And so, 2012 ends with most of us chasing it out of the house with a broom. And yet, there were some lovely dishes devoured by us over the course of the last twelve months. We tried to keep it to a list of ten, but, heh heh, there were just too many, so we’re going with twenty! Here are 20 things that we ate last year that we just adored:
* We started drinking last year…well, cocktails, anyway. All in the name of research, of course. And of all the cocktails we imbibed, the one that stood out most was the snap pea martini served at The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia in Cape May. In Lisa’s words, it was savory with a hint of sweetness, just like snap pea itself. Refreshing while still maintaining the essence of the vegetable. Strangely compelling.
* Our first taste of Local Smoke BBQ (Cookstown/Neptune) came during the Atlantic City Food & Wine Fest, and all they served was this little smoked jalapeno popper wrapped in bacon. But oh my, was that little bacon-wrapped package pure delight and indulgence. Smoke, heat, intensity, power.
* I love chicken wings, but I never expected to find a wing with depth of flavor. That was before I met the smoked and fried wings being served at Shore Fire Grille in Barnegat. Sure, you get the usual elements you find any good chicken wing…then that smokiness hits you and makes a simple wing become noble somehow.
* From noble wings to ‘wings with a tuxedo’…over at Vic & Anthony’s in the Golden Nugget, they serve a maple-glazed quail with sriracha and vinegar sauce appetizer that is ridiculously good. Yes, they have great steaks there as well, but this was one of the best appetizers I have ever had in my life. I called them ‘wings with a tuxedo’ because they were messy like a good plate of wings, but with a flavor that was quite sophisticated.
* Sometimes, only one of us gets to have a memorable dish. While Lisa was attending a beer dinner being hosted by Mia at Caesars, she encountered a dish of mallard duck sausage with sweet and sour cabbage. The sausage was rich but not overly so, with a lovely touch of spice, and the cabbage served to soak up all the goodness from the sausage.
* And then, sometimes I get the goodness all to myself. Mexican eateries are suddenly popping up all over Toms River, and I was lucky enough to give Tacos Sacra a try. Their beef tongue tacos are such a joy to behold and eat. The woman in the back doing the cooking is also doing God’s work.
* And sometimes, I get to show Lisa that what I have been yammering on about is sometimes true. She finally got to sink into the glory that is a panzarotti from Vincent’s in Merchantville. And the verdict? She’s a believer!
* Let’s face it: we have been burger’d to death over the last few years. And while we’ve gotten numb to the burger bombast, we found that a good ol’ burger from Burger 25 (locations in Jersey only) cures what ails you. Really good beef served on a really good bun…could it be that simple?
* From a simple burger to something quite complex…we’ve had our share of steak, but the dry-aged New York strip steak served at Chelsea Prime in AC was something altogether new for us. Lisa described it as smokey, floral, grass-fed but not grassy, with a little bit of sweetness in the juices. The outside crust had a deeper flavor to it. And all that was used for seasoning was a bit of salt and some cracked black pepper.
* Recently, Lisa enjoyed a meal at The Madison in Riverside. We have eaten there before, and liked it, but evidently we didn’t have anything like the Berkshire pork loin she sampled that night. It was tender and juicy, almost like a perfect steak, but still very much like pork. It’s marinated overnight, which gives it all the flavor. You have to taste it to believe it, sez Lisa.
* Let’s take a meaty break and talk about a cheesy spread. The Oktoberfest cheese spread at Cheese Etc in Collingswood was one that really stuck out for us. It had a zest to it, augmented by the maltiness of the beer. Had a nice twang to it. Craft beer and cheese: what’s not to like? They loved it at the farmers’ market, where they couldn’t keep up with demand!
* It wasn’t the first time we had eaten snails, but the snail dish served at Table 31 in Philadelphia was one for the books. Snails from Puglia (that evidently only munch on grape leaves in a vineyard) served with rosemary in a compound butter finish. Sweet little nibbles.
* Now we go on a Revel roll…as in the rolly polly albondigas served with sherry cream and manchego at Amada. The food was even better with the ocean view. We’re still getting used to the idea of beautiful ocean views while dining, Thank you, Revel.
* Lisa had the absolute pleasures in digging into the duck fat cheese fries at Whiskey Bar at Revel in AC. How were they? As Lisa puts it, they were all that you could imagine them to be…and more. Crispy and rich, but not a bit greasy. The cheese sauce was made with Sly Fox beer, by the way. When Lisa meditates, it’s one of her ‘happy places.’
* When we got to try Caffe Lugo at Revel, we didn’t know what to expect. We certainly did not expect the amazing awesomeness that was the veal pasta with oxtail sauce. Double the richness, and not a hint of guilt in such an indulgence.
* Then there were those Cajun fried shrimp at Harry’s Oyster Bar. There’s something in that beer batter…we don’t know what it is…that makes them pure fried addiction. Can’t. Stop. Eating. Them. Especially with a beer.
* Finally stayed up past out bedtimes to attend the Sweet & Stylish event at the AC Food & Wine Festival this year. While there were plenty of decadent sweets to be had, the nutty boozer brownies from Flying Monkey Bakery out of Philly were the winners that night. Chocolate, scotch…and a nutty ganache. Woohoo!
* I could start every morning with a cinnamon bun from Bumblebee Bakery in Smithville. We had to pick one thing to mention from them, but my God – everything they make is wonderful!
* There’s another bakery where everything is always good: Sweet Life Bakery in Vineland. And the cupcakes they served at Edible Jersey’s 5th anniversary party were just perfect and perfectly local.
* And finally, something simple: a strawberry from Beach Plum Farm in Cape May. Have you ever had a strawberry plucked from the vine, warmed from the sun, untainted by artificial fertilizers and chemicals? If not, what’s wrong with you? Get down there next summer!