#SCBDReview: River Rock Rockin Again

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River Rock, Rockin’ again

One of my favorite places to go has always been the River Rock. I was just thrilled when they added the very large outside deck. Now, I don’t just get to peer at the Manasquan River rushing by, I could see it up close and smell it as well. Ahhh, I took the family there for rejuvenation after Hurricane Irene. It was one of the first places up and running, and wow did WE appreciate that. Sadly, it was just decimated by Super Storm Sandy. Water, water, everywhere. It took months of hard work for them to get it up and running again. I would watch the papers, Facebook and drive by often when I was in the area. I was so pleased when they were back in business for the summer. Somehow, though, I did not get there.

NJ summer may have ended, but local summer is still here. Last night we went back to River Rock. It was packed!!! The hostess was wonderful, told us about a 30 minute wait for a table for 2. We asked if it would be less if we ate outside and she told us, there were 3 big private parties and we could get a spot at the pizza bar right away. What the heck, it smelled awesome, so we said yes. The hostess sent a very attentive waitress our way, Brittany. Even though it wasn’t her station, she was attentive to us the whole time. All the waitresses and waiters seemed to be friendly and enjoying their work as well. I don’t know about you, but that makes for an atmosphere I like to be in. The pizza bar wasn’t really set up for many people to sit around, really set up for many people to sit around, so the waitresses were folding utensils into napkins and picking up pizzas at the end of it. As a Small Chick Big Deals writer, that gave me the opportunity to ask a few more questions. Our waitress asked us right away if we wanted a drink. Lots of fun ones were on the menu and always the traditional ones available. I had a Cosmopolitan and it was perfect. Yup, perfect. My companion tried the Applesauce cocktail and, yup, tasted like applesauce. A little too sweet for me, but yummy.

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We have friends whose bands play there, like The NOBS, and I wanted to know if this packed night was the norm. The other waitress smiled and told me that there was a high school reunion going on in the main dining room that was closed off. Nice idea if you want something private here and still have that awesome river view. She also pointed to a party in 3 other areas. Each one was marked off with balloons. I do not know if the balloons were put there by the party goers, but each one had balloons. Easy for partiers to find the right party, I suppose.

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Little did we know we were in for some entertainment with our food. The pizza guys, Matteo and Nicolas worked in a rhythm that was entertaining to watch and delicious to eat. This coal burning pizza oven is a new addition to River Rock and a big hit! We wound up getting the meat lovers pie and did it some damage. Every bite better than the next. The quality of the meats stood out. No fat, no gristle. We are talking crispy bacon crumbled, sausage crumbled, pepperoni and sliced ham. We also ordered some boneless wings; they come with a number of choices of sauces. We picked the garlic parmesan, but had absolutely no room and took them home. We saw many entrees coming out with beautiful presentations. I know I am going back and will have to try something else, but that pizza was sooooo good, it’s gonna be a tough sell, but hey, that’s part of the job for a Small Chick Big Deals writer, isn’t it?

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River Rock Restaurant and Marina Bar
1600 Route 70W
Brick, NJ
732-840-1110
www.riverrockbricknj.com

Lidia’s Cuban Kitchen – 1950’s Cuba in Cranford, NJ , Surviving Superstorm Sandy required a move

A little out of my Monmouth-Ocean county home base, Lidia’s drew me to visit them. As you may know from my bio, I teach Spanish, and love the culture. Any good Hispanic restaurant is worth a visit from me. I also happen to have some friends who live in Cranford who said, “What the heck, we’ll go give it a try”. Lidia’s originally had a restaurant in Highlands, which was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, and have recently opened in Cranford.

Since we were coming up from exit 98, our friends suggested reservations, when we called we were told they only take reservations for parties of 10 or more. We decided on 7pm on a Saturday thinking we might just be ahead of the Saturday crowd. Well, the people in front of us were the last ones to get a table before the entire restaurant was full. Happily, this gave us time to take in the ambience which was very cool if you can appreciate Cuba in its heyday. The wait staff wore black pants, Lidia’s black t-shirts and straw-fedora hats, so very Cuba! And the music was right there, too!

We saw a beautiful bar and asked if it we could sit there and have a drink while waiting. That’s when we met Joe, Lidia’s husband. He said sure we could sit there, but it was a byob. I told him we had heard about the byob and were eager to try some sangria. I showed him the wine we had brought and he smiled and proceeded to make us some very tasty sangria. Also, if you bring rum you can get a pitcher of mojito’s, maybe we’ll try that next time. For $12 they will mix either for you. There were large stalks of sugar cane sitting in pitchers with water that looked exotic and delicious at the same time.
Eventually the entire bar area became packed and it was our time to be seated. I could tell there was a lot of attention to detail when we looked at the menu; it was almost a parchment paper held together by twine. Also, the Spanish teacher in me thought the placemats that looked like a 1950’s Cuban newspaper were the perfect touch. Very important to note, on the menu it says all food is fresh and made to order so please be patient. My party had a lot to catch up on so the time was not an issue, but we were there for a few hours.

empanadasplaintain cups with picadilloshrimp with garlic saucecalamari We couldn’t wait to eat. Our mouths were watering each time a table’s food came out of the kitchen. For our appetizer’s we chose 4 different so we could all try each others. One companion chose empanadas, there were a choice of chicken, picadillo or spinach and manchego cheese or a combination of all three, and that’s what he chose. I chose one of the specials of the night, plaintain cups filled with picadillo. Another chose the garlic shrimp and our fourth, who was hesitant to try Cuban food, had the fried Calamari. Joe, it seems is Italian and told me at the bar he speaks no Spanish. His influence is the few Italian items on the menu and it sure come in handy to please everyone in your party. Not just an afterthought, the Calamari was perfect. The calamari came with Lidia’s homemade sweet and spicy sauce with pepperocini aioli. Our non Cuban eater found it a little too spicy but others raved and more was asked for later in our meal. The empanadas were tasty and filled to capacity. No skimpy empanadas here! The plantain cups filled generously with the picadillo as well. And the garlic shrimp, well….garlicky .

Vaca Frita

Vaca Frita

Cuban Paella

Cuban Paella

Still enjoying our sangria we awaited our entrées. Our non-Cuban eater chose the ravioli. These came with a meat sauce which seemed a little out of the ordinary but was totally perfect for ravioli. Maybe I should show you her very empty plate. I ordered the Vaca Frita, directly translated means Fried Cow, thankfully it is shredded beef,seasoned and pan fried. I could taste a vinegary marinade, just devine. (Is your mouth watering yet?) I chose the congri for my side. This is black beans and rice cooked together rather than side by side. The two guys chose the Cuban paella. This was served full of such fresh fish and steaming hot. After the took a bite or two they both said they thought the sauce that went with the calamari would be great with the paella. So we asked for some and who should bring out the precious liquid, but Lidia herself! I suppose she wanted to see who was mixing up her menu . Both of them had plenty of their entrée left to take home as I did. We just had to save room for dessert.

Ravioli with meat sauce

Ravioli with meat sauce

The desert choices ranged from the usual to the exotic. Our choices included the vanilla ice cream, which came served in a ceramic cup that looked like a cone. How cute! Another had the Casquitos de Guayaba with cream cheese, this is fresh guava slices served with cream cheese, not your typical cream cheese, this is less sweet and the perfect compliment. My buddy, the non Cuban eater, chose the cheesecake, drizzled with caramel sauce. She kept saying how delicious the cheesecake tasted. I chose the Tres Leches cake. For those of you unfamiliar this is a typical Hispanic dessert made with 3 milks. It was the best Tres Leches I have ever had, and believe me I’ve sampled my share. And to top it off, it was drizzled with that intoxicating caramel sauce. I had to ask if the sauce was made there and of course the answer was yes.

Tres Leches

Tres Leches

For everyone reading, it is so centrally located you have no excuse not to go. Right off exit 136 GSP. Will I be back? You bet, I still have so many things to try.

Lidia’s Cuban Kitchen, 117 North Union Ave, Cranford, NJ 908-27CUBAN(2-8226)

#SCBD Mom slow cooker beef barley soup recipe for those affected by Sandy

If you haven’t read the post yet, here’s a link, I am joining other food bloggers today, in light of the destruction of Sandy I am sharing a comfort food recipe passed onto me by my mother in support of those impacted worse than I by Superstorm Sandy. It’s a perfect soup for a cool fall or winter night!

Photo courtesy of recipe.com (I will be taking my own next time I make it!)

SCBD Mom Slow cooker Beef Barley soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg of mushroom barley soup (Manischewitz or similar)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 envelopes beef bouillon
  • 1lb stew beef (or stir fry beef)

Instructions:

  • Put liner in crock-pot.
  • Put in 2 cups water, add all contents of soup mix.
  • Cut stew beef  into 1 inch pieces or smaller and brown meat sprinkled w onion powder and garlic powder.
  • When browned add to crock-pot and add 4 cups water and bouillon and stir.
  • Put on top and let cook for 8 hrs on low or 5 6 on high
  • When finished relax & enjoy!!!

Whether you are from the Northeast where you have personally suffered from Sandy or just want to share a recipe to those who may not have a home still, please join us #FBS4SANDY!!!

Lets get it trending today #FBS4SANDY, Thursday November 8th- share your comfort dishes in support of our friends in the Northeast that have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

& please don’t forget to donate to the Red Cross below and help those in need & affected by Superstorm Sandy:


Always remembering that #SandyUnites! #LetsComeTogether

#Sandy hits home in many ways for #SCBD

Sandy has hit home for me in many ways. My hometown, Howell is about 15 minutes from the Jersey Shore’s well known beaches such as— Belmar, Manasquan, Lavalette, Seaside Heights. These beaches gave me childhood memories with my family, moments of peace throughout my young adulthood and were a haven for me constantly. I can’t even tell you how many times I used to go to the Manasquan inlet just to think and take a deep breath of the ocean and relax. It was my getaway that wasn’t too far from home and now it’s gone. I also met my boyfriend and shared numerous memories at the Point Pleasant boardwalk which is now destroyed. It breaks my heart in so many ways.

My best friends & I on Manasquan Beach before Hurricane Irene last year. :(

The Mansaquan Inlet post-Sandy

Point Pleasant boardwalk post-Sandy

Sandy brought me home. First off, I haven’t been home since I’ve moved out officially into my apartment which is actually 4 months ago this weekend. Due to the loss of power in my new apartment in Bergen County after four days of surviving on gas & hot water (which we were fortunate to have) with my boyfriend Jason, his dog Aby, and my roommates we decided to come home. I’m now safe in my hometown Howell which has power, visiting my grandma’s who weren’t doing too well, and trudging through trying not to cry. My boyfriend is now home still waiting for power in his town in Somerset county now. As far as I know one of my roommates is safe somewhere with power while the other also waits in Northern Monmouth county.

Sandy hit my other ‘homes’– NYC & Hoboken. As you may know I am constantly commuting into the city and/or Hoboken constantly. I was actually supposed to go do an interview with the owner of Sweet Revenge in NYC the Sunday Sandy hit but due to high winds I had to re-schedule. I’ve seen so many posts of New Yorker’s pulling through and it makes me which I could I #DineOutinNYC in a flash but I am so far away and have no way in. I actually just got a haircut for a deal I will be telling you about when appropriate in Hoboken last Friday. The salon is now damaged and will need to be rebuilt. Hoboken has it the worst in North Jersey. It saddens me so much, I’m lost for words.

Hurricane Sandy’s toll on Hoboken

PATH station destroyed

The waiting game. As I wait for power to come back to my apartment and fortunate to have power where I am at home. All I want to do is help but I don’t know where to start, there are so many options which I will mention in my next posts or two. It’s uplifting to see so many people coming together in the area in a time of need.

Gas lines. The gas lines are crazy up in Northern Jersey especially near my apartment,  the gas lines are ridiculous and were long before the rationing even begun. It’s also bad near my school in Morris county. Rationing has effected all the counties I have and/or currently reside in. I never imagined this happening but I know it’s effective.

This post is very personal for me, this is just a local’s point of view on Sandy’s destruction to the places that mean a lot to me. Take this post however you’d like but it comes from a deep place.

The bright side. The bright side is that there are ways to help whether it be a donation, volunteering, eating local, giving family/friends a place to stay warm and charge up or even a warm meal. It’s so great to see residents of New Jersey & New York come together.

Before I start posting multiple ways to donate the easiest and most effective way is through the Red Cross, you can see this link on the side of my page & throughout my next few posts. If you can afford to donate, please do, anything helps:

On that note, please look out for my posts regarding Sandy within the week, ways to donate in New York & New Jersey which are hurting bad. I will resume my normal reviews, recipes, interviews, etc in a few weeks when I feel appropriate but until then look out for post- Sandy dining destinations both locally & nationally, organizations to donate to, post-Sandy recipes for those of us who may no longer have anything in the fridge (like me), comfort food recipes, and more.

Be well, stay blessed & strong…after every dark night there is a brighter day.

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