Chef Anthony LoPinto lands at Marcello's in Suffern: running a Chef's table and cooking classes

LoPintos Chefs Table-2

It's good to have Chef Anthony Lo Pinto back doing what he does best: cooking fantastic, seasonally-driven food.

This time, you get to watch him while he does it, as he'll be doing it all in front of you, acting as your host, Chef, and educator.

I've been following Chef LoPinto for over a decade now. I first experienced his cooking and hospitality at the now-shuttered Fortunato in Lyndhurst, NJ, where he came out to the bar to meet my friend and me, and, if I recall correctly, took it upon himself to cook for us. No ordering, just sitting back and having the chef prepare a meal, serve it, talk about it, pour carefully paired wines, and making a connection with his guests.  And that's exactly the experience you can have at Anthony Lo Pinto's Chef Table at Marcello's.

LoPintos Chefs Table-10

We were recently invited by Chef Lo Pinto to what I would call a friends-and-family night at his Chef's table, and were more than thrilled to take him up on the offer. The "official" kick-off, I believe, will be sometime in early September, when the Chef's table will be serving food a few nights a week, with a three course meal Wednesday and Thursday, and a five course meal Friday and Saturday nights, available by reservation.

We were greeted by a huge smile and hug, as you are by every Chef, right? The table, which surrounds the stove, was set with bottles wine and a tasting of four olive oils (from Marcello's Italian foods import business). Excellent bread from a local bakery was served. Game on.

LoPintos Chefs Table

When all of the guests arrived, Lo Pinto kicked off the night with a toast, and then went on explain his philosophies on hospitality, seasonal food, and cooking, and sharing in his excitement for this way of cooking for guests. And the first course was in play...

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Rutt's Hut: Fried Chicken in Clifton, NJ

 I've been going to Rutt's Hut for 30 years. And this week I uttered words that I had never considered uttering, and quite frankly didn't know could be uttered:

"I'll have the basket of fried chicken."

What the what??!?

Let's rewind, to the drive over. The missus, who has been to Rutt's Hut perhaps once in her life, started thinking about what she'd be ordering.

Missus: "What should I order."

Me: "You order a hot dog."

Missus: "What else is on the menu?"

Me: "NOTHING is on the menu. You order a hot dog."

Missus: "Oh, maybe I'll get a chili dog!"

Me: "They DON'T HAVE CHILI DOGS. THIS IS RUTT'S HUT. THE ONLY THING YOU ORDER IS A %@#%&%ING HOT DOG WITH MUSTARD, and MAYBE relish."

This frustrating exchange brought me to the verge of exhaustion. Why doesn't everyone understand the world exactly the way I do? Savages. All of you.

Now we're sitting at Rutt's Hut. At the bar, no less. In the middle of the day, no less. A place I rarely find myself--I'll typically go to the walk-up side of the place and eat my meal in the car. We're looking up at the 70-year-old menu above the bar, snickering about how bad much of it has to be, and the oddly specific pricing ($3.10?). Then the missus spies "fried chicken in a basket."

The missus starts up with "I wonder how--." I immediately go to cut her off. I'm not having any more of this nonsense talk about any non-hot dog food that Rutt's Hut allegedly offers. But then something occurs to me: Rutt's Hut fries stuff up but real good. Who's to say they don't fry up chicken parts just as well?

Ordering the fried chicken would be crazy, I'm thinking. I don't want to waste a meal, skipping my two dogs for some awful chicken. I start searching online for images of Rutt's Hut fried chicken, to get a feel for it. Just to see what it looks like. There's just one. One picture of the fried chicken at Rutt's Hut. On some horseshit site called "food spotting"-- a site that doesn't believe in words, and appeals, I suppose, to people who are attracted to shiny things and don't want to think, although I guess it came in handy at that moment. Has more than one person ever ordered this? Hard to say.

We throw caution to the wind and utter those crazy words.  "I'll have the basket of fried chicken."

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Nick's Laguna Beach: food and drinks and sun

Nicks Laguna Beach

If Nick's Laguna Beach was in my town, I'd be living in Laguna Beach, and that would be pretty awesome. I'd also be going there as much as possible.

In fact we did go to Nick's twice in one week when we were visiting the sunny (and grid-locked) town of Laguna Beach. Would have went a third time, but my dopey friend insisted that we eat at some place on the water. What a waste of a meal that was. But let's not think about that.

Let's think about this a place with big skylights, a good-sized rectangular bar, fun, well-executed food, and cocktails to match.

The cocktails are made with fresh citrus juices, as they should be, by very competent bartenders. The short and concise cocktail is represents my friends whiskey and tequila quite well.

Nicks Laguna Beach-2 Nicks Laguna Beach-3

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Wood Stack Pizza Kitchen: top-notch pizza and cocktails in Pine Brook, NJ

Woodstack pizza pine brook-8

A short ten years ago, the only thought of Neapolitan-style pizza in NJ was the memory of Una Pizza Napoletana in Point Pleasant Beach, owned and operated by the incredible pizzaiola Anthony Mangieri, which had a run of a few years, and probably caused much confusion for the locals and bennies--"What, no slices? I have to order a whole pie? Why is it so small? Why is it moist? It's burned." It closed, and Mangieri moved his place to NYC to great acclaim. Then he moved to San Francisco, for more great acclaim.

But now, in our current world of open-mindedness and tolerance to ideas that differ from our own and our ability to have our worldviews and deeply rooted biases challenged, Neapolitan-style pizza can be all over our state, and even in some other states, if you can believe that. Many of these places do a very good job. Few combine excellent Neapolitan-style pizza with a full bar. And even fewer have a full bar and actually care about the booze they're offering. Wood Stack Pizza, in Pine Brook, is, indeed, exceptional in this regard, and others.

Wood Stack Pizza Pine Brook
Here's a tip: if they offer you bread, take it. They're baking their own bread here, as good pizzaiolo do, and it's excellent stuff. Served with softened butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt (they do things right here, I'm tellin' ya that much).

Their liquor shelves are well-stocked, and even have some stuff that I've never come across. The cocktail list is expansive, and there's a separate section for margarita-type drinks (tequila, and mezcal), presumably because they knew I'd be coming.  The gin, rum, whiskey, and tequila cocktails far outnumber the vodka drinks, thankfully. Good management is in place, it's clear, because the bartenders are jiggering their cocktails. Cocktails are all about proportions, and unless you're a very exceptional bartender, not jiggering can lead to unbalanced drinks. I prefer to see jigger use at a bar. It's a sign of professionalism and an attention to detail. Even I, I, use jiggers when making cocktails at home. Of course, I can free-pour pretty well, but why bother.

Woodstack pizza pine brook
Woodstack pizza pine brook
Woodstack pizza pine brook

The tap beers are all local, and seem to rotate pretty regularly. All from NJ as far as I can remember. All sorts of great beer is being produced in NJ, and you should start drinking it and supporting your local brewers. Otherwise those kids who make the beer are going to have to do the other things they'd be doing, like making awful music. Please drink their beer so I don't have to hear their awful music. 

Wood Stack does have some mass-produced swill in bottles, for the savages among us.

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Social Still: food and spirits in Bethlehem, PA

Social still bethlehem-4

The ol' restaurant-in-an-old-bank trick.  They're popping up everywhere. Bethlehem, PA, boasts at least two (Mint, is another, which is located in a 60s-style bank, a decidedly different vibe than the turn-of-the-last-century banks you typically see occupied by restaurants).

Social Still ups the game by not being not only a restaurant, but also a distillery. They're making gin, whiskey, vodka, rum, and not tequila. They're putting their spirits in some excellent cocktails, and on top of that, putting out some great, fun food.

Social still bethlehem
Social still bethlehem

Those cocktails include preferable ingredients like house-made bitters and fresh fruit juices. Some standouts were "The Herbalist" (House infused rosemary, thyme, and cucumber gin, lime, simple) and "The Jake" (rye, bitter orange liqueur, orange flower water, bitters, rye soaked cherries, pineapple). These cocktails may or may not be pictured here.

The menu tends to read toward the fun side of the spectrum, but I got the impression the team in the kitchen can indeed cook at a level beyond your expectations.

Social still bethlehem-8

We had a simple chopped salad, with marinated tomatoes, pickled red onion, and crispy chickpeas, and a chèvre vinaigrette. Notice I didn't say "tomatoes, onions, chicks peas, vinaigrette." They're doing things right here.

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