South Jersey Edition: Crabby’s

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Food Porn, New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

Part of our trip took us to New Jersey over the weekend. We figured that there was not much to do in Lancaster County on Sunday (as it is the day off for the Amish, and virutally everything in town is closed), so why not head over to Jersey to indulge in a few favorites and go to the shore and get some good fresh seafood.

If you ask around, everyone has a very strong opinion on where to go for the best crabs in South Jersey. I heard a lot of differing opinions – Mike’s in Sea Isle, The Lobster House in Cape May, but the one name that kept on coming up over and over again was Crabby’s on Rte. 50 in Belcoville near Mays Landing. You would think that a seafood restaurant would be located right on the water – this one isn’t; it’s located in the middle of nowhere in the Pine Barrens. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, hell it doesn’t look like much more than a dive bar on the inside (with a bunch of picnic tables and a few regular tables around a huge bar), but I think that just adds to the atomosphere and the anticipation of what’s to come. If they don’t focus on decor, that must mean the food is really good, right?

We were welcomed like old friends (with a hearty “glad to see you”) by a woman whose bubbly personality and heart was as big as her hair. We were seated at a little table by the window, and huge pieces of brown paper were put in front of us on the table. We were there for one thing and one thing only: crabs. We started with a bowl of he-crab soup (which didn’t photograph well, unfortunately), a creamy sherry-based bisque with chunks of blue-claw crab. Down to business. I got the crab sampler ($33.95), which had a little bit of everything – blue claw, king crab legs, dungeness, and snow crab. It was presented in a huge pile that made me wonder how I’d even begin to eat this much:

Crab Sampler froM Crabby's

The thing about crabs (and eating them out of the shell) is that it is hard work. The amount of effort you put into cracking the shell to bits to get out a little nugget of crabby goodness is almost (note I say *almost*) not worth it. So I spent the next couple of hours tearing my fingers to shreds on the sharp shell to liberate as much crabby goodness as humanly possible. I got full about halfway through (though the seasoning, their own blend, was awesome!), and just started putting my crab bits on top of my husbands linguine for later consumption. I figured it was better to do that there than in the hotel room. Two hours later, were were on our way, after one hell of an experience. But if you’re going to eat fresh crabs, cracking them yourself is the only way to go.

They routinely offer specials – the one that was active on the Sunday afternoon we went was all you can eat Blue Claws for $29.99. Considering it took me nearly 2 hours to make my way through the items I had, I so wouldn’t have gotten my money’s worth unless I was planning to stay there half the night. But other, more expert crab eaters were chowing down with wild abandon.

I’d prefer it if they had more sides (I would have killed for some corn on the cob), but they do what they do very well. If you go, dress casual, be ready to leave smelling like crab, come ready to drink some beer, and have a good time. They won’t settle for anything less.

If you’d like to go: Crabby’s, 1413 Route 50, Belcoville, NJ, 609.625.2722

Crabby's Incorporated on Urbanspoon

South Jersey Edition: Main Discount Liquors and Deli

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

When I asked for cheese steak recommendations, I consistently got two answers – Crown Market (reviewed here) and Main Liquor. While I kind of was already aware of the former, the latter was truly a surprise to me. After driving by and seeing a sign outside that said “Voted Best Cheesesteak in 2005″, I knew I’d have to give it a try. Bear with the limited information, because I’ve misplaced the menu and can’t find an online presence for them.

The location is smack dab in the rear part of a liquor store, and generally has the same clientele and ambiance as the rest of the liquor store; I didn’t see any seating, so this is a takeout operation only. Also, it has fairly limited hours (the deli closes at 7 nearly every night, while the liquor store stays open longer). I went in, and asked for my usual – cheesesteak with fried onions, mayo and ketchup. Preparation was fairly quick, and the price was mostly in line with what I saw elsewhere ($5.25, I believe – for a 12″ cheesesteak, as opposed to $4.50 for a 10″ inch cheesesteak at Crown). What you see here in close-up is only half of the hoagie I received:

maincheese

My impressions? The flavor was good, and the seasoning was right, but the steak was chopped very, very fine – almost like ground beef, and much finer than I enjoy it; the sandwich itself was very, very greasy, and very, very messy to eat. Good, yes – but not the best. Crown Market still holds that title, hands down. As for me? I think I’m cheeseteaked-out for a while.

If you’d like to go: Main Discount Liquors and Deli, 106 S. Main Rd., Vineland, NJ

Main Discount Liquor & Deli on Urbanspoon

South Jersey Edition: Five Points Inn

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

After the underwhelming filled pasta at Larry’s II failed to sate my craving for Italian food, I had avoided eating Italian all weekend in order to save my appetite for what I thought would be an ideal compromise – the Monday Pizza & Pasta buffet at the Five Points Inn. Their web site indicated that it was held every Monday from 5-9 at both the East and the West Side locations – I knew that the West Side location at Delsea & Landis had closed (not by anything indicated on the building, mind you – I kind of figured it out when I never saw any cars there), so I headed over to the East Side location way out on the other end of Landis Ave in anticipation of enjoying a buffet that I knew would be excellent, as I had it on my last visit to New Jersey.

I was disappointed to find out that the Monday buffet had discontinued a few weeks before, with no updates on the website to indicate that. Rather than waste a trip (since this location was way out of my way), I took a look at their menu to see if there was anything comparable I could choose a la carte. On their specials menu, they had a filled pasta combo ($9.95) that included 2 manicotti, 2 ravioli, and 2 stuffed shells that came with bread and butter and your choice of soup or salad.

5 Points Inn Pasta Combination

The pasta was good, as is most pasta in South Jersey. The true test is in the marinara – their version is good but not great. I think I’ve been spoiled by the excellent pasta and marinara I’ve been getting at Carfagna’s for the past 5-10 years. It has become a benchmark to compare everything else to. But I digress – it was definitely edible. And even though I thought it was originally drowning in sauce, in the end it was just the right amount. The only thing missing was grated cheese, which unfortunately they didn’t include at all.

5 Points Inn Escarole Soup

I chose the chicken escarole soup as my side. One of the things I’ve learned about cooking escarole into soup is that you have to add it right at the end, or the broth and everything in the soup becomes very bitter if it’s allowed to boil afterward. Unfortunately, this soup suffered that fate, and was too bitter for me to finish.

5 Points Inn Meatballs and Sausage

In addition, I ordered a side of meatballs and a side of sausage (price unknown, not on the menu, but I think they were $2 each side) – both were excellent – the meatballs were HUGE and flavored nicely, the sausage was left in link form and still juicy.

While it did end up costing twice as much as if the buffet was still active, it wasn’t bad – unfortunately, it also wasn’t as good as it used to be, and I’m sure there’s much better Italian to be had in Vineland. I just didn’t have enough time there to explore to find the best that Vineland has to offer. Any of you South Jersey locals have an opinion?

If you’d like to go: Five Points Inn, E. Landis Ave and Tuckahoe Rd, Vineland, NJ, 856.691.6580

There’s No Place Like Home

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Life, New Jersey, Travel

After a long day of travel yesterday, I am finally back at home in Ohio. While I did thoroughly enjoy my visit to New Jersey, I am so happy to be back – living out of a hotel room and eating take out every meal for a week gets very old very quick. Although the food is great, I’m looking forward to getting some fresh produce and healthy food into my system.

The miracle of the whole thing? Even though I ate food that was horrible for me all week, I didn’t gain a pound. I didn’t lose weight, either – but I’m relieved that I at least held steady.

I’ve still got a couple of reviews of South Jersey food to write – one for Main Discount Liquors and Deli, and another for Five Points Inn, which should go up later today.

And since neither myself or my husband felt like cooking last night, we ate at Cameron’s for dinner last night, and I’ll be posting a review of that soon as well.

Updates on the other stuff (events, etc.) will be forthcoming. I’ve got a lot to catch up on. But again, I’m *so* glad to be home.

South Jersey Edition: Jim’s Lunch

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

Rather than stay in Vineland today, I took a little trip to Millville, a small town right next to Vineland. While Vineland is very diverse and ethnic, Millville is home to mostly blue-collar working stiffs, most of whom are employed at the city’s glass factories.

Jim’s Lunch is a Millville institution, having been around for over 75 years now. Closed during the summer, people line up in droves during the rest of the year to get their fix. During busy times, there are lines out the door, and a wait for a booth – if you’re in a hurry, opt instead to eat at the counter.

Even though I spent many years living in Millville, I had never gone there for one of their famous burgers. It wasn’t until I saw this review by Brantastic (and her pics are *so* much better than mine ) that I *knew* that this would be something that I had to try, or it would end up haunting me until I got back to this area again). So it was off to Millville this morning through the remnants of the N’oreaster that brought us buckets of rain and even snow (snow?? in April?) last night.

jimsburger

Luckily by the time I got there the lunch rush was over, and there wasn’t much of a wait, as they very efficiently churn out burgers at the grill by the front door. I opted for a pair of cheeseburgers ($2.25 each), with everything. Everything in the Jim’s sense is mustard, onions, and the secret brown sauce (which tastes an awful lot like Cincinnati chili to me – regular beanless chili with some cinnamon and cocoa added in). I could barely contain myself on the drive back to the hotel, as the burgers were burning a hole in the paper sack as the mesmerizing smell filled my rental car.

No sooner did I get in my hotel room than I ripped off the paper and scarfed these burgers down like eating was going out of style. These are FABULOUS. If I still lived here I’d camp out in front of Jim’s every day for these burgers.

But don’t take my word for it – check it out for yourself. In addition to great burgers and weiners, they have just about everything under the sun on the menu, including wonderful daily specials.

If you’d like to go: Jim’s Lunch, 105 East Main Street, Millville, NJ, 856.327.1299

Jim's Lunch on Urbanspoon

South Jersey Edition: Esposito’s Maplewood III

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

I had held off going to Esposito’s Maplewood III, even though its menu sounds divine, because of a misguided assumption that I would need to dress up to go there. But my desire for seafood outweighed my desire to fit in, and my sister and I decided that “Family Day” would be the perfect opportunity to blend in if we were dressed casually.

Oh, boy – am I glad we did. I *so* have a new favorite restaurant in Vineland; everything we were served – from beginning to to end – was spot on. And since we were going on Sunday, i.e. “Family Day”, we were offered three menus to choose from – the regular menu, a specials menu, and the Family Day Menu.

I ordered from the Family Day menu – a true value because it includes soup or salad, fresh baked bread and dipping oil, the entree and a dessert for less than $20. I chose the “Crab Lovers Crab Cake” entree, which is described as “our famous pan fried all crab “crab cake” served with a side dish of lump crab in white or red sauce over Barilla linguini fini.” ($19.95). You’ll have to excuse my pictures, the lighting in Maplewood III is dim enough that it was necessary for me to use a flash, and because of that, the pics turned out a bit harsh.

The baguette that they brought out was still warm from the oven, crispy on the outside and soft-chewy on the inside, served with a flavorful olive oil dipping sauce. We liked it so much we finished off two loaves between us.

m3bread

I chose the soup instead of the salad, whose chicken broth had such excellent flavor that it reminded me of the dumpling soup my Oma used to make me when I was a child. Full of chicken, carrots, celery and escarole, I made sure not a drop went to waste.

m3soup

My entree was absolutely amazing. The crab cake was just that – all crab, almost no filler. The flavor was intensely fresh crab, seasoned in such a way that brought out the sweetness rather than overpowering it. This hamburger-sized crab cake alone nearly filled me up.

m3cc

In addition to the crab cake, my entree also came with a “side” (side? this is an entree unto itself!) of linguine with a crab filled clear “scampi-style” broth – the sauce was so perfect with this dish that I wish I could bottle some and take it home with me. It wasn’t a traditional scampi-style sauce – it kind of reminded me of clam sauce with out the clams. Not the canned stuff, mind you – but the fresh kind that can’t be reproduced unless you’re by the shore. That was what impressed me more than anything – the freshness of this seafood was beyond compare. They delivered just the scratch that I needed for my fresh seafood itch. Sorry, Ohioans – but the stuff we get out there isn’t even close. Next time you’re out by the ocean, get seafood. You’ll thank me later. :)

m3cl

My entree came with dessert, but I chose to box up the rice pudding for later consumption, and instead ordered off the dessert menu – I chose the Creme Brulee Nocello Walnut Crunch ($5.95), an intensly vanilla creme brulee with a salty-sweet walnut topping that melded perfectly with the sweetness of the custard.

m3creme2

My sister opted to order from the Specials menu, and got the “Seafood Trio Royale”, described as “shrimp, scallops, and jumbo lump crabmeat sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Then we add artichoke hearts, sweet peas, cream and sundried tomatoes. The creamy sauce is tossed with Barilla penne pasta and finished with a drizzle of house-made basil pesto.” ($21.95) Instead of getting penne, though – hers came with linguine as well. She absolutely loved it, declared it the “best meal ever”, and commented that the seafood was super-fresh and the combination of flavors excellent. The portion size was so large that she took half of it home with her.

m3trio

Her entree came with a salad as well:

m3salad

For dessert, she opted the “Hot Xango” ($6.59?), a cooked to order “banana caramel cheesecake wrapped in crisped pastry served piping hot, drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce and served with vanilla ice cream” – from tasting hers, it kind of reminded me of bananas foster deep fried cheesecake – but again, the portion size was so large that she was full to bursting before finishing it.

m3xango

All in all, this restaurant hits the mark on so many levels, that a comparable meal in Columbus would easily cost much more than what we paid here. Service was impeccible, the food was excellent, and the atmosphere was welcoming. What more can you ask for in a dining experience?

If you’d like to go: Esposito’s Maplewood III, 200 N. Delsea Dr., Vineland, NJ, 856.692.2011

Maplewood III on Urbanspoon

South Jersey Edition: Larry’s II

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

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)!

l2pasta

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.

l2salad

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

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Food Porn, New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

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.

ddpernil

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.

ddempanadillo

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.

ddguisada

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.

ddchuleta

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

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Food Porn, New Jersey, Restaurant Review, Travel

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

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Food Blogging Event, New Jersey, Travel

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.

accat5

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:

accat3

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

accat7

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!