The Best New South Jersey Restaurants That Opened in 2018

Christina Carrell is a freelance writer based in Medford, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

Bubbakoo’s Burritos

(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.

Burger Barr

(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.

Offers vegetarian option.

508 Hurffville-Crosskeys Rd.
Sewell, New Jersey

Tuesday – Thursday: 11 am- 8 pm
Friday – Saturday: 11am – 9 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

Thank you to South Jersey Instagrammer junkreviews for recommending Burger Barr.

Charlie’s Crepes

(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.

Locally-sourced ingredients.

177 S. Centre St.
Merchantville, New Jersey

Wednesday – Friday: 9:30 am – 1 pm & 4:30 pm – 8 pm
Saturday: 8 am – 12 pm & 4:30 pm – 8 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 2 pm

Thank you to South Jersey blogger @tastytemptationssjso for recommending Charlie’s Crepes.

*Denim American Bistro

Beet Beignets at Denim American Bistro

(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.

Tuesday – Thursday: 11 am – 3 pm & 4 pm – 9 pm
Friday – Saturday: 11 am – 3 pm & 4 pm – 9 pm
Sunday: 10:30 am – 2:30 pm & 4:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Read my full review of Denim on the Jersey Bites website.

Disclosure: This fall, Denim American Bistro invited local food bloggers for a free tasting event prior to their official opening.

Hearthside

(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.

801 Haddon Ave.
Collingswood, New Jersey

Tuesday – Saturday: 5 pm – 10 pm

The Farmacy

(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

Brunch:

Friday: 9 am – 2 pm
Saturday: 9 pm – 2 pm
Sunday: 9 am – 2 pm

Dinner:

Tuesday – Thursday: 5 pm – 8 pm
Friday – Saturday: 5 pm – 9 pm

Thank you to Marilyn Johnson of PhillyGrub and South Jersey Instagrammer J
@tastytemptationssjso for recommending The Farmacy. Read Marilyn’s full review of The Farmacy on the PhillyGrub website.

*Frutta Bowls

Bowl at Frutta Bowl’s Marlton location

(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.

Josie Kelly’s Public House

(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.

Offers vegetarian options. Catering available. Offers brunch.

908 Shore Road
Somers Point, New Jersey

Sunday: 10 am – 12 am
Monday – Thursday: 11 am – 12 am
Friday: 11 am – 2 am
Saturday: 10 am – 2 am

Thank you to Jim House for recommending Josie Kelly’s Public House – as well as their Irish breakfast, exceptional whiskey selection, and outstanding Shepherd’s Pie.

*Korner Bistro

(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.

Offers kids’ menu. Offers daily brunch option. Catering available.

320 Evesboro – Medford Rd.
Marlton, New Jersey

Tuesday – Thursday: 11 am – 9 pm
Friday: 11 am – 10 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 10 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 8 pm

Macona BBQ

(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

Thank you to South Jersey Instagrammer @tastytemptationssjso for recommending Macona.

Mama’s Meatballs

(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.

*Mannino’s Cannoli Express

(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.

Offers catering. Gluten-free options available.

220 Bellevue Avenue
Hammonton, New Jersey

Tuesday – Thursday: 11 am – 6 pm

Friday – Saturday: 11 am – 9 pm

Sunday: 11 am – 4 pm

Porch and Proper

(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.

619 W. Collings Ave.
Collingswood, New Jersey

Tuesday – Saturday:  5 pm – 10 pm
Sunday:  5 pm – 9 pm

Thank you to local Instagrammer @tastytemptationssjso and PhillyGrub’s Marilyn Johnson for recommending Porch and Proper.

*Rastelli Market at Hill Creek Farms

(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.

*Tacos el Tio

(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.

200 Tuckerton Rd.
Medford, New Jersey

Sunday – Saturday: 11 am – 11 pm

Valente’s Italian Specialities

(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.

Christina Carrell is a freelance writer based in Medford, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


downtown Haddonfield

20+ South Jersey Food Deals for Small Business Saturday

Every year, shoppers come together to kick off their holiday shopping while supporting local businesses. Small Business Saturday, which takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, began as an American Express campaign that quickly gained nationwide support.

Step away from your smartphone and resist the urge to order everything from Amazon. If you’re brave enough to bear the arctic chill in South Jersey’s air, shop small at local stores. While you’re at it, grab a bite to eat from your favorite area restaurants.

Below are just a few Small Business Saturday foodie deals in South Jersey for this Saturday, November 24.

If you know of any I missed, please comment below and I will add them when I get a free moment. I will personally be shopping in downtown Mount Holly today, which is home to a vibrant arts district (Mill Race Village Shops) and one of my favorite cozy coffee shops (Breaking Grounds).

Palmyra

*Print out this flyer to redeem the following coupons:

Franco’s Cafe – 10% off (with flyer coupon)

Kaffir Thai – 15% off (with flyer coupon)

Mama’s Homemade Cookies – 13% off (with flyer coupon; I’m not sure how they arrived at 13%, but hey, who am I to question someone offering delicious homemade cookies?)

Hammonton

Casciano Coffee Bar & Sweetery – purchase 4 gift cards, get 1 free

Annata Wine Bar – offering specials on gift cards and wine purchases

El Nuevo Mariachi Loco – Spend $30 and get free flan (my FAVORITE Mexican restaurant)

El Mariachi Loco's Enchiladas Verdes (Hammonton, NJ)
El Mariachi Loco’s Enchiladas Verdes


Ohana Juice Bar –  20% off select merchandise

Mannino’s Cannoli Express – raffle giveaways and free mini cannoli with every order

Monroeville Winery –  10% off any purchase & 15% off a case of wine

Tales of the Olive – specials on various olive oil and vinegar products

Mount Holly

Breaking Grounds – owner Jenny Lee will be dressed up as an elf and hiding throughout Mill Race Village from 1 – 2 pm for Mount Holly’s Selfie with the Elfie event

Robin’s Nest Restaurant – buy $100 of gift cards and receive a $20 gift card

Medford

Offering $2000+ in raffle prizes from Medford’s Main Street Merchants

Braddock’s Tavern – buy $100 in gift cards and receive a $20 gift card

Harvest Coffee – free Harvest tote bag when you spend $50

Haddonfield (free parking)

Downtown Haddonfield, NJ

Tre Famiglia Ristorante – $20 gift card when you buy $100 in gift cards

The British Chip Shop – I couldn’t locate any special promotions for the British Chip Shop, but they did announce some great news recently, so fans rejoice: they’re NOT closing as previously reported!

Collingswood

Earlier this year, USA Today declared Collingswood the Best Small Town Food Scene in America. They’re also hosting a holiday parade at 10 am on Small Business Saturday.

L’Oceano – buy $100 of gift cards and receive $20 gift card

Indiya (you made need to purchase online) Buy $50 in gift cards and get $10 gift card; buy $100 in gift cards and get $20 gift card; buy $200 in gift cards and get $50 gift card

Millville

Print out this flyer to redeem this coupon:

Bruni’s Breakfast & Burgers – $2 off a 6-pack of take-out burgers (with flyer coupon)

Pitman

Win prizes with when you shop with Pitman’s Passport

Rancocas Woods

Rancocas Woods is also hosting their Made and Found Market this Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. While I couldn’t find any specific information about food vendors, in previous years their market has included a couple of unique food trucks.


Farm-to-Table Dining at Rastelli’s Newest South Jersey Store

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.

Highlights:

  • 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

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Pictured (from left): Chris Mentzer, Director of Operations; Krista Mentzer, Marketing Coordinator; food blogger Amaris Pollock; and Lauren Rastelli DeMarco, Director of Marketing & Events

“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.

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Rastelli’s new Mullica Hill store employs a true farm-to-table concept, with many of their ingredients coming straight from Hill Creek Farms where the store is housed.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hill Creek Farms Hours:

Wednesday – Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm

Rastelli Market Fresh at Hill Creek Farms Hours:

Sunday – Thursday: 8am – 7pm

Friday – Saturday: 8am – 9pm

Rastelli Market Fresh Loft Cafe Hours:

Friday – Saturday: 8am – 9pm

Sunday – Thursday: 8am – 7pm

Address:

1631 State Highway 45

Mullica Hill, NJ 08062

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Pictured (from left): Director of Culinary Joe Muldoon and Executive Chef James Liuzza


South Jersey Family Outings: Lunch at the Red Barn Cafe & Hike at Batsto Village

Note: This article is the first in a new series called South Jersey Family Outings. I’ll combine multiple destinations into one recommended day trip idea for families who wish to explore South Jersey. 

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Delectable, eye-catching pies have made Penza’s Pies at the Red Barn Cafe famous.

Highlights:

  • Artfully-made fruit pies are Penza’s claim to fame.
  • Pies are available for purchase from 8 am – 6 pm, 7 days a week.
  • The shop also sells savory baked goods (like pepperoni bread), flowers, and produce.
  • The cafe serves breakfast and lunch from 8 am – 2 pm, 7 days a week.
  • The shop and cafe are cash-only, but an ATM is available on premises.
  • Owner Evelyn Penza and her staff are friendly and welcoming to visitors.
  • It takes about 10-15 minutes to drive from Penza’s to historic Batsto Village.
  • Batsto Village features hiking trails; a scenic lake; a museum (museum tours available Wednesday through Sunday); a Pinelands-themed gift shop; educational events; and a nature center.

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Produce and flowers are also available for purchase inside the Red Barn.

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.IMG_5995

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.

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Farmhouse decor lends the cafe a cozy, down-home vibe.

 

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.

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Lunch items on the cafe’s fall menu come with a side of homemade cranberry-applesauce.

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.

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The side salads at the Red Barn are full of fresh dill and flavor.

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).

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Because of its idyllic landscape, Batso Village is a popular fall photography spot.

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.