The big story in South Jersey is Collingswood. What was once a nice little commuter town (just across a traffic circle from the mean streets of Camden) with its own High-Speed Line stop and a few little shops here and there is now the new “it” place to live. Philadelphians getting priced out of Philadelphia by the New Yorkers snapping up the “cheap” $400,000 homes have been moving there and so have South Jersey folks who want to live somewhere a little hipper than Haddonfield. My folks took us to an Italian restaurant on Haddon Ave., the main drag, a few years ago back when the rebirth was just happening. Last night, the area was full of cute shops, little restaurants, and lots and lots of Christmas lights (a sure sign of a thriving business district on the East Coast).
Judging by the, um, word of mouth reviews, Word of Mouth is the big highlight of the Collingswood renaissance. My parents have eaten there several times (and love it), and it’s the favorite restaurant of my friend Jayne’s sister and her fiance. My high school friends and I met there last night for our annual reunion.
Kerry and I arrived, and saw Jayne looking out the gigantic front shop window forlorning, slouching in her padded covered dining room chair, waiting for us all to arrive. As we entered, I noticed the well-thought-out partial wall that prevents the cold winter air from blasting any of the diners as people come in and out (such a good idea).
Combined with the dim dining room, the blue wine glasses obscure the color of the wine, which I suppose isn’t such a big deal for the restaurant since Collingswood is a dry town and all the liquor is BYOB (what do they care if you can’t admire the rich burgundy color of your pinot noir?). Our waitress had Jayne’s bottle of white chilling when we arrived and opened that and one of our bottles of red (no corkage fee, either) soon after all five of us were seated.
We started off with a crab and brie fondue, served with sesame crackers, that was an early indication of the slightly decandent food. I felt the brie somewhat overpowered the crab, but we all enjoyed it. Kerry ordered a Caprese-type salad with yummy fresh mozzarella and a potent Balsamic dressing. Jayne ordered the crab bisque (I think it was their soup du jour), which she couldn’t finish because it was so rich, but the flavors were perfect. I love crab, and they use it on everything.
Including my tilapia, served over lemon risotto that was perfectly creamy and refreshing tasting. The crab beurre blanc sauce on it was basically beurre blanc with huge chunks of crab. Fine by me.
Kerry ordered the crab cakes over angel hair pasta, and the cakes, big and round, looked like meatballs. I think it had a roasted tomato sauce and it was a great pairing–very simple (I might try it myself!) but tasty.
Jen ordered the filet mignon, one of the few items on the menu without seafood, Alyse ordered the fusilli with shrimp, and Jayne ordered the Chilean sea bass with lobster mashed potatoes. I liked how even something as simple as mashed potatoes was interpreted in a really decadent, indulgent way.
But the topper of the evening was dessert. By this time, our waitress was politely trying to usher us through our meal (I only knew that was her goal by the emptying dining room, not by her manner), and she mentioned that the house specialty was chocolate chip bread pudding. So of course that’s what we ordered. And it was delicious. So moist and the vanilla sauce was a great, thinnish consistency that was perfect for sopping up with a biteful of the pudding. And the chocolate chips provided just enough indulgence for the end of a satisfyingly rich meal.
One thing I really like about the whole BYOB phenomenon is that you’re paying for the food. Sure, the upcharge on a bottle of wine probably subsidizes other costs of running a restaurant, but with all that food, we only paid $45/person and ate really well. With wine, we would have added another $20 each, probably.
I think bread pudding might be my dessert goal of 2007. Stay tuned.