For the US 1 2015 Spring Dining Issue I asked owners of independent eateries across the Princeton area why they chose to go the fast-casual route.
Elijah’s Promise’s Latest Project Spotlights Jersey’s Farms & Food Entrepreneurs
I paid a visit to the newly opened Better World Market & Cafe in Somerset, expecting to find lots of farm-fresh Jersey produce in an indoor setting, with proceeds going to the good works of this New Brunswick-based non-profit. I found that – plus many excellent surprises. My report, here at NJMonthly.com.
It’s Gluten-free, but is it Pizza?
Wildflour, the popular gluten-free bakery and café in the village of Lawrenceville, recently held evening hours to showcase its latest offering: gluten-free pizzas. Normally, owner Marilyn Besner’s charming spot is open for breakfast, lunch, and takeaway, closing at 5 pm on weekdays and 3 pm weekends.
But the cafe stayed open until 8 pm one night a few weeks back, and I and my food-writer pal Faith (NJSpice) Bahadurian were among the invited guests that stopped by to sample both this Margherita (basil, mozzarella, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, a hit of oregano):
And this vegetable version (eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, red onion, creamy ricotta, schmear of that same tomato sauce):
The quality of the toppings is impeccable – which made me wish there were a tad more of them on the Margherita.
As you can see, the crust is quite thick – more akin to focaccia than pizza dough. The interior is, I’m happy to report, the polar opposite of many gluten-free breads: it’s tender, has a light, pleasantly springy texture, and boasts subtle flavor.
If, like me, you prefer crisp thin-crust pizza, Wildflour’s gluten-free flatbread topped with shiitake “bacon” is hard to beat. This, in fact, was our favorite bite.
The pizzas, which are available to eat-in or take-away, sell for $8 for 2 slices or $30 for a whole pie. (Phone ahead for availability.) A half-sheet of the plain, unadorned focaccia – always available for takeout – is $11.80 and makes a great base for adding your own toppings at home. Ditto for the crisp flatbread base: a bag of half a dozen of the cooked but unembellished rounds sells for $11.70.
Besner hopes to hold evening pizza parties once a month; check the Wildflour website for details. Down the line, she may add pasta nights, too.
You Could be Forgiven for Thinking You’re in Napa
I have always loved the setting of Hopewell Valley Vineyards, but never has the expansive view of the vines and the surrounding Delaware Valley countryside reminded me more of Northern California than it does this summer – now that we’re actually experiencing Napa’s balmy weather.
I took in the view on a recent Sunday afternoon as I and some friends made our way inside the winery for its weekly Jazzy Sunday. Specifically, to hear the Carol Heffler Trio, which did not disappoint.
Along with the music, we enjoyed the winery’s Barbera, and shared its cheese & salumi plate.
I always enjoy this wine ($17), but the cheese plate was merely OK. It can’t hold a candle to the winery’s own brick-oven pizza that’s served on Friday nights – evenings that also feature live music in several genres, including classic rock, acoustic pop & rock, and classic jazz. (Owner Sergio Neri, an accomplished pianist, has been known to take a turn.)
Details about tastings and events at www.hopewellvalleyvineyards.com.
Grounds For Sculpture‘s Southern Chef is Cooking up a Mess o’ Crawfish
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton has started to offer more populist (in a good way) activities – artistic, cultural, performing, and culinary. If you haven’t been there in a while you should check out the complete calendar of activities here.
Of course, I’m always most tuned into the culinary end of things, so I am particularly excited about the Bayou Crawfish Boil being mounted by executive chef Shane Cash – a distant relation of Johnny Cash – on Friday, July 12. There are 2 seatings, at 6 & 8:15 pm, on the terrace outside Rat’s Restaurant. Fresh Louisiana crawfish, BBQ, shrimp ‘n grits, gumbo, & lots more. Plus beers and moonshine cocktails and music by Sidewalk Zydeco. Food: $59. For info & reservations, click here.
Gluten-free Recipes from Wildflour in Lawrenceville
I posted about Marilyn Besner’s new cafe/bakery here a few weeks ago. More about it is in my story in the July 5th edition of The Princeton Packet, as well as the following recipes from Marilyn and her baker Matt Andresen for coconut macaroons, quinoa tabbouleh, and a delicious green smoothie.
WILDFLOUR’S COCONUT MACAROONS
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon potato starch
12 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of salt
WILDFLOUR’S QUINOA TABOULLEH
3 cups quinoa
1 bunch scallions
1 English cucumber or Persian cucumber
1 bunch parsley
For the dressing:
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sumac (see note)
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: Sumac is a dark-red, dried and ground spice with a tart, lemony flavor. It can be found at Middle Eastern markets and at Savory Spice shop in Princeton.
WILDFLOUR’S GREEN SMOOTHIE
For the green juice:
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
2 apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 cucumber, unpeeled and cut into chunks
1 lime, peeled
1/4 cup almond milk
Ice (about 1 cup)
Honey or agave syrup
Just in time for Jersey Tomato Season: 2 Outstanding Panzanellas
Back in 2004, chef/owner Jim Weaver of Tre Piani won the NJ Seafood Challenge with his Seafood Panzanella, adding Jersey seafood to the traditional Italian tomato-bread-olive oil salad. It’s as good now as it was then. Here’s the recipe (and photo, below) immortalized on the Department of Agriculture’s website.
Another ingenious take on panzanella recently came into my inbox by way of North Jersey chef Jesse Jones. Replacing Italian bread with cornbread and using apple cider vinaigrette is pure genius in my book. Here’s the recipe:
CHEF JESSE’S SOUTHERN INSPIRED PANZANELLA
For the cornbread:
1-1/3 cup pastry flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup corn flour
2/3 cup sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the salad:
Prepared cornbread (above)
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/2- inch thick
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 pound baby kale, washed and dried
3 tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped, if large
Salt & pepper to taste
For the apple cider vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon, finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
Lots to report. Dine gluten-free (plus vegetarian) in Lawrenceville and on Simply Grazin’ organic meats in Hillsborough. My radio encounter with Vetri and his lifelong stutter. Participate, please: March against Monsanto, cheffy benefit for one of my favorite NJ nonprofits, first ever Montclair food & wine fest.
The space that had been the Lawrenceville Inn has morphed into an artisan bakery and daytime cafe featuring made-to-order savory and sweet crepes, breads and pastries – all gluten-free. The cafe menu (you’ll need to click to enlarge) also offers housemade soups, salads, and smoothies (also gluten-free and vegetarian).
The gal behind Wildflour is Marilyn Besner, shown here holding one of her exceptional coffee cakes. Princeton-area foodies known her from Moonlight Bakers, her previous strudel-making venture. Besner used her training at The and French Culinary Institute to develop her own blends of flours, using everything from amaranth to quinoa, which result in exceptionally light textures, even for cream puffs and pastry for fruit tarts.
On my first visit to Wildflour I couldn’t resist ordering two crepes. I started with a buckwheat crepe filled with sautéed spring greens (kale was one) and caramelized onions with goat cheese crumbled on top and red pepper muhammara on the side ($7.95). Big, hearty, and flavorful. If buckwheat is not to your taste, the alternative is a rice-lentil batter. For my dessert crepe I chose the “plain” batter, made from Marilyn’s own blend of rice, millet, and other flours, the result of which is a light, tasty, tender wrapper. Housemade lemon curd and ricotta was my chosen filler and even though 2 full-size crepes are really too much for one sitting, I gobbled it down. Below is my companion’s equally spectacular choice: Nutella with bent spoon ice cream on the side.
Wildflour Bakery/Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch. Birthday cakes and full-size pies and tarts are available by special order.
UPDATE, AUGUST 2013: MALLERY’S EATERY IS CLOSED INDEFINITELY
Fans of Mark & Lynne Faille’s organically raised meats from their Simply Grazin’ Farm and Mallery’s Grazin’ Meats butcher shop – both in Skillman – have added a butcher shop/cafe in Hillsborough called Mallery’s Eatery. Executive chef is none other than Eric Martin, the opening and long-time chef at Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture.
The lunch and take-out menu includes soups like his organic chicken orzo ($7); salads such as one of beets, granny smith apples, goat cheese, and arugula ($8); cold and hot sandwiches; panini; and “plates” of spaghetti and meatballs ($10) and meatloaf ($13). On a recent visit I was particularly impressed with this organic turkey chili (beef is also available) served with fresh corn tortillas and all the trimmings ($9.99):
Mallery’s Eatery is open for breakfast and lunch, tucked away deep in the recesses of the Kingsbridge Shopping Center on South Branch Road.
Marc Vetri, Stuttering, and Me
Did you catch this touching HuffPost piece by Marc Vetri about life as a stutterer? It resonated with me partially because back in 2005, after being wowed by a fabulous meal at his namesake Philly restaurant, I emailed him asking if he would be a phone-in guest on my live, Saturday morning radio talk show. It was only after he accepted that I learned he was a stutterer. I was impressed once again with the man – he wasn’t going to let that stop him. The interview went well and got a good response. I have to admit it was stressful on my end – it was hard not to jump in when he was struggling to get a word out – but it was a lesson in restraint well worth learning.
Chef’s Night @ Palace at Somerset Park
New Brunswick-based nonprofit Elijah’s Promise (motto: “Food Changes Lives”) does so many important things so well it takes my breath away: soup kitchen, pay-what-you-can eatery, CSA, community garden, more social services than I can name. But one that’s particularly close to my heart is Promise Culinary School, an intensive, state-accredited program that prepares low-income adults to work in the dining industry.
Chef’s Night, the school’s biggest fundraiser, with 35-plus restaurants participating, will take place on Monday, June 3rd from 6 to 9 pm at the rather grand Palace at Somerset Park. For menu, details, and tickets, click here.
I’m not often political in this space but…
I am so distressed by the so-called Monsanto Protection Act that I’m breaking my unspoken rule. A worldwide March Against Monsanto has been called for Saturday, May 25th. Check out the list of participating continents, countries, states, and cities here. The official March against Monsanto Facebook page has so amassed more than 81,000 likes.
– Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.
– In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.
– Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
– For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.