the north face gilet J’s food guru picks his favorite places
I was all over the map in 2013, which started with a statewide mac and cheese showdown (30 restaurants, delis and markets), proceeded to the Ultimate Jersey Diner Showdown for Inside Jersey (55 diners in 11 days); segued into a summer on the Munchmobile (90 plus restaurants) and various food events at Monmouth Park.
Finally, a visit to 40 food trucks for a statewide food truck showdown; winners will be announced in Inside Jersey’s March issue.
The single best thing I ate all year came from a cart the chocolate peppermint ice cream from MilkSugarLove. Emma Taylor’s ice cream is surpassingly creamy and hopelessly addictive. I drove 200 miles to Jersey City in a snowstorm to pick up a pint, and it was worth the epic journey. The list includes two food trucks, one diner, a BBQ joint, a soul food restaurant, a taqueria, a Chinese restaurant and a deli.
But my favorite restaurant of 2013 is a tiny place in Teaneck with four tables and yellowish walls.
Peck Peck minimal menu, nonexistent decor, great comfort food is my kind of place, and if you’re reading this, probably yours, too.
The drumsticks at Peck Peck are the biggest I’ve seen anywhere. Are they from a chicken or from some giant prehistoric winged beast? If you’re intimidated by larger than life size food, order the regular wings here.
Korean fried chicken usually twice deep fried and available in spicy and garlic versions is a different bird altogether from its Southern cousin. Korean fried chicken joints are concentrated in Bergen County. Peck Peck, low on atmosphere but high in quality, is the best of them. Peck Peck Korean Fried Chicken, 250 Degraw Ave., Teaneck; (201) 530 5858. Facebook page.
Taqueria Autentica is the coolest taco joint in the state, with comfy orange couches, blue walls and local artwork. The mushroom tacos and steak tacos are terrific, and the chorizo taco is not far behind.
On Saturday nights, owner Mike Natiello and crew cook such specialties as chuleta (pork rib eye) and tacos de oreja (pig’s ear tacos). And his desserts, especially the chocolate cake and the goat’s milk crepe, are delicious.
Let’s face it the state of Jersey barbecue is sad. Too many BBQ joints and their patrons singing the praises of “fall off the bone” ribs. True barbecue doesn’t fall off anything. Fink’s BBQ Smokehouse is funky part bar, part restaurant, hardwood floors, classic rock playing. The ribs, with their seductive, smoky bark, are appropriately pinkish inside, a sure sign the pitmaster knows true ‘cue.
The menu also includes not so ordinary dishes suc as pork belly stuffed with spicy greens, smoked sausage and Muenster;
and wild boar ham and biscuits. Fink’s BBQ Smokehouse, 26 W.
Kevin Stanton is always eager to help the first timer to Kevin’s Salad Station. Do you want to try some mint in your smoothie? How about a special dressing in the salad? The surfer dad uses compostible cups made of corn resign. The forks he hands out are made of bamboo; his regulars joke that they look like tongue depressors.
Stanton calls his truck menu “healthy fast food.” I just call it good. Kevin’s Salad Station, Westmont, Voorhees, other South Jersey locations; (609) 424 4282. Facebook page.
“Authentic” may be the most overused word in the ethnic eats vocabulary, but Chef Jon’s Authentic Chinese Cuisine can use the word all it wants. Skip the regular menu and proceed to the specials menu, dotted with edgier dishes, such as duck tongue with thee cup sauce or fish head soup with tofu.
The Wuxi style ribs, tender and smoky, finished second on my best dishes list. The snow pea shoots and sauteed string beans are excellent, and I don’t even like string beans. The Red Line Grill Express is not much to look at, but you’ll like its Southern food. I’m a wing man, and their wings, plump and tender, were the best I had all year.
The catfish strips more like hefty tenders are fried just right. The ribs are nicely blackened and, yes, pinkish inside. The Red Line marks its “grand re opening” on Jan. 14. Red Line Grill Express, 1550 Summit Ave., Hillside; (908) 926 9464. Facebook page.
Dark Side of the Moo doesn’t really have anything to do with Pink Floyd, but it’s an apt moniker for the out there meat dishes on Tyrone Green’s food truck. Smoked alligator with picante sauce is his biggest seller, but you’ll want to cross over to the dark, more adventurous, side.
How does wild boar over cranberries and shiraz, or smoked duck with apple brandy sound? Camel burgers? Yep, those too. This from a former commodities trader who left more like ran away from the 9 5 world to start his business.
The retro 50s styled Americana Diner turns out food at a prodigious rate 40 cases of eggs, 250 pounds of coffee, 25,000 loaves of bread every week without sacrificing quality. It’s owned by the same folks who own the Skylark Fine Diner Lounge in Edison; the Americana is better.
Palazzone1960 in Wayne is a stylish, white walled Italian pastry shop located, somewhat improbably, near Hooters and Willowbrook Mall. Good luck finding pastries and doughnuts like these anywhere. There’s the lightly fried, sugary ciambella. The cream filled bomba. The sweet crusted pasticciotto. And Italian croissants, made with margarine, not butter,
which makes them crispier.