For your appetizer, choose between soup or salad. For your main course, bite into a 7 oz. filet with mashed potatoes and asparagus sides. For dessert, treat yourself to a decadent chocolate torte – all for just $30.
3 courses: $30
Call ahead for reservations: (856) 456-CHUB (2482)
Set between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, South Jersey’s restaurant scene continues to diversify and innovate. In 2018, South Jerseyans welcomed a number of new restaurants.
To ring in the new year, we take a look back at a few of the best new restaurants to hit South Jersey during the past twelve months.
I crowdsourced this article by polling other South Jersey food bloggers on Instagram and Twitter to see which new restaurants they loved most. I’ve included an asterisk in front of the places I’ve personally visited and enjoyed.
One thing I learned from writing this article: I have a lot of new restaurants I need to try in 2019.
(Cherry Hill) – In 2008, Paul Altero and Bill Hart opened the first Bubbakoo’s location in Point Pleasant. After several years in operation, Altero and Hart set an ambitious goal to open hundreds of regional Bubbakoo’s shops. Today, Bubbakoo’s boasts more than two dozen locations – all sporting a surf-skater vibe – throughout the Garden State. In 2018, they opened one of their newest shops in Cherry Hill. With a menu that includes modern, customizable options like tacos, burrito bowls, and nachos, Bubbakoo’s quickly earned a reputation for fast, mouthwatering Mexican-American cuisine.
Online ordering available at some locations. Offers kids’ menu. Discount student meals (with valid ID) also offered.
56 Haddonfield Rd. Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Monday – Sunday: 11 am – 9 pm
Thank you to Marilyn Johnson of PhillyGrub for recommending Bubbakoo’s Cherry Hill location.
(Sewell) – Burger Barr calls itself a BYOB, but you can leave the booze at home. In this case, BYOB stands for “Build-Your-Own-Burger.” Burger Barr wants their customers to get creative. Using a highly customizable burger menu, diners can select from their choice of meats, cheeses, buns, sauces, and toppings to create a burger perfectly suited to individual tastes. Unique menu standouts include Kobe wagyu beef; pretzel buns; and truffle aioli.
(Merchantville) – Enjoy a variety of crepes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Charlie’s Crepes. Co-owners Charles Koory and Lisa Ciacciarelli Koory, husband and wife, launched their crepe business at a South Jersey farmer’s market. Today, they remain committed to seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Try traditional, savory crepe staples like Ham and Cheese – or order one of their more adventurous options like Sherry Shallot Mushroom Crepes with garlic lime crema. When you’re craving something sweet, Charlie’s also sells creative crepe desserts, like their Schober Orchards Vanilla Bourbon Peach Crepes with candied pecans and salted caramel.
(Cherry Hill) – Offering globally-influenced, modern American cuisine, Denim American Bistro opened in October in the historic Cherry Hill landmark that once housed La Campagne. Chef David Murray innovates with dishes like Ahi Tuna Crudo and Vegan Beetloaf. Visitors who remember La Campagne might be surprised – and pleased – by some of the changes to the restaurant’s interior, which include refinished hardwood floors and wells decked out in blue. When you come, bring a pair of jeans to donate and score a free dessert. Denim donations support Teens for Jeans, a nonprofit that helps clothe homeless youth.
312 Kresson Road Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Romantic, intimate ambiance for date nights. Offers a kids’ menu; gluten-free menu; and vegetarian menu. Food-allergy-friendly. BYOB. Wine available for purchase.
(Collingswood) – Cozy meets creative at this Collingswood BYOB, which has been lauded for its quality fare and romantic ambiance. Chef Dominic Piperno uses locally-sourced ingredients to create contemporary meat, seafood, and pasta dishes cooked on a wood-fired hearth in front of customers. Visitors rave about Hearthside’s attention to detail – in both food and setting.
Locally-sourced ingredients. Romantic, intimate setting good for date nights.
(Palmyra) – In 2018, Philadelphia’s The Farmacy gained a second home in Palmyra. Chefs Ross Scofield and Danielle Coulte seek out sustainable, seasonal, and local ingredients for the comfort food they create. Visitors especially love their weekend brunch menu, which includes items like Cannoli French Toast and a Salmon B.L.T.
Locally-sourced ingredients. Vegan options.
307 W Broad St. Palmyra, New Jersey
Friday: 9 am – 2 pm Saturday: 9 pm – 2 pm Sunday: 9 am – 2 pm
(Cinnaminson) – Amazon natives have been eating acai berries for thousands of years. But it wasn’t until recently that health-conscious restauranteurs popularized acai as a trendy breakfast item. In 2016, a recent college graduate and Jersey resident named Brooke Gagliano opened the first two Frutta Bowl locations in Freehold. Serving acai bowls, pitaya bowls, smoothies, and other health-inspired treats, the franchise now has locations all over the eastern United States – including ones in Marlton and Cinnaminson.
Note: I had two minor gripes with Frutta Bowls during my visit. They don’t offer a kids’ menu, which can get expensive if you’re a parent. Secondly, they don’t publish their nutritional information, which I feel should be standard at a health-inspired chain. Still, I kept them on this list because their bowls were delicious, and they’re offering something new and innovative.
195 Route 130 Cinnaminson, New Jersey
Monday – Sunday: 9 am – 8 pm
Thank you to Marilyn Johnson of PhillyGrub for recommending Frutta Bowl’s Cinnaminson location. Read her guide on where to find acai bowls in South Jersey.
(Somers Point) – In 1908, the building that now houses Josie Kelly’s Public House was built as a grocery store before becoming a restaurant called Mac’s in 1924. As they renovated the historic building, co-owners Dermot and Kathleen Lloyd modeled the restaurant and bar in the tradition of a coastal Irish pub and named it after Dermot’s Irish grandmother Josephine. They envision it as a welcoming, neighborly place where people can come together for drinks and good food.
(Marlton) – South Jersey has no shortage of Italian eateries, and this strip-mall BYOB’s standard Italian-American menu is nothing exceptional. But what Korner Bistro lacks in originality it makes up for in quality. Although it opened just a few months ago, the restaurant has already established a reputation for exceptionally tasty fare. Korner Bistro offers brunch all day long, every day, in addition to their lunch and dinner menu.
(Collingswood) – In 2018, Collingswood topped USA Today’s list of the “Best Small Town Food Scene” in the country – and for good reason. Whatever you’re craving, you won’t go hungry in Collingswood. Macona BBQ is one of the newest arrivals to the town’s restaurant scene. With walls adorned in murals painted by local artist Chuck Styles, this casual eatery specializes in southern-inspired comfort foods like smoked brisket and ribs, homemade pickles, and macaroni and cheese. Even if you’re an herbivore, don’t write this one off your bucket list: Macona also offers seitan-based, vegan options.
Casual. Vegan options available.
577 Haddon Ave. Collingswood, New Jersey
Monday – Saturday: 11 am – 9 pm Sunday: 11 am – 4 pm
(Pennsauken) – A hot trend throughout the country, food trucks continue to innovate by offering food to match every craving. With Italian takeout specialties that include flatbread, sandwiches, pastas, salads, and of course – homemade meatballs, Mama’s Meatballs began as a food truck before opening their store in Pennsauken. While Mama’s specializes in meat, vegetarians shouldn’t shy away from this popular eatery: Mama’s also serves up a vegetarian “Veg-Da Ball” made from beans and vegetables and fried in soy oil.
Takeout. Vegetarian options. Catering with online ordering option available.
2673 Haddonfield Rd. Pennsauken, New Jersey
Monday – Friday: 11 am – 9 pm
Thank you to Marilyn Johnson of PhillyGrub for recommending Mama’s Meatballs. Read her full review on the PhillyGrub website.
(Hammonton) – When a baker’s popularity outgrows her own food truck, she’s probably doing something right. In 2014, Gabriella Tomasello Mannino launched her cannoli food truck business. By 2016, The Daily Meal had named Mannino’s one of the top 100 food trucks in the country. While she continues to serve the tri-state area from her food cart, in 2018 Mannino also opened her brick-and-mortar shop along Hammonton’s newly revitalized Bellevue Avenue. Mannino’s offers a variety of cannolis, cakes, espresso beverages, and creamy Italian gelato in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. Grab lunch at one of downtown Hammonton’s many noteworthy eateries – and don’t forget to stop in at Mannino’s for dessert. Bonus: they carry spumoni gelato, a flavor that’s proven difficult to find in South Jersey.
(Collingswood) – Score another victory for Collingswood – and Stephen Starr. BYOB Porch and Proper has earned five-star reviews from diners and critics alike. Seasoned veterans in the restaurant industry, co-owners Jason and Casey Simkins have previously managed other Stephen Starr restaurants like famed Buddakan and Morimoto. At Porch and Proper, Executive Chef Ryan McQuillan sources his ingredients from local vendors. McQuillan uses seasonal vegetables and herbs – including those grown in Porch and Proper’s own picturesque garden – to create their gourmet dishes, which include items as diverse as Seared Fois Gras and Smoked Cauliflower Steak. The restaurant – set inside a historic building – has also been lauded for its beautiful design, which is the brainchild of local artist Hillary O’Carroll.
Seasonal, locally-grown ingredients. Al fresco seating available. Intimate, romantic ambiance ideal for date nights. Offers vegetarian options.
(Mullica Hill) – The epitome of “farm-to-table,” Rastelli Market’s newest location sources most of their ingredients directly from an on-premise farm. Even the wood used to smoke Rastelli’s meats comes from the trees at bucolic Hill Creek. To obtain ingredients unavailable on the farm, Executive Chef James Luizza and the rest of the Rastelli team work with local vendors to secure the highest quality products they can. The rustic Loft Cafe – set in the upper level of the store – features cozy seating, a large-screen television, and a cafe. Inside the lounge, relax with a bottle of Hill Creek Apple Wine – available for purchase – or head downstairs for freshly baked donuts, prepared foods, meat, and seafood. Or bring the kids and spend the day: Hill Creek Farms also offers hayrides and other seasonal, family-friendly activities.
Kids’ menu available. Local, seasonal ingredients. Wine available for purchase. Family-friendly activities offered seasonally.
1631 State Highway 45 Mullica Hill, New Jersey
NOTE: Due to state regulations on seasonal farm markets, this Rastelli Market location will close during the months of January and February. They will reopen in March 2019.
Read my full review of Rastelli Market at Hill Creek Farms.
Disclosure: In November, Rastelli Market at Hill Creek Farms invited local food bloggers for a free tasting.
(Medford) – Not long ago, Medford residents had to drive to Hammonton to score quality Mexican food. Then came Cielito Lindo, and Tacos el Tio quickly followed. Both eateries were worth the wait. After years as a successful Mexican restaurant in Egg Harbor, in 2018 the owners of Tacos el Tio Cantina opened a second restaurant in Medford’s newly revitalized Taunton Forge plaza. Like their first location, Medford’s Tacos el Tio quickly grew as a popular place to enjoy delicious Mexican cuisine and drinks. Eat indoors, have a drink at the bar, or when the weather’s right – take advantage of the restaurant’s beautiful outdoor seating.
Includes bar. Kids’ menu available. Offers takeout. Al fresco dining available.
(Haddonfield) – Marcello De Feo’s grandparents and their children came to America from Abruzzo, Italy. Having grown up around an endless supply of mouthwatering fare, Valente has passed his family’s tradition of homemade Italian cooking onto his children. After years of working in the restaurant industry and participating in farmer’s markets, De Feo opened his first retail store. At Valente’s Italian Specialities, he sells homemade pasta, bread, premade meals, coffee, kitchenware, and other culinary-inspired gifts. In addition to Valente’s imported specialty items, Valente sources the ingredients for many of his Italian foods from local vendors.
Locally-sourced ingredients. Catering available. Offers classes for kids and adults.
7 Kings Ct. Haddonfield, New Jersey
Wednesday – Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm
Thank you to Marilyn Johnson of PhillyGrub for recommending Valente’s. Read her full review of Valente’s on the PhillyGrub website.
Edit: Thank you to David Stewart for recommending Central Taco and Tequila (Haddon) be added to this list. I will post a brief summary of it in the coming week.
Anywhere we missed?
Love a new (opened in 2018) South Jersey restaurant that’s not on this list? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll add it when I get a free moment.
Dr. J.H. Salisbury declared salisbury steak a health food in a late 19th century book.
A few years later, a woman named Elma Stuart wrote a book extolling the healing powers of Salisbury’s diet recommendations.
Salisbury and Stuart did not believe we should eat salisbury steak with mashed potatoes as we do today, calling them “indigestible.”
When Salisbury and Stuart published their books, German immigrants had already been eating a similar dish for centuries.
During the 1950’s, TV dinners entered the market. One of the most popular TV dinner varieties – sold by Swanson – included salisbury steak with a side of potatoes.
Around the world, people in countries like Japan, Sweden, Russia, and Germany enjoy meat dishes similar to salisbury steak.
To cook salisbury steak, purchase ground beef raised on local farms in South Jersey.
Salisbury steak is surprisingly difficult to find on Jersey restaurant menus, but there are a few restaurants in our area offering the dish.
Dr. James Henry Salisbury
Before ‘low-carb diet’ entered the American vernacular, a physician from New York named Dr. James Henry Salisbury touted the benefits of eating low-fat, protein-rich foods. Salisbury believed the optimal human diet consisted of two parts meat to one part vegetable. Carbohydrate consumption, he argued, was the root cause of afflictions like heart disease, tuberculosis, and even mental illness.
But Salisbury didn’t just eschew bread and pasta. He also vilified vegetables. He even had a term for illness brought on by plant-based diets: vegetable dyspepsia. Salisbury believed we all possess “twenty meat teeth” and only “twelve vegetable teeth,” a finding he viewed as evidence favoring a protein-rich diet. In 1888, he set forth his diet recommendations in his book, The Relation of Alimentation and Disease.
Today, most people wouldn’t put the terms ‘ Salisbury steak’ and ‘health food’ in the same sentence. But, as part of his crusade against all-things-carb, Salisbury popularized the comfort food we all know today as Salisbury steak. (Notice I didn’t say invented the salisbury steak, as the dish had already been eaten around the world for centuries. More on that later.) Above all things edible, Salisbury thought beef singularly nutritious for the human body. In fact, he argued we could all stay healthy by consuming salisbury steak three times a day.
No arguments here.
Elma Stuart and the Healing Powers of Beef
In 1895, a woman named Elma Stuart published a book called, What Must I Do to Get Well? And How Can I Stay So? which advocated in favor of Salisbury’s diet recommendations.(I imagine Salisbury and Stuart as the nineteenth-century equivalent to quacks who, during late-night television infomercials, get rich by convincing desperate consumers they hold the secret cure to all that ails us.)
The recipes in Stuart’s book are divided into multiple parts. First, she offers advice “for the sick” who are already suffering. She then lists some recipes “for the seedy,” a term that referred not to trashy, bedbug-ridden motels, but to people who were “hovering on the borderland” of health and illness. Finally, Stuart addresses those who are already well and want to remain that way.
The beef recipes in Stuart’s book specify guidelines for selecting and preparing the beef used to cook Salisbury steak. Beef should be free of fat. The cow should be between the ages of four and six years when slaughtered. “Butter, pepper, salt, and mustard” should not be added until after the beef has finished cooking. Finally, the sick person can eat the beef “with a tea-spoon in his right hand and a dessert fork in his left!”
Potatoes as a Salisbury Side
Neither Salisbury nor Stuart recommend we eat salisbury steak over mashed potatoes as most people do today. In fact, Stuart calls out mashed potatoes as one of the “foolishest” menu items a person could eat – dubbing them one of the “vain imaginings that have deluded mankind” – a pretty extreme stance to have about a mashed potato. Instead, she argues, we should eat baked potatoes because they are cooked more thoroughly and are therefore more “digestible.”
TV Dinners and Salisbury Steak
So how did our modern take on salisbury steak – rich in buttery, flour-thickened gravy and served over mashed potatoes – ever enter American kitchens? Likely, this recipe change happened when the “TV dinner” was popularized in American culture around the 1950’s. In fact, one of Swanson’s first TV dinners included Salisbury steak. Potatoes were, and remain, a cheap, easy-to-make, filling commodity. (Plus – as we all know – they’re delicious with ground beef and gravy.)
Before Salisbury and Stuart
While Salisbury and Stuart may have been the first to popularize the supposed health benefits of minced steak, they weren’t the first to introduce the dish to America – or to the world. We also have German immigrants to thank for our modern conception of salisbury steak. By the time Salisbury published his book, Germans had already been eating a similar dish called Hamburg steak – often cooked with breadcrumbs and onion – for centuries. During the 1700’s, sailors from Germany introduced Hamburg steak to Americans at their bustling New York port.
‘Salisbury’ Steak Around the World
Today, Americans aren’t the only ones who cook up salisbury-esque steak. The Japanese enjoy hambagu, a meat and gravy dish made from minced beef and pork. Swedes make pannbiff seasoned with allspice and ginger. And Russians have buttery pozharsky, which is made from ground chicken in place of beef.
Salisbury Steak Recipe
On busy weeknights, I like to whip up salisbury steak in a cast-iron skillet with a side of buttery mashed potatoes from our Instant Pot. I toss a bag of steamable frozen peas in the microwave and spoon the steak gravy over top. Easy-peasy.
Finally, if you don’t feel like cooking at all, here are a couple South Jersey restaurants that offer Salisbury steak on their menus. I wasn’t expecting to have difficulty finding local diners that serve Salisbury steak, but the dish is surprisingly rare on Jersey menus.
Maybe time for a Make Salisbury Steak Cool Again campaign?
Fernbrook Farms and Properly Fueled are family-friendly destinations offering locally-sourced, healthy food and fun.
Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield, New Jersey (near Bordentown) offers a CSA program, kids’ summer camp, hiking trails, and a farm market selling produce and other locally-sourced goods
Downtown Bordentown boasts a vibrant downtown area with a number of restaurants, including Properly Fueled
Properly Fueled serves locally-sourced, healthy breakfast and lunch items, kids’ meals, smoothies, coffee, tea, and baked goods. They also cater.
This year, I discovered something new. Well, really only new to me. I’ve lived in New Jersey my whole life, and until 2018, I’d never explored Bordentown.
It started as a quest to find a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) program. In the spring, we went to Smithville Park’s annual Earth Fair where we met the friendly people from Fernbrook Farms just outside Bordentown. At their vendor table, we learned about Fernbrook’s CSA. After reading some positive reviews about their program, our family enrolled.
Fernbrook isn’t close – about a forty-minute drive – to where we live in Medford. But throughout the whole season of shuttling back and forth to Fernbrook for our CSA share once a week, I never minded the drive. In fact, although I usually loathe driving, I almost always looked forward to the scenic trip up Route 206.
Yesterday was our last visit to Fernbrook for the year. I’ll miss cooking with the fresh produce we got there each week, but our final haul was much bigger than I expected. In fact, I hadn’t realized just how many crops could still thrive in New Jersey when the temperature drops so low. My son and I brought home bags of deep green kale, cabbage, butternut squash, potatoes, parsley, sage, turnips, radishes, carrots, and celery.
When we arrived for our final CSA pickup, the Fernbrook Farms staff had a campfire burning outside. As always, they greeted us upon our arrival. Beside the campfire sat a picnic table offering free samples of lavender-spiced cookies. (I’m still undecided on whether I like lavender in food.) Beside the basket of cookies sat a decorative fall centerpiece and a few bourbon pecan pies for sale. Inside the shop, Fernbrook also sells locally-sourced goods like dairy products, meat, frozen ravioli, eggs, potato chips, iced tea, coffee, and barbecue sauce.
Before we picked up our produce, my son (who is almost four) wanted to go hiking one last time despite yesterday’s bitter temperatures. (Okay, maybe not bitter, but I’m a wuss when it comes to the cold.) Fernbrook does a lot more than just grow vegetables. In fact, they do a little of everything – from weddings to summer camp for kids. The farm’s’ property is also home to a number of scenic hiking trails, and as a result of walking the trails each week, my son has a newfound passion for hiking.
Fernbrook is also home to a number of farm animals. Earlier in the season, we got to see the pigs they raised for meat. Explaining to my son why they were no longer at the farm in an age-appropriate way provided a bit of a challenge, but I’m glad he knows that his food doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store. The rest of the animals at Fernbrook – goats, sheep, chickens, a cow, ducks, and rabbits – are for educational purposes only. We said our final goodbyes to the animals as my son petted the friendly goats.
Driving away from the farm, I got one last look at the unique historic buildings on the farm (shown above). By the time we left, we were both famished. Over the summer, we had enjoyed a meal at Properly Fueled in downtown Bordentown, so I suggested we dine there again. After I reminded my son about their kids’ fruit kebobs, he agreed.
Bordentown has a beautiful and vibrant downtown area. Although we had to park a distance up the street from Properly Fueled, we didn’t mind the walk. But once we got to Properly Fueled, we were grateful for how quickly our food arrived.
Properly Fueled is a small, cozy cafe-style eatery that specializes in locally-sourced health food like quinoa and vegetable bowls. Their menu also offers breakfast items, smoothies, sandwiches, and seasonal specials. A wall in the cafe boasts a list of their local partners that supply everything on their menu – from honey to vegetables to coffee. (Fernbrook, of course, is one of their local suppliers.)
My son ordered his kids’ Fruit Kebobs ($5) – strawberries, bananas, and apples served with a side of sweetened cinnamon yogurt for dipping. I opted for their Rad Thai Bowl ($10.50). Although I didn’t enjoy it as much I enjoyed the Asian bowl I ordered there earlier in the year, it was still a tasty choice. To drink, my son had iced water served in a Mason jar, and I had a mug of hot jasmine green tea. Before we left, we both ordered to-go items: a gluten-free smores cookie for him and a decaf coffee for me.
Right now, we’re undecided on whether we’ll join Fernbrook’s CSA again next year. As my son gets older and participates in more activities, a weekly forty-minute drive might prove too hectic for our family. However, I highly recommend Fernbrook to anyone who lives close to Bordentown (or who doesn’t mind driving there each week.) The CSA is not only affordable but also great for families who want to teach their kids more about where food comes from.
You can signup now for Fernbrook’s 2019 CSA program, which costs $660 for 26 weeks, from Memorial Day through Thanksgiving, approximately $25 a week. We always had plenty to eat each week – and some leftovers too.
Even if we don’t join the CSA again, I’m positive we’ll be back to Fernbrook for a visit in the spring. Afterward, I look forward to another relaxing lunch at Properly Fueled. If you love to eat local, make the trip to explore Bordentown. I can’t imagine anyone would regret it.
Disclaimer: Rastelli Market Fresh at Hill Creek Farms invited local bloggers to a free tasting event on Tuesday, November 13. They also provided us with a complimentary insulated bag, pie, caramel-coated apples, and apple cider donuts – all available for purchase at the farm.
Rastelli Market Fresh opened their newest location at Hill Creek Farms in Mullica Hill, New Jersey in July 2018
The new location serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and features a Lounge Cafe, coffee shop, bakery, and wine from Auburn Road Vineyards
Rastelli at Hill Creek Farms’ farm-to-table menu features ingredients grown at Hill Creek Farm
“No shortcuts,” says Director of Operations Chris Mentzer, referring to Rastelli Market Fresh’s cooking philosophy. Metzner helped design Rastelli’s newest location at Hill Creek Farms in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, which opened in July of this year. On Tuesday, November 13, the Rastelli team hosted a tasting for food bloggers at their new location.
Rastelli at Hill Creek Farms is “literally the definition of farm-to-table,” says Tony Luke Jr. of Tony Luke’s Cheesesteaks fame, who also attended the tasting. Prepared by Director of Culinary Joe Muldoon and Corporate Executive Chef James Liuzza, most of the ingredients for the food we sampled – including the wood to smoke the meats – came from the farm.
At the sampling, the Rastelli culinary team featured a spread of classic barbecue fare that included smoked brisket, smoked ribs, and homemade baked beans. Toppings like white truffle oil, apple cider bacon, sundried tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, shredded brisket with chipotle barbecue sauce, and scallions accompanied the macaroni-and-cheese station. The meats and macaroni were full of flavor without being overly greasy, which is often a flaw with these menu items at other restaurants.
Our meal included tacos with mango salsa and feta cheese. I was skeptical of putting feta on a taco. But I gave it a try, and I’m glad I did. Guests quenched their palates with apple cider, which was a real crowd pleaser. I opted for fruit-infused iced water. For dessert, we enjoyed cake pops and shooter-style sweets.
We ate upstairs in Rastelli’s cozy, rustic-style Lounge Cafe, where you’ll find tables to dine and a coffee shop similar to the one at Rastelli’s Marlton location. Although I didn’t have any coffee during the tasting, the Marlton cafe’s lattes are my favorite of every coffee shop in the area.
In the lounge, you’ll also see couches and a large-screen television, perfect for relaxing with friends with a glass of Auburn Road Vineyards’ wine. Downstairs, you’ll find a small shop selling prepared foods, baked goods like pies and apple cider donuts, meats, and seafood.
As I ate, I perused Rastelli’s menu and was particularly impressed by their kids’ meals. While they still offer the usual kids-fare like hot dogs and fried chicken tenders, the kids’ menu also features unique options like an organic chicken and veggie meal, organic short rib beef burger, and Farmer Fred’s apple dippers.
I plan to return to the farm this month with my soon-to-be four-year-old in tow. Hill Creek Farms is open March through December and is home to a number of kid-friendly farm activities such as a playground, pick-your-own fruit, and barrel train rides.
If you haven’t been to Mullica Hill, which is located in Gloucester County off Route 55, be prepared to drive through miles of rural, scenic South Jersey farmland to get there. Although I haven’t been to Mullica Hill’s downtown area, fellow blogger Marilyn Johnson of Philly Grub says it’s a vibrant neighborhood full of antique shops.
Rastelli Market Fresh has two other locations in Deptford and Marlton. I haven’t visited their Deptford store, which is the oldest of the three. The new store is much smaller than their Marlton location, but its small size lends itself well to a charming, farmhouse vibe. If you’re a fan of Rastelli’s other locations, a trip to the new Mullica Hill location is worth the drive.
Everyone from the New York Times to the Food Network has raved about the homemade sweets at Penza’s Pies at the Red Barn Cafe on Route 206 in Hammonton. The quaint, family-owned shop is housed in a red barn where you’ll feel more like you’ve stepped into your grandmother’s kitchen than a restaurant.
Penza’s is open seven days a week from eight am to six pm for pies and flowers, but they only serve breakfast and lunch between eight am and two pm. When I was a kid, my family and I rode our bikes through Waterford and Hammonton to have breakfast at Penza’s a couple times, but I was too young to remember much of those trips. This past Sunday, my husband, son, and I headed to the Red Barn for a late lunch.
Set amidst forest and farmland, the shop’s old-fashioned windmill and floral displays invite drivers to stop and savor the scenery. Outside the shop sits a greenhouse. A wooden sign advertises apple cherry pie, and the colorful mums remind you that fall is, indeed, finally here. When we entered Penza’s, we saw two dining sections: an “outdoors” area in the enclosed porch, and an indoor area in the bake shop. Since the weather was chilly, we sat in the indoor section.
The shop is worth visiting for its charming rustic decor alone, both inside and outside the cafe. Even the pies on display lend an artistic touch to the setting. Old black-and-white photographs of the farm and newspaper clippings highlighting the cafe’s media coverage over the years adorn the walls. Wooden bookcases, cloth placemats, and a tiny kitchen where you can hear the waitress delivering your order to the cook create a cozy, down-home ambiance.
Farmhouse decor lend the indoor dining area a cozy ambiance.
The “outdoor” dining area is located inside an enclosed porch in the Red Barn.
Like many families in Hammonton, owner Evelyn Penza is Italian, the descendant of a farmer who immigrated here from Sicily in the early twentieth-century. In the 1970’s, Penza and her husband began to experiment with turning the old barn into a business. By the mid-1980’s, Penza and her two sons opened Red Barn. Today, Penza owns and operates the entire operation – including the cafe and pie shop.
Still, her family helps with the shop when they can. “Although the boys have their own businesses, they are an enormous asset and help,” Penza says of her sons.
As we waited for our menus, several families came into the bake shop from out-of-town and gushed over the shop’s eye-catching pies. Behind the counter, Penza sold the pies along with instructions on how to “care for” them at home. She also sold pepperoni bread and other savory baked goods. When Penza asked one man what he wanted, he admitted he was unsure because everything looked so appealing.
The cafe’s autumn menu lists just a few items available for breakfast and lunch, including eggs, quiche, omelets, pancakes, hamburgers, soup, and grilled cheese. The cafe doesn’t have a kids’ menu, but our three-year-old gobbled down an order of peach pancakes served with a side of cranberry-apple sauce. My husband ordered grilled cheese and chicken soup, and I ate a cheeseburger with chips and salad. Our waitress informed us that the cafe is cash-only. As people who rarely carry cash, we were relieved to learn they an ATM.
Fresh dill flavored my salad as well as my husband’s soup. We both enjoyed the taste and appreciate fresh herbs in our food, and our meals were definitely homemade. I expected my salad to be the standard, uninspired iceberg-lettuce with bottled Italian dressing that a lot of diners serve as a side. I was wrong. My salad was a refreshing mix of fresh cucumbers, peppers, onions, and plenty of seasoning. We ate every bite, and since we figured our son had ingested enough sugar that day between leftover Halloween candy and pancakes, we declined a dessert course.
Penza’s is nestled in rural farmland, just minutes from historic Batsto Village. Batsto features numerous hiking trails, a mansion, a sawmill, a museum, a lake, and a nature center. They also host educational events throughout the year. In the fall, Batsto bustles with activity as photographers snap photos of babies discovering Batsto’s orange and yellow landscape. Throughout the season, couples beam for engagement photos beside a dam where iced-tea-brown cedar water flows beneath a wooden footbridge.
Having savored our lunches at Penza’s, we embarked on a hike at Batsto. My son learned about the Pinelands’ native wildlife and a bit about what life was like for the original inhabitants who lived in Batsto beginning in 1766. The nature center even offered some information on the legend and lore of the Jersey Devil. After seeing the mock Jersey Devil “replica” inside the nature center, we had to remind our son a few times that the Jersey Devil isn’t real (although many locals would disagree).
Our pace slowed as we walked back to our car and watched the sun set behind the Batsto mansion. Daylight savings time ended that weekend, and our bodies hadn’t adjusted yet. What a difference an hour can make on your circadian rhythm.
“Why we don’t come here very often?” my son – who woke up at 5:30 am that morning – inquired. (He’s definitely in the why stage of child development.)
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we’ll start coming more often, though. Would you like to come more often?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“That sounds good to me,” I said as we drove away.
Whip up this easy sweet potato and chicken dish for a tasty autumn meal.
Sweet potato & chicken bake
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes
3 leeks, roughly chopped
2 tbs. Extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, mashed
2 tbs. Lemon juice
½ tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp. Black pepper
1 inch. Piece fresh ginger, minced
½ c. orange juice
1/2 tbs. Grainy, old-style mustard (I used Maille brand)
1 lb. chicken breast tenderloins
Parsley, fresh or dried (optional)
2 c. white jasmine rice
2 c. chicken broth
1 tbs. Butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients for the sweet potato and chicken bake in a large, oven-proof glass casserole dish. Make sure sweet potatoes and chicken are coated.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft and tender and chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Cook the rice while the sweet potatoes and chicken are baking. I used an Instant Pot for our rice, cooked at high pressure for 4 minutes with a 10-minute release time.
Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice.
Fernbrook Farms is one of many Community-Supported Agricultural (CSA) farms in New Jersey. Thirty-five minutes north of our home in Medford, Fernbrook is outside of the Pine Barrens. While it’s a bit of a drive, our family chose to become CSA members at Fernbrook this year for two reasons.
First, there’s a lot there for kids to do, including seeing animals like goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs, and I always bring my three-year-old son with me. Also, there are lots of scenic hiking trails, and when we go each week to pick up our farm share, we usually spend an hour or two hiking.
The diverse produce we’ve gotten at Fernbrook has always been fresh and delicious. Fernbrook provides a variety of vegetables from which we can pick each week. In fact, I think before we became CSA members, I was a bit ignorant as to how many different crops can grow in New Jersey.
Most people are familiar with Jersey tomatoes and corn, Jersey peaches, and Jersey blueberries, and other Jersey staples like cucumbers, bell peppers, and watermelon. I was surprised, though, by the high-quality kohlrabi, large variety of peppers, napa cabbage, and okra Fernbrook grows.
I also didn’t know sweet potatoes came in so many varieties. Recently, we picked up ‘burgundy’ sweet potatoes and leeks as part of our farm share. The flesh inside burgundy sweet potatoes looks and tastes just like any other sweet potato (albeit maybe a tad sweeter). But the skin on the outside is a purplish color. These sweet potatoes were also much smaller than sweet potatoes we usually buy in the grocery store. I don’t know if their size is due to their variety or to the time of year.
I came up with this recipe one night when I needed to prepare a quick dinner. While it takes about 40 minutes to bake, the recipe is hands-off once you get it in the oven. I used that time to clean up the kitchen, so we’d have extra time after dinner to sit outside by our campfire with a cup of hot tea to tell ghost stories. Have I ever told you how much I love fall in South Jersey?