Friday, March 13, 2009

Seafood Success

By Millicent K. Brody

It’s not always easy to guarantee a great meal in a restaurant, especially after not visiting the premises for more than a year. But, I’ve never been even slightly disappointed in Snappers, which we make sure to visit every time we’re down in Florida. Located at the end of a strip mall where several stores have been vacant for quite a few months, this particular restaurant takes pride in doing what they do best: serving “honest” fresh fish, daily. The menu also states that all entrees arrive with a house salad, crusty garlic and/or plain rolls, a choice of baked potato with butter and sour cream, a huge nest of French-fried potatoes, crabby fries, cole slaw, or a fresh vegetable. (Take note: The full-size sides and huge salad are included in the price of the entree.)

Although you must call ahead and make reservations for lunch and dinner, you can never assume that even with a guaranteed reservation, you’ll be sitting down to dinner at that appointed time. The restaurant is always jammed. I mean, not just a few people standing by the front door awaiting their table, or jamming one another at the entrance appointment desk, or needling the hostess for an exact seating time, or blocking the aisle with hopes that they’ll be next to be!

By six p.m. this worthy establishment has at least one hundred people hanging about the front door, waiting for those beloved words. "Table for Jon and Michael X!' And as you pardon your way through the enormous crowd, you wonder, how do they do it?
Meals are priced to suit every customer’s purse. The so-called “Free” Caesar salad served with the entree is much more than plentiful, and adds just the right touch to a reasonably priced bill.
Yes, the menu is loaded with lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, and mahi mahi served many different ways. But it also contains well-priced house favorites like Macadamia-crusted snapper; pistachio-crusted salmon; sole almondine dipped in a light batter, then rolled in almonds and broiled; and baked stuffed scrod with seafood dressing. Our all-time favorite is the cedar planked halibut-served with smashed potatoes. It’s priced at $21.95. Seafood entrees start at $15.95 and top-off at $21.95. Add a glass or two of house wine priced at $7.00 each, and excluding tax and tip, you've dined well for less than $65.00.

You simply cannot walk in on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and expect to get a table. You can plan ahead and call for reservations. Once seated, you’re apt to see the owner (who is also the executive chef), carrying a tray or two of food, cleaning the tables, carpet-sweeping the floor, and kibitzing with his clientele. He has discovered the secret of a successful restaurant. Great food served with style, friendly, courteous service, and prices that say, “We consider ourselves fortunate that you’ve found your way to our dining establishment.”

Tip: When visiting your favorite restaurant, try the seafood special of the day. That way, you're guaranteed to be eating the freshest fish!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wine on a Dime

By Maureen C. Petrosky

Last Saturday night, after an early mass, my in-laws picked up a bottle of wine and headed out for a dinner date. After hearing “We’re booked solid”, “We can seat you at 10pm”, and “There’s at least an hour wait to be seated” from three separate restaurants, defeated, they headed home for leftovers.

This was not New York City; in fact they were right in Union County, NJ. Needless to say, it left them shaking their heads and wondering about this “terrible economy”. You may have seen the New York Times food page with Mario Batali, Sirio Maccioni, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten sporting sandwich boards advertising sales and open tables. Yet try for a table (at a reasonable time) on the highly coveted Friday/ Saturday night slot and you’ll still be lucky to score.

On the flip side, we attended a wedding recently and a friend slid in the pew next to me, with the air that he’d already been celebrating. In response to the typical How are you, he spat, “I got laid off this afternoon”. It’s brutal. Whether you’re looking for work, just trying to enjoy a hard-earned retirement, attempting to buy your first house, or struggling to sell the one you seem to be stuck with, our present economy, or just talk of it, is depressing. The silver lining here: there’s good news in wine, in that there are plenty of great affordable wine to help you get through these times. The number of great wines to be had for under $20 is astounding, and there’re even some gems for $10 and under.

Here’re a sassy red and a lovely bubbly that will turn that pocketbook’s frown upside down.

Borsao Crianza, 2006, $15 This rich red hails from Spain’s Campo de Borja region. The wine smells fabulous, with a nose full of ripe fruit that explodes in your mouth. Great tannin structure, with hints of vanilla and lots of spice make this is a memorable wine. If you only want a sip- no worries, it’s even better on the second day!

La Marca Prosecco Di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene $12.99 Let this bubbly help you ring in spring. One of the best Proseccos out there. It’s medium- bodied, with fun flirty citrus flavors and great minerality for a clean crisp finish.

Both of these bottles can be found at Joe Canal’s, where a free membership gets you an even further discount: this month bringing the Borsao to $12. At Joe Canal’s if you buy a case of mixed wine you save 10% anytime and they email members each week with all of their sale items.

For more wine on a dime, you can find my picks of ten wines under $20 worth a whirl on

For more great wines under $20, see the April issue of New Jersey Life, on newsstands March 31 and online March 18

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Feeling Crafty

By Brianne Harrison

I am a craft show junkie. I can’t resist the opportunity to marvel at other people’s creativity and skill and get a (very early) start on my Christmas shopping. So, when I heard that the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival was starting off its spring season in New Jersey this weekend, I started to get pretty excited.

Before we go any further, I should point out that these are not your typical neighborhood or church fundraiser craft shows. There are no piles of crocheted afghans or popsicle stick birdhouses. The people who show at these festivals are genuine artists who create everything from exquisite paintings to jewelry you won’t find anywhere else to handwoven baskets, spectacular pottery, and handmade furniture. They can do things with a tree trunk or a chunk of metal that you and I never dreamed of. And while the prices can run high, you definitely get what you pay for. Purchases easily become heirlooms, and you’ll never see that necklace on someone else at a party or that sculpture adorning someone else’s mantelpiece.

Sugarloaf maintains a certain quality and doesn’t allow just anyone to show—all the artisans are selected by a jury that judges them on quality of design, workmanship, and materials. The show has grown since its founding in 1975 and now travels to 17 locations throughout the country and attracts nearly 350,000 visitors. It serves as a marketplace every year for artisans who otherwise might find it difficult to show their wares, and who are suffering just like everyone else (if not more so) in these difficult economic times.

Sugarloaf Crafts Festival will be at the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday March 13-15. Tickets are available online for $7 or are $8 at the door. For more information, visit

Monday, March 9, 2009

South Jersey Restaurant Week: Why You Should Go

By Pat Tanner

Here we are barely into 2009 and we’ve already seen what has to be a record number of multi-course, fixed price, geographically-based restaurant weeks – a sign of the times, no doubt.

From March 22 to 27, South Jersey will take its star turn. Below are my Top Ten Reasons why you should head south (or west, or possibly even slightly north) during that week, when upwards of 60 restaurants will be featuring four-course dinners for $35.

1. You meant to take advantage of one of the restaurant weeks that have already come and gone, but somehow never did.

2. You’ve read favorable reviews of several South Jersey restaurants - maybe even cut out the reviews - but the clippings are just yellowing on your fridge.

3. You’re always on the lookout for a good, new place that’s midway between your house and friends or family and this is the perfect way to check one out without committing a lot of cash.

4. About those same friends and family: Maybe they keep taking you to places in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester counties that are awful and you would like nothing more than to be able to suggest a different one. Or two.

5. Your wallet could use a break right now and you wouldn’t mind a fine four-course meal without the attendant I-shouldn’t-have-splurged guilt.

6. You’ve been meaning to head down that way anyway, to shop at Trader Joe’s in Marlton, say, or tour historic Mount Holly, or go antiquing in Mullica Hill. (You get the idea.)

7. Spring arrives March 20th and you simply must celebrate!!!!

These final three reasons are really just my personal favorites:

8. BLACKBIRD DINING ESTABLISHMENT Alex Capasso is, in my book, South Jersey’s leading culinary light for his accomplished New American cuisine - and his stylish Collingswood cafe is the beacon.

9. MAX’S SEAFOOD CAFÉ This historic saloon within sight of the Walt Whitman Bridge in Voorhees won me over with its laid-back attitude and gorgeous 1912 oak-and-mahogany bar piece. Its simple seafood and Italian dishes aren’t bad either.

10. THE CHOPHOUSE I am not customarily a fan of steakhouses but this one, with contemporary Craftsman styling and lake views in Gibbsboro, 10 minutes down Route 73 from Trader Joe’s, impressed me with its succulent steaks, savory seafood, and deep wine list.

For the full list of restaurants visit Bon appetit!