Happy Birthday to Me: Restaurant Hopping in Little Italy

Well, this might be a first for me: writing a business card blog without the main business card of the story. That’s because my mother still has it and will be giving it to me the next time I see her.

However, I wanted to write this while it was relevant… only a little time after my birthday dinner on July 31. I met up with my family at a restaurant called Puglia, located in the midst of Little Italy.

Puglia Restaurant NYC

I anticipated this meal since I wanted to see my family. Plus, my mom raved about Puglia and I will say the food was pretty delightful. They made their own in-house wine, which was smooth (I had the white).

It went well with my water and all the food I ate. We started off with appetizers, comprised of really good garlic bread (crispy on the outside & garlicky on the inside), fried calamari (always a favorite), a rice ball (yummy although I had to avoid the ricotta cheese) and an artichoke (also pretty good, but not my favorite).

Then came my salad, which was comprised of arugula, grilled pears and Gorgonzola cheese (an enjoyable menage-a-trois that all played off of each other). My main meal was the Chicken Travolta that wasn’t Staying Alive (okay, poor Saturday Night Fever reference) for long on my plate, as the combination of chicken, sauteed spinach, mozzarella and tomato in a white wine sauce was good as well.

I was really craving seafood, but the only seafood they really had was shrimp, which I wasn’t in the mood for since I wanted an actual fish. Since it was my birthday (and 2 other people’s at the table), we each got a birthday treat: a piece of cheesecake (that I did not eat since cheesecake is yucky), a pretty good cannoli and a straw-shaped pastry that was also appetizing when dipped in the whipped cream on the plate.

Restaurants Little ItalyRoaming Little Italy

Since I had never been to Little Italy, I decided to look at each restaurant’s menu that was posted outside. A lot of the places had people standing outside whose sole job was to lure people into the restaurant. I decided to ask them all for a business card of their respective restaurants, so I added them all to my collection.

The only disappointment is that I arrived 5 minutes too late to snag the one for America’s oldest cheese shop Alleva. I was crushed, especially since I wanted to browse their cheese selection. Oh well, I got gelato and some Asian business cards just outside of Little Italy as a consolation prize.

Business Card Count: 33,437

I Went to Primanti Bros and Got One of Their Famous Sandwiches

Primanti Bros York PAI recently went to visit my friends Jon & Alison to see their new house and hang out for the weekend. They live 2 1/2 hours west in Manchester, Pennsylvania and they insisted that we have lunch at a restaurant called Primanti Bros.

Primanti Bros (the location we went to was in York PA) is known in the area for their sandwiches. They started in Pittsburgh and you can now order online according to the business card I picked up.

The Primanti Sandwich Experience

Primanti Bros Corned Beef SandwichI’m not going to lie: I was hesitant to order a sandwich because I was told that the sandwich contained coleslaw. However, I found out it was a vinegar-based sweet and sour slaw… so I decided to give it a shot and boy did it pay off.

Besides the slaw, the sandwich contains a meat of my choice hot off the grille (I picked corned beef), provolone, french fries and tomato on Italian bread. I must say that this sandwich was quite good.

After unhinging my jaw, everything meshed together well. The slaw and corned beef dominated my taste buds, while the tomato and fries gave some extra texture. The only flaw in my opinion is the bread, as it’s really too thick for my taste.

Then again, I don’t like eating an excessive amount of fluffy bread like those slices clearly have. Perhaps if the bread was toasted, then the sandwich would have been that much better. Either way, it was a lot of sandwich and I wound up eating less than half the bread.

Primanti Bros offers more than just sandwiches, like the loaded nachos that we had & tasted like good-quality nachos you’d get at other restaurants. Also, they have “almost famous” chicken wings, pizza and other American restaurant fare. I’d definitely go again for a sandwich, especially since the service was also top notch.

Business Card Count: 33,057

Thanks for the Gift Certificate and Meal Manalapan Diner

Diner Gift Certificate NJ

This is one of the first pieces of mail we received at the new house: a $25 gift certificate from the Manalapan Diner. Well, $25 is motivation enough to try a new restaurant, especially a diner like the Manalapan.

Manalapan DinerMe and my wife decided to go to this restaurant as the second diner in our new area, the first being All Seasons II. The first thing that I noticed was the artistic theme, which I later found out was inspired by Gustav Klimt and his work “The Kiss.” It was a nice touch to see that it didn’t look just like any other diner.

But a diner’s look isn’t what I came for: we had to try the food. The first thing ordered were the potato skins, which were some of the best I ever ate since their taste resembled that of a baked potato vs an unhealthy bar snack.

The main event was a chicken avocado panini that also had jack cheese and roasted red peppers on it. Like with many other “paninis”, it technically wasn’t a panini, but it was pretty close… though the mess that came from all of ingredients was just the same as ones done by other faux paninis. However, this combination tasted very good, as did my side order of broccoli.

I also must say that the service was nice as well, although it was strange how we had a shift change and 2 different waiters. The man who took our drink order was nice enough, but the girl who took the rest of our order (Nicole) treated us great. I would definitely come back to the Manalapan Diner in the future.

Business Card Count: 32,800

All Seasons II: Why the Sequel is Better Than the Original

All Seasons 2 Freehold NJOne of the closest diners to my new home is All Seasons 2 in Freehold, New Jersey. My wife and I decided that this would be the first new place we’d try. It also helped that it was open and had no wait.

I had the Bronx Tale egg white omelette (grilled chicken, mushrooms, spinach, onions & mozzarella that I replaced with cheddar) with breakfast potatoes and whole wheat toast. It was a good omelette, but it’s pretty tough to screw up an omelette.

That’s why I had to test another food item from All Seasons 2: the Santa Fe grilled chicken sandwich, which is topped with guacamole and melted cheddar cheese on Italian bread. That was even better than the omelette, especially with the waffle fries on the side.

All Seasons Eatontown NJIt was a lot better than the experience I had at the All Seasons location in Eatontown, New Jersey. I can’t remember what I ate, but I know it was pretty lousy. The lowlight was the canned brussel sprouts which looks too repulsive to eat.

I guess it goes to show that there are exceptions to the rule that sequels aren’t better than the original.

Business Card Count: 32,612

That Meetball Place: So Many Balls, So Little Time

That Meetball Place

I always enjoy seeing family on special occasions even if the drive out to Long Island is sometimes a hassle. This time, it was my nephew Dante’s birthday and he wanted to go out to a restaurant: That Meetball Place in Patchogue NY. The town is apparently being built up since I don’t remember the downtown being as nice the last time I went there long ago.

It was a lunch reservation and we got appetizers to start such as hummus, cheesy garlic bread, garlic french fries and literally the biggest pretzel I’ve ever seen (seriously, this pretzel was the size of my head). It was all tasty, but the highlight appetizer was what are called Ballchos that were basically nachos with guacamole and crushed beef chili meatballs on top, which I eventually turned into a makeshift salad.

Naturally, I had to get meatballs as well. Unsure of what I wanted and with so many different beef, chicken, seafood, spicy and veggie balls to choose from, I opted to get the sampler.

Restaurant Patchogue NY

After carefully choosing from the meatball types and the sauce options, I opted to get:

  • Moroccan Lamb (blended with 8 spices) in pesto sauce
  • Balls of Fire (ground pork, Chorizo sausage & black beans) in pancetta cream sauce
  • Vegetable Balls (wheat free with wahini rice, lentils & fresh veggies) in spicy marinara

Each of these meatballs were really good in their own way from the Moroccan’s flavorful bite to the way the vegetable balls with a little kick from the sauce. I’d definitely grab another bite at That Meatball Place.

And the quality family time was also fun as per usual.

Business Card Count: 32,341

Business Card Redesign: Al Dente Ristorante

Al Dente Ristorante Piscataway NJ

My wife always told me that Al Dente Risorante, which is located right down the road from her old townhouse in Piscataway NJ, is a fancy place to eat. When visiting their site to see their menu, it looks like a typical Italian restaurant for a moderately more expensive pocketbook.

But I’m not focused on the food since I’ve never actually eaten here before. I just grabbed the business cards a couple of times when picking up Chinese to add to my collection. At some point in the past year and a half, Al Dente changed their business card from the one on the left to the one on the right. And to be quite honest, I feel like it was not a change for the better.

Here are the key differences and what I think:

  • The font: The new business card feels cheaper because the old one’s font pops out. The new one just looks like it was printed out, but that’s probably because of the next element…
  • The wine glass: I understand that Al Dente an classier Italian restaurant and drinking wine is synonymous with eating that cuisine. I don’t think putting it on the card makes your Ristorante feel any classier.
  • The tagline: “Great company, great wine, great food” is the one part of the card I actually think is an improvement. It’s good to make your restaurant stand out from the pack with your card and a tagline does just that. I guess that’s the reasoning for the wine glass, but that was a fail.
  • The styling: If you implemented the tagline on the old card, it could still stick out with a different font color or style. But the Al Dente Ristorante name is the same unique font style, which I like.

Just because the card is different doesn’t mean I wouldn’t eat there. Maybe I will one day… but probably not.

Business Card Count: 31,966

Should I Never Ever Eat at Chipotle Again?

Chipotle Closing 2016I’m not picking on the staff at the Chipotle in South Plainfield NJ, but it’s the closest location to my house where I could snag business cards for the purpose of this article. I already had them, but forgot the people’s names.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has been under a lot of fire lately between the E. coli, salmonella and norovirus issues they’ve had in the past year. They are even closing down all of their restaurants on February 8, 2016 for food safety training for their employees.

I really enjoy the food at Chipotle and I’m always willing to pay the $2.10 or so extra for guacamole. I’d probably eat there once a week if I could. But my question is: would I trust eating their again?

My meal costs around $10 every time I go there, which is about I’d spend on a meal myself typically. So putting that money towards another meal wouldn’t be the end of the world to me.

The real question is whether I’d be worried about eating there again. Granted, the same argument can be made for any restaurant you eat at when you have or heard about a bad experience, but I feel like this is too much for a national shutdown is a big red flag for me. Sorry Chipotle, I’m out.

Business Card Count: 31, 941

Why My Local Corner Bakery Cafe Closed in NJ

Corner Bakery Cafe ClosingI first saw the Corner Balery Cafe open in South Plainfield, New Jersey in 2014. My wife and I went there expecting it to be our possible next casual/cheap meal spot, especially since they offered free Wi-Fi and a restaurant environment similar to one Beth loves. I blogged about it here people.

Corner Bakery Cafe NJ

However, the Corner Bakery Cafe shut its doors a little over a year after its grand opening. I guess you can say it was a whimper of a closing. Here are a few reasons I feel it failed:

  1. It couldn’t fill the shoes of the restaurant spaces it took over. That’s right: it took over the space of 2 restaurants… Baja Fresh that closed down for reasons I explained in one of my first blogs and Quiznos, my favorite sub shop ever. That also means double the rent.
  2. There’s a Panera Bread right down the road. Literally less than a mile away and Panera has more credibility with the consumer & what feels like a better menu to the public.
  3. There’s a Red Robin right next to it also. The kiddies probably prefer Red Robin’s burgers, fries and milkshakes to Corner Bakery Cafe’s healthier food.
  4. There’s a freaking Chipotle in the next parking lot that’s walking distance. ‘Nuff said.

Business Card Count: 31,916

It’s Official: Fro-Yo Is Out, Space For Rent Is In

Cherry Reds Wyckoff NJCups Frozen Yogurt South Plainfield NJEverything in life has its fads. Clothes, music, sports, even food. That’s right: food, one of my favorite things.

I’ve seen it in certain brands (ones that don’t exist anymore or have limited-edition flavors), certain diets (like Atkins) and certain types of food (like frozen yogurt).

The fro-yo fad has been big for a little while, but it’s going downhill as evidenced by the closing of some businesses. For example, the Cups location in South Plainfield NJ was open for a little over a year before closing its doors.

Other fro-yo establishments lasted less time. Cherry Reds took over the Red Mango location in Wyckoff, New Jersey and it closed its doors within 6 months. Granted I stopped going there because it reduced the number of Hale & Hearty soups they served, but still.

I enjoy fro-yo and the many choices I can make (depending on the place) with toppings and flavors. Cups and Cherry Reds both provided those, but I don’t indulge in frozen yogurt that often. It being December probably doesn’t help my thought either.

Regardless of the month, fro-yo is still out.

Business Card Count: 31,698

A Holiday Party For My Old Job at Piccola Italia Restaurant

Piccola Italia RestaurantSome people might feel awkward going to a holiday party at their former job, but not me. I enjoy the people and it helps that my wife also works there.

I was excited to get to the Piccola Italia Restaurant in Ocean NJ since it would be a fun night. From meeting new people to catching up with others, it was a night to remember.

The food was also wonderful. The flat bread was pretty good & I was told the round rolls were tasty, too. The crispy calamari was delicious with the addition of their sauce, as was the Ortolano salad antipasto and Gorgonzola steak fries appetizers we got.

The highlight of the appetizers I ate though was the baby clams that combined the shellfish, house-cured bacon lardons, Yukon Gold potatoes, toasted pine nuts, garlic, rosemary & a touch of pesto for an addictive flavor. I was angered when the waiter took them away before I ate them all.

At least that gave me enough room to eat my meal: some medium hanger steak with whipped potatoes and asparagus that all gelled together well. I also sampled my wife’s meal, free-range chicken breast, and it was juicy.

For dessert, a variety pack came out that included a fried cannoli that I didn’t try. The 2 items I had were the crème brûlée that tasted fine & creamy and the tiramisu that was much more impressive. It literally melted in my mouth and it felt like a badass version of ice cream.

My company’s holiday party will be at the Ramsey Country Club again this year, which I wrote about last year in this blog post, so that means you won’t get a new post unless the food is different. Then again, my wife will be there meeting my coworkers for the 1st time, so maybe I’ll blog anyway. We’ll see.

Business Card Count: 31,686