledgeable about the beer selection.

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The yummy Sauerkraut Bite appetizer.

Wanting to try something different in the appetizer arena, Russ talked me into sharing the Sauerkraut Bites—homemade sauerkraut and corned beef, breaded and deep-fried to perfection and served with a side of Opa’s mustard sauce. Not a usual consumer of deep-fried food, I have to admit, they were really good!

Brad and I both broke from tradition and ordered non-German entrees, much to Barb’s chagrin. Oh well, she and Russ did the authentic thing and went with real German food. Russ chose the Kassler Rippchen with smoked and pan-fried center cut pork chops, served with German potato salad and sauerkraut. There wasn’t a speck of pork left on his plate!

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Russ’s entree, Kassler Rippchen, featured two large smoked pork chops (one already mostly consumed!)

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An interesting array of sausages adorned Barb’s small plate order.

Barb opted for a “Small Plate” offering of Mixed Wurst Sampler that showcased a sampling of sliced weiss, knock and bratwurst accompanied by sautéed onions and apples and served with a side of potato pancakes. The offering allows one to try numerous sausages with out being overwhelmed.

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Lynn’s crab cake, even though fried, was filled with lots of lump crab and little else.

I liked the idea of a Small Plate because I usually end up taking half of my entree home anyway. Luckily the crab cake entree, which I was contemplating, also came as a Small Plate option, so I got the Single Crab Cake Platter with one homemade crab cake fried golden and served with fries and coleslaw. Alas, I still had some leftovers, but it made for a good little snack the next day.

Brad is our burger man, and he didn’t disappoint when he ordered their Alpine Burger which was topped with Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms surrounded with a pickle and hand-cut fries served with curry ketchup—a condiment he really enjoyed.

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The Alpine Burger was Brad’s dinner selection.

Dessert must be listed on a separate menu, because it wasn’t on the main one. All too full, none of us were interested anyway. But for those of you with a sweet tooth, I understand the German chocolate cake and the hot apple strudel are both winners and are made on the premises. Just sayin’…

Auf Wiedersehen

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Posted May 27, 2016

Quackilicious!

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How exciting, another new (somewhat local) BYOB with famed food critic Craig LaBan’s stamp of approval! As soon as we read the review on The Blue Duck we made reservations (highly recommended and easily accomplished online) for an upcoming Friday night with friends Barb and Brad.

But our plans came to a screeching halt because Mr. Hartman was stuck in a major traffic jam on his way home from work. When he finally did get home, he had no intention of getting back in a car and driving for any length of time, so we just went local in Langhorne.

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Two weeks later we attempted again, and made sure to make the reservations days in advance…

The Blue Duck is a bright little 40-seat restaurant set into an anonymous strip mall in Northeast Philly. The decor is pretty basic with white subway tile, a kitchen counter, and a long, wood community table up front beside the entrance. It succeeds with creative updates to such comfort food favorites as “Quack & Cheese,” burgers ground with pork roll, and more ambitious dishes that don’t necessarily all include duck. But throw your diet out the window because most offerings are not lo-cal. Treadmill here I come…

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It’s a BYOB, so a good craft beer or a hearty red wine are great choices to pair with the richness of it’s updated comfort food. Many intriguing specialties include chorizo mac; General Tso’s wings (and tacos); duck fries; cauliflower soup; deconstructed French onion soup; fried tri-color cauliflower; wild boar meatloaf; sweet potato gnocchi; scallops with barley salad; and Mason jar cheesecake. Or even something as refined as Moroccan-spiced cobia atop sunchoke risotto ringed by a light tomato broth. And how about Wild Boar Meatloaf wrapped in bacon?

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A partial look at the menu.

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Brad having a chuckle over something.

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Opened in the middle of a tiny strip mall in September, 2014, The Blue Duck is a locally-owned and locally-operated New American eatery in Northeast Philadelphia, where co-owners Joe Callahan, Kris Serviss and their staff prepare fresh ingredients daily to provide a unique and comforting dining experience to every person alive.

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An order of the infamous Blue Duck Fries.

Blue Duck Fries: A house favorite, they are hand-cut fries tossed in duck fat, smoked Gouda cheese sauce, shredded duck confit and scallions. We placed an order to share between the four of us, and while we wiped the plate clean, I was slightly disappointed that the fries were not more “crispy.”

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Their luscious Spring Onion Soup topped with grated cheddar.

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Microgreens top Russ’s Everything-Spiced Duck entree.

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Lynn’s Red Pepper Tagliatelle with asparagus and lump crab meat.

Russ started with a bowl of their Spring Onion Soup with cheddar cheese, brioche croutons (which he declined) and chili oil. For his entree, drum roll please, he chose the Eveything-Spiced Duck Breast, what a shocker! It came with roasted fingerling potatoes, brussels sprouts, and a whipped boursin cheese.

I had it all planned ahead of time to order the Pan-Seared Scallops, but at the last minute changed my mind and opted for the Red Pepper Tagliatelle with ramp pesto, asparagus and lump crab meat, loved it!

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Barb enjoyed her turkey patty burger with bacon and avocado.

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Close up of the House Grind Burger topped with your choice of cheese for Brad.

Our dining guests both ordered burgers. Barb selected the S.F.Y., a ground turkey patty with avocado, bacon, and cheddar on a brioche roll with habanero mayo. While hubby Brad, who adores burgers, (kid you not, he once said that if he ever had to choose a last meal, it would be a big, fat juicy burger) got the House Grind Burger made up of a homemade beef patty, lettuce, tomato, red onion and choice of cheese on a brioche roll slathered with a garlic mayo.

Does The Blue Duck still need to unruffle some feathers? Maybe a few. Glaring lights and a deafening noise level didn’t add any sophistication to our dining experience. Russ noted a few tables of all women and commented whenever that’s the case, loud raucous conversations are a by-product. Should I be offended? Probably, but it does seem to hold a kernel of truth… Once the crowd started thinning out, communication was much more pleasant.

Quack, quack, will we be back? Not sure this will be a must-do-again destination given the distance from our house, but I would recommend it if you’re going to be in the vicinity. The food is definitely top-notch!

The Blue Duck also offers brunch every Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., highlighted by homemade Chicken & Waffles and their Duck Benedict.

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Posted April 26, 2016

Samarkand

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Quite by accident while driving home from a dinner out, we passed Samarkand Kebab House, self-described as “the best Uzbeki kitchen in the Philadelphia region.” It’s a BYO on Bustleton Pike in Feasterville, PA, and it caught our fancy.

Several weeks later I called to make reservations for a Friday night to include our friends Barb and Brad. During the res conversation I had some difficulty understanding the woman due to a heavy accent, but we managed to finalize the details, or so I had hoped. She asked which floor we would like to dine on (or words to that affect), and I inquired what the difference was. Apparently on weekends they have loud music and dancing on the first floor. Knowing we would want to converse over our meals, I opted for a second floor table.

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Brad’s image is reflected in the mirrored post across from our booth.

First impressions upon arriving? Well, you walk into the second floor from the parking lot. And for 8:00 on a Friday night, it was all but empty. We were promptly seated at a booth and given menus, although it took a few requests before we finally got our water.

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Barb getting ready to press the “Call” button.

Intrigued by the button on the wall, Barb’s curiosity got the best of her and she pressed it. No loud sirens went off, in fact nothing happened. I’m sure the staff get a kick out of the “Americans” who seem compelled to touch it. During this curiosity phase, we began to peruse the extensive menu.

Both couples decided to split beautifully plated salads and share Stuffed Cabbage (pictured up top), which came with two delicious rolls per plate. Russ and I loved the Mushroom Salad, with marinated mushroom, green peas, black olives, green onions, vegetable oil and spices. And Brad and Barb split the highly recommended Vostochny Salad, with roasted eggplant, tomatoes, red and green peppers with dill, garlic and spices.

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The salad portion of the menu.

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Russ and I really liked our Mushroom Salad.

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Barb’s friends recommended she order the Vostochny Salad.

For dinner we all zeroed in on the Shish Kebabs, which are ordered per skewer (vertel in Russian.) Russ and I each chose a Veggie Shish Kebab assembled with tomatoes, onion, zucchini and red peppers. Our other choices were Salmon Kebab for me, and a Rolled Beef Kebab and Boneless Lamb Kebab for Russ. For our dining friends, Barb got a Chicken Kebab and Brad also chose the Rolled Beef.

The kebabs were accompanied with a small pitcher of spicy tomato sauce which some liberally poured over their entrees.

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An assortment of shish kebabs are reasonably priced per skewer.

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Two veggie, one kebab each of rolled beef and boneless lamb.

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Salmon and veggie kebabs topped with thinly sliced onion and a sprinkle of dill.

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Brad and Barb’s chicken and rolled beef kebabs arrived on the same platter.

Yes, we all agreed, the food was very good and we plan on making a return visit. Let’s just hope that there’s an uptick in patronage in the meantime so that they don’t shutter their doors.

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Posted September 10, 2015

Washington Crossing Inn Revisited

More than likely you’ve heard of the Washington Crossing Inn, which adjoins the spot where General George Washington and his troops assembled before the historic crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. And whether you have, or have not dined at this historical establishment, now’s a good time to revisit. Before the season ends, enjoy drinks, tapas, lunch and/or dinner on their welcoming outdoor patio. Over Labor Day Weekend, we did just that—twice!

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Seated left to right: Barb, Brad and Russ enjoying drinks.

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The extensive U-shaped outdoor bar.

On the first occasion we went with good friends Barb and Brad. We’d been talking about going there all summer long, and for a variety of reasons, never made it. So when Barb made the suggestion while sipping cocktails on their deck, and with no other dinner plans in mind, we jumped for the chance. Arriving there after 8:00, the place was hopping and we were told that there’d be about a 15-minute wait, so we strolled their gardens—often the venue for weddings and other special occasions. Friday and Saturday nights often include live entertainment.

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The popular shaved Prime Rib sandwich.

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The very tasty grilled Mexican shrimp tapa.

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This tapa was the chicken sliders.

Their choice of menus is extensive. You can choose from Lunch, Secret Garden, Tapas, Dinner, Tea Time, Early Bird, Sunday Brunch and Children’s offerings. Brad and Barb both zeroed in on a Lunch Menu item, the Shaved Prime Rib Ciabatta with Blue Cheese, Spinach, Fried Onions, Horseradish Cream, and Fries. So intrigued was Russ that he ordered the same thing. I on the other hand opted for a few selections from the Tapas Menu: an extremely tasty Grilled Mexican White Shrimp with Lemon Garlic Sauce and Sliced Baguette, and the Chicken Sliders with Cilantro Hot Pepper Slaw and Fontina Melt. Not much of a bread eater, I eliminated the buns and savored the succulent insides.

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Soup special of the night, Potato and Leek.

Just two days later, and with perfect weather as a backdrop, Russ and I revisited and were immediately seated, as there were many open tables on a Sunday evening. Our choices came from the Dinner Menu this time with Russ selecting the nightly special of Potato and Leek Soup, which was good, but not over-the-top fabulous. For his entree he opted for the Lemon Caper Salmon with Asparagus, Cheddar and Chive Mashed Potato, Caper Popcorn, lightly dressed in a Lemon Caper Sauce. While the fish was perfectly done, the huge mound of mashed potatoes with capers was a bit off-putting. I had a hankering for their Seared Day Boat Scallops and Cherry Bombs with Pickled Cherry Bomb Peppers, Honeydew and Pineapple Salsa, Spicy Latin Slaw, with Citrus—all very tasty, although the “cherry bombs” were totally unnecessary—and you know how I like my spicy food!

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Lemon caper salmon entree.

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Luscious large sea scallop entree.

It is truly a lovely setting so try to partake of one of their menus before the season turns much colder. One option is to attend their end-of-summer party on the patio on Friday, September 18 from 5 – 9 p.m., maybe we’ll see you there! Check out the details here:

http://www.washingtoncrossinginn.com/wp-content/themes/gold_leaf/PDFs/summer_party_details.pdf

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Posted June 23, 2015

Bridgetown Mill Inn

In April of 2003, the charming historic Bucks County Inn (c1791) on Langhorne-Newtown Road opened a full service restaurant The Bridgetown Mill House, making it a true country inn. It offers two dining rooms and two private rooms, the Great Hall, and the Main Dining Room. In addition to regular seasonal menus, a Tapas menu is offered on the outdoor brick patio—and, the Zagat Survey rated it Excellent from 2003 through present day.

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On a whim one gorgeous June day, we called for reservations and expressed our interest to dine al fresco later that evening. Upon arriving we noted a party going on and hoped that our outside seating was still intact. Thankfully it was and we were led through several dining areas, all newly decorated since our last visit, to a quaint table on the outskirts of the large patio with a wonderful view of the surrounding lush countryside and the old grist mill.

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While they have a full service bar both inside and out, we chose a bottle of red from their extensive wine list and set about the business of pondering the menu offerings. Noting that numerous items were Portuguese, Russ asked our waitress if the new owners were of that nationality. She responded no, that the husband and wife team were Russian, but the head chef was Portuguese. I think that influenced us both to order the appetizer Petite Shrimp Casserole in a Portuguese Garlic Sauce. WOW, are we glad we did! It was so succulent and their homemade bread was perfect as a vehicle to mop up the wonderful sauce. I could have ended dinner there and been satisfied. But of course we didn’t…

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For entrees and in keeping with the Portuguese theme, Russ chose the “Alentejana” Portuguese Pork and Clamspork cubes and clams with fried potatoes cubes in a white wine and garlic sauce topped with Mediterranean black olives and pickles. No complaints from him.

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My choice was the Grilled Swordfish with rice pilaf, sautéed spinach and lime agave aioli. It arrived nicely plated, but in the end, it was overcooked for my preference, which had been ordered pink in the middle.

Too full for dessert, we lingered over our glasses of wine for a short spell before making the quick trip home. Although it didn’t tick all of our boxes, the dining experience proved to be enjoyable and satisfying enough that we will certainly make a return visit—and maybe this time, I will make my entree two orders of that fabulous shrimp appetizer!

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Posted May 11, 2015

Acacia – Long Time, No See

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Somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years had passed since I dined at Acacia, a small BYO on Main Street in Lawrenceville, NJ, with a girlfriend who has since passed away. Having worked in a hospital, she received a gift certificate from one of the doctor’s as a Christmas gift. Due to an illness, she was unable to drive and asked if I’d want to accompany her to Acacia. Never one to shy away from a new food experience, I was on it, like cheese on crackers. While my memory is vague as to what we ordered, I do recall the dining experience as memorable.

Fast forward to 2015, this time accompanied by my husband Russ, we were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get to, and admired the tasteful decor (definitely more sophisticated than my previous visit.) Our waitress was extremely friendly, sporting a priceless smile. I heard her tell some nearby patrons that she only works weekends because she is a personal trainer during the week—and looked it!

Simplicity is key at Acacia. They use local ingredients whenever possible and don’t try to mask them with heavy sauces; instead letting the ingredients shine. As our bottle of wine was cracked open and poured, we enjoyed sampling a basket of various homemade breads while deciding on our “course” of action (pun intended.)

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Local Cheese Plate

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Duo of Tartare

They listed half a dozen wonderful sounding salads, but after electing to split a couple of appetizers, we thought additional salads would be too much with entrees. (Next time I may just get an appetizer and salad as my meal.) Russ chose the Local Cheese Plate—a selection of local artisanal cheeses, house made pickles, genoa salami, butter dipped radish, and pancetta marmalade. The cheeses were exceptional and that marmalade was a clear winner.

My decision was the Duo of Tartare—tuna and salmon, ponzu, sriracha, avocado puree, pickled red onion, and sesame crackers. Not overwhelming in size, it was the perfect beginning. As usual, we shared our first plates to sample as much as we could.

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Crab Cake Entree

I have to confess my entree choice, Lump Crab Cakes—braised turnips, radishes, sautéed snap peas, whipped potato, with brown butter vinaigrette was a disappointment. Mostly because it advertised the cakes as “lump crab” and there weren’t any lumps to be found in either patty! They also lacked seasoning in my humble opinion, and the fact that I crave bold flavors, it could have at least come with a wedge of lemon. However, the accompaniments were more than satisfactory. So if bland is your style, this might be a good choice for you.

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Lamb Breast Dinner

On the other hand, Russ’s entree, Slow Roasted Stuffed Local Lamb Breast—garlic and herb stuffed, grilled polenta, confit cippolini, fava beans, preserved lemon, herb salad, and lamb jus was very flavorful. The waitress had asked if he ever had lamb breast before, and with his negative reply (God knows, he’s had every other part of lamb), she explained that it comes with a layer of fat. Now that was an immediate turn-off to me, but didn’t phase Russ in the least. His only complaint was that it was just a tad overdone.

Being the generous man that he is, Russ cut me a slice containing all of the ingredients. Yes, it was very tasty, and yes, slightly overdone, although that didn’t stop him from enjoying every morsel! Me, I took half of my dinner home for lunch another day—anticipating a squeeze of lemon on the remaining crab cake… To round out his meal, Russ had a Salted Caramel Ice Cream, commenting that there was no lack of flavor there!

Even though it didn’t hit it out of the ballpark on all accounts, it is certainly an establishment that we’ll return to. On a warmer night, it might be worth while sitting on the patio that faces Main Street.

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Posted April 27, 2015

Triple-Play at Trattoria Rosa Bianca—a Yardley Gem

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In the heart of Yardley, Trattoria Rosa Bianca is a family-owned authentic Italian BYOB located in a charming, fully-restored Victorian residence dating back to the late 1800’s, in historic Bucks County, PA. Their menu showcases delicacies from all over Italy, from Northern regions to Sicily. It is owned and operated by husband and wife team Anthony and Rosa Boccella. The interior of the restaurant is warm and elegant, with numerous cozy rooms on two floors decorated with many Victorian accents. Chef Anthony changes the menu seasonally, but always incorporates handpicked, locally sourced ingredients prepared to order.

Weather permitting, guests can enjoy dining on the outside porch which was our intention on an unseasonably warm Spring day, but everyone else had the same idea, so we were led to a table in a small room a few steps down from the main entrance.

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Julia Hartman, Mary Cochrane and Daniel Hartman at Rosa’s during Christmas time.

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Son David Hartman with girlfriend Cassidy.

Having dined here on numerous occasions, we’ve often enjoyed Dean as our accommodating waiter. A long-time employee, he knows the menu well. While we’ve always relished our meals here in the past (one memorable night comes to mind during the Christmas season with Russ’s adult children and mother), this most recent visit had us exclaiming that our choices this time were outstanding!

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Grilled Lamb Lollipops

A special appetizer that evening was Grilled Lamb Lollipops, and we shared an order that was bone-sucking good! There were several other tempting entree specials but we ended up ordering off of the Spring menu, with Russ choosing the Lasagna di Maiale Brasato, comprised of house made pasta, braised pork ribs, ricotta, spinach, and pomodoro. Dean mentioned how it was his favorite dish of the season and Russ had to concur, he ate every last morsel. Luckily he gave me a taste before finishing it off, and I have to agree with both gentlemen, it was divine!

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Lasagna di Maiale Brasato close up

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Tonno

My choice was the Tonno, seared tuna, roasted eggplant, tomatoes, and samoriglio, cooked to a perfect medium. If you’ve never heard of samoriglio, neither had I. So Dean explained it’s a Southern Italian condiment made of lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped oregano and parsley, salt and pepper. No complaints on my end…

No doubt there will be return trips to Trattoria Rosa Bianca in our future… Just be sure to make a reservation if you’ll be dining on a weekend.

Well, we didn’t wait long! The very next weekend we dined here again with good friends Rosanne and Gary. They stopped by
“Casa H” (our house in Langhorne) for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for a spell beforehand, with Rosanne bringing a wonderful appetizer which I will blog about at a later date. This time around we were seated in the largest (and possibly noisiest) of rooms, and with a new face, Cecilia as our waitress (no sign of Dean that evening.)

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Papardelle alla Bolognese

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Agnello, braised lamb shank

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Pasta special with salmon and shrimp

After all of the compliments about the previous visit with Russ’ order of the Lasagna di Maiale Brasato, they ran out of it before we could put in an order. Not to be discouraged, both Gary and Rosanne happily selected the Papardelle alla Bolognese with braised pork and veal ragu, onions, carrots, tomato, and pecorino. Having had the Agnello in the past—with satisfying results—Russ again ordered the braised lamb shank accompanied by asparagus and potatoes. And I opted for an evening’s special pasta dinner (name escapes me) with salmon, shrimp and veggies over pasta, originally made with a cream sauce, but upon request, mine sported a pomodoro tomato sauce.

This has truly become one of our local favorite haunts for wonderful authentic Italian fare!

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Posted April 5, 2015

“Bloomin’ Good!”

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Always in cruise control to discover new culinary adventures, we recently enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Blooming Grove Inn in West Trenton, NJ. Located inside a former Victorian Mansion that dates back to the 1860’s, many locals may remember it being called Mary Marks’ Ewing Manor, and later as Lieggi’s Ewing Manor. Then it became Paulie’s Anna Rose, which it remained until owner and Bensalem native, Steve Jordan—who bought the restaurant in the winter of 2014—wanted to restore the name so it honored the history of the property, a place once called Blooming Grove Farm. For years, the establishemnt has been known for its Italian cuisine, but the menu is now evolving, and while Italian dishes remain, it is transitioning into a more continental restaurant.

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Beautifully plated Tuna Carpaccio.

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Light and tasty Baby Arugula Pear Salad.

We were quickly shown to our table nestled against a window overlooking their stone terrace and enjoyed a blazing fireplace which added warmth and charm to our cozy room. For starters Russ finally settled on the Tuna Carpaccio with thinly pounded Ahi Tuna, wakame salad, light ginger wasabi glaze and fried wontons. Meanwhile, pears, mandarin oranges, raisins, and an orange honey dressing offered a sweet contrast to the pungent arugula, walnuts and smattering of bleu cheese chunks in my Baby Arugula Pear Salad.

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Half Roasted Duck entree

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Lightly Seared Ahi Tuna entree

Our two pleasant waitresses, Jules and Diane worked in tandem making sure to answer any questions and deliver our food and drinks at a leisurely pace. Because so many of the entrees were among our favorites, it was hard to choose, but in the end Russ ordered the Half Roasted Duck with mashed sweet potatoes, baby spinach, finished with a delightful mixed berry gastrique (other choice was a black peppercorn sauce.) My selection ended up being the Lightly Seared Ahi Tuna with wasabi black beans, baby bok choy and sesame unagi sauce, which was light and flavorful with just the right touch of wasabi. Talk about impressed, we both adored our meals!

Only one of the desserts is made in-house, the Banana Cream Pie, and while we were too full to even think about it, we noticed a group next to us ordered it, which consisted of a basic crust layered with bananas, creamy custard and a whipped cream topping, plenty big enough for the three of them to share.

Now featuring an expanded bar list that includes wine, single malts/bourbons, and craft beer selections, there is also live music every weekend, and we were treated to an enjoyable singer/keyboardist the Saturday night we visited. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings feature a Prix Fixe Menu Option, where guests can choose between three delicious courses for just $24.95 per person. The Blooming Grove Inn is a welcome addition to the Mercer County restaurant scene, offering another venue for those in search of casual fine dining in a lovely setting.

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Posted February 8, 2015

New (Old) Haunt in New Hope

Back in October, while enjoying a Tasting Event at Mercer County Community College (see Oct. 27, 2014 blog) I won a silent auction bid for Dinner for Two at Karla’s in New Hope—a tiny corner restaurant that seems to embody that dated word funkiness. In all the years I lived in Bucks County, PA, I had never heard of this dining establishment, which has been around since 1978 (the year I moved out East from Michigan.)

It exudes a casual atmosphere which is part, as one reviewer described it, “vintage New Hope and part Key West,” with its tin corrugated roof, wooden and tiled tables, large wicker chairs, and eclectic lighting and artwork.

A favorite that has earned a permanent spot on the menu is Karla’s Famous Fried Chicken with Baked Mac and Cheese. Other options include roasted pork loin, grilled flat iron steaks, pasta, quesadillas, wings, burgers, plenty of fresh seafood, and risotto of the day. To keep the concept fresh, the head chef changes the menu every week and holds off on announcing what will be on the menu until just minutes before it’s available. With a full-scale bar, it is known for a diverse selection of wines and famous martinis.

The Saturday night we arrived for our 7:00 reservation, the place was in high gear with patrons filling every table, including one room dedicated to a 30-year-old birthday party. In astonishment, I watched as the birthday honoree tipped a bottle of wine to her mouth and finished it off! Entertainment was provided by a solo guitar player who was quite deft at his profession.

mirror.photo
The guitar player, in the purple shirt to the left of Russ’ image, can be seen in this mirror photo.

Once seated, our friendly waiter Aaron came quickly to our table to rattle off the day’s specials and inquire about drink selections. After noticing all of the wine was $10 per glass, we opted for a bottle of Mark West Pinot Noir, and then settled in to narrow down our food choices. One item calling our name was the Gorgonzola Garlic Bread. While I seldom eat bread, this was heaven-on-earth delicious and I had three slices!

gorgonzola.garlic.bread
The heavenly Gorgonzola Garlic Bread.

After Aaron described the Specials, I knew right away that Russ would order the Oysters Appetizer, in a garlic herb butter sauce with parmesan. At $3.50 a piece, they were pricey but well worth it, as Russ said they were among the best he ever had. In a mood for some greens, I chose the Radicchio Salad with spinach, frissee, goat cheese and cranberry vinaigrette, which was large in scale, very fresh, and ever so lightly dressed.

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Four of the luscious oysters.

raddicchio.salad
Lynn’s radicchio salad.

Back at home before we left for dinner, we examined Karla’s menu online to get an inkling of what they offered. So by the time we arrived, we had a pretty good idea of what to order, knowing of course that could change depending on the additional Specials. But in the end, our choices remained steadfast with Russ getting the Braised Short Ribs of Beef and Seared Scallops with wild mushroom risotto. His only complaint was that the scallops could have had a better sear on them.

Not surprisingly, I ordered the Pan Seared Salmon, accompanied by brussels sprouts with bacon and cranberry, and brown butter with sage. The sprouts were crisp-tender and plentiful and the salmon was cooked to a desired medium. Alas, after all that bread and salad, I could barely make a dent in my dinner which ended up coming home with me for another day.

short.ribs.scallops
The braised short ribs and scallops over risotto.

seared.salmon
The seared salmon topped with microgreens over a bed of brussels sprouts.

There is no written dessert menu, so Aaron verbally described about a half dozen options. However with absolutley no room for another bite, we just asked for the check. And that check? Well other than the bottle of wine and a gratuity, we didn’t have to pay for anything, thanks to my gift card!

One reviewer related their experience as being the only middle-aged couple in a sea of 30-somethings. We didn’t find that to be the case at all. In fact, I’d say (even at the 30-year-old birthday party) that the age range varied from this very young couple probably not yet out of their teens, to many 40 to 65-year olds. We’ll definitely be making another trek back to Karla’s, next time on our own dime.

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Posted January 30, 2015

Tortuga’s Cocina

tortuga.painting

Reported to be the number 1 Mexican restaurant in the Lambertville, NJ / New Hope, PA area, Tortuga’s Cocina offers an expansive menu of authentic and gourmet Mexican dishes, all of which are freshly prepared, and include a number of vegetarian and vegan friendly options in addition to their extensive menu. It is located down a short corridor at 11 1/2 Church Street behind a bar with whom they share their full-service drink options.

Having been to Tortuga’s on a few previous occasions, we were surprised to find they have an outside patio for dining when weather permits (and in our early April visit, it was still too cold.) During our other drop-ins, we were seated in the front room which hadn’t allowed us a view of the patio. And after chatting with our friendly waitress who told us it will be sprayed for mosquitos, we intend to dine al fresco the next time.

But I digress, back to the last visit.

chalkboard.menu

The interior is small but lively with Mexican artifacts dressing up the spaces. In addition to the regular menu, a chalkboard lists the numerous daily specials. Additionally, they offer a full bar service with a broad selection of wine, beer, and mixed drinks—including very tasty Margaritas!

They tout their Guacamole as the “best ever north of the border.” Can’t agree there, as I am a bit of a “guac snob,” and personally make some of the most tasty guacamole ever, as many friends and family can attest. Tortuga’s version is just too bland and creamy. If interested, you can find my recipe in an older post dated January 24, 2014 under the Bits N Pieces tab. (As a side note, one of the best guacamole renditions I’ve ever tasted was at El Vez in Philly—many years ago!)

chipotle.salmon2

However, the appetizers and entrees have not been a disappointment. This time around we selected a couple of entrees off of the Specials list. Salmon being one of my all-time favorites, I was immediately attracted to the Chipotle Salmonwild-caught Alaskan salmon fillet served on a bed of spinach with creamy chipotle sauce—in a word, divine—and in another word, HUGE!

pollo.taluca

Russ opted for the Pollo Talucamarinated chicken breast, grilled, topped with chorizo, poblano peppers, and melted oaxaca cheese. He gave it two thumbs up. While waiting for the entrees we enjoyed noshing on the chips and salsa and imbibing in our bottle of Spanish tempranillo.

tempranillo

We love the casual atmosphere here, and definitely have plans to return. Although it is highly recommended that you make reservations especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

Buenas Noches!

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Posted January 25, 2015

House of Pho

Among the treasures that Vietnamese refugees brought with them from their homeland were their cherished “pho” recipes. What once began with a simple menu of just 10 items—”Pho” or beef noodle soup being the main attraction—the House of Pho now has a menu full of delightful dishes of appetizers, noodle soups, grilled meats on rice, vermicelli, crispy bread, and choices of different fish and shrimp dishes. To the clientele’s delight, they craft all of their stocks, sauces, and dressings from scratch on a daily basis.

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Russ and Brad wait patiently to enter while I take their picture.

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interior.decor

Fresh herbs, lots of vegetables and seafood, and cooking techniques that use water or broth instead of oils — these are some of the standout qualities of Vietnamese food. There are many low-gluten or gluten-free options available in addition to numerous vegetarian selections. Their menu is updated several times per year as they continuously strive to add new and exciting culinary dishes; and they often have Special items on weekends.

Traditional Vietnamese flavorings (including cilantro, mint, Thai basil, star anise, and red chili) have long been used as alternative remedies for all sorts of ailments, and cilantro and anise have actually been shown to aid digestion and fight disease-causing inflammation.

Friends Brad and Barb suggested trying this new (to us) Vietnamese BYO off of Second Street Pike in Southampton, PA on a recent Friday evening. And after scanning their website, we were definitely intrigued. Housed in a strip mall, the asian-inspired interior is pleasant with large bamboo stalks lining the front window, and numerous oriental artifacts scattered about adding pleasant visual interest.

Shaomai Dumplings
Steamed shaomai dumplings.

Tôm Thit
Shrimp, pork and veggie filled spring rolls.

Between the four of us, we ordered a wide sampling off the varied menu. Russ and I started with Shaomai Dumplings (Steamed or Fried): shrimp and vegetable dumplings, served with ginger sauce; and Tôm Thit (with Shrimp & Pork): spring rolls filled with rice vermicelli and garden fresh cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, and herbs, wrapped in rice paper, and served with peanut sauce. Both items were expertly prepared and more than satisfactory.

Mi Vit Tiem3
Roasted duck noodle soup.

Gà Sate1
Chicken satay with brown rice.

For the main course, Russ, true-to-form, ordered a duck dish Mi Vit Tiem (Roasted Duck Noodle Soup): egg noodles and marinated roasted duck leg in an aromatic broth. He said the “duck didn’t die in vain” (meaning it was VERY good), however he would’ve liked more noodles.

And I (also true-to-form), zeroed in on the zesty Gà Sate (Chicken Satay): seared chicken, with onions, peppers, and pineapple in a spicy satay sauce, served in an edible shell and topped with peanuts. Nicely plated, the flavors and textures complimented each other and I relished all of the crisp-tender vegetables. All specialties are garnished with vegetables and served with your choice of Bún (Vermicelli Noodles), Cơm (White Rice), or Cơm nâu (Brown Rice) unless noted otherwise.

house.special.pho
A house special, beef noodle soup.

Of our dining companions, Brad selected Phở Bò (Beef Noodle Soup): rice noodles in a hot aromatic beef broth, which can be customized with different beef options. While the Cà Ri Gà Xào (Stir-Fried Chicken Curry): stir-fried chicken with onions and peppers in a creamy curry sauce, served in an edible shell and topped with peanuts, attracted Barb’s attention (although I somehow managed not to get a photo of her meal.) Can’t say as I heard any negative comments on their end.

Looks like we’ll be making a return trip to the House of Pho sometime in the near future!

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Piccolo Trattoria

A view into the dining room from the vestibule.
A view into the dining room from the vestibule.

Thank goodness for some nearby options for dining at a good Italian establishment! One of our go-to places is Piccolo Trattoria, a BYOB in the Langhorne Square Shopping Mall. And lucky for us, they maintained power when we lost if for four days during the Hurricane Sandy debacle, and more recently when we were powerless for 2 1/2 days during Nika, the February ice storm. But even without any weather drama, it is always a sure-bet when hungry for good Italian food, usually without a waiting line.

In Italian, Piccolo Trattoria is more than just their name. It means “small, family-owned restaurant.” It is in this spirit that they have strived to build a close personal relationship between their guests and their staff. All family owned and operated, Piccolo Trattoria offers the perfect balance between a quick-serve pizzeria and a sit down casual/fine dining experience.

There are three locations, with the original just outside historic Newtown Borough; the second in Pennington, NJ; and the restaurant closest to us, the third Piccolo Trattoria restaurant which opened in 2009. The Langhorne location is the largest of the three and features a private dining room. This makes it the perfect location for just the two of you, a friendly get-together, a family gathering, or corporate meeting. Piccolo is BYOB, so in case you forget to bring the wine with you, you can make your next visit extra special by picking up your favorite beverage from the wine or beer store, located just a few steps from their establishment.

A peak at just a portion of their extensive menu.
A peak at just a portion of their extensive menu.

Their menu is extensive and also includes many options for pizza. And when pizza is what we want, our pie of choice is usually one of their wood burning oven options, the Capricciosaplum tomatoes, mushrooms, prosciutto, kalamata olives, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella. Oh so tasty! 

Lynn and Russ' s favorite pizza: the Capricciosa. at bottom; top pizza is mushroom and sausage.
Lynn and Russ’ s favorite pizza: the Capricciosa. at bottom; top pizza is mushroom and sausage.
Russ with good friends Barb Walsh and Brad Collins eagerly awaiting our pizza orders.
Russ with good friends Barb Walsh and Brad Collins eagerly awaiting our pizza orders.

A month or so ago I blogged about another great Italian restaurant, Padrino’s, in Hamilton, NJ. You can find that article under “Dining with Friends.”

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