South Jersey Edition: Larry’s II

I was in the mood for “traditional” Italian food last night, so after perusing several online menus, I decided to visit a restaurant I had frequented quite often for their fabulous food and salad bar when I lived here over a decade ago; mostly because they were a known quantity (or at least I thought), and it was fairly close to my hotel.

After checking out the Larry’s II online menu, I decided on the Cheese Ravioli ($8.99) with an add-on of Italian Sausage ($2.59) and 2 meatballs ($1.59). The reason I chose this dish above the others was that it was chock full of local ingredients – the ravioli was made by Gardella’s Homemade Ravioli Company in Vineland, and the sweet sausage was made by Marcacci Meats. The problems with this dish didn’t fall with any of those ingredients – it was the overall package. The ravioli was good, as South Jersey ravioli usually is, but the marinara had a dish-soapy taste to it, and the meatballs had odd seasoning and texture to them, almost as if they were mostly filler and very little meat. The sausage suffered from its preparation – it was cut lengthwise and grilled and blackened, which dried it out completely. If I hadn’t spent $13+ on this dish, I probably would have chucked it. It didn’t photograph too well either, so it actually was about as appetizing as it looks (chuckle)!

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Also, the menu offers the choice of salad bar or soup, but as a takeout customer, I was given no such choice – my only option was salad, and it was made as they wanted to make it. I would have prefered the soup, as the salad went to waste as I don’t really enjoy olives and this was chock full of them, and to add insult to injury, the lettuce was limp.

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Will I go back? Probably not. The prices have gone up (naturally), and the quality of the food has gone down. Even their once glorious salad bar has been downsized. Chalk this one up to a lesson learned.

If you’d like to go: Larry’s II, 907 N. Main Rd, Vineland, NJ 856.692.9001

Larry's II Restaurant on Urbanspoon

South Jersey Edition: Downtown Deli

After having lunch at Penalvert’s the other day, everyone told me I had gone to the wrong place – that if I wanted *really* good Puerto Rican food, I’d have to head to center city Vineland and go to the Downtown Deli.

In the mood for more Puerto Rican food, and eager to finally get about comparing the two, I headed there for lunch yesterday. And I’ve got to come clean – I wasn’t impressed.

Forewarned that the English of the proprietors was limited, I had written down my order in Spanish beforehand, since my understanding of the written language trumps my ability to speak it without butchering it. I toddled in, and handed my paper to the woman behind the counter. I had wanted to have enough for the weekend (assuming it would be really good), so I ordered a “grande pernil asado w/ arroz amarillo”, “dos empanadillo de carne asada”, un “pequeno carne guisada w/ arroz con gandules”, and on an impulse “dos chuletas”. The good news? This massive amount of food only cost $14. I can’t really give you a breakdown of the cost because there are no menus, no prices listed on the wall; you pretty much just point to what you want, and they give you a paper with a total on it that you take to the register. The bad news? It wasn’t really that good.

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The roast pork (pernil) and rice, while a substantial amount of food, was off for a couple of reasons – the pork was much tougher and drier than it should be, and lacked flavor. The rice and beans had a weird smoky vibe going on, which I really didn’t like too much. The potatoes brought nothing to the table, and I had no idea why they were even there.

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The empanadillos were underfilled (more discos than filling), and the filling inside wasn’t what I usually get when I get this dish – typically, the ground beef is flavored with a combination of adobo, sazon, recaito and sofrito – these tasted overwhelmingly of adobo and nothing else. Since adobo is salt based, this made these very salty and almost inedible.

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The flavor of the carne guisada wasn’t bad, the beef cubes were a bit tough, but the rice at the bottom was very hard. While I did eat the beef stew part of it, if I ever got this dish again, I’d skip the rice at the bottom.

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The chuletas were completely inedible. While by their nature, they are naturally tough, a few hours under a heat lamp did them no favors whatsoever. Also, they were mostly fat and gristle, and had the consistency of jerky. I joked with my husband on the phone last night that instead of calling them “chuleta” they should call them “chuleather”.

This place is very popular with locals, so maybe I just got there on an off day. The problem is, when they misfire on so many levels, I’m just not willing to spend my hard earned money to give them a second chance. So it’s back to Penalvert’s for me, I suppose. :)

If you’d like to go: Downtown Deli, 705 Wood St, Vineland, NJ, 856.690.9315

Downtown Grocery & Deli on Urbanspoon

South Jersey Edition: Giovanni’s Deli

One of my fondest memories as a young girl is walking with my friends to this corner deli to buy the most awesome Italian subs on Earth. We’d save our money to go, and then split one between us because they were so huge and substantial.

Even though 20 years have now passed since those days, Giovanni’s Deli is still alive and kicking, albeit under new ownership. But the subs are still excellent.

Italian Sub from Giovanni's Deli

And cheap, too! $4.05 will buy you a 10-inch Italian sub, on a nice chewy firm roll, with various Italian meats paired with provolone cheese. For an extra $2.75, you can add double meat and cheese, which turns a quick lunch into two meals. I opted for the sub as is, though, minus the hot peppers. What really makes this combination work, though, is what tops it – shredded lettuce and onion, seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano, and drizzled with oil. Simple, but fantastic.

Italian Sub from Giovanni's Deli

In addition to hot and cold subs and sandwiches, they also have salads, appetizers, soup, and homemade pasta and marinara. This is one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” places, but is worth stopping into if you’re passing through that area.

If you’d like to go: Giovanni’s Authentic Italian Deli, 1102 N. East Ave (corner of East Ave. and Oak Rd.), Vineland, NJ, 856.692.0459.

Giovanni's Italian American on Urbanspoon

WCB #97: Boardwalk Cat Edition

I haven’t participated in Weekend Cat Blogging for a while, since there’s only so many ways I can photograph my own cats before it gets repetitive – “look, here’s a picture of Frankie and Sammy sleeping” and “look, here’s another picture of Frankie and Sammy sleeping”. But while walking around on the boardwalk in Atlantic City yesterday, my sister and I saw the coolest thing – a super friendly kitty that came when we called it, rubbed against our legs, and sucked up and begged to be petted. It was love at first sight – but we didn’t think the airline would be too happy with us showing up with a cat in tow next week, so we gave it some love and went about our merry way.

So we look toward the ocean, and everywhere we look, there are cats, cats, and more cats! Cats in the sand, cats in the reeds, cats under the boardwalk.

While technically feral, many of the cats are super friendly and used to humans, like this one here who let me get close enough to get this picture.

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Apparently, Atlantic City has a huge feral cat population, which has been quite controversial to say the least. On one hand, you have a team of volunteers who feed the cats every day, provide them with shelter from the cold in the form of dog igloos lined with straw, and catch and release the cats after spaying or neutering them. On the other hand, you have this group, who thinks the cats are a nuissance that will kill other animals and cause problems. What do I think? I think they’re amazing. So happy and free. All my cats are indoor cats, but if I were a cat, I couldn’t think of anything cooler than living under the boardwalk, having free roam of the beach and being loved on and fed by people who really care about me. And trust me, these cats are WELL taken care of. Like this little guy I spied hiding in the reeds:

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In a scene out of Where’s Waldo, how many cats do you spy in this picture??

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If you ever get to Atlantic City, go down to the boardwalk and take a look for yourself. I honestly have to say it will be one of the most memorable parts of my trip.

I’m sure there will be a round-up somewhere, but I wasn’t able to find who was hosting WCB this week. Any clues?

ETA: WCB is being hosted this week by Katie of A Byootaful Life – please check the roundup!

South Jersey Edition: Joe’s Poultry Farm

When I asked around about places to eat in Vineland, one name that came up time and time again was “Joe’s Poultry on Delsea Dr.” While it has been around in various incarnations for many years, I had never had the pleasure of eating there when I lived here over a decade ago. I decided that needed to change. :)

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As the name implies, Joe’s specializes in one thing – chicken. Rotisserie BBQ chicken, specifically. Each morning they are loaded into a rotisserie case, and are ready when the lunch rush hits. When the chickens are gone for the day, they’re gone. So it helps to get there early. The price depends on the size of chicken; the small one I got cost $6.25. And it was the best chicken I’ve had in a very long time. Great flavor on the skin, and the chicken below was so tender and juicy, it was unreal.

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In addition to chicken, they offer a multitude of sides, such as potato salad, macaroni and cheese, even ambrosia. I decided on a smaller side of potato salad, described as some who recommended Joe’s to me as “kickin’”. I have to agree – it’s good stuff. I abhor sweet potato salad, so this non-sweet version, redolent with crunchy carrots and other good stuff, hit the spot.

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Because I like to snack on high-protein snacks at night, I also picked up a container of their chicken salad – simple but very tasty, because there’s not much to take away from the great flavor of the chicken.

This one is definitely a winner – in and out in less than 5 minutes, and I had great food that lasted me a few meals!

If you’d like to go: Joe’s Poultry Farm, 440 S. Delsea Dr., Vineland; 856.692.8860 – call for hours

Monthly Mingle #9: Chicken Schwarma and Hummus

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With the chaos surrounding my trip to New Jersey, I nearly forgot that today is Monthly Mingle day! Good thing I remembered, too – I cooked this up sometime last week in preparation for today. This month’s theme is Arabian Nights, and is hosted by Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey?. Please remember to check back soon for the roundup.

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My contribution is based on a dish I used to get at Firdous, a sit-down Middle Eastern restaurant here in Columbus that closed a few years ago. While there are still a couple of Firdous Express outposts (one at the North Market, and one at Polaris Fashion Mall), neither one carry the dish I knew and loved.

The chicken schwarma is made with a thinly sliced chicken breast, the better part of a can of diced tomatoes, and a packet of SPYSI schwarma seasoning.

The hummus is my own recipe – just process 2 drained cans of chickpeas in a food processor with a tablespoon or two of tahini paste, a tablespoon (or more to taste) of minced garlic, salt to taste, and some lemon juice. Add olive oil slowly as you’re processing until the hummus is at your desired consistency (it should be the consistency of a dip). Once you’ve spooned it out, drizzle a little more olive oil and sprinkle some paprika on top. We served ours with pita triangles as a complete meal.

South Jersey Edition: Penalvert's Market

After setting in to my hotel last night, today I was ready to branch out a bit – and one of the other things that I was craving (and knew I could get in South Jersey) was Puerto Rican food. I decided to hit another little hole in the wall that I used to frequent regularly – Penalvert’s.

They have so many different items, but I got my usual – pernil (roast pork) and yellow rice and beans. This huge serving (which is a “small”, believe it or not) was $4.50 – and was still too much for me to finish in one sitting. It was very good, but not quite as I remember it. Everybody tells me I need to try Downtown Deli near the police station, that they have the best Puerto Rican in town now – if the “not as good” is as good as this was, I can only imagine how good the “best” is.

That’s the thing about Vineland – it’s not a “fine dining” sort of town. Sure, there are a few upscale places in town, lots of chain restaurants, but the places where you can find the kind of food I’m looking for are almost all ethnic takeout spots. Cheap, huge portions, delicious food that I can’t get back home in Columbus.

My husband demanded I ship home some Tastykakes and Utz potato chips, which I did this morning. Plus a couple of interesting sounding potato chip flavors, which I asked him to wait until I got home to try – Herr’s Philly Cheesesteak flavored Kettle Chips and Herr’s Old Bay Seasoning flavored chips.

I’m going out with my best friend from junior high and high school later this evening. I’ll let you know where we end up. :)

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE PAGE FARM AND HOME MUSEUM OFFERING ANNUAL SPRING FIELD TRIP see here farm and home

US Fed News Service, Including US State News March 28, 2006 University of Maine issued the following press release:

The UMaine Page Farm and Home Museum in Orono is celebrating maple syrup season with a public field trip to a sugaring operation on Friday, March 31.

This year’s annual spring field trip will travel to Breakneck Ridge Farm near Monson to see the family-run sugaring operation and its buffalo and deer herds.

Please call (207) 581-4100 for reservations before March 29 or for further details. Participants should plan to dress warmly and wear appropriate shoes, as some walking will be required.

The motor coach from Cyr Bus Tours leaves at 8 a.m. from the museum and will return to the Orono campus by 4 p.m., says Patricia Henner, Page Farm and Home Museum director. The coach is fully equipped with comfortable seating and restroom facilities.

The cost is $35 per person and includes transportation and a light lunch in a Guilford eatery. Participants also will visit Griff’s Blacksmith Shop near Guilford for a blacksmithing demonstration.

Breakneck Ridge Farm will offer demonstrations of its maple syrup operations and a tour of the farm’s sugarbush. A sugarbush is where sugar maple trees feed sweet sap, often through plastic tubing, to the sugar house, where it is simmered into maple syrup, sugar or caramelized for candy. this web site farm and home

Both Breakneck Ridge Farm and Griff’s will open their gift shops for visitors during the day.

Maine is one of the biggest producers of pure maple syrup in the world. “Sugaring” is one of New England’s oldest agricultural enterprises and is traditionally the first harvest of the year following winter, Henner says. Maple syrup season also is one of the first harbingers of spring.

Sugaring was first practiced by Native American Indians, and learned by colonists and settlers in New England. Settlers referred to maple syrup as Indian sugar or Indian molasses.

Patty Henner, 207/581-4100; George Manlove, 207/581-3756.

South Jersey Edition: Crown Market

What better welcome to my hometown than with a cheesesteak? When we arrived to my hotel, my sister’s best friend was nice enough to greet us with this:

What you see here is the best cheesesteak in South Jersey, from a little hole in the wall (in a not so great part of town, no less) called the Crown Market. This picture doesn’t even show half of it, and at $4.50, it is TRULY a bargain (you want spoilt for value, Aidan? – this is it! :)) Packed with meat and fried onions, with a nice wad of gooey American cheese at the bottom…pure heaven, and hasn’t changed a bit in 10 years.

Vineland (my hometown) is definitely way out of the way, but if you’re going to the Jersey shore from the Philadelphia area, take Rte. 55 and make a little pitstop in Vineland. It’s well worth the detour. In addition to cheesesteaks, they have a full variety of subs and other sandwiches and sides.

If you’d like to go: Crown Market, 602 E. Chestnut Ave, Vineland, NJ; 856.691.2654

The Next Time I Post…

…it will be from my hometown of Vineland, New Jersey. I’m taking the laptop with me, so expect lots of posts on the food I grew up with and various other Philadelphia-area delicacies.

I’ll be posting regularly while I’m gone, but in case something goes wrong with the hotel internet connection, I’ll be back on the 17th.

Hopefully it will warm up here in Ohio before then.