Table Hopping

Alyson Lupinetti Takes On the Male-Dominated World of Barbecue

Alyson Lupinetti “mans” the grill, tending to her award-winning ribs as part of ‘Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ’. Photo courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

Alyson Lupinetti is proving that “like father, like daughter” definitely applies to barbecue. Not only does the 27 year-old Mount Laurel pitmaster follow in her late father Butch’s footsteps all over the country, she wins awards like him, too. On the road for seasonal competitions with the Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ  team, Lupinetti already has 100-plus awards to add to her father’s lifetime of over 600.

The family talent isn’t a surprise: Butch grew up Jersey Italian on a farm in Pemberton. “There was always cooking going on,” says Lupinetti. “He grew up cooking pigs underground.” For her part, Lupinetti grew up assisting her dad in low-and-slow school night cook-outs and—occasionally—sharing the backseat of the family car with a whole pig (see below).

We caught up with Lupinetti a couple days before she left for the New Jersey State Barbecue Championship in Wildwood to ask what it was like to learn from her dad, how she came into her own as both a legacy and a woman in the male-dominated world of barbecue, and what could possibly be next when you’re already a proven pitmaster under 30 (it’s not what you think).

Alyson with her dad Butch in Trenton in 1996. Photo courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

Table Hopping: Tell us about your journey into barbecue.
Alyson Lupinetti: My parents used to do pig roasts for catering, around 45 a summer. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in the backseat next to this whole pig wrapped in plastic. I used to fall asleep on it! I would name it and make it my friend. It never really freaked me out. Then my dad started doing these events on weekends. He was traveling a lot, and my mom let me go to the ones closer to home. I had a blast. My dad would set me on the counter. He called me his “Little Mascot.”

TH: When did you really start to get hands-on with the barbecue in a serious way?
AL: I definitely started being way more involved when I turned 16. My mom was letting me travel with my dad during the summertime, so I went to a lot more events. I was 18 when my dad passed away. I took the whole business over. I won my first award at the first event I did without him—got second place, “Best Sauce.” It was actually an award they named after my dad because he’d won “Best Sauce” something like 20 out of 22 times there!

TH: You do award-winning St. Louis style ribs, among other things. And the barbecue team does “North Carolina” style. What does that mean?
AL: It means we cook with dry rub only. We let you add your own sauce. A lot of times, people don’t want to cover their meat in sauce—they want to taste the flavor of the actual meat and seasoning and process. We find a lot of people try to hide their mistakes with sauce. If things dry out, you put sauce on it. If it’s too smoky, you add sauce.

TH: I read you sometimes use New Jersey hickory. Why? Besides Jersey pride, anyway.
AL: We always use New Jersey hickory! As long as it’s available to us, anyway. It has a nice, light, smoky flavor that adds to the meat and doesn’t overtake it. A lot of people love cherry and apple; they’re not my favorite, I’m not keen to the way it makes the meat taste.

TH: You’ve probably been asked a lot about being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Do you think it would have been harder for you to be accepted as a woman if you weren’t Butch Lupinetti’s daughter?
AL: Absolutely, unfortunately. It’s starting to change now, obviously there’s a lot going on in the world. But it’s been hard for people to branch into a situation where they’re not the norm. When you think of “barbecue,” you think of an older man, not a younger girl. I faced a little bit of trouble even though I had all these connections! Some people were still giving me a bit of a hard time.

It was difficult. It sort of felt like they were waiting for me to crash and burn. But a lot of people were offering to help me any way they could. I sort of felt like I needed to prove myself. I wished I was proving myself for myself, and not for other people. Now I think I’ve proven myself. I think they know to take me seriously. I’m not going anywhere!

Alyson sharing some of her award-winning ‘cue expertise. Photo courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

TH: In addition to seasonal competing, you guys also have a truck for catering and events?
AL: Yeah, we built a food truck a couple of years ago. “Butch’s ‘Smack Your Lips’ BBQ.” It’s a year-round thing. My husband and I really enjoy doing barbecue, but I don’t want to be gone that long. We can do food truck events an hour or so away from home, get out, do what we love, and come home to be in our own bed!

TH: What about products? There’s a line of “Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ” sauces. Any chance you’ll come out with your own?
AL: We’re actually working on a sauce right now! We really enjoy it on steak—it’s a heavier molasses base, pretty different from the rest of the sauces in our lineup. I started to develop sauces with my dad. On the label, it’s going to have him and me. I never want to not have him associated with it! I’m so proud to be his daughter.

TH: So you have this weekend in Wildwood coming up, a busy summer, and a year-long food truck. I’m afraid to ask if anything else is on the horizon.
AL: My husband and I actually also flip houses. He’s a general contractor. We own apartment complexes. And we’re getting ready to open a brewery towards the end of the year. We definitely like to stay busy!

TH: No kidding. Can you tell us anything about the brewery? Will you be brewing?
AL: I think I’m gonna leave that to the professionals. We hired a really great brewmaster—Ingrid Epoch. She’s very innovative. A lot of people in the South Jersey area know who she is. But the idea wasn’t ours. We have two partners, who came to myself and my husband wanting my husband to do contract work for the brewery. We believed in the business plan so much, we decided to invest. What goes better with barbecue than beer?

You can order any of Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ sauces, “Magic Dust” dry rubs and even some T-shirt swag here. They also offer a catering menu for larger events. If you’re feeling ambitious, here’s the recipe for “Butch’s Whole Hog” (no kiddin’).

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This Company Wants to Help Hudson County Compost Leftover Food Scraps

Food scraps in a Community Compost Co. five-gallon bucket. Photo courtesy of Community Compost Co.

Food waste is heating up.

As in, it’s literally contributing to the warming of our planet (food makes up a major chunk of what gets dumped in landfills). It’s also heating up in the sense that there’s a growing hunger to do something about it. While buying less food and fighting food waste in the kitchen are productive starts, some leftover food scraps are inevitable. After all, most modern home cooks and chefs don’t have the time to jam, pickle and repurpose every last peel or crumb.

Enter compost. The process, essentially nature’s recycling, takes food scraps and yard waste and turns them into an earthy, crumbly, darker-than-dirt material that gives soil a boost of extra nutrients. But doing it yourself at home can be close to impossible for urban dwellers or businesses without outdoor space (not to mention intimidating for those who do). For would-be composters in Hoboken and Jersey City, there’s Community Compost Company, a service that recycles subscribers’ cucumber skins, egg shells, apple cores and other food scraps for them.

It works like this: Similar to trash and recycling pick-up services, Community Compost Co. collects bins residents and restaurants place outside weekly or bi-weekly with their truck. They then pile up this discarded food at their one-and-half acre facility in the Hudson Valley, shepherding the natural process of creating compost out of broken down food scraps.

That’s 1.6 million pounds—and counting—of scraps diverted from landfills, says Andrea Rodriguez, Community Compost’s sales and marketing manager. Now a team of six women, all of whom Rodriguez describes as “passionate environmentalists,” the business started as the brainchild of New Jersey native Eileen Banyra. A city planner with three decades of experience (and a New Jersey native), Banyra switched gears in 2013, getting Community Compost off the ground through an incubator program in New Paltz, New York.

Two years later, Banyra wanted to expand beyond the Hudson Valley. She landed on Hoboken and Jersey City—both diverse, green-minded, urban communities with lots of New York transplants familiar with composting—as starting points in her home state. Drumming up interest by creating compost drop-offs at farmers markets, they then launched the pick-up service, handing out their signature five-gallon green buckets to home cooks (there are currently close to 300 household subscribers; it costs $29 or $19 per month for weekly or bi-weekly pick-up respectively.)

You may see Community Compost Co. buckets more around Hoboken and Jersey City. Photo courtesy of Community Compost Co.

Restaurants and chefs, too, have been an important part of Community Compost’s growth. In Hoboken, the company has partnered with the city to offer free compost pick-up for restaurants twice a week (other businesses and schools are eligible as well). Picking up scraps from eateries such as Choc-O-Pain, cooking school Hudson Table, Black Rail Coffee, Grand Vin and Simply Juiced has been a natural match. “Chefs really see the importance of good, healthy ingredients,” Rodriguez says. “With composting, you’re only helping to create more awesome ingredients to cook with later on.”

Bucket & Bay Craft Gelato owner Jen Kavlakov saw working with Community Compost as the logical way to come full circle, as she says her small-batch gelato shop, which opened in Jersey City in 2015, places a premium on sourcing local, seasonal ingredients. Community Compost’s first restaurant client in Jersey City, Kavlakov has recommended them to other area cafes and restaurants who want to recycle kitchen prep scraps and customer leftovers. “It’s about sustainability,” she tells peers. “It’s about doing what is right for the future.” In Jersey City, Subia’s Vegan Cafe, Barcade, and Busy Bee Organics also compost with Community Compost Co.

More communities, restaurants and home cooks are clamoring to get in on compost pick-up or communal drop-off locations, Rodriguez says. But she says there are steep hurdles for Community Compost and other small and mid-size businesses like theirs to take root or expand.

Just obtaining permits to recycle food waste in New Jersey is a costly, inflexible and lengthy process, explains Matthew A. Karmel, founding board member of the NJ Composting Council and an attorney in the Environmental Practice Group at Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland, Perretti LLP in Morristown. By his count there are only four facilities in the state with traditional food waste permits and an additional three with temporary research, development and demonstration permits, which Karmel says is not nearly enough when compared with the growing demand for such services in the state. Legislation passed at the end of June does require establishments generating large quantities of food waste to recycle this waste. The loophole? Landfills and incinerators count as recycling centers. In light of this, environmental and industry groups like Karmel’s are urging Governor Phil Murphy to veto the measure.

Because Community Compost Co. takes the scraps they collect over the border to a Kerhonkson, New York farm, they avoid much of this tricky legal landscape (New Jerseyans’ trash often gets carted to landfills much further away, Rodriguez is quick to point out; Hoboken’s garbage, for example, ends up in West Virginia), but Rodriguez says they are fighting for change in New Jersey so that “there more options, and more and more communities can get on board with composting.”

In the meantime, she says their focus is on their current New Jersey and New York locations and on educating communities and food businesses. They partner with community gardens and farmers markets, sell their compost at a handful of area markets and garden stores (they’re bagged under the name Hudson Soil Co.; subscribers can also get a container of compost back each fall and spring) and have worked with concerts, film and TV productions and festivals in New Jersey to compost catering leftovers, too.

Above all, Rodriguez says she encourages people “to try to not look at food as garbage.” Is composting, at home or via pick-up and drop-off services, extra effort? Yes. Does it take some getting used to? Sure. But, she says, “it’s really a resource that helps our soil to grow healthy food for us to eat again.”

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Stockton Market Sold to New Hope Restaurant Owner

Photo courtesy of Stockton Market.

—Stockton Market in the small-but-charm-packed town of Stockton (just south of Trenton) has been sold. Fans of the market shouldn’t worry too much; the new owner Steven Lau was responsible for bringing The Salt House restaurant to New Hope (Pennsylvania), emphasizing market-fresh, seasonal cuisine. Not that everything will be about preservation: Lau’s nothing if not ambitious (he was in the music industry and opened his own Napa winery prior to attending the Culinary Institute of America). In the very least, Lau will likely seek out new vendors to add the Stockton’s very well-curated roster. Needless to say the late summer/early fall season should be extra exciting (and delicious?) this year. The Stockton Market, 19 Bridge Street, Stockton; 609-608-2824


—After closing the original West Philadelphia location of The Farmacy earlier this year, Ross Scofield and partner Danielle Coulter made the sudden—and surprising—announcement that The Farmacy in Palmyra is now also closings its doors. (Surprising as in our review of the restaurant went up on Tuesday.) Possibly more unexpected is the fact that Scofield essentially offered the restaurant space (and name) up to the best (most community-oriented, fiscally-solid) offer via Facebook on July 7. Per the post, as Scofield cleaned out the restaurant, he realized the place had potential for the right future tenant: “Fully inspected, fire systems tagged, certified for outside seating, new cooking equipment/ refrigeration, POS system, phone/internet, new tables, new flatware, and all.”

Scofield seemed to earnestly desire a new restaurant tenant for the neighborhood and landlords, so much so he was willing to (gratis?) assist a potential new tenant: “I can help write menus and show the new team the ropes.” No word yet on whether that deal was done, though the comments did reveal some of the reasons why both Farmacy locations are now closed. As one saddened regular asked “Why?” Coulter chimed in to explain a two-fold decision: “We had a better opportunity presented to us,” she said, adding, “We have been restaurant owners for [seven] years. We have a 2-year-old. And we want to live a normal life.” That “better opportunity” may refer to another restaurant concept (with a liquor license) the team was reported to be working on in conjunction with Scofield’s parents, also restaurateurs, somewhere in South Jersey. The Farmacy, 307 West Broad Street, Palmyra. 856-543-4411

—Egg Harbor Festhaus & Biergarten has abruptly closed for business. The German restaurant and beer hall made the announcement on July 2 via the restaurant’s Facebook page, saying only “EGG HARBOR FESTHAUS IS CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. We would like to thank our many customers, friends & employees.” The close seems especially abrupt, as only a few days earlier they’d posted a regular weekend-teaser pretzel/schnitzel/wurst photo array. Not much else is explained, though the closure announcement did end with the promise: “Future news will be posted here.” Egg Harbor Festhaus & Biergarten, 446 St. Louis Avenue, Egg Harbor City; 609-593-6524


Last week we reported on the midday fire on July 1 that shut down Hobby’s Deli in Newark, but it looks like the iconic restaurant is already—at least partially—getting back to business. In fact, it was only the next day that the delicatessen and restaurant was announcing it would be reopening Wednesday, July 3 with delivery and takeout (the dining room remains closed, pending repairs). Among other small miracles of resilience, a lone bottle of Cutty Sark whiskey survived the blaze (maybe no coincidence, it was a favorite of Hobby’s Deli founder Sam Brummer, whose sons Marc and Michael currently run the show). Stay tuned to their Facebook for developments, or other Scotch-related anomalies. Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, 2723, 32 Branford Place, Newark; 973-623-0410

In the Works:

—Capital Craft in Green Brook is getting a second location in the former home of the Macaroni Grill in East Hanover. The restaurant—which emphasizes eclectic, creative gastropub food and plenty of craft beer—will seat as many as 300 guests, with two separate bars, 30 craft beer lines, an outdoor space and coal-fired pizza. Considering the scope of the ambition here, and that it’s only the second iteration of a proven successful restaurant concept, the East Hanover location is likely to swing for the hospitality fences (when it does open—likely closer to several week from now—be prepared for a good time). Capital Craft, 138 Route 10, East Hanover; no phone yet.

—Hoboken’s Green Pear Café is expanding; the funky, warm, ultra-neighborhoody restaurant is on the cusp of opening its second location in another neighborhood, nearby Jersey City Heights. The second location will only serve dinner—during the day, the space will be dedicated to Green Pear’s catering company—but considering its location on a booming strip of the Heights neighborhood, it’s likely to start off at full speed when it opens. Dinner menu is still TBD, but you can expect similar mixture of eclectic, seasonal, and hearty (think Suckling Pig Sandwich and Grilled Atlantic Salmon and Vegetables). Green Pear Café, 93 Franklin Street, Jersey City; no phone yet.

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Pasha Mezze Grill Adds to Lake Hiawatha’s Dining Options

Kibbeh. Photo by Shelby Vittek

There’s no shortage of great Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants in Lake Hiawatha, an unincorporated community located within Parsippany-Troy Hills. In the span of a few blocks of North Beverwyck Road (the town’s main street), you’ll find excellent Turkish food at Bosphorus Restaurant, Afghan-style halal meats that attract a crowd at Kabab Paradise, and now, a medley of flavors at the new Pasha Mezze Grill.

Opened late last year, Pasha is housed in the restaurant space that was formerly home to Fazzolare’s Italian Bistro. Located on a corner, the BYO restaurant features large windows along two of the walls, with a light touch on decorations, making the space feel bright and airy.

The menu features dishes from all over the Mediterranean, representing Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Italy and Cyprus. To start, the mezze selection includes 10 cold options (hummus, tzatziki, labneh, etc.) and 11 warm options (grilled octopus, falafel, borek, etc.). We started with stuffed grape leaves and an incredibly rich and smoky, complex and creamy babagannoush ($7), which we scooped up with small rounds of pita that came warm in a basket. Next, we broke into the deep-fried balls of bulgar, minced lamb and pine nuts called kibbeh ($12) served atop a smear of fresh yogurt.

Babagannoush and stuffed grape leaves. Photo by Shelby Vittek

Skirt steak with carrots and a chimichuri sauce. Photo by Shelby Vittek

Lamb skewer with rice. Photo by Shelby Vittek

Entrées were large and filling, leaving plenty for lunch the next day. I ordered the lamb skewer ($18), cooked to a perfect medium and served with rice pilaf and a fresh herb salad. My only complaint was that it seemed like a small portion of lamb for what it cost; down the street, you get at least three skewers for the same price.

My dining companion opted for an 8-ounce skirt steak ($23), which we both enjoyed. It came with a bright and spicy chimichurri, mashed potatoes and roasted carrots that were the surprise hit of the night. Other entrée choices include adana kebabs, kefteh, a burger, branzino and whole trout.

We were too stuffed for dessert, but we’ll be back again soon. I had originally been worried that a restaurant serving similar dishes as the town’s most popular spots wouldn’t last long, but for once, I’m happy to report I was wrong.

Pasha Mezze Grill, 94 North Beverwyck Road, Lake Hiawatha; 973-265-4982; BYO. Open daily; brunch served on weekends.

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VegFest Heads to Atlantic City This Weekend

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Atlantic City VegFest
Friday, July 12—Sunday, July 14

The 2019 New Jersey VegFest in Atlantic City runs Thursday through Sunday, but if you want to get the most bang out of your limited buck or tight schedule, check out Food Truck Friday, running from 2-10pm. Admission to Friday’s festival is only $8 plus processing fees (about $10 total), and that gets you access to all manner of vegan vittles—the improbably vegan Grilly Cheese, Terri Sacchetti’s revamped Fabulous Fig food truck, Delaware’s only completely vegan food truck Nude Food, and of course the trailblazing vegan-on-wheels Cinnamon Snail. Prices vary per food truck, but the music, AC ambiance, and good vegan vibes are all free. Showboat Hotel Atlantic City, 801 Boardwalk, Atlantic City; 609-487-4600

Secrets of BBQd Class with a Pitmaster
Saturday, July 13, 11am – 12:30pm

Fortunately for barbecue lovers in the Garden State, Alyson Lupinetti chose to take after her father, the late great pitmaster Butch Lupinetti; a Pitmaster in her own right, Alyson learned the family trade of exquisitely low-and-slow-cooked meats from an early age (her father won 600 trophies in his career; Alyson currently has over 100). Lucky you can learn from the pitmaster herself on Saturday at her “Secrets of BBQ Cooking Class” at the New Jersey State Barbecue Championships. For just $22, you’ll learn how to take ribs from raw material to lip-smacking meat miracle. Pulled pork is also potentially on the class syllabus; just come prepared with an appetite. New Jersey State Barbecue Championships, 201 Jersey Avenue, Wildwood; 609-523-6565

Bastille Day Dinner at Chez Catherine
Sunday, July 14

Whether or not you celebrate the 1789 Storming of the Bastille, fans of grand French gastronomy should head over to Chez Catherine in Westfield this Sunday. The restaurant will be serving up a very special Bastille Day prix fixe menu. Yes, it’s $125 for dinner and a cocktail (plus $55 for wine pairings), but the night promises to be gustatorily grand: starting off with a cocktail and canapes, the night moves from melon and ham to Grilled Tuna with Avocado and Pineapple, Black Angus Filet Mignon, and even old school show-stopper dessert, Baked Alaska. Call to make your reservation ASAP; spend the rest of the week practicing your “Vive la France!” Chez Catherine, 431 North Avenue West, Westfield; 908-654-4011

Beer Pairing Dinner at Tre Pizza in Freehold
Thursday, July 25, 7–9pm

Tre Pizza is already serious about its craft beer, but on the 25th, they’re putting one brewery front and center: Cape May Brewing Co. (one of our Top 16 breweries) is bringing four very different beers for four very different courses from the Tre Pizza kitchen for a beer pairing dinner. The night starts with “Catch the Drift” New England IPA with Crab Dip & Soft Pretzels, moves on to “The Bog” (a light, tart cranberry Shandy) with a Blackened Tuna “Salad” with Cranberries and Orange; next is a “Coastal Evacuation” Double IPA with a Seafood Steampot and Cajun Rice, and finally a Honey-Porter Nitro with Cherries Jubilee on Waffles. Tickets are $60 for the whole deal; call to make a reservation. Tre Pizza, 611 Park Avenue, Freehold; 732-751-4422

Stateside Vodka Cocktail Dinner at Blue Morel
Friday, August 2, 7pm

Wine dinners are (fortunately) fairly commonplace. This four-course pairing of sophisticated cuisine and vodka cocktails? Less so. Not only that, but this isn’t just any vodka—from Federal Distilling in Philadelphia, Stateside Vodka is distilled no fewer than seven times (i.e. hyper-smooth)—and these aren’t just any cocktails. 2018 Iron Shaker competition winner Carlos Ruiz will be mixing up the cocktails, all of which will be designed to match Chef Dennis Matthews’ menu. Call for tickets, which are $59 before tax and tip (considering vodka’s summer-appeal, they’re likely to go fast). Blue Morel, 2 Whippany Road, Morristown; 973-451-2610

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Meet Jess Murgittroyd, a Vegan Cookie Master

Jess Murgittroyd baking her vegan chocolate chip cookies at Root 9 Baking Company. Photo courtesy of Justin Kompier

Some small business owners end up there more by accident than ambition. Not Jess Murgittroyd. Self-taught pastry chef, Bergen County native, and founder of both Green City Pops and, as of two years ago, Root 9 Baking Company, Murgittroyd wanted to be an entrepreneur since she was little. Not only did she teach herself pastry, but when she went vegan two years ago, she basically re-taught herself everything, except this time without eggs, butter and dairy. Her goal: to make a “veganized” version of the classic chocolate chip cookie. Murgittroyd insists you can’t tell the difference between her vegan cookie and the non-vegan version.

We caught up the pastry chef to talk about why (and how) vegan cookies, what’s next for a vegan baking business in our semi-health-obsessed era, and when we should expect to see her cookies on retail shelves.

Table Hopping: You’re a self-taught pastry chef, but how did you get into vegan cookies?
JM: I had been vegetarian for about four years. I went vegan two years ago. Being a pastry chef, I just couldn’t find any good vegan cookies! I love chocolate chip cookies, obviously, so I decided to veganize a lot of my recipes.

TH: What did that look like?
JM: It’s actually like re-learning pastry. It’s challenging. Having the fundamentals, just knowing how to bake traditionally definitely helped me a ton with vegan baking. I would literally just think about egg replacers, what could I use, what would be a good binder. You have to think outside the box. For instance, I created a butter recipe. It’s a base of coconut oil. I emulsify it and it creams and whips just like butter would.

TH: And egg substitutes? We just covered aquafaba—or chickpea brine—in cocktails. How does it work in cookies?
JM: Essentially, we’re replacing protein of the egg with the protein of the chickpea. Aquafaba acts as a binder. It really holds all our ingredients together. And it doesn’t taste like anything.

TH: That’s probably a big question for non-vegans. Your cookies look like the classic version, but do ingredient substitutions change the flavor?
JM: You can’t taste it whatsoever. Really, I like to have people taste the cookies; after the fact, I tell them they’re vegan and minds are blown. You’d never know these cookies are plant-based. They taste like their butter counterparts.

TH: Do you use any local ingredients?
JM: We’re actually using a locally-milled flower. Well, we use a combination of King Arthur flour—they’re Vermont-based—and Farmers Ground Flour. They’re in New York State.

Vegan chocolate chip cookies from Root 9 in Whippany. Photo courtesy of Justin Kompier

TH: Currently you do Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate, Birthday Cake, and Classic Oatmeal cookies. Any plans on new flavors?
JM: We’re actually always in R&D. Soon, we’re launching our own line of bars: brownies, blondies. We actually just launched our “Brookie”—half brownie, half cookie. Eventually we want to get a little crazy with flavors—have some fun, funky flavors, do a “Kitchen Sink” cookie with potato chips and stuff. Really get crazy. We actually have equipment to make stuffed cookies as well, so eventually we can do a Caramel-stuffed or an Apple Pie-stuffed Oatmeal Cookie.

TH: There’s lots of specialized, even vegan, baked goods out there these days. Why chocolate chip cookies?
JM: No one’s really doing this on a food-service level. For instance, you can’t find Impossible Burgers in stores. It’s only available to purchase through restaurants and big distribution centers. We saw nobody was doing vegan cookie dough on that level. And the cookies that I have tasted that are vegan, for me—well, I’m very picky about my chocolate chip cookies. I just kind of said to myself “I can make this better.” That’s how Root 9 came to be.

TH: But you’re not a retail store, correct?
JM: We have the online store, but we’re basically a wholesale bakery. We bake in Whippany. We have distribution through US Foods. Our cookies are available to purchase wholesale in the whole northeast region.

TH: Do you have any plans to go retail? Right now there’s no packaged “Root 9” cookie available in stores.
JM: We’re not really focusing right now on retail. In about a year-and-a-half to two years, we want to do a retail launch, break into the supermarket game, but right now, we’re focusing on our food-service side of things—bulk packaging, ready-to-bake cookie dough. We send it out and the customer bakes them on site. Or they can keep them in the freezer and bake off as they need them. The customer’s always getting a fresh-baked cookie, and there’s no waste involved. It’s a win-win.

TH: What kind of places are you selling to?
JM: Any restaurant, bakery, coffee shop, hotel, colleges, universities, even health care systems. Hospitals systems are getting so many more requests for plant-based. They love the fact that we’re dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free. Eventually, when we go retail, we’ll have individually-wrapped cookies and bars. We’ll also have our cookie dough for sale in the refrigerated section… By 2021, we hope to be national. On the West Coast.

Root 9 doesn’t do retail yet, but they are still doing pop-ups—“we limit it to maybe under 10 a year”—and the next is July 13 at the NJ Veg Fest in Atlantic City.

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Bell’s Mansion, Where Filet Mignon Is Served on a Sizzling Lava Rock

Bell’s Mansion Lava Rock Filet. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

Bell’s Mansion is a stately old brick and stone home built by a local iron and mill baron dating back to 1835. Inside there are a number of cozy antique-filled dining rooms and a well-preserved, lengthy wooden bar that was salvaged from a Pennsylvania Hotel. In the warm weather, the action heads outside onto a two-tiered patio and bar surrounded by lush flower, fruit and vegetable gardens.

On a sunny evening, we settled into a table right next to aromatic rose bushes in full bloom and perused the cocktail menu of nearly two dozen martini variations while enjoying the sounds of a live guitarist. The full bar also serves an array of wines, sangria, draft beers and mixed drinks and features a happy hour from 3 to 6 pm every day of the week with great deals on drinks and appetizers.

Before we even got a chance to look at the menu, a basket of piping hot, crusty bread arrived, along with both salty butter as well as olive oil to tide us over until the appetizers appeared. Although we needed to ask for more sour cream for our potato, cheese and caramelized onion pierogies, the five large plump dumplings were a satisfying starter, along with a daily special of the tiniest sweet baby clams swimming in a briny broth flecked with slivers of salty chorizo sausage. The accompanying thick cuts of grilled bread allowed us to soak up and savor every last drop of the flavorful juices.

Bell’s Mansion pierogies. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

Crispy chicken sandwich. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

Cedar Plank Salmon. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

Unfortunately, that same thick cut of charred bread was a little too much to get our mouths around on the otherwise delicious crispy barbecue chicken sandwich, layered with jalapenos, creamy coleslaw and aged cheddar.

An ample portion of smoky, cedar-plank salmon was perfectly bronzed, but still juicy, although the light nap of lemon chardonnay sauce forced us to again ask for a little extra to enjoy with the mashed sweet potatoes and zucchini.

The sun was beginning to set over the gardens when the true star of the evening arrived in a literal blaze of glory. The ‘outdoor only’ sliced filet mignon was paraded to the table leaving a trail of smoke, as it cooked atop a three-inch-thick slab of sizzling lava rock. Each delectable piece went straight from searing to sampling in a matter of seconds, along with garlic butter, and a side plate of creamy mashed potatoes and fresh-grilled zucchini and squash.

We were too full for dessert before strolling down the block to enjoy a nationally-recognized musical act at the nearby Stanhope House venue to complete a lovely summer evening.

Bell’s Mansion, 11 Main Street, Stanhope, 973-426-9977. Open for lunch and dinner, Monday-Saturday; brunch and dinner, Sunday.

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Café Moso Comes to Montclair’s South End


—From Montclair natives Michael and Zina Floyd comes Café Moso (“Montclair South”), an eclectic, warm neighborhood restaurant with accents of rich pit-cooking and fresh seasonal ingredients. Chef David Ilmojahid is a pit-master with Memphis roots, though the menu reads like an eclectic modern American seasonal menu that just so happens to be anchored by hickory- and applewood-smoked meats. The restaurant’s still in its early days—it’s been open a bit more than a month and a half—but we’re interested to see what fall brings, when Café Moso plans to host a “Chef’s Corner” pop-up, with different chefs coming in to cook a special menu on the last Monday of every month. Between old school pit-smoked meats and polished seasonality, the place certainly has some legs. Café Moso, 307 Orange Road, Montclair; 973-860-7400

De Novo (Latin for “the Beginning”) is open on River Road in Edgewater. The restaurant is the second De Novo from restaurateur Demetri Malki, who had previously opened his own spots, D’Metri’s and Table 8 in Montclair. Like the first De Novo in Montclair, the new Edgewater location will do “European pub” style food—think continental polish in familiar proportions. Chef Adolfo Marisi oversees the menu as executive chef. And while it’s early days into judging the food (De Novo opened in late June), it’s almost immediately apparent is the ambitious, genuinely stunning design by Chris Kofitsas of New World Design Builders; anyone who’s been to ABC Kitchen will recognize the natural tones, clean lines, abundant light, and romantic splashes of greenery. Throw in the relatively stunning view of the river and the George Washington Bridge and you’ve got a new date night spot all lined up and ready to go. De Novo European Pub, 1257 River Road, Edgewater; 201-496-6161

Chef on the Move:

—Former chef and owner of Tre Amici in Long Branch, Matthew Zappoli, is joining David Burke’s restaurant group as corporate chef. Zappoli got his start under another prolific restaurateur, Charlie Palmer; after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1998, Zappoli began working for Palmer at Aureole in New York’s Theater District. Zappoli worked his way across the country under Palmer, another reason he’ll be a natural fit in the Burke empire, which spans a few states and incorporates a variety of culinary concepts. Most recently, Zappoli was working as the executive chef of the Rez Grill, a high-volume outlet under the umbrella of major gaming outfit, the Seminole Tribe of Florida. As he begins to take the reigns as corporate chef within Burke’s group, Zappoli will transition from working largely at DRIFTHOUSE by David Burke and Nauti Bar (where he’s been spending most of the off-season) to working at various Burke properties through the course of a given week. Various Locations.

In the Works:

—There’s a Bareburger coming to Morristown this fall. Still a very rough timeline and no word yet on the exact location, but this will be the farthest south (and west) the chain will have come into the state (it has six other locations, including Montclair, Ridgewood, Closter, and Edgewater). Bareburger, Morristown.


Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant (which was just featured in the background of the upcoming prequel to “The Sopranos”) was damaged in a fire on Monday afternoon. Employees and diners were in the restaurant at the time of the July 1 fire, which is believed to have been electrical in nature; nobody was harmed, but portions of the restaurant interior were damaged and the iconic neon “Hobby’s Delicatessen” sign was damaged beyond repair. The plan at the time being is to close indefinitely, though only temporarily, with more updates as they’re able to assess the extent of the damage and thus the length of time for all necessary repairs. The delicatessen, which sits at the corner of Branford and Halsey, has been in operation under the Brummer family since 1962. Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, 2723, 32 Branford Place, Newark; 973-623-0410

—After making news as the “last one in the entire chain” still in existence, the Don Pablo’s Mexican Kitchen at the Deptford Mall finally closed its doors a couple weeks ago, shuttering the Tex Mex chain’s fairly successful, 120 restaurant strong, run. The chain had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016; it was founded in Texas in 1985. Don Pablo’s Mexican Kitchen, 1860 Deptford Center, Woodbury.

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Get a Taste of Historic Blueberries at Whitesbog Village

Fresh blueberries. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Whitesbog Historic Blueberry Tasting
Sunday, July 7, 11am – 1pm

What better follow up to 4th of July fireworks than a relaxing afternoon at an historic preservation with some berries and a little American history? In case you don’t know the whole story, in 1916, the wife of Whitesbog founder Joseph White, Elizabeth White collaborated with Dr. Frederick Coville of the Department of Agriculture to develop the first-ever cultivated blueberry plant (the rest, more or less, is delicious history). This Sunday, staff at the Whitesbog Preservation Trust—which dedicates itself to year-round interpretation and preservation of the historic village—will guide you through a tasting of some of the blueberry varieties that have come about since, as well as some heritage and historic plants, and even take you through Mrs. White’s original demo blueberry garden. Not entirely a food-centric event (don’t count on it for lunch), but a nice—and color appropriate—way to highlight a Jersey-born contribution to the national culinary conversation. Tickets are $20. Elizabeth White House and Garden, Whitesbog Village, 120 Whites Bogs Road, #34, Browns Mills; 609-893-4646

 Summer Cookout at Salt Creek Grille
Wednesday July 17, 5–8pm

The trick to a tasty summer is access to a grill. If you don’t have your own, or just want to enjoy the outdoors without any prep or cleanup, try the Salt Creek Grille in Princeton. On Wednesday, July 17, they’re hosting a summer cookout in conjunction with Sourland Mountain Spirits. It’s family friendly—there will be music and yard games throughout—and ticket prices are pretty reasonable: $55 for adults and $15 for kids buys access to chef Wally Weaver’s cookout menu (think ribs, sliders, corn on the cob, “kaleslaw”) plus custom cocktails made just for the day with Sourland Mountain Spirits (the “Vodka Palmer” will have Sourland Mountain vodka, fresh lemonade, and tea). The rain date is Thursday, July 18. Salt Creek Grille, 1 Rockingham Row, Princeton; 609-419-4200

Cocktail Club at Modine’s
Thursday Nights, Summer

Just think of it as a way to kick of Summer Friday extra, extra early. On Thursday nights this summer, Modine in Asbury Park is offering unofficial cocktail classes as part of its Thursday “Cocktail Club.” Don’t worry—the club’s fairly laid back and unofficial, no specific attire or badge-earning required. Just come thirsty and Modine’s top tier bartenders will be sharing, showcasing, and variously shaking their way through two craft cocktails per night, teaching guests a little about history, ingredients, and, of course, assembly. There are no set hours for the club, as of now anyway, with the “class” being sort of a continuous demonstration as bar customers come and go (though we think more are likely to stay as long as possible). No word yet as to whether Thursday, July 4 has a special Americana theme, but just in case come prepared to shake, stir, and drink something red, white, and/or blue. Modine’s, 601 Mattison Avenue, Asbury Park; 732-893-5300

Chef’s Table at Ironbound Farm
Thursday, August 8, 5–9pm

All of Ironbound Cider’s “Chef Table” dinners are bound to be good—it’s a festive night of open-air eating and drinking centered around the output of a 26-foot tall, 9,000 pound cooking station nicknamed “Mother Fire.” But if you can make it on August 8, you might get something a little extra special with chef Negro Piattoni at the helm. A native Argentinian, Piattoni came up under none other than open flame cooking maestro Francis Mallman himself (the Patagonian chef is now so associated with his primal skillset, this is the cover of his most recent cookbook ). Piattoni first came stateside to cook at Mallman’s Bar Tartine, but he’s since graduated to the helm of his own, incredibly-buzzed-about Brooklyn restaurant Metta. That’s all well and good for Brooklyn, but Thursday, August 8, Piattoni will be making a cameo appearance in Jersey, cooking over the fires of Ironbound’s outdoor kitchen. The menu is still TBD, but based on Piattoni’s food in Brooklyn, we’re guessing hyper seasonal, painstakingly local, creative, inspired, and yes, even fun. Chances are food people in the know will snatch up these tickets—even at $200 per person—so don’t dally if you’re up for the splurge. Ironbound Farm, 360 County Road 579, Asbury; 908-940-4115

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Meet the Couple Behind Clinton’s Clean Plate Kitchen

Anthony and Nicole Piazza of Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton with their children. Photo courtesy of Leigh Marino

When they opened Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton in 2015, Nicole and Anthony Piazza weren’t trying to get ahead of some gluten or vegan “craze.” If anything, their goal was to not scare people away with “health food language” while cooking mostly gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan dishes. Little did they realize, within just a few years nutritional qualifiers like “gluten-free” and “vegan” would be culinary buzzwords, attracting new customers instead of scaring away old ones. The restaurateur couple (Nicole’s the chef, Anthony runs operations) will be the first to tell you they’re not in it for any trend points. But the current surge in diner health-savvy does put them in a prime position to grow, maybe exponentially more than they’d ever planned (especially since they’re now also in school—see below).

We caught up with Nicole to see whether their (clean) plate is at all too full.

Table Hopping: You guys have two little kids and a restaurant and now you’re in culinary school?
Nicole Piazza: Yes! We’re both in culinary school. It’s a health-supportive culinary arts program at [the Institute of Culinary Education]. We started in May. It’s the first year that they’re offering it. The Natural Gourmet Institute had a health-supportive program and ICE incorporated it, now it’s an ICE-approved program. We’re learning a lot of cool cooking techniques! And we’re doing it together, which is awesome.

TH: A culinary school as big as ICE is incorporating health-conscious cooking. Do you take that as a good sign for Clean Plate?
NP: The fact that ICE Is acknowledging that this is not just a trend, that it’s here to stay, is huge. It’s cutting-edge for a culinary program to offer something like this—something plant-forward. But people are looking for foods that complement their lifestyle. Everyone’s on some kind of diet, from keto to heart-healthy, maybe they have diabetes. We’re learning how to cook to accommodate all those diets without compromising.

TH: You opened in early 2015, as health-consciousness was just cresting in to public consciousness. Was “allergy-sensitive” and “gluten-free” always part of the plan?
NP: I’m a registered dietician and I have a masters in nutrition. In my nutrition practice, I specialized in allergies and gastroenterology, so I thought “Let’s make this [restaurant] friendly for that type of customer.” Because I have nowhere to refer my clients! I tell them to go to restaurants and modify menus. That’s all I could do. So we made an allergy-friendly, plant-forward restaurant, predominantly gluten-free. But we don’t make health claims or say that we’re “healthy.” That’s woven through the menu, as opposed to us being a “health food restaurant.”

TH: Why avoid the “health food” label?
NP: We want to be a place everyone can enjoy. One person on a diet has an allergy, okay, but I want the person who’s a meat-eating carnivore to give it a try, too, so we offer locally-sourced meat. In fact, our meatloaf is our best seller.

TH: What’s your take on the current prevalence of “gluten-free” and “vegan” on so many restaurant menus? Do the terms lose credibility with trendiness?
NP: My view on our menu being [mostly] gluten-free is not about a trend. We’re just using different ingredients altogether. People who care notice, people who don’t care don’t notice. That’s the main thing with our food. As far as any vegan “trend,” we’re not really 100 percent invested in that. We want to have really high-quality vegan options, that’s all. For a lot of restaurants, the protein is the star of the show. We’re letting the plants do more of the talking.

 TH: Speaking of plants, you source locally, so I’d assume you change your menus often?
NP: We’re actually changing again in two weeks. We change the menu seasonally. Sometimes more often. It’s a process.

TH: When creating a menu, how do you counter the idea that health-conscious means deprivation?
NP: I try to keep an approach that’s playful. That’s our take on everything. Colorful uniforms, eclectic plates on the walls—we intentionally try to keep it not intimidating, keep it light and not over-emphasize health. It’s not an in-your-face stick and twigs kind of menu. And that’s part of why we’re at school. Anthony and I want to take things to the next level, to be able to utilize more unique ingredients and methods to bring flavor and still maintain the health focus we’ve worked so hard to achieve. And now we can take what we learn and literally apply it the next day.

 TH: Can you give an example?
NP: Something as simple as black rice, utilizing it for larger quantities in restaurant service. There are challenges because it’s a hearty grain, but we learned little tricks for how to hold the rice better, some larger quantity cooking techniques. Or using a new ingredient, like sea vegetables. We did a course two weeks ago. Now we’re using them in our kimchi because we don’t use fish sauce.

TH: What about demand—has it risen in the past few years?
NP: We did have a New York Times review the first year we were open, so we blew up right in the beginning, before we were really ready to handle it. Our customers still drive an hour an hour and a half, from all over the state. They’re loyal and devoted. But it is spreading like wildfire. In fact, one of our biggest challenges is being unable to accommodate all the diners.

TH: Does that mean there’s real opportunity for you guys to grow right now?
NP: We do have some ambitious goals. We intend to do significant renovations in the restaurant and step up our food. After school is finished! We have pretty cool plates right now. We’re honing in on different techniques, amping up our game with our food. But yeah, behind the scenes, we’re working on plans for renovation and being able to do things like catering.

I also have another business, Nourish to Heal. It started with more of a social media focus right now but I’m looking to reach a larger audience, potentially cookbooks, social media, possibly TV. Doing it together, even, Anthony and I, teaching the world how to eat clean.

TH: No small task…
NP: I did say it was ambitious!

Clean Plate Kitchen is located at 49 Main Street in Clinton; 908-200-7610. Open Wed-Sun.

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