Bellina is one of the latest entries to Ponce City Market's food court. It's a large establishment with a large takeout section plus a restaurant. This photo is just part of their takeout selection. I decided to try one of their desserts. This is a pastry filling with a touch of lemon, topped with pine nuts, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a single mint leaf. The crust was something non-standard but I can't remember the details. It was wonderful and very subtle. None of the flavors overpowered any of the others: sweetness, a hint of sourness, a touch of savory from the pine nuts.
The stretch of Route 1 between New Brunswick and Princeton doesn't offer a lot of food choices. Omega Diner is one of the mainstays. Like most modern diners, it's huge and bright inside. I was a little disappointed that my coffee wasn't refilled promptly---caffeine is an essential for breakfast. I ordered a waffle with bananas and strawberries, a favorite combination. They offered whipped cream, which I declined in a fit of pseudo-healthiness. I also ordered a mushroom omelette, filled with big, tender mushrooms. It came with potatoes and toast---rye in my case. This was one big comfort breakfast.
Catherine Lombardi is in a cozy upstairs location in downtown New Brunswick, a few doors down from the State Theater. The interior is designed to remind you of an elegant home. The service is classic Italian, attentive and warm but not gushy or cloying. I started with a small appetizer plate, with gorzonzola, parmigano reggiano, and olives. Everything was excellent. I have a hard time choosing which cheese I enjoyed more. For my main course, I ordered eggplant parmigana. The mozzarrella was wonderful, the sauce excellent, but the real star was the eggplant itself. They dry the eggplant for a day to intensify its flavor. That step enhances not just the flavor but also the texture. It was wonderfully rich but much more subtle than a piece of meat would have been.
Highland Park is a cute little town across the Raritan River from downtown New Brunswick. I enjoyed my breakfast at Ruthie's on the main drag. The atmosphere is very cozy and relaxed. This is my Florentine omelette with spinach, dried tomatoes, and cheese. It was tasty and satisfying. The sun-dried tomatoes were added in dry form, making them a little chewy; soaking them in water first would help a little. But overall my omelette was quite enjoyable. I also had to try a sesame bagel toasted with butter. It was a very good bagel: chewy but still soft.
My Rutgers friends treated me to a very good dinner at Old Man Rafferty's, a mainstay of the New Brunswick scene. I started with a bowl of tomato soup. New Jersey is, after all, the tomato capital of the world. The soup was rich with tomatoes and still had some of the texture of the tomato meat. My main course was salmon. It was very well prepared with a bit of a crust on the outside and juicy on the inside. Rafferty's has a large display case of desserts, a contraption designed to break down the wills of diners. I succumbed to a triple chocolate torte. It was delicious: rich, moist, just sweet enough.
Oak Tree Road has always been the epicenter of Indian food in New Jersey. I haven't had a chance to visit for quite some time so I headed there as soon as I got off the airplane. The road is, amazingly, even more packed with Indian restaurants, supermarkets, and stores. I decided to grab lunch at Moghul Express across from the Oak Tree Mall. The style is typical for casual Indian restaurants, not to mention Southern restaurants: order at the counter, grab your number, and wait for your food to be brought to your table. Moghul Express serves north Indian, south Indian, and Indo-Chinese. I ordered a dosa---Indian comfort food. I put my not-so-petite hand in the photo to give you an idea of just how huge the dosa was. The dosa itself had a slightly cheesy flavor; I'm sure it wasn't cheese but I would love to identify the flavor. The potato filling was warm and satisfying. The spices were rich but not overwhelming and left a slow burn at just the right level. I also
I passed through Douglasville and needed a quick, satisfying lunch. Bubba Mac's promised Philly cheesesteaks---how could I pass up the opportunity to check out their game? Inside, the decor is all sports. The service was extremely warm and friendly but the food took a long time to arrive. When my sandwich did come, it was a good representation of the Philly cheesesteak tradition. It came "wid" (that's with onions) as well as green pepper. The steak was very juicy. The cheese was of high quality---Provolone, I think. The bread had the right combination of crustiness and interior structure to catch all that juice. The fries were very fresh.
I enjoyed a satisfying lunch at Momma's Daughter's Diner. It's a small local chain; I visited the Lewisville branch. Outside, it's pretty plain. Inside, it's all Southern: homey decorations, friendly service, plenty of meat and vegetables. I ordered a four-veggie plate that was well-prepared and satisfying. The red beans were cooked just right: not mushy, not undercooked. The fried okra was crispy. The greens had that collard green bite and a nice touch of the pig. The corn wasn't overcooked and had a nice helping of butter. Don't underestimate the importance of not undercooking---it's easy to overcook, particularly in a restaurant that needs to keep food ready.
I really enjoyed my dinner at Rosa's Cafe. It's a fast casual place: order at the counter, grab a table, wait for your order to come up. Nothing fancy, but good food at very reasonable prices. This is my pork tamale plate. The tamales were fresh and pretty meaty, not strongly spiced. The tortillas were the big hit of the meal. I'm a sucker for a warm tortilla and these went down very nicely. The secret is their tortilla machine. These things evoke a Homeresque fascination in me---I love to watch the dough balls go in and see the hot tortillas slide their way down the spiral. See how they puff up?
The Dallas Arts District isn't, as it turns out, a cornucopia of restaurants on a Sunday afternoon. Luckily, a Cowboys fan festival across the street form the Dallas Art Museum featured a selection of food trucks. I tried Greek Lover, which gave me a good snack to keep me going. Here is my falafel sandwich. The pita was pretty thin, which I enjoyed because it allowed me to taste the other ingredients better. The falafel balls were fresh, crispy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.
DFW's car rental facility has a great idea: a grilled cheese shop. Sally's is right in the midst of the car rental counters, a perfect time to think about some food to keep you going. A grilled cheese sandwich is great travel food: hearty without being too heavy; warm and comforting; and ultra-portable. Here is my outstanding grilled cheese. It included three types of cheese (sorry, I was too hungry and rushed to memorize them.) The cheeses were delicious and the crispy toast was excellent, too.
Tech Taco has opened up in the strip mall on 10th Street across from Georgia Tech. The space is large with both indoor and outdoor seating. The setup is of the BYO taco/burrito style. This is my tofu bowl with black beans, rice, cheese, and a few other extras. It was tasty and hit the spot. Nothing was overly spicy so the food should satisfy a wide variety of palates.
Dimitrios and I really enjoyed our meal at Fred's Meat and Bread . He ordered a bacon cheeseburger while I went for the straight cheeseburger stack. It was very satisfying, with great meat, wonderful cheese and aioli that added a lot of richness, and a bun that set them off perfectly. As you can see, it came with a large load of pickles which worked surprisingly well. One of our burgers was a little undercooked, I must say, but overall excellent. And the fries were superb, with big slices and large grains of salt. They are very heavy, though, so watch out and leave some room for that burger.
Dimitrios and I enjoyed a visit to Gu's Dumplings at Krog Street Market. The menu lists two types of dumpling---pork and vegetarian---and in two sizes---half and full order. I asked if we could place a full order with half pork, half vegetarian. Nein, verboten. Seems a little harsh to me. So we ordered a half order of pork dumplings. They were quite good. The sauce is a blend of sesame and pepper sauce. The heat is only mild and a nice contrast to the sesame. The dumplings were tender and juicy.
My recent trip to New Mexico inspired me to make sopapillas, those wonderful pillows of fried dough. They came out pretty well for a first try. The dough is very simple: flour, a little shortening, a little baking powder, some salt. The result is soft and pliable. You want to roll them out to about 1/4" thickness---not too thin. It turns out that the secret to making them puff is to spoon hot grease on the top while they are cooking. About a minute per side is all it takes. Sopapillas cry out for something to fill that puffy interior. These days, New Mexicans will stuff them with anything: chili, cheese, ... I prefer the traditional honey. The technique is to poke a hole in the top and drizzle it in. Be sure to turn the sopapilla a little to touch every nook with honey. I paired the sopapillas with homemade chili: pork confit, red beans, chicken stock, and some Patak bacon for good measure.
Pie is the All-American breakfast. As I have noted before in these pages, Thomas Edison lived for an extended period solely on apple dumplings and coffee. If it's good enough for Edison, it's good enough for me. Since this is apple season, I have been busy with apple pies. I decided to order a novel ingredient from King Arthur, namely boiled cider. It's a very concentrated form of apple cider. It has the consistency and color of a good balsamic vinaigrette but tastes, of course, like apples. I made a pie using King Arthur's recipe here . The result was delicious. The boiled cider gives the feeling of a liqueur, although non-alcoholic, of course. It brings out the apple flavor in a way that is distinct but not obnoxious. This was a luxurious breakfast, I thought. But then I noticed that the recipe recommended eating the pie with vanilla ice cream. Good idea, I thought, so I whipped up a batch in my Kitchenaid mixer. Wow! The richness of the cream goes wo