Table Hopping

Good Greek Fare, Lackluster Service at Olive & Ivy Mediterranean Kitchen


Octopus appetizer at Olive & Ivy. Photo by Shelby Vittek

Our meal at Olive & Ivy Mediterranean Kitchen, a Greek-inspired BYO in Eatontown that opened earlier this year, got off to a rough start.

I was meeting my good friend Julia, a native Jersey girl who grew up in Monmouth County but now calls Los Angeles home, while she was back in town visiting family. It was a Tuesday evening and the large, modern restaurant wasn’t even half-full. Yet we were seated off in a corner, away from the rest of the tables—and as such, out of the single server’s sight.

It took several minutes for him to greet us, and even longer before he poured us water. When I put our BYO bottle of wine on the table and asked for two wine classes, he demanded to see our IDs. I thought he was joking, as male servers sometimes do when you’re a table of two younger women. But he didn’t back down, not even after I told him I’d just purchased the bottle of wine down the road at Circus Wines in Red Bank.

Five minutes after being carded, which felt more like a way for him to learn our names or where we lived, he finally remembered to bring us wine glasses, disappearing before we could put in an order for appetizers. The exchange irked me, making me feel like an unwelcome guest. But I didn’t want to ruin the few hours I had to catch up with my friend, and so we delved into the food.

Olive & Ivy boasts a Mediterranean menu of mezze, mousaka, kebabs and seafood. There’s also more American items, like burgers, pork chops and steaks. We started with the saganaki ($12), flaming Greek kefalograviera cheese that’s lit tableside and drizzled with lemon olive oil; and the grilled octopus ($18). The cheese hadn’t fully softened before the flame went out, but it was still cheese, and so we devoured it. The octopus was slightly overcooked, chewy and tough instead of tender and soft.

Scallops and Shrimp Santorini at Olive & Ivy. Photo by Shelby Vittek

Our mains quickly followed. Julia ordered the scallops ($30), which came with five pan-roasted scallops over small rounds of polenta and basil. She remarked about how happy she was to be eating good East Coast scallops again, which you don’t find easily on the West Coast. But the entrée didn’t seem substantial enough, plated more like an appetizer than a main event. I opted for the Shrimp Santorini ($30). Served in a cast-iron dish, it consisted of prawns in a garlicky tomato sauce over rice, with crumbled feta on top.

Almost two hours had passed since we’d walked through the doors, and while the food was fresh and enjoyable, our hospitality experience hadn’t improved. We passed on dessert, and asked for our check, which was over $100. If that’s what it costs for an average dinner for two, with no alcohol included, a restaurant should really pay more attention to their guests, and treat them as such.

After settling up, we decided to continue catching up over a beer at an Irish pub in Red Bank, where we were greeted with a warm, friendly atmosphere and more.

Olive & Ivy, 78 Route 35, Eatontown; 732-389-0000. Open Tues-Sun for lunch and dinner.

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8 Veggie-Centric Cocktails to Try This Spring


The Three Little Birds, right, from Porta. Photo courtesy of Porta



Regardless of whether you get your spring vegetables from your abundant kitchen garden or the abundance of your well-stocked local produce section, there’s another, slightly unexpected way to have your seasonal fill of spring vegetables: cocktails. That’s right, thanks to the wiles of some of the Garden State’s most creative mixologists, you can drink your veggies this spring. From carrots and bourbon to peas and tequila to beets and gin (and vodka), New Jersey bartenders are taking delightful, high-ABV liberties with the same tender spring produce your kids refuse at dinnertime.

Here are 8 places to veg out this spring. 

What Grows Together Goes Together at the Kitchen Step

Maybe it’s no surprise mixologist Ray Keane at the Kitchen Step in Jersey City goes culinary in his cocktails—he’s the former pastry chef at the three Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago. But he definitely takes it next level with the wild-yet-elegant What Grows Together Goes Together, with tequila, carrot, spring pea, sage bitters, and garden aroma. For a deluxe second nip, you can always ask Keane to mix up the I Hit Pay Dirt, which digs deeper into the garden patch with olive leaf liqueur and earthy black truffle bitters. The Kitchen Step, 500 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City; 201-721-6115

Dirty Ramp Gibson at the Farm and Fisherman

The only difference between a Martini and a Gibson is the cocktail onion garnish. The difference between a Gibson and this Gibson is a bit more significant. The drink from the team at the Farm and Fisherman Tavern & Market in Cherry Hill is London Dry-style gin, garden vermouth, orange bitters, and, most notably, ramp brine subbing in for that pickled onion (and showcasing yet another use for the adored-but-fleeting seasonal ingredient). The Farm and Fisherman, 1442 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill; 856-356-2282

The Desperado at Barrio Costero

Perhaps the least familiar ingredient here is the Génépy de Alpes, a Swiss Après Ski-style liqueur made with an herb cousin of wormwood (called génépy) that’s described as Chartreuse-ish, aromatic and herbacious. But it’s the tomatillo shrub that caught our eye—the genius of showcasing the fragrant tang of tomatillos in a vinegary shrub. Poblano liqueur and gin add heat and punch to the drink (the one looking innocent in the foreground here). Barrio Costero, 610 Bangs Avenue, Asbury Park; 732-455-5544

The Un’Beet’Able, left, at Agricola. Photo courtesy of Agricola

Un’Beet’Able at Agricola

For it’s Un’Beet’Able cocktail, Agricola uses the trailblazing, slightly mind-boggling non-alcoholic “spirit” Seedlip Garden 108. Uncanny, maybe, but delicious: the brainchild of a Brit with generations of gardening in his soul; the flavors—English pea and hay—are distilled in alcohol, which is ultimately completely removed. The rest of the cocktail is organic beets, agave, cream, and egg white. (Which is to say, it doesn’t drink like you’re missing out.) Agricola, 11 Witherspoon Street, Princeton; 609-921-2798

Who Framed Roger Rabbit at INC

We were secretly hoping for a rabbit reference in a spring veggie drinks list. This entry on the Spring Drinks Menu from the good folks at INC in New Brunswick gets a lot of dimensionality from a few powerful ingredients: bourbon, carrot juice, ginger beer, and a fragrant note from thyme—making for a tall, spicy-savory spritzer with enough Beta Carotene to power your sight should the night last longer than planned. INC, 302 George Street, New Brunswick; 732-640-0553

The Basil Lemon Drop at the Ebbitt Room

What would a vegetable garden be without (way too much) basil? While the rest of us make half-hearted pesto plans, the wise folks at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May figured out how to turn all that green into the fragrant-savory edge of an updated Lemon Drop cocktail. Limoncello, vodka, and fragrant elderflower liqueur add a touch of bright and floral. The Ebbitt Room, 25 Jackson Street, Cape May; 609-884-5700

Three Little Birds at Porta

Some of the flavors of the seasonal Three Little Birds at Porta in Asbury Park are on the lighter side of spring—chamomile lavender tea, honey syrup—but the thyme is the decisive flavor. Another spring herb accent to the vegetable garden, here used to give a savory depth to the vodka-based drink (second from the front), with fresh lemon to lift the final flavor like a ray of sunshine. Porta, 911 Kingsley Street, Asbury Park; 732-776-7661

Beet Me to the Punch at South House in Jersey City

Turns out Agricola’s not the only spot risking beet stains for good drinks. At Jersey City’s multi-southern-tinged South House, the Beet Me to the Punch pits beet juice against Brockman Gin and Figenza Vodka (which is fig-based, but by the time it’s vodka, that’s essentially moot), with a dash of cranberry, lemon juice, and basil. South House, 149 Newark Avenue, Jersey City; 201-209-1316

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A Beer Garden Opens in Downtown Camden


Open:

Camden Arts Yard opened its doors earlier this week, bringing to fruition developer Damon Pennington’s dream of a community beer garden and culture and arts space amidst the bustle of the city’s waterfront. The space—which is also close to the Rutgers campus and the waterfront Camden Aquarium—will offer a selection of beers and drinks and a menu of beer hall-friendly snacks and meals by Food Network chef Aaron McCargo Jr. Part of the space’s unique design, all the food comes out of a shipping container converted into a kitchen (part of the aesthetic of the space, which is a converted parking lot, unifying Camden’s hard-edged industrial identity with the more fluid elements of culture and creativity). Camden Arts Yard, 317 Market Street, Camden; 856-514-1311

—Just because the Black Horse Tavern is New Jersey’s oldest restaurant doesn’t mean the place can’t do a little refreshing. Part of the 40NORTH restaurant group, the Black Horse recently announced the arrival of their new executive chef, 40NORTH alum Daniel Zapulla. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, Zapulla previously worked the kitchens of Piattino, the Office Tavern and Grill, the Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge, and the kitchen of the Cranford Hotel. Zapulla will be introducing some new items and concepts into the menu (think: vegan, fun, modern—e.g. Grilled Asparagus with Vegan Lemon Aioli) without upending the Black Horse’s tradition of farm-fresh comfort fare. Diners are welcome to stop in and check out the new menu for themselves. The Black Horse Tavern, 1 West Main Street, Mendham; 973-543-7300

In the Works:

—The team behind Turf n Surf Burger Grill in Warren is days away from opening a second restaurant, Turf Surf & Earth, in Somerville. As you might have guessed from the “Earth” in the name, the new spot will have more plant-based options for its build-your-own menu (e.g. Impossible Burger, Lentil Mushroom Burger, Tofu), with salad and sandwich options for whatever protein you pick. As of an April 25 Instagram post, the space was looking clean and near ready to go. The original plan was Summer 2018, but after some permit delays—and a shared top prize in Rutgers’ annual business plan competition—they’re slated to open this June. Turf Surf & Earth, 46 East Main Street Somerville; 908-393-7292

Piattino is expanding to Newark. The Italian restaurant already has locations in Summit and Mendham but appears to be hiring all positions for a third location inside of Newark Liberty International Airport that’s slated to open in June. Not much else is known about the expansion at the moment, but it’s safe to assume the new restaurant will do both fast-casual and sit-down service airport restaurants require. Piattino, Newark Liberty International Airport, Terminal A, Newark; no phone yet.

On the Move:

—For reasons as yet unknown, beverage director Chris James has departed from Anthony Bucco’s Felina in Ridgewood. The parting of ways wasn’t contentious, as far as we can tell, but it does leave Bucco and his team in need of beverage leadership (as far as maintaining standards, James had been training staff prior to his departure, so Bucco is confident they won’t miss a beat). James’ next moves are also unknown, although he’s among the state’s top mixology talents (homegrown, to boot, James is a native of Mahwah), so we’ll keep an eye out for where he lands.

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10 New Restaurants at the Jersey Shore


Dining room at Iron Whale in Asbury Park. Photo courtesy of Iron Whale



The Jersey Shore’s restaurant scene is constantly evolving. Here are 10 restaurants that have opened since last season, listed from north to south.

Long Branch

This new craft brewpub, located in a repurposed brick warehouse, is a haven for nano-brews, food, art and music. The rotating menu includes burgers, salads, poutine, clam rolls and—of course—several beers, such as IPAs, pale ales and porters.
15 Second Avenue, Long Branch; 732-963-9218

Photo courtesy of Amici

Asbury Park

 This vintage-style Italian café, opened by Rob Castore and Anthony Russo of Brooklyn, offers good coffee, fresh pastries and handmade gelato. More substantial bites include panini, wraps and salads.
630 Mattison Avenue, Asbury Park; 848-226-3700

Asbury Park 

Set to open any day now, the Iron Whale is a new oceanfront restaurant located on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park. Helmed by chef Michael Dolan, the menu is seafood-forward, with seared scallops, jerk shrimp and Rhode Island calamari, as well as spare ribs, fresh salads and an avocado crab toast. The drinks list includes craft beers, cocktails and oyster shooters.
1200 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park; 732-361-5185

Photo courtesy of Maeberrie Market.

Avon-by-the-Sea

An American bistro serving breakfast and lunch that opened in January, Maeberrie Market offers salads, sandwiches, grain bowls, waffles and more in a quaint setting. Next to the dining room is a boutique shop with flowers, wooden cutting boards, baskets and more.
504 Main Street, Avon-by-the-Sea; 732-807-3279

Shore Pour

Sea Girt 

At this new coffee shop, opened in March, macarons are the focal point. An assorted colorful variety fills the baked goods case. You can also get biscotti, yogurt parfaits, pour-over coffee and espresso drinks.
519 Washington Boulevard, Sea Girt; 732-359-7606

Brielle

The DeRosa family ran the former Luna DeRosa restaurant and Savor Lounge in Seaside Heights. La Mondina, their new restaurant, opened this spring in Brielle. Look for brick-oven pizza, pastas and classic Italian entrées in a rustic setting.
110 Union Avenue, Brielle; 732-612-8331

Photo courtesy of Local Smoke BBQ

Seaside Heights 

Located within Jax Garage, this is the fourth output of Local Smoke BBQ (other locations are in Neptune City, Cookstown and Red Bank). Enjoy smoked chicken wings, fried pickles, jalapeño poppers, salads and all sorts of barbecued meats: ribs, brisket, pulled pork and more.
116 Sumner Avenue, Seaside Heights; 732-375-3090

Barnegat 

Opened on May 1 in the long-awaited Barnegat 67, Pan Asia offers a fitting menu of spring rolls, gyoza, ahi tuna, fried rice, pad Thai and sushi.
770 Lighthouse Drive, Barnegat; 609-622-2286

Anthony’s Ristorante

Sea Isle City

The owner of Anthony’s Ristorante in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania is set to open a satellite location in Sea Isle this summer in a new multi-use building. Expect traditional Italian favorites like seafood diavolo and spaghetti and meatballs.
Landis Avenue and 44th Street, Sea Isle City

Sea Isle City

Chef and restaurateur Lucas Manteca brings his farm-to-table flair to Sea Isle City with Beachwood at the Dunes, located where Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House used to be. You’ll find all sorts of seafood dishes, from New England lobster bakes to South American crudos to British-style fish and chips.
8600 Landis Avenue, Sea Isle City; 609-263-3627

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Celebrate Jersey Wines at the Winemakers Co-Op Spring Portfolio Tasting


Spring Portfolio Tasting at Hawk Haven Winery
Sunday, May 19, 1–5 pm

Hawk Haven is playing host, but there will actually be wines on offer from the five wineries of the Winemakers Co-Op at Sunday’s Spring Portfolio Tasting—over 40 wines total for your Sunday sipping pleasure. Not only will the five wineries present some of their favorite of the spring portfolio, but a winemaker from each winery will present their favorite wine in the new 45-minute “Winemaker’s Showcase” installment. Also new this year, special guest and influential wine consultant Clark Smith will give two wine education presentations. VIP tickets are $70, get you in an hour early, tastes of reserve wines, and a special presentation from the Co-op. Regular admission is $39, $10 for children. Food and music will round out the afternoon. Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery, 600 South Railroad Avenue, Rio Grande; 609-846-7347

A Taste of Little Silver
Saturday May 18, 2–7 pm

Put on by the Little Silver Charitable Foundation, A Taste of Little Silver is returning this Saturday for its third year in a row. Kind of like a block party for the whole town, it’s taking over a section of Markham Place, with local restaurants lining the street to showcase some specially made bites for the day. There’s no admission fee, but restaurants and businesses might charge depending on what’s on offer. Alcohol, FYI, isn’t on tap for the afternoon’s festivities. Markham Place, Little Silver; 908-675-7646

The Beer BBQ Bacon Showdown
Saturday May 18, 1–5 pm

As much a New Jersey craft beer lover’s event as a food event, Saturday’s “showdown” gathers 30 Garden State breweries and an arsenal of local food and barbecue vendors on Doe Meadow Field in Lewis Morris Park. Each brewery will bring three beers, including one beer that’s either rare or brewed specifically for the day. Food vendors include places like El Lechon Negron, Bearded Pigs BBQ, Ma & Pa’s Tex Mex, and Glazed and Confused (they do doughnuts, FYI). Ticket prices don’t include the cost of food, FYI, but they do include beer samples. VIP tickets are $100 (vs. $70 for General Admission), get you in an hour early, and grant access to brewers, pitmasters, and first tastes of special suds. Lewis Morris Park, 270 Mendham Road, Morristown

Gin Cocktail Class at The Winston
Tuesday, May 21, 7:30–9 pm

The Winston’s cocktail classes tend to sell out quickly, so if you’re a gin lover, or just looking to sharpen your shaken-not-stirred skills, act soon. (If you miss this one, they tend to have a lot, updated regularly on their Instagram.) At Tuesday night’s class you will learn all about Alibi Gin and spring cocktails from none other than The Winston’s Beverage Director and Head Mixologist Hector Noel. Tickets, as long as they last, are $35 and include some light sipping and snacks. The Winston, 72 Hudson Street, Hoboken; 201-683-6188

Lunch & Learn with Wolfgang Puck’s Executive Chef at the Borgata
Saturday, May 25, 11:30 am

Aram Mardigian is the Executive Chef of Wolfgang Puck’s American Grille at the Borgata, and this Saturday he’s hosting a special three-course prix fixe lunch where he’ll share some of his own seasonal recipes with guests while you dine. The timing’s perfect if you consider Memorial Day Weekend a kick-off to summer—Mardigian’s menu includes things like Chilled White Corn Vichyssoise with Marinated Littleneck Clams and Meyer Lemon Tarts (all three courses come with wine). Tickets are $65 per person, including tax and tip. Wolfgang Puck’s American Grille, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City; 609-317-1000

Anthony Bourdain Memorial Dinner at Denim American Bistro
Tuesday June 25, 6:30pm

Details are scant so far—it’s a ways away—but keep an eye out for more specifics from Denim American Bistro on its Anthony Bourdain Memorial Dinner on June 25th (the late chef’s birthday). What we do know: the dinner will be five courses with all recipes taken from Bourdain’s Les Halles and Appetites cookbooks, and each course will come with a wine pairing. Tickets are $75 per person, before tax and tip. Call the restaurant for more information. Denim American Bistro, 312 Kresson Road, Cherry Hill; 856-520-8114

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“The Superfood Alchemy Cookbook” Offers a New Approach to Wellness


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Iserloh



Hoboken-based chef, health coach, yoga teacher, and self-professed “Self-Help Junkie,” Jennifer Iserloh had an uncommon career path: she started working in New York City fine dining, hop-scotched to private cheffing for some high-gloss clients, and found her way to health-focused cooking as the Skinny Chef. And with the recent publication of her latest (ahem, 23rd) cookbook Superfood Alchemy, Iserloh wants to feed everything: mind, body and spirit.

We caught up with the busy chef—who isn’t vegetarian but does love yoga—to see what we can expect from her latest cookbook and ever-evolving brand.

Table Hopping: You’re based out of Hoboken. Are you from New Jersey?
Jennifer Iserloh: I’m originally from Pittsburgh, but I kind of consider myself a Jersey girl now, I’ve been here so long. I moved to New York City in 1998 and moved to New Jersey in 2000. I’ve been in Hoboken since 2003.

TH: With your new book, you’re taking a deeper dive into wellness territory. But what’s your culinary background?
JI: I went to culinary school at Institute for Culinary Education. Before I graduated, I started working in restaurant kitchens, a lot of fine dining establishments in New York City. It was quite a ride. I worked at Blue Hill and some very famous farm-to-table-style restaurants. I learned amazing skills from the chefs there.

TH: You also worked as a private chef for some unique clients?
JI: I worked for a famous photographer, Annie Leibovitz. I didn’t know who she was when I went to interview! I worked for her for a year and a half, then I ended up working for another couple, a Jewish man and a Punjabi woman. Talking about Pittsburgh one day, we realized she was the sister-in-law of one of my best friends from college! I did that for a year. Then I was out of work for a little and I had this amazing dream about my dream job. I told my husband “In two weeks, I’ll have my dream job.” Sure enough, I put my resume in a placement service and got a job working for the Seinfelds. I went out to the Hamptons and Jerry said “What are you gonna cook?” I said, “I’m gonna make chicken parm,” comfort foods. He said “Oh my god, that’s my favorite dish!” Really, every single family wanted the kind of food I grew up cooking.

TH: You’ve done New York fine dining and chicken parm for Jerry Seinfeld. How did your “Skinny Chef” brand come out of that?
JI: Skinny Chef is actually based on the work I did as a private chef—healthy comfort food. Most of my family members died from morbid obesity. We loved food, but we loved it too much. Making that transition to Skinny Chef was me getting my health under control.

TH: And writing was a part of the brand?
JI: When I retired from private cheffing, I was writing a lot for places like SELF Magazine and doing some TV. In 2005, I started doing more writing. Every year I do about three cookbooks. Except this year—this [last] year was only Superfood Alchemy.

TH: Superfood Alchemy is more than a cookbook. You have essential oil recipes, instructions for meditations. How did it come about?
JI: I’ve been working on it for five years. It’s actually the culmination of all my experience, plus my yoga background. All the publications I’ve written for have been in the health sector, but I got interested specifically in medicine and food. Now I work in integrated and functional medicine—way more specialized in terms of understanding the food-mind-body practice. I went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and got my Health Coaching degree. It’s a deeper application of food as medicine. I had to learn the science behind different eating systems.

TH: The term “superfood” is familiar by now, but what does “Alchemy” mean?
JI: It’s similar to yoga [in that it] deals with energy centers called “chakras.” Alchemy gives you instructions on how to deal with those centers. But alchemy teaches one thing different from yoga—it teaches how to combine things. When you “alchemize” something, you’re combining it in a way that one-plus-one equals one thousand. For instance, turmeric; your body doesn’t absorb it well. But we discovered through science that if you add fat, black pepper, and a heat source, it absorbs a thousand times better. The cookbook gives you formulas for every area. It has essential oils to calm emotions, meditations to calm the mind, and recipes for those [chakra] centers.

TH: Can you give an example of an ingredient or recipe for a particular chakra?
JI: Dealing with something like the heart, for example, cruciferous vegetables are great for the heart. Cauliflower, kale, broccoli. Emotionally, too, if you have any grudges, or heartbreak, you can remedy that; meditation can feel like the essence of self-love. The Sacral chakra is where your sex organs are, so [I use] some juicy foods. For instance, there’s a Watermelon Hot Chili Shot recipe in there. It’s also about being very sensual. There’s a mindset involved. Alchemy is working those three pieces—body, emotion, mindset. True healing only happens when it happens on all three levels.

TH: Would you say the recipes have any particular culinary approach, any particular region or flavors?
JI: I use every flavor. After 23 books, it’s global. But it is very farm-to-table because the whole book is based on vegetables.

TH: Does that mean the “alchemy” approach won’t work for carnivores?
JI: Not at all. It’s just that nobody has trouble getting red meat into their diet! Personally, I’m not vegan, but I wanted the book to be a healing book. In the beginning, I teach ways you can integrate animal proteins. But I wanted to teach readers how to make vegetables, and how to make them taste good.

TH: Any plans to get back into a restaurant?
JI: I never thought I’d come this far. It’s been a long trek. We’re talking 13 years! And I came to realize after working in restaurants, too, that that kind of work just tears the body down. You can only do it for so long. I have a health coaching practice now, and I work with a lot of doctors and healers. I kind of see myself as the Doctor’s Chef now.

TH: So over your career you went from “Chef” to “Skinny Chef” to “The Doctor’s Chef”?
JI: My new brand is actually Body and Soul Alchemy, my health coaching practice. I want to teach people more about the mind-body connection and bring that into food.

Superfood Alchemy is available on Amazon.com. You can contact her and get recipes, health and nutrition tips at Body & Soul Alchemy.

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Boomerang Bites Brings Iconic Australian Desserts Stateside


Photo courtesy of Boomerang Bites.



It’s been a year since Andrea Rivzi created Boomerang Bites, bringing a sweet piece of her native Australia stateside. Rivzi’s bites are a take on the classic Australian ‘slice,’ a traditional layered, tray-baked dessert served at backyard barbecues and family potlucks down under, and the Queensland native’s version has been gaining traction (and devoted fans) in coffee shops in New Jersey and Manhattan.

Rivzi, or Dr. Rivzi—per her PhD. from Columbia in international development—has lived in Hoboken for close to two decades, but spent much of this time working toward her doctorate and traveling to South America and Southeast Asia for the World Bank, where she helped implement infrastructure in developing countries. Wanting to spend more time with with her husband and four sons, aged 10 to 17, she looked for a career change. And when she was home in Hudson County and looking to relax or catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee, she noticed a lack of interesting, fresh treats available in cafes that weren’t overly large or filled with preservatives.

So she downsized her homemade slices, a favorite of friends in their Hoboken community, into bite-sized portions, tested recipes for six months and began taking her creations around to local coffee shops. Rivzi hasn’t fully left her previous work behind, though—a focus on social impact is central to Boomerang Bites’ philosophy.

Read on to learn more about slices, Australian coffee culture and why Rivzi thinks more food businesses need to make giving back a central part of their mission.

Andrea Rivzi. Photo by Kim Lorraine Photography

TH: For those unfamiliar, what is a slice?
AR: Slices are essentially tray bake cookies, similar to blondies and brownies, but some have up to three layers. Typical flavors and ingredients are dates, oats, chocolate, caramel, raspberry, and a lot of coconut, which is used really widely in cooking and baking in Australia. Slices are so quintessentially Australian, everyone has their favorite and there are such great, flavorful, interesting variations. You can get basic flavors, such as the chocolate caramel, at coffee shops, but they’re more what people bring to family potlucks, with recipes passed from generation to generation.

TH: How are Boomerang Bites different than slices?
AR: When I started out, there were three things I wanted Boomerang Bites to be: to have that Australian home-baked goodness about them, to be smaller than a typical slice and to be made with no preservatives or additives. They’re an indulgence, but they’re portion controlled, natural, artisanal and handmade—for when you come to a cafe at three o’clock wanting some sugar, but not a lot of it. I believe you should enjoy in moderation, have something sweet that’s got sugar and butter and enjoy it, without having too much of it. I don’t think there’s enough of that on the market.

TH: You had a long career in international development. Why turn to baking? What’s the connection there?
AR: I knew Boomerang Bites had to have a social mission. So at least 20 percent of our profits go back to charities. Sometimes I’ll align with national campaigns, but mostly it’s local causes, or I’ll work with a cafe if they have a particular cause they support. In February, I worked with a school teacher in Hoboken to buy books for students at a low-income public school, and before that it was the refurbishment of the YMCA in Hoboken. I really believe that more businesses need to get with the program and give back and that’s how we can start solving some problems in the world. So when I was coming up with a name, we were thinking that boomerangs are very Australian, and the phrase ‘send out goodness and it comes right back’ just came to me.

TH: How do you develop your flavors?
AR: Initially I just went out to family and friends and said ‘send me your best slice recipes.’ I knew I had to have the classic chocolate caramel and I needed a raspberry coconut, which my auntie used to bring to every family event—that recipe I had to pry out of my cousin. I also wanted to have a slice based on the Anzac biscuit, a cookie with oats and golden syrup, that’s another classic in Australia. It was developed during WWI by mums because it could withstand six months before getting to soldiers on the front line.

It takes months to get each recipe right, it’s a lot of trial and error, working and working [out of rented space in Hoboken pastry chef Jennifer Choi’s Sugarsuckle Baking Studio] even just to get them to a consistent height. I also get very particular about ingredients. For my new passion fruit flavor, which is my current favorite, I ended up finding a supplier who gets passionfruit pulp from Florida. And I taste every batch. I’m definitely over-sugared.

The original four were the Anzac-inspired golden oat, the date caramel, the chocolate caramel and the raspberry coconut. Since then, I’ve added the chocolate hedgehog, with homemade nilla wafers that get all crunched up, coconut, nuts and condensed milk; the passionfruit, which has a burst of fresh lemon; and the salted chocolate caramel. I’m also working on a gluten-free slice with apricot and hazelnut and a vegan bite with chocolate, cherry and coconut. My boys, who help me make deliveries, love the simplest flavor, the golden oat, best (though chocolate hedgehog is increasingly popular)—we always have a jar with crusts in the house.

Photo courtesy of Boomerang Bites.

TH: Australian coffee culture and cafes are booming in major cities across the U.S. Why do you think that is? How does Boomerang Bites fit into that?
AR: It’s really interesting to me. The food scene is really cutting edge in Australia these days, it’s developed identity of its own as clean and wholesome, but bringing in flavors from Asia. Our history in Australia is very multicultural, and a lot of Italians, Turks and Greeks who came over in the 60s and 70s brought great coffee with them. Now, New Yorkers and Americans are going for more clean, homemade consciousness about the way they eat and taking time to eat, rather than eating on the go.

I grew Boomerang Bites organically by first going to cafes in Hoboken, and then following the cafe scene and getting Boomerang Bites to store owners as coffee shops open. At Australian cafes, like Maggie’s Farm Espresso in Jersey City and Gold Roast Cafe in Hoboken, I didn’t have to explain slices, since it fits into their whole genre of food. But every cafe has their mix of flavors that sells best.

TH: What’s next for Boomerang Bites?
AR: I’ve grown the business organically by starting small, but as we keep expanding and getting requests, I want to start shipping domestically [Currently, locals can purchase gift boxes online—a box of a dozen costs $20—and Rivzi caters events] as well as expand the number of cafes. I’ve had my product go with people to other places, as far as Los Angeles, and have gotten interest, so I want to start expanding my reach.

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Naan, Dosas and Beyond at Amma’s South Indian Cuisine


Ghee roast dosa. Photo by Shelby Vittek

When we sat down to a late dinner on a Thursday night at Amma’s Indian Cuisine in Voorhees, we weren’t expecting to find the strip mall restaurant packed at 8:30 pm. But crowds still lingered over the many dishes at their tables, and the restaurant boomed with lively chatter—a sign of a good meal ahead.

Opened in 2016 by Chennai native Sathish Varadhan and his friend and co-chef Bala Krishnan, Amma’s South Indian Cuisine is a tribute to mothers. The restaurant was inspired by the South Indian cooking they each grew up eating. They even named the restaurant Amma, the Tamil word for “mother.” A second location in Philadelphia’s Center City opened earlier this year.

You don’t want to dine at Amma’s without ordering a dosa, of which there are many. We started with the ghee roast dosa, a thin, crisp, buttery crepe that you use to scoop up the mashed potatoes spiced with turmeric and masala. The paneer masala dosa and mysore masala dosa are also popular.

Other appetizers include bondas (fried dumplings) and other South Indian street food. We tried the mysore bonda, a fluffy fried round made with rice, lentils, fresh coconut and other spices that’s served alongside housemade chutneys. The Cauliflower “65”, a dish created in Chennai in 1965 that was rumored to contain 65 spices, was crispy and aromatic with turmeric, coriander and cumin, and is also available with chicken. And we devoured the chicken pepper varuval, a deceptively simple pepper chicken fry enriched with fresh herbs like crushed black pepper and curry leaves, and stewed in tomatoes onions and herbs.

Cauliflower “65”

Mysore bonda

Chicken pepper varuval

Above left: lamb chettinad. Below right: ennai (baby eggplant) kathrikai kuzhambu.

Most entrees are priced between $10-$15, with the most expensive one topping out at $16.95. The portions are generous, the flavors substantial. There’s a current of bold flavors and fiery heat—the smoky and rich kind—than runs through the food at Amma’s, especially in dishes like the lamb chettinad, a tender stew rich with 22 different herbs and spices, including star anise, turmeric and bay. For the ennai (baby eggplant) kathrikai kuzhambu, whole baby eggplants are split and bloom in a tangy tomato and tamarind sauce. There’s also several biryani options (vegetables, chicken, goat or lamb) and idli, steamed rice cakes made with a batter of fermented black lentil and rice.

And even with that, we barely touched all that Amma’s has to offer. The menu is comprehensive, yet well organized and approachable. I can’t wait to return to what I believe to be one of South Jersey’s best Indian restaurants.

Amma’s South Indian Restaurant, 700 Eagle Plaza #36, Voorhees; 856-784-1100. Open for lunch and dinner, daily.

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Indian Restaurant Benares Opens in Wyckoff


Openings:

—After years of success in Tribeca, restaurateur Inder Singh is bringing Benares across the Hudson to Bergen County. The new Benares is located in the Boulder Run shopping center in Wyckoff (in the former home of Indian restaurant Saffron). Like its Manhattan forebear, this Benares will showcase the vegetarian specialties of Utter Pradesh (the western Indian state where the city of Benares is located). But the menu won’t stop with regional hits—chef Mangal Singh is overseeing a menu chock full of modern and traditional takes on tandoori, meat, seafood, rice dishes and more. Benares, 2051, 327 Franklin Avenue, Wyckoff; 201-904-2222

—After a few weeks of serious renovation, Reyla is reopening to the public this Thursday, May 9. “We always wanted an open kitchen at Reyla,” says Pat Pipi of Culture Collective, the hospitality group behind Barrio Costero and Reyla and a forthcoming project (see below). Time constraints and construction issues meant it wasn’t possible when they first opened Reyla, but “now that time has passed, we wanted to create that original vision,” says Pipi. (For a sneak peek, see a recent Instagram post of the near-finished kitchen.) “The idea behind Reyla is coming into somebody’s home; it’s inviting, there are no walls between the people and the food and the guests, similar to what we have at Barrio Costero.” Beyond that sense of openness, the newly renovated space will have a 12-seat chef’s counter, and the interior itself will be slightly changed. “Some of the walls came down, and we’re adding more seats, booth seats, to keep the refined-yet-casual feel.” As a finishing touch, local Asbury Park muralist Porkchop is doing the front vestibule. (He’s done work for Culture Collective at Barrio Costero as well.) Once Reyla reopens, they’ll continue their shared plates menu and the Four Bites concept, but the chef’s counter marks a significant shift, allowing for “more culinary experiences, classes, different chef’s tastings,” says Pipi. This Thursday, the restaurant will be opening with a late spring/early summer menu and a new cocktail list. Reyla, 603 Mattison Avenue, Asbury Park; 732-455-8333

—Just in time for the unofficial start of summer, a new night spot is rolling into the Ocean Casino in Atlantic City on Memorial Day Weekend. There’s no name attached to it yet, but a 1920s speakeasy-style concept is set to debut in the space currently occupied by Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub. Royal Jelly will continue providing entertainment on weekends until the new concept debuts. Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub, 500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City; 609-225-4458

In the Works:

–Culture Collective has another, sort-of-attached concept opening later, closer to early summer, though incidentally located directly below Reyla. The new space will be a 40-person cocktail lounge, “kind of like an evolving cocktail party,” says Culture Collective’s Pat Pipi. The lounge will have a 10-person bar with “casual sitting areas where the guests will be served by bartenders rather than going up to the bar and waiting.” The bar concept is even more unique: Pipi describes it as “almost like a concert schedule, consistently changing—the bartenders, the ingredients they’re using.” Not that the menu will be in constant flux: “There will be static lists, 60 to 70 percent of the drinks will be the same all the time,” he says, and the rest of the menu will change with periodically cycling bartenders from Barrio Costero and Reyla (Culture Collective’s beverage director Jamie Dodge and Pipi himself will kick things off.) Despite being in a basement, Pipi assures us the new spot is “not going to be a cliched speakeasy. We’re avoiding speakeasy at all costs.” And the interior will look less Prohibition-era and more concert-venue: “The aesthetics are similar to if you were in a music studio. It’s going have some really interesting textures to it. There will be a bit of food on offer—“an elevated snack list”—says Pipi, who expects the spot to open this summer.

—The founder of Mack’s Pizza in Wildwood recently passed away. Joe Mack, 91, opened the spot with his father Anthony Mackrone and brother Duke in 1953. The restaurant quickly became a beloved mainstay of the Wildwood Boardwalk and Joe Mack became a kind of boardwalk icon in his own right. The restaurant announced Mack’s passing with a Facebook post on May 1.

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It’s Truffle Season at Spuntino Wine Bar


Wild Mushroom and Black Truffle Ravioli. Photo courtesy Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas



Seasonal Spring Truffle Festival
May 1-31

Spuntino Wine Bar and Italian Tapas is hosting a month-long truffle festival at its Clifton location, where they’ll be showcasing truffles—black “summer truffles” (the season begins in May)—with a five-course tasting menu and optional wine pairings, available every night in May (including Mother’s Day). Dishes include Truffled Cheddar Bruschetta with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Crescent Farms Duck Breast with Sage Gremolata and Shaved Truffles, even a Graham Cracker Ricotta Tart with Roasted Figs and Truffle Honey. The dinner is $65 per person, $90 with wine pairings. Spuntino Wine Bar, 70 Kingsland Road, Clifton; 973-661-2435

New Jersey Wines Culinary Series: A Toute Heure
Thursday, May 23, 6–9 pm

This is the second in a just-launched series of wine tasting and wine pairing events from the Garden State Wine Growers Association, the idea being to match top culinary and vintner talent (and enjoy as ensuing magic happens). The first event was an April pairing dinner with Drew’s Bayshore Bistro and Working Dog Winery. This month, chef AJ Capella of A Tout Heure in Cranford will host Unionville Vineyard’s Conor Quilty for a six-course pairing dinner. The menu ranges from various Canapes served with a 2018 Riesling pét-nat (Pétillant Naturel, the “methode ancestrale” of sparkling wine ) to Scallops with Pepperonata, Sunflower, and Ocean Wash paired with a 2017 Hunterdon Mistral Blanc and Lamb with Carrot-Bone Marrow Puree with Unionville’s 2015 Big O Bordeaux-style blend. Tickets are $120. A Toute Heure, 232 Centennial Avenue, Cranford; 908-276-6600

Dogfish Head Tap Takeover at Element in Manahawkin
Thursday, May 9, 6 pm

Dogfish Head Brewery is taking a quick ferry ride and zipping up the Garden State Parkway on Thursday night for a tap takeover of Element Restaurant & Bar in Manahawkin. Even non-beer drinkers will have something to sample: not only is the maverick brewery bringing some of its favorite suds (SuperEIGHT, Dragons & YumYums, the Grateful Dead-inspired American Beauty, 60 Minute IPA), they’ll serve up a few funky cocktails using vodka, gin, and rum from their distillery (their spirits are newly available in Jersey). Element, meanwhile, will keep the steakhouse menu churning so you can fortify your stomach or pair with some of the flavors at play (e.g. the fleshy fruit and Himalayan Pink Sea Salt of the SuperEIGHT or the tropical, dragon- and passionfruit-infused, bracingly bitter Dragon & YumYums). Element Restaurant & Bar, 635 Route 72 West, Manahawkin; 609-488-2172

Wine, Dine, & Denim at The Preakness Hills Country Club
Friday, May 10, 6–10 pm

Less of a food event and more (much more) of a wine event, “Wine, Dine & Denim” features no fewer than 300 wines from all over the globe. A high-cost night (General Admission is $175), but worth the ticket price if you factor in all the wines on hand and the fact that the night’s proceeds go to the Chilton Medical Center in Pompton Plains. There are special VIP hours from 6-7 pm with expert-guided wine and food pairing for just 76 guests and expert-guided vodka and food pairing for only 50 (those tickets, if you can snag one, are $250). Don’t worry if you can only make General Admission—the Wine, Dine, & Denim night will actually include beverages like single malt scotch, Cognac, whiskies, and craft beers for sampling, as well as passed hors d’oeuvres and international food stations for between-sip-refueling. Register for tickets here and, yes, wear denim. Preakness Hills Country Club, 1050 Ratzer Road, Wayne; 973-831-5165

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