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!


Review: Betty Crocker Cocoa Puffs & Reese’s Puffs Muffin Mixes

Mother Cookie was out grocery shopping with Sister Cookie one day when she sent me a photo of what I thought were cereal boxes. Along with the picture was a caption inquiring, “Do you want any of these?” Sure, I love cereal like macaroni loves cheese, but why would Mother Cookie send me a photo of cereal boxes acting as if they were new and exciting? Well, upon closer inspection, I realized they were not cereal boxes; they were muffin mix boxes in the baking aisle. Ole miss Betty Crocker had rolled out a new line of muffin mix flavors featuring cereal favorites like Reese’s Puffs, Cocoa Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. As soon as I recovered from my momentary wave of childish excitement, I texted Mother Cookie back, enthusiastically requesting a box of the Reese’s Puffs and Cocoa Puffs.

Ever since Mother Cookie brought the boxes of muffin mix home, I’ve been anxiously awaiting an opportunity to try them. Although I almost never delve into boxed-mix territory, this fun cereal spin was enticing enough to break the rules. So did the muffins live up to my sugary cereal dreams?

Let’s start with the Cocoa Puffs Muffin Mix.

They started off on a good note when they baked up to form picturesque round, domed tops. Unlike most store-bought foods, these muffins actually looked like the picture on the box. However, the box said it would yield 12 muffins, and I was only to scrape up 10.

I decided not to let the shortage get to me, and pressed on for a taste test. I hate to tell you this, but I was severely disappointed. I had expected the streusel topping to consist of actual Cocoa Puff pieces, but it tasted nothing like the cereal. It was just some unpleasantly crispy crumbs that could barely be passed off as chocolate-flavored.

As for the muffin itself, well, it was hardly a muffin at all. It just tasted like an average boxed mix cupcake without frosting. Muffins and cupcakes have entirely different textures; muffins should be denser while cupcakes are fluffier. I don’t know who Betty Crocker thinks she is trying to pass off her chocolate cupcake mix as muffin mix.

Worst of all, the muffin/cupcake tasted nothing like Cocoa Puffs.

On to the Reese’s Puffs Muffin Mix.

I have a very similar review for this flavor. Once more, I was pleased with the pretty domed tops, but disappointed in the lack of resemblance to Reese’s Puffs in flavor. The struesel topping was a bit tastier on these muffins, which I attribute to the peanut butter. However, it still did not taste like the cereal.

I was once more unhappy with the texture. This was a cupcake, not a muffin. However, the flavor was much tastier, which I again thank the peanut butter for. There was more contrast in these muffins than in the one-note Cocoa Puffs.

Overall, I was very disappointed in these mixes. This only further affirms my philosophy that homemade is the way to go. Boxed mixes just don’t cut it.

Betty Crocker, here’s my advice: a) don’t advertise cupcakes as muffins; I can tell, and b) If you’re going to make a muffin mix based off of a cereal, it should taste like that cereal.

Have you tried these mixes? What did you think?


Review: Bell’s Mansion

Whenever I travel, it’s important to me to experience foods I can’t experience at home. Prior to the trip, I do tons of research on Google and scope out restaurants in the area. I always travel with a plan. I have my food destinations mapped out, and I do just about everything possible to make sure it’s worth stopping in.

I stumbled upon this adorable restaurant, Bell’s Mansion, via my Google hunting. I was drawn in by the gorgeous 1800’s architecture and the history behind the building (you can read about Bell’s Mansion here). The mansion was in the Bell’s family until the early 1900’s when it was purchased by the Salmon’s, who owned the house for 72 years. It is evident that the current owners take pride in maintaining the mansion’s vintage charm. They didn’t obliterate the building with renovations and remodeling. Instead, they upheld the original 1800’s feel, even restoring old artifacts. The building is beautiful. I don’t know how they can be gracious enough to open the mansion up to the public as a restaurant, because if I lived in a house that beautiful, I would live in it and keep it all to myself.

So the restaurant definitely had a great atmosphere going for it, a 5 out of 5 no doubt. But how did the food and service stack up? Well, let’s start with the service. In this case, I’m giving you the bad news first and saving the good news for last.

The service was disappointing to say the least. We opted to sit outside, something I rarely do, because it was a beautiful day. However, as soon as the host brought us to the table, all forms of service vanished. 20 minutes passed, and we still didn’t have drinks. Finally, our host came to the table to ask if our server had come around yet. We told him “No,” and he took our drink orders instead, promising to be back asap with our drinks and bread.

I guess asap means 10 minutes in the minds of some people, because that’s about how long it took the host/server to return with our drinks and bread. He took our orders, and we waited quite awhile longer to receive our appetizers. There was also a sizable gap between getting the appetizers and getting our meals. I got quite impatient. I was ready to eat my arm off!

While we were eating, no one bothered to come around and ask how our meals were. My mother had to flag someone down to get water. It’s a good thing I didn’t need anything else during my meal, because no one would’ve helped me.

After we finished our meals, we waited and waited for someone to bring a check. We began to speculate our server was one of the ghosts that supposedly reside at Bell’s Mansion due to his tendency to vanish. After at least 20 minutes of waiting, my mother got fed up and went inside. She spoke to one of the employees and explained how poor the service was, and how long we’d been waiting. Apparently, she was shocked. As soon as my mother returned, so did our server. He gave us a check, but there was no form of compensation for the bad service. I think it’s unacceptable that they didn’t take any money off of the check. Any other restaurant would’ve repented by taking money off the final total. Our server didn’t even apologize.

I’m not sure if I can peg the entirety of Bell’s Mansions service as poor. It seems the rest of the guests outside were getting decent service, with the exception of the couple next to us who also appeared to receive slow service. Regardless of if this is typical for Bell’s or not, it is unacceptable that they did not apologize or compensate with the check.

That’s the bad news. On to the good: the food. Everything I had was just wonderful. We started by sharing the Potato and Cheese Pierogies. Being Polish, my family and I were sincerely excited to see handmade pierogies on the menu. I can officially give them my Polish seal of approval. They were incredible. You could definitely taste that they were homemade. They were tender, golden brown, and filled with cheesy potato goodness. Quite honestly, I could’ve made a meal out of the pierogies alone.

On a side note, I also very much appreciate restaurants who provide complimentary bread and olive oil/butter. It gives you something to munch on, and it’s such a nice touch!

Anyway, on to my entree. Several meals on Bell’s menu looked enticing (check it out here), but I decided to go with a favorite of mine: Eggplant Rollantini. The presentation was impressive. And I’ve got news for you: it tasted just as good as it looked. I ate all three rolls…don’t judge me. However, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Eggplant Rollantini I had at Mama’s. And although Bell’s wins in presentation, Mama’s wins in taste.

As far as my sister and mother’s meals go, they had mixed feelings. We all agreed the pieorgies were phenomenal. However, they didn’t love their actual meals. Mother Cookie ordered the Gorgonzola Chicken, which apparently was fine except that there was not a single detectable trace of gorgonzola to be found. Kind of ironic if you think about it. Sister Cookie got the Primavera, which wasn’t bad except that the so-called white wine sauce tasted strangely identical to Chinese Lo Mein.

Overall, it was a mixed experience at Bell’s Mansion. The place is beautiful, the atmosphere is warm and charming, and my food was delicious. However, the disappointing service (or I guess I should say the lack of service) overshadowed all else, and I was even more disappointed that they didn’t seem to care. I still think they owed us an apology and a discount of sorts.

I might be tempted to return for the pierogies, but I think I the poor service might keep me from returning.

Bell’s Mansion is located at 11 Main St., Sanhope, NJ


A Must Try: Mama’s Restaurant

There are three kinds of restaurants out there:

  1. The reliable but vanilla chain. You can usually count on a good meal, but good is all you’ll get. Chains don’t specialize in remarkable, memorable food.
  2. The how-the-hell-did-these-people-get-into-the-restuarant-business restaurants. The food and service are horrible, and you wonder why the owners decided to waste their lives dumping mediocre eats ontp a plate and calling it a restaurant.
  3. The rare but coveted gem. A special restaurant where the art of food is taken seriously. The entire menu is delicious, the service is great, and the owners are passionate about what they do.

Unfortunately, Restaurants One and Two are the most abundant in America, and I find this problem to be especially prominent here in CNY. I’ve yet to experience a truly remarkable restaurant here, despite the large number of them present. However, this predicament does have one teeny tiny perk: when I do find an exceptional restaurant, that makes it all the more special.

Mama’s is one of the few truly incredible restaurants I’ve encountered in my lifetime. Located in Hackettstown, NJ, Mama’s offers one of the largest, most mouth-watering menus my hungry eyes have ever seen. Don’t be surprised if you become overwhelmed while scoping it out. There is literally something for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you’re in the mood for; Mama’s has got it.

As a vegetarian, I hardly find menus that offer me endless options. Mama’s, however, has so many tantalizing choices for me that it makes my head spin. And if you’re gluten-free, I’ve got good news for you. Mama’s has a gargantuan gluten-free menu, big enough for them to run a restaurant on that alone. I know firsthand from a gluten-free friend that it’s all wonderful. So whether you’re a carnivore, a vegetarian, or gluten-free, you’re bound to find a plethora of palate-pleasing options at Mama’s.

Since I was in New Jersey this weekend, I made sure to stop in at Mama’s. I’d already been there once before, and after that trip, I couldn’t get it out of my head (hear all about my first trip to Mama’s here). I had to go back! I am pleased to say that my second visit was just as wonderful as the first. Everything was great from start to finish. The hardest part was deciding what to order.

Mama’s starts you off with complementary bread. I love when restaurants do this. We’re talking major brownie points. The bread was warm and fresh with a crusty exterior and tender, fluffy interior. It came with an incredible aromatic garlic olive oil for dipping. I think I could’ve slurped that stuff straight up. It was the perfect compliment to the bread.

Next, I ordered the Pizza Fries for an appetizer: crispy french fries topped with melted mozzarella cheese and served with marinara sauce. I love cheese fries topped with mozzarella, so this was a winner for me. Plus, Mama’s makes a mean marinara sauce. It’s awesome. My only complaint is that I could’ve used a little more cheese.

I also sampled my mother & sister’s appetizer. It was a trio of mozzarella sticks, fried ravioli, and onion rings. They got to select their three appetizers from a list of mouth-watering options. I don’t envy having to make that decision! But the choices they made were all delicious, perfectly fried to crispy perfection.

For my entree, I ordered the Spinach Ravioli with Rosa Sauce. I fell in love with Mama’s Rosa Sauce on my first visit when it came with my AMAZING Eggplant Rollantini. It’s a smooth and creamy blush sauce with beautiful flavor and just a hint of indulgence from the cream. It was incredible on top of the tender homemade raviolis. My only issue is that I was left wanting more sauce. The raviolis themselves were just delightful. They were fresh, clearly made with love, and stuffed with a generous amount of spinach and cheese. The primary cheese of choice was ricotta, which Mama’s does homemade. I’ve got to tell you, once you have their heavenly, creamy ricotta, you will never want store-bought again.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the Tiramisu I ordered for dessert since I devoured it in the car on the way home (stuff happens). I can, however, promise you that it was delightful. The mascarpone cream was smooth and fluffy; the ladyfingers were perfectly soft and soaked with espresso flavor. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

If you’re in the area, please make it a point to stop at Mama’s. I promise you’ll find a myriad of fantastic foods to order on their menu, something to satisfy any eater. You will love the warm environment and accommodating waiters, but most of all, you’ll love their delicious food. They take care with everything they make. It’s quality eats. Stop in soon, and let me know how you like it!

Mama’s Restaurant is located at 206 Mountain Ave, Hackettstown, NJ 07840.
Visit their website and see the menu here.
Find them on Facebook here.


Judgement Time: IHOP’s Holiday Hotcakes

I. Love. Pancakes.

Doesn’t everybody? I know there has been an ongoing waffles vs. pancakes debate, but for me, pancakes will always take the cake. They’re fluffy, floppy, fun, and delicious. Nothing gives me such child-like glee as to inundate a stack of these golden cakes in rich maple syrup then stick my fork straight through the fluffy interior. Pancakes and syrup may be a simple thing, but MAN, are they good!

You can imagine how a place like IHOP might just be heaven for me. True, I have often contemplated moving in and spending the rest of my life in a pancake utopia where all of my maple syrup-covered dreams come true. I decided to go to college instead, but if the whole “higher education” thing doesn’t work out, at least I’ve got that as a back up plan.

When I heard IHOP had released a line of new Holiday Hotcakes, I HOPPED right on over (I’m sorry, I had to). It was once of those situations that, from the moment I learned of the Holiday Hotcakes’ existence, it consumed my every waking thought. I counted down the hours until I may go to IHOP and try some for myself.

Now, The Holiday Hotcakes come in three flavors: Pumpkin Praline (which consists of pumpkin pancakes topped with caramel sauce and candied pecans), Eggnog (regular pancakes layered with an eggnog-flavored cream and topped with butter rum sauce), and White Chocolate Chip Mint (regular pancakes with white chocolate chips and topped with peppermint pieces). I tried the first two, as I’m not a huge fan of mint (sorry mint-lovers).

Read the rest of this entry »