There was plenty of buzz around these parts in Ocean County over a certain English-speaking gent – one who happens to be one of the most recognizable chefs on the planet – who was shooting an episode of one his TV shows. Gordon Ramsay was in Toms River filming an episode of “24 Hours to Hell and Back”, a restaurant makeover show that ramps up the drama by giving Chef Ramsay only one day to turn around a struggling restaurant.
The restaurant in question was Caneda’s White Rooster, a place that I had been looking forward to its opening ever since I first heard Patricia Caneda post its concept on Facebook a couple of years ago. At the time, Patty was running a little empanada eatery on Hooper Avenue – and a really good one, too. But this new place was going to be a Cuban-styled restaurant that would hearken back to the 1950s, and there would be music to complete the mood. I remember following the progress online as she would give video updates. It was months and months of hard work as the old Rivoli’s space down the street from her empanada place was completely revamped.
Right before the restaurant had its opening in 2018, I stopped by on my lunch hour to take a few pictures of the outside to post on social media. As I was doing this, someone asked if they could help me. It was Patty Caneda. She graciously let me come inside and get a full view of the place. It was gorgeous. Nothing of its like existed in Toms River. My excitement only increased. I ended up doing a full interview with Patty.
Lisa and I went to White Rooster soon after the opening to have dinner. To put our excitement in perspective, you have to know that when we used to live in North Jersey we had a number of excellent Cuban restaurants close to us – such as Azucar and Rebecca’s in Edgewater and La Isla in Hoboken just to name a few. We were missing good Cuban food, and the bar had been set pretty high. And as we ate our meal at White Rooster, we just couldn’t get over the feeling of…I have to say it…genuine disappointment. When Patty came to out table to ask how was the meal, I was so conflicted. I knew the work that went into getting this place going, but I also knew what my taste buds were telling me.
I went with honesty. And I felt awful sharing my disappointment.
As the months went on, I continued to follow the progress of White Rooster. But with every special dish that was being featured, I couldn’t help but notice that none of them seemed to be – Cuban. The direction seemed to be changing, but to where?
And so, here were are now with White Rooster getting the Chef Ramsay treatment. And guess what was one of the key things he changed? A menu that got back to being more Cuban. I hope it sticks, and I hope that Patty Caneda has the right chef in place that can deliver that vision.
How about some events for this weekend and soon thereafter? Sure…
- Get your scare and your drink on this Saturday at Witch-Craft, a new beer and spirits festival organized by the folks that give you the AC Beer and Music Festival every year. The festival is being held at Lake Lenape Park East in Hamilton Twp. from 6PM to 10PM.
- The Bridgeton Amish Market is holding its annual Fall Festival on Saturday from 10AM to 4PM. There will be a chicken BBQ, homemade applesauce, and pony rides – just to name a few.
- Tropicana Atlantic City is the site for a Beer & Whiskey Festival this Saturday with 60 beers and 30 whiskeys to try. Tickets are $40 at the door.
- The annual Chatsworth Cranberry Festival is this weekend (October 19th and 20th) right on Main Street in Chatsworth. It’s a big event, so be ready fo the crowds.
- SJ Hot Chefs brings back Fall Harvest Week, which runs from October 20th to 25th. Participating restaurants will be offering four-course meals for $35.
- Recklesstown Farm Distillery in Columbus is having a special Speakeasy pop up event on Thursday, October 24th starting at 6PM. Prohibition-era cocktails are going to be served, and period costumes are encouraged. Tickets are $15 if you’re drinking and $5 if you are not.
- Blue Cork Winery and Vineyard in Williamstown is having a Fall Pop-Up Vegan Market on Saturday, October 26th from 1PM to 6PM.
Other foodstuffs going on around the South Jersey area:
- Broadway Burger Bar, one of my favorite Atlantic City casino spots, has a new chef and new fall menu. Go check it out!
- Turdo Vineyards & Winery, my favorite winery in Cape May, has two exciting new vintages that are being released today! Limited in supply, they will go fast.
- Taco-Tastic is opening a second location in Toms River.
- If you’re anywhere around Pennsville on Saturday, make a stop at Pennsville Custard Stand and/or the Pennsville Farm Market. Both locations will be contributing proceeds towards the McMullen family, who are mourning the loss their daughter Hailey on a carnival ride accident.