Hits & Misses in NJ: Mama’s & Lockwood Tavern

pizza

I warned you in last week’s Weekender that details of my grubbing in New Jersey were coming your way this week, and I wasn’t kidding. Yesterday, I told you all about my trip to the Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe, a cupcakery that competed on and won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Now, we’ll take a look at two nights and two dinners, most of which was wonderful, but some of, not so much.

On my first night in Jersey, we went to the Lockwood Tavern, a restaurant I apparently frequented as a child, but was too young to remember. My parents recalled Lockwood having wonderful pizza, and where there’s pizza, there’s the Smart Cookie Cook.

Unfortunately, my overall experience wasn’t stellar. Our waitress had an attitude, which she took out on this poor younger bus boy who could not catch a break to save his life. The kid was clearly having a bad night, and when he accidently sent a bowl of dip sailing to the floor, the waitress gave him the death stare to end all death stares. She also snapped at him earlier in the night for unknown reasons. Poor kid.DSC_1888

Now, I can get past an intimidating waitress if my food’s good enough to submerse myself in it entirely. However, the appetizers were subpar. I ordered cheese fries because, in case you didn’t know, I have an unholy obsession with them. The fries themselves were good, but they were blanketed in a plastic layer of bland, lifeless American cheese. Not only was the taste of the cheese off-putting, but that elastic texture was just unnatural. The fries would’ve been so much better with some mozzarella instead.DSC_1916

We also ordered what was Lockwood’s take on the Bloomin’ Onion, and quite frankly, it stunk. The onion showed up to the table limp and lackluster, like a once proud onion that had a piano dropped on top of it. The breading was too thin, and it was flavorless except for an overabundance of black pepper. Worst of all, at least 25% of the breading was undercooked. Not only is that gross, but it’s unsafe.

And we all know the fate of the poor bowl of dipping sauce that came with the onion, may it rest in peace.DSC_1921

Now, here comes the good news: the pizza. As my father perfectly explained, New Jersey is the opposite of CNY when it comes to pizza; you can find a good pizza just about anywhere. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be reunited with the thin-crusted, foldable, buried in gooey cheese pizza I grew up loving. Thank god I can count on even an otherwise subpar restaurant to turn out pizza ten times better than anything I can get at home.DSC_1925

Lockwood’s pizza had a tasty thin crust that barely stood up to the generous mound of melty mozzarella gloriously piled atop a layer of sweet yet zesty marinara. It was the right balance of everything, sliced into big, fat slices that were so substantial I only needed two to fill me up. Usually, I need four (I haven’t been tested yet, but I’m pretty sure I have two stomachs).

I capped the night with some Chocolate Layer Cake, which was tasty, but not the greatest cake I’ve ever had. I believe in only eating things worth eating, meaning that they’re so delicious that you don’t care if you’re overindulging; Unfortunately, this cake wasn’t really worth it. The presentation, however, was beautiful.DSC_1941

Dinner the next night came from my hands-down favorite restaurant of all-time, Mama’s Restaurant & Café Baci, which I’ve reviewed not once, but twice before. It’s that good. Unfortunately, due to uncontrollable circumstances, we had to get take-out rather than eat-in. I was not thrilled because I’m very particular about eating my food hot and fresh, not after it’s been sitting in a container.DSC_5128

Well, Mama’s must know some secrets I don’t know because their take-out was just as wonderful as all the meals I’ve had eating in there. That’s right folks; Mama’s is so amazing that they can stick their heavenly cuisine in containers and have it travel 20 minutes and STILL taste incredible. Are the wizards? Aliens? All of the above? I don’t know, but I don’t care as long as they keep making delicious food.

I ordered their Eggplant Parmesan with their signature Rosa sauce instead of marinara. This Eggplant Parm had a pretty high bar set for it since I inevitably compared it to my favorite recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana. I was concerned Mama’s wouldn’t be able to compete, but they gave my recipe a run for its money.DSC_1947

Mama’s reached near eggplant parm perfection: melt-in-your-mouth eggplant encased in the perfect thickness of crisp, flavorful breading. Then, I almost needed an inhaler when I saw the exhilarating abundance of fresh melted mozzarella cheese burying the eggplant. Seriously, you can barely see the eggplant underneath. It’s too much cheesy bliss to handle!DSC_1943

The Rosa sauce, which I’ve had multiple times from Mama’s, was just wonderful with the Eggplant Parm. It took the dish from great to amazing, giving it an added boost of indulgence (because all that cheese wasn’t indulgent enough). Rosa sauce is creamy, rich, and bursting with the vibrant flavors of sweet tomato and fresh herbs. Side note: they sell the stuff in jars at their restaurant. I’ve got to get me some!

In short, the Eggplant Parmesan was killer, even after enduring the car ride home. It’s a must-try if you go to Mama’s.DSC_1945

We also sampled a trio of appetizers:  Fried Ravioli, Garlic Knots with Mozzarella Cheese, and Onion Rings.

Surprise, surprise; every app was fantastic. The Fried Ravioli was crisp and tasty, the Garlic Knots were slathered in butter and garlic and buried in epic amounts of mozzarella cheese, and the onion rings…oh baby. Those rings sat in a car for 20 minutes, and yet I think they might be the best rings I’ve ever had. Mama’s perfected their beer batter breading. It’s crisp, airy, and not flavorless like so many breadings are. In fact, I probably could’ve eaten the breading without the tender, tangy onion cradled inside because it was that delectable. Don’t judge me.DSC_1949 DSC_1944-2

The only bad part of my Mama’s meal was that they forgot my dessert. We ordered Tiramisu, but alas, there was no Tiramisu to be found. Me being a lover of dessert, I almost cried Tearimisu tears (get it?). Because the rest of the meal was so good, I can let that go, but I was very disappointed.

For the hundredth time, I implore you to get your food-loving butt to Mama’s. You’ll never have another meal like it. All of their food is made with quality ingredients, and I’ve yet to have something there that wasn’t delicious. Plus their menu is HUGE and extensive, with options for any diet needs. Check it out here.

What has been your best and/or worst dining-out experience? What is the one restaurant you love the most? Tell me all about it!


Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe – Chester, NJ

bakeshoppe

After giving up an arm and a leg to get out of my classes, I got to spend a couple days visiting my sister in New Jersey last week. My family and I had to go when both my sister and my father had off from work, two very rare occurrences, which meant we had to leave Thursday. Guess who had a full day of classes, two tests, and a quiz on Thursday? The Smart Cookie Cook. Curse you, college!

Professors these days are unbelievably stringent about attendance, so getting out of Thursday was no easy feat. Luckily, I figured things out as best I could and made it to NJ after all.

The past few times I visited, my sister kept harping about how I needed to try this local cupcake shop. Now, don’t cut me out of your life for this, but I’m not totally crazy about cupcakes. Don’t get me wrong; they’re delicious, and I’ll eat ‘em like it’s my job, but I would pick other desserts over cupcakes first. In general, I’d rather have a big, honking slice of cake than a puny little cupcake. What can I say, I’m a glutton.

However, this time around, I finally succumbed to my sister’s nagging, and we took a trip to the Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe in Chester, NJ. If you’ve never been, Chester is an adorable, charming little town with cute and quirky shops lining the streets. It is exactly the kind of place you’d imagine to find a cupcake bakery.DSC_1842

You may have seen Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe when they took on the ultimate cupcake challenge and competed in Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Impressive, right?

Sweet Spot is small and cozy inside. As soon as you walk in, your eyes shoot straight to a pristine pastry case filled with an array of colorful cupcakes arranged in perfect orderly lines. Each cupcake is simple but elegant; there are no fancy shmancy decorations, just a picturesque, swirling peak of frosting atop a dome of cake. Right away, you know these cakes mean business. They’re not trying to distract you with frilly fixings or elaborate artwork; they’re relying on deliciousness alone to win you over. Could the simple cupcakes accomplish such a feat?IMG_1913

We selected a Chocolate-Chocolate cupcake, a French Toast Bacon Cupcake (and mini version), and a Peanut Butter Marshmallow Cupcake. I also couldn’t resist grabbing an assortment of their cake truffles, so I picked up Chocolate-Chocolate, Vanilla Coffee Cake-Chocolate, and Cookies & Cream-Chocolate.

Every cupcake was a huge hit, so moist, fluffy, and all-around delicious. The Chocolate-Chocolate was the big favorite, which you might not have guessed since it’s such a simple flavor. It was perfectly rich with just the right amount of silky frosting. I guess it’s true you can’t beat the classics.DSC_1855

The Peanut Butter Marshmallow Cupcake freakishly mimicked the deliciousness of a fluffernutter sandwich. Who didn’t love those sweet and salty treats growing up? This cupcake was like a sweeter, even more heavenly version of that classic childhood delicacy.

I didn’t get to try the French Toast Bacon since I’m a vegetarian, but that got rave reviews as well.

The cake truffles were just like cake balls. They had the perfect balance of cake and frosting in the filling, yielding an ideally moist and tender crumb that was not overwhelmed by rich frosting, but perfectly complimented by it. Each truffle was encased in a not-too-thin, not-too-thick chocolate shell that made them all the more delectable. My favorite flavor by far was the chocolate-chocolate. However, I was disappointed by the Cookies and Cream because it didn’t taste a thing like cookies and cream. In fact, it was lacking in the Oreo department altogether.DSC_1886

Overall, I was very pleased with Sweet Spot. I would opt for just cupcakes next time as opposed to the cake truffles because the truffles, although tasty, didn’t totally thrill me. I would love to try some more flavors of cupcakes in the future; they certainly have enough of them!

Are you drooling over my descriptions but nowhere near NJ? Never fear; they ship their cake truffles! Visit their website and like them on Facebook so you can see what all of the sugary buzz is about.

 


The Weekender: Ruthless Weather, NJ Eats, & an Update

Winter 20123

Is anyone else flabbergasted by the fact that February is practically over already? Did February even happen, or did we just jump straight from January to March?

The weather isn’t helping me feel any less disoriented. We had a fairly mild winter to start here in CNY, but now it’s like Mother Nature just woke up from an unplanned nap, realizing she overslept, and is now trying to make up for lost time. CNY is the dumping ground for all of Mother Nature’s crappiest weather, and we are getting pounded with frozen garbage.

I am so sick of it, I could spit. Quite frankly, I am tired of risking my life to go to class. College is not high enough on my priority list for that.

However, this website is top on that priority list, hence why I’m writing a Weekender instead of doing homework. Yay, procrastination!

We had a lot of delicious things going on this week; we even had our first St. Patrick’s Day recipe! In case you missed it…

Let’s Review, Shall We?

  1. Shamrock Spinach Pesto PizzaDSC_1585-2
    And don’t miss the brand new video that goes with it! I let a curse word slip…but I censored it!
  2. Sweet Potato Spinach BallsDSC_1469-2
  3. Triple Peanut Butter Crunch ClustersDSC_1526
  4. Frosted Circus Animal Cookie ButterDSC_0442
  5. American PizzaDSC_1739

What recipe from this week are you dying to try?

Typically, I spend my weekends whipping up more recipes for you, but this weekend, I didn’t cook at all. Can you believe it? In my defense, this was only because I took a road trip to New Jersey to visit my sister and do some house-hunting. Okay, let’s be honest; the main thing I did during my trip was eat, and you’ll be hearing all about it next week. We’ll take a trip to a local bakery and talk about my favorite restaurant on the planet. From pizza to cupcakes, I ate so much good stuff that they had to roll me home.IMG_1913DSC_1855

I didn’t get to tell you guys about this last week, but I got the cutest cake pops ever from my dad for Valentine’s Day. They’re little love bugs made by Shari’s Berries! Almost too cute to eat, right? Well, that didn’t stop me. They’re super fudgy and rich inside, which is my kind of cake pop. Who needs boyfriends on Valentine’s Day when you can have cake?Winter 20122

Moving on to another approaching holiday, Easter has infested every store in the country (side note: can you believe there’s only about a month until Easter?). You guys may not know this about me but I, being a mature 19 year-old, have a thing for Hello Kitty. Imagine my elation when I spotted this Easter-ready Kitty at a CVS.photo(13)

Guys, I’m not going to object if someone wants to buy me one.

Before I go, I wanted to give you guys a quick update. I told you a while back that I’d have a new design up on the site soon. Obviously, most people’s definition of the word “soon” ran out by now. I want to apologize. I’m not sure what is taking so long, but this time frame turned out to be at least 10x longer than what I expected. Unfortunately, that is out of my hands (as you can imagine, I am not a web page designer). I hope I will have something for you guys in the next two weeks, and I think you’re really going to love it. Bear with me for now!

P.S. It’s Girl Scout Cookie time. Yipee!photo(11)

Don’t miss a bite. Like Smart Cookie on Facebook, follow me on Pinterest & Twitter, and subscribe to my Youtube Channel.

How was your week? What did you eat?


The Weekender: Review, Preview, & Strawberry Nails

I don’t know where the week went. One day, I’m visiting my sister in New Jersey; the next, I’m sitting on my butt back in CNY and typing up The Weekender. And can we talk about the fact that July is practically over already? Didn’t it just start? Sometimes, I’m afraid to blink, because it feels like, in that instant, a whole week can flash by.

In case you got caught up in the whirlwind of life too and missed a few bites here at Smart Cookie…

Let’s review, shall we?

  1. Pretzel-Topped Mac & Cheese
    Breadcrumb toppings are so yesterday. Try this salty switch up instead!
  2. Review: Bell’s Mansion
    I visited this beautiful restaurant during my stay in New Jersey. But did the food & service live up to the aesthetics?
  3. Road Trip to Jersey: Candy Shops, Ice Cream, & More
    Join me in a journey to Jersey & check out some awesome food too.
  4. Peanut Butter Pretzel M&M Fudge
    6 ingredients + 5 minutes + a microwave.
  5. Treasure Box Oatmeal Cookies
    Filled with all kinds of treasures!

Was this week delicious or what? Speaking of delicious, I painted my nails this weekend to mimic fresh summer strawberries. Strawberry nails are surprisingly easy to do: start with a red base, add the green leafy tip, and dot on a few seeds. Viola! They almost look good enough to eat.

Remember how I told you about the delicious Eggplant Rollantini I had at Belle’s Mansion? I ate ALL of it, which left me feeling extreme amounts of guilt afterwards. That stuff has as many calories as a porcupine has needles. There’s got to be a way to enjoy that Italian favorite without feeling like a an ashamed glutinous piggy after. Perhaps there is…

Find out next week!

On top of that, I’m working on all kinds of delicious stuff for you, including the first ever salad on Smart Cookie, the summer’s cutest cake, and a boxed bake mix review. I hope you’re excited, because I sure am.

Don’t miss a single bite on Smart Cookie. Like me on Facebook so you can see my daily posts, ramblings, questions, and happenings. I’m also new to the world of Twitter, so make sure you follow me.

See you on Monday!


Road Trip to Jersey: Candy Shops, Ice Cream, & More

I spent an extended weekend in New Jersey visiting Sister Cookie, who recently settled into her new apartment. I ate so much good food, you’d think I was training for a competitive eating contest. Although I’m not proud of my gorging, I must say, it was a delectable trip. From decadent dinners to cute candy shops and nostalgic ice cream stands, I’ve got a plethora of foodie destinations to share with you.

On Saturday, Mother Cookie, Sister Cookie, and I checked out the town of Chester, which is populated by all kinds of little shops. It’s an adorable town, one that takes you back in time with its historic charm. We had a wonderful time popping in and out of all the shops.

I was most excited to check out the candy store my sister told me about, Black River Candy Shoppe. It’s not the kind of candy store that makes their own stuff, but rather a place to purchase all kinds of vintage, rare, and hard-to-get-your-hands on candy. The shop is tiny, but loaded with candy. I was literally like a kid in a candy store as I strolled through and scoped out all the sweets.

They’ve got retro favorites like Wax Bottles, Dot Candies, and Charleston Chews; foreign confections like Cadbury bars and Kinder; and unique handmade local treats. It was overwhelming for someone with such a strong sweet tooth like myself. So much candy, so little time.

Although I could’ve eaten just about everything in the store, I made a small selection. The first was Milk Chocolate-Covered Marzipan. I’ve always wanted to try marzipan, so what better way to try it than drenched in chocolate? For those of you who’ve never had it, marzipan is made from ground almonds and sugar. If you like almond extract, then you’ll love marzipan, because that’s exactly what it tastes like. I found my chocolate-covered marzipan quite tasty (although I’m not sure why it was green). My only complaint is that it was very sugary, so it is not for people lacking a sweet tooth. I think it might’ve been better with dark chocolate to balance out that sweetness.

Next, I bought these Fudge Creams. They’re reminiscent of a chocolate truffle, but the filling is more like fudge. I loved them!

Finally, I chose an assortment of taffy. I’m not necessarily crazy for taffy, but The Black River Candy Shoppe had a smorgasbord of fun flavors that I just had to try. There were at least a few dozen choices, from which I selected Cotton Candy, Lemon Meringue, Coconut, Tiramisu, Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Frosted Cupcake. Each taffy was good and chewy, but not so much that they clamped my jaw shut. Out of all of the flavors, the Coconut was my favorite because it was undoubtedly coconutty.  I was disappointed in the Chocolate Chip Cookie since it didn’t taste anything like a cookie. The Frosted Cupcake and Tiramisu, however, were spot on.

After adventuring through Chester, my family and I had dinner at Bell’s Mansion, which you can read about here. Of course, I had to cap off the night with dessert. My sister suggested going to Cliff’s, an extremely popular ice cream stand in the area that we used to frequent when I lived in Jersey as a child. I was way too young to remember going there, but it was still fun to return.

Cliff’s has so many enticing flavors it made my head spin. They didn’t just offer the classics; they also had a cornucopia of unique flavors like Butter Beer, Smurf, Grandma’s Chocolate Cake, and Cherry Pie. If I could, I would’ve tried them all, but I narrowed it down to two scoops: one scoop of Tiramisu and one scoop of Chocolate Cupcake.

The Chocolate Cupcake was described to me as chocolate ice cream, brownie pieces, and chocolate frosting. Although the ice cream had a chocolate frosting-esque flavor, there were no actual detectable swirls of frosting. That’s disappointing to me because being able to see actual frosting would’ve made it more apparent. I need that texture and visual. And although I love brownie chunks in ice cream, I was sad they weren’t actual chocolate cake pieces. Overall, it was delicious, but not what I was expecting.

The Tiramisu had similar issues. I was expecting chunks of ladyfingers, but the ice cream was homogenous with the exception of espresso chips. I understand the use of espresso chips to evoke the espresso flavor in tiramisu, but the texture wasn’t right since you wouldn’t find chips like that in actual tiramisu. The ice cream itself definitely tasted like tiramisu, and I suspect a mascarpone cheese base, but I still wish I had some ladyfingers in there.

On my last day in Jersey (which was actually an extra day since Mother Cookie decided she wasn’t ready to go home), I baked some heavenly cookies for my sister, which I will share with you soon. It’s always weird working in an unfamiliar kitchen. Plus, my sister’s kitchen is so teeny-tiny!

I enjoyed some real pizza for dinner. The pizza wasn’t thick as a pillow with a crust reminiscent of cardboard and a complete lack of toppings like the stuff I get at home; this was real, flavorful pizza. Big, foldable, thin slices covered in a generous amount of cheese and drippin’ grease. Some people might think grease is gross, but I think it’s the sign of a good pizza. That’s where all the flavor is! I don’t know why they can’t make pizza like that in CNY, but at least I can enjoy it while in NJ.

Overall, it was a tasty trip. What are your must-have foods when you travel?