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Archive for the ‘New Jersey’ Category

John and I have decided to just forget about “Pizza Month” which we began way back in October. The idea that we could limit our intake and subsequent discussion of pizza – a food that we are both clearly obsessed with – to just one month was downright silly and bad judgment on our parts. Our apologies. Going forward, we are going to frequently feature pizza – both the making of it and our maniacal running-around-various-cities to taste it. You can count on us.

Next up on the tasting end of things is Dozzino, a brand-spanking new (as of November 2010) artisanal pizza joint in the ‘Boken. To use some lingo I picked up in California, we were pretty stoked about the arrival of this place in Hoboken. Before, the only solid (in our humble opinions) pizza to be had in Hoboken was Grimaldi’s, of Brooklyn fame. Now we have our very own. We were all a-tingle.

“Dozzino” in Italian means “dozen.” The dozen refers to the amount of ingredients that goes into their pizzas: flour, water, salt, yeast, air, sea salt, tomatoes, fior di latte, extra virgin olive oil, basil, fire, love.

Dozzino is not your typical slice shop, nor does it purport to be. The pizzas can best be described as a combination of Neopolitan and Roman. They are personal in size with that doughy, charred crust characteristic of Neopolitan pies, but much less floppy and soupy in the center of the pie, which gives it a Roman flair. Typical of both areas, the ingredients (and this applies to the toppings as well) are fresh and simple. Pizza is not a complicated food, nor should it be. Keep it simple, stupid.

John and I strolled over to its 6th and Adams location one Saturday night to sample the fare. Upon entering, we were greeted with a well-designed and thoughtful atmosphere. The bar at the back of the front room has a chalkboard wall listing the daily specials in colored chalk. The shiny, chrome espresso maker hangs out back there as well, with a Santa Clause (it was the holidays) Mr. Potato Head keeping close watch over the espresso beans.

The natural wood, farmhouse-style tables have ample room for spreading out your various pizzas, crostini and salads, and the white-washed chairs and walls offer a nice contrast to the wood and chalkboard wall. They have a larger, back room and even a patio with a bocce court.

Since Dozzino is BYO, John skips on over to a local liquor store for a bottle of the Beringer Chenin Blanc shown in the first photo. John insists that I used to make The Box buy this for me with some frequency. I honestly don’t recall this at all (maybe because I’ve drunk too much of it?), but at $8.99, you can’t afford not to. We settle in with our sweet, grape-juice wine and order SPESTO!

“Spesto” is a Dozzino speciaty: a pesto made with spinach and walnuts, instead of the usual basil and pine nuts, and served on crostini of housemade bread. The housemade bread is excellent, and perfectly toasted. It is generously loaded with spesto, which is lucky because we really approve of this pesto modification. Chunky walnuts and mild spinach get a boost from an infusion of chopped garlic and drizzle of olive oil. We cleaned our plate.

After John sends me to the restroom (pics later!) to remove the spinach from my teeth, we receive our two ordered pies: the “La Pizza” and the “Diavola”. The La Pizza is topped with fior di latte, tomato and basil – the traditional pie and one which John and I feel obligated to sample every time we try out a new pizza place. For consistency! And science!

The La Pizza is delicately accented by little semi-molten blobs of creamy fior di latte (a mozzarella made from cow’s milk),  a fine layer of tomato as to appear almost pink, and sprigs of fresh basil. The crust has a bit of a char to it around the edges and is nicely chewy on the inside, although a bit dry. The toppings and crust work well together, making the La Pizza very easy to eat.

The Diavola is next up – a spicy combination of fior di latte, tomato, red pepper and calabrese salami. Sliced ultra-thin, the salami is like a tissue-thin blanket of fiery cured meat tucking in the other toppings on a mattress of pillowy dough. Wow, I just wandered off into a pizza-induced descriptive simile. Apologies. Clearly, this pie was my favorite of the two.

John and I decided to finish things off with two cups of Dozzino’s espresso, which is advertised (on their menu) to be the best in Hoboken and quite possibly in the USA. I do know a good cup of espresso when I have one, and this was definitely a good one. Their ultra-fancy espresso machine churned out two dark, rich cups for us that we threw back like frat boys doing shots at a bar. Minus the fist pumping and hooting.

Let’s not forget the bathrooms! While I was performing some dental-spesto removal, I snapped the following photos:

In addition to being clean and uncluttered, the Dozzino bathroom is well-lit with an ample-sized mirror. White subway tiles, accented by a stripe of red and gold (Roma’s colors) carry the modern and thoughtful interior design of the restaurant right into the bathroom. I would have appreciated some spesto-removing toothpicks, though.

We will definitely be back to Dozzino (John has already returned on his own). The well designed and spacious atmosphere and fresh ingredient pizzas combine to create a unique neighborhood restaurant that is a welcome addition to Hoboken.

Overall Experience: Napolean Dynamite – The Offbeat Success

* Note: The Specials chalk board photo and photo of the oven with espresso cup, courtesy of Dozzino.

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I am still surprised (and delighted) that people read this blog. One loyal reader, Alison McGeary Stella, found us through Facebook. She and I went to the same High School and now, in addition to being a mom and a teacher, she makes cupcakes and other delicious desserts. I really like people that multi-task.

So I asked for some cupcakes. I thought I might be able to feature them on this blog. You might recall that John is generally apalled when I ask people for things. I’m not asking for blood, John – just cupcakes! Whatever.

Anyway! Alison was more than happy to put together a little cupcake care package for me. Which I did NOT share with John. I did, however, share them with Marmo.

The cupcakes we received from Alison were the following flavors:

The Ski Slope (requested by me): Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate mint filling and frosting.

Egg Nog: Egg nog/rum cake with egg nog flavored frosting and a graceful dusting of nutmeg.

Peanut Butter Cup: Chocolate cake topped with peanut butter frosting with a mini Reeses Cup inside (toy surprise!).

The conversation with Marmo and I went something like this:

Marmo: I know which one I want (she grabs the Ski Slope).

Me: That’s the one I want!

Marmo: Go get the other one, this one’s mine (she slices it in half). Oooo! Look – Filling!

I reach over and steal half of her cupcake. Marmo: Hey!

Me: Sorry, Mmmmffm mmeewy gwood.

Marmo: Ummm….What was that?

Me: Sorry, but that was good.

Marmo: Yeah….

So, we went on like this, tasting all the cupcakes and our professional (HA!) opinion is that they are awesome. The cake part is very moist – which I think is extremely important in a cupcake. I can’t have that little cake falling apart on me. I make enough of a mess, I don’t need any help.

The icing is fantastically flavored: hints of mint in the white chocolate variety; subtly spiced egg nog (arranged in a perfectly-shaped Hershey’s kiss dollop); and a creamy and delicate peanut butter. We are fans, officially.

If you’d like to order some of these little guys for your parties, events, or just to eat all by your darn self, you can visit Alison’s website here. And you can also check out all the other flavors and types of treats that she makes.

Many thanks for the cupcakes, Alison! I will tell John that it was very much worth bothering you for them.

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We would like to congratulate West End Station in Hoboken, New Jersey for snagging the Bathroom of the Month award this month. They really went all out with this bathroom. Our favorite part is the farmhouse sink. Just look at that contrasting dark-colored wood table it sits on! The subway tiles in slightly varying shades of light gray and white are also a nice touch. Fantastic attention to detail.

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Yup,  That’s right.  We reviewed a Domino’s Pizza this past week.  We are officially losing our minds.  But, I have to admit…Domino’s had piqued my interest as of late with their aggressive media campaign, bragging of a revamped recipe.  I mean, I knew it was going to be awful going in, but I wanted to know just how awful it would be.  I walk over to Elana’s spot to flush my 3 mile jog down the toilet.

Service is prompt – the pizza arrives in literally 29 minutes after Elana places the call.  Opening the box yields a wildly uninspiring surprise; cookie cutter like, dry, flat-out ugly looking slices.  Luckily, I’m so hungry that I’ll eat just about anything.

You know how certain smells and music bring you back in time?  Well, it turns out that tastes do too.  Last time I had a Domino’s pizza was in college.  It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a pie or two to find its way to the fraternity house after guzzling a few thousand beers on a weekend evening.  In Lewisburg, desperate times would call for desperate measures.  As I bite into the “new and improved” Domino’s pie… not much has changed.  The tomato sauce still packs that harsh, stinging punch.  The cheese is dry, and cheap tasting.  The crust – well, to be fair, the crust is, actually, different.  It is injected with noticeable doses of garlic, butter and herbs.  I’m not sure if this is an improvement or not but, to Domino’s credit, it is indeed different.  Some of my bites actually tasted like buttered popcorn from a movie theater.

Admittedly, myself and Elana ate 7/8ths of the pie.  I mean, it is just cheese, tomatoes and bread…. so don’t think THAT much less of us.  But it pretty much sucked.  And there was an awkward feeling in the air after it was all said and done.   Maybe it was the grease that sat in our stomach.  Maybe it was the fact that our dinner had just been wasted by this harsh tasting frisbee in a box.  I think, however, it was disappointment.

See, i’m an optimistic fella.  I still held out for closure during the final moments of (the runaway trainwreck known as) Lost, despite the countless warning signs to the contrary throughout that dreadful last season.  I see the “light brown” in my occasional gray hairs.  And I’d watch the CEO of Domino’s on these commercials and think, perhaps, maybe this guy was right.  Maybe Domino’s could be edible after all.  Like Rocky’s message to the Russians, change was indeed possible!

But this was one instance where my optimism was powerless.  The pizza sucked.  I wished sis a good night, and sprinted home in tears.  ‘Til next time, I guess.

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Today we bring you a comparison review. Since it is still pizza month and we like to stress using fresh ingredients on pizza, we bring you a review and comparison of three hunks of mozz (muzz) from three different places.

From left to right we have pictured mozzarella from:

1. Fiore’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

2. Eataly in New York City’s Flatiron District

3. Lisa’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

First, we would like to say that this is obviously not an exhaustive list of possible places to purchase fresh mozz. What about the Bronx? What about Little Italy? And so on….We will just say this: we know. We thought we’d start small. An intro, if you will, into the world of comparison tasting, with a few easily accessible candidates.

So, without further ado, here are our thoughts:

1. Fiore’s: This rendition was very tasty. It was lightly salted, which gave the cheese more flavor overall. It was not overpowering, but just right. Compared to the other two, it was a denser cheese. The color was also darker, an off-white instead of a bright white. I’m not really sure what that means, but I just thought it should be noted. This would be a great cheese to put on a Margherita pizza, as you wouldn’t have to add any salt. The flavor from the mozzarella would be all the seasoning you would need (excepting basil).

2. Eataly: This version was fairly bland in taste. It was unsalted. The texture was milkier, and it was definitely the softest of the bunch. This may have been because, while the other two were removed from their watery holding pens when I purchased them (many times fresh mozzarella is packed in water until it is ready to be used), this one came with its own little portable aquarium (tupperware container filled with water). We liked this softer texture, but weren’t blown away by flavor. This would be an excellent cheese to use on a pizza that had flavor from other toppings – pancetta or a similar meat for example.

3. Lisa’s Deli: This little one was also unsalted, and had a texutre somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of softness….not too soft, not too firm, but juuuuuuust right. However, it didn’t pack a whole lot of punch in terms of flavor. This would be a nice mozzarella to use for a Caprese salad: sliced tomatoes placed on top of slices of cheese, crowned with a few basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

So instead of declaring a winner from these three, we feel like they all have their strengths and are appropriate for different uses. We are going to keep looking for THE mozzarella, though, so if you have a suggestion for one you would like us to try, please leave it in the comments section. Also, if any of you would like some mozzarella, I have a TON of it in my fridge right now. I think I was a little overzealous in my cheese purchasing.

* Disclaimer: The funny faces drawn on the cheeses in no way represent any real or actual person. I just thought it would be funny to give cheese faces that kind of look like gangsters. But not real gangsters. Just imaginary cheesey ones.

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I know it’s pizza month, but even the most dedicated of bloggers feel the need to include some variety here and there.  Those warm for iconic, Jersey burger joints should be familiar with White Manna in Hackensack which, quite possibly, may have invented the modern slider.  The place has been around for ages; its decor appears to pre-date the 1950’s actually.  I was in the area recently and decided I was in the mood.

Ironically, White Manna is located directly across the street from a McDonald’s.  But, in terms of quality, the two establishments could not be further apart.  Approaching and entering White Manna is an experience.  I opened the front door at about 12:30 p.m. and it was packed.  I walked right into the last person in line – the place is tiny.  I patiently waited my turn to give my order – “Three cheeseburgers, grilled onions please.”  The woman takes my order, reaches into a metal chest, pulls out three balls of fresh ground meat, splatters them on the grill, and proceeds to whack the hell out of them with a metal spatula until they are flat.

One end of the grill represents the burgers which are almost ready to be served.  The other end cooks the newbies.  It’s a slightly confusing process; particularly at lunch, where dozens of hungry, drooling patrons would be more than happy to jump ahead of you and steal your order, but the woman working the grill seems to know the exact destination of each slider.

The time spent waiting for my burger gives me a chance to inspect the place: funny tiled floors, old time decorations, and hilarious orders (one high school kid ordered 12 burgers. From the looks of him, he was not sharing) pass the time. The woman at the grill is the diner equivalent of a Hibachi grill chef – using her metal spatula to flip, serve, organize, scrape, chop and whatever else she feels like.  It’s like a poor man’s chef table.  Good stuff.

After about 15 minutes, my burgers are ready to be served.  I am seated at the right hand side of the semi circular bar/table, and the woman puts the burgers and onions, which are now sandwiched between a  Martin’s potato roll , on a paper plate.  The masterpiece comes along with a side of pickles.  I never have to put my hand up or anything, she just knows those bad boys are mine.  Side note on Martin’s potato rolls – for my money, these are the best hamburger buns in the galaxy.  Fluffy, moist, substantial, yet not so much as to dwarf the presence of the burger – there is simply no better compliment to a burger in my mind; or a pulled pork sandwich; or a hot dog.  You can see the “give” in the bun as I hold the slider.  So tender and wonderful.

The final result is just fantastic.  A hot mess of satisfaction. The meat is perfectly cooked (typically, they only cook it one way; Medium well-ish. I’ve yet to hear anyone have the audacity to ask for a “medium rare” slider at Manna), the onions provide a slightly strong complimentary taste, the cheese is melted just right – not overwhelming or bubbly – and the Martin’s rolls are solid as usual.

I devour the three sliders in record time.  Manna is definitely one of the ultimate destinations if you are fixing for burgers.  Affordibility is off the charts as well.   A recession buster!

Overall Movie EquivalentThe Big Lebowksi

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Today’s review is of West End Station on 700 1st Street in Hoboken, NJ.  As a resident of western Hoboken, I was eager to check this place out.  It is located on the first floor within the Sky Club condominium complex and is another one of Anthony Pino’s restaurants (Anthony David’s and Bin 14 being the other two – which have yet to be officially reviewed, yet each “unofficial” visit has so far yielded very positive experiences).

West End gets out of the gate quite nicely, giving off a nice first impression.  On one side there is a bar with roughly 4 flat screen tv’s (which conveniently allows me to watch the Yanks own the Twins) while the other side is more of a restaurant.  It all blends pretty nicely, with a new tin ceiling, unfinished concrete floors and an awesome private party room that is shaped like a barrel.  Elana is a little puzzled by the multiple personality thing going on, but I seem to think it works.

We kick things off with a drink.  West End appears to have a nice drink menu, listing a wide range of custom mixed drinks.  On Thursdays, these drinks are 5 bucks each; which ain’t so bad.  Still, however, baseball is on….so, give me a beer.  Elana opts for a glass of wine which, to be honest, could have been more generously filled for 11 bones.

Since it is Pizza month and all (both for JohnandElana and Nationally), we decide to try their Marghertia Pizza which is listed under the “Brick Oven” heading. PIZZA TIRADE WARNING. At $9 this sucker is a little small.  And, yes, I understand many pizzerias make pizza to be served for one… but it is still small.  In addition, the “brick oven” must not have been that hot, because the pizza is pretty crispy all the way through.  That comment may not make any sense, so let me quickly clarify:  better brick oven pizza is typically charred and chewy… (Grimaldi’s, Luzzo’s, Keste, Lucali, etc).  That doesn’t mean good pizza cannot be crispy, it can.  But crispy pizzas are usually not the product of a good brick oven, whose heat is typically too intense to create an evenly cooked pie.  The West End crust is also a touch bland, but the sauce and mozzarella are decent, making the pie satisfactory in the long run.

For our main courses, I order the homemade gnocchi in the duck ragout sauce while Elana orders the barbecue pork chop with pumpkin bread pudding.  Both meals, as you can see, are handsome in appearance.  The dishes are well presented, even if they are in fact benefiting from Elana’s brand spanking new camera, which she cradles/oogles at throughout the evening. As for my gnocchi, it is indeed homemade and of very good consistency; not too tough.  The shredded duck is a nice touch to the whole thing.  One minor problem – where is the taste?  It was lacking quite a bit unfortunately.  Elana samples my meal and wholeheartedly agrees.  Taste is nowhere to be found – not in the gnocchi, not in the sauce, not in the duck.

Elana’s dish is a bit better.  The Chop is meaty, perhaps a touch tough, and of sizable portion.  The BBQ sauce is smokey and sweet – nice taste here.  Also, the pumpkin bread pudding is quality – great taste, perfectly moist and substantial.  It is easily the highlight of the experience – which is simultaneously a good and bad thing.

For dessert, we ordered doughnut holes with chocolate chili sauce – solid.  The doughnuts lacked a little taste, but the chocolate chili sauce was very good.  It was sweet, bitter and, true to its name, spicy.  My sister and I ate all of the doughnuts, and even shoved our forks into the sauce to clean up the last drops of it.  A success here.

The bathrooms were quite luxurious.  A nice wide open space with cool tile work and the vanity included a spacious farmhouse sink with dual faucets.

Service is also good.  Our waiter was attentive, prompt and of good positive energy.

Was I impressed?  In presentation, decor and scene – yes.  In the taste of our food?  Not really.  The place has potential, but is not of the same caliber of Anthony David’s or Bin 14.

Overall Movie Equivalent – Miami Vice

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