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)

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Fraternizing at Fratello’s- Jersey Shore Restaurant Week

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week (JSRW), where to go, where to go? For those of you not familiar with Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, they have it fall and spring. This past fall event was cancelled due to Sandy’s arrival. Living in Monmouth County, so hard hit by Sandy, I’m always trying to help our local businesses and Restore the Shore. As a writer for Small Chick, Big Deals, I just HAVE to love the offers of $20.13 and $30.13 for 3 course lunches and dinners and the fact that many restaurants and/or chefs choose this time to ‘show off’ a little something special.

Our first choice this year was Fratello’s, 810 The Plaza, Sea Girt, NJ. Since it was JSRW we knew it was a good idea to go early. On a Sunday we got there about 5:45 and there were already 2 tables filled in the front dining/bar area. There is also a back dining room, but I like to see the bartenders in action. We were greeted at the door by a hostess who gave us a choice of seating. We chose a booth on the side. The busboy came and poured water in small goblets and the waitress came shortly after and asked if we wanted something else to drink aside from the water. I asked about their house white wines and she was very knowledgeable. She went through every house white and a little description. I knew then we were in for a fine evening. I chose a Pinot and my companion chose an unsweetened iced tea. She also asked if we were familiar with JSRW, as there is a separate menu. We said we were and had chosen Fratello’s because of its larger selection than many of the other JSRW restaurants. She smiled and agreed.

bruscehttapastameatballs

While she went to get our drinks, the bus boy appeared and gave us a plate of brushetta. It was yummy, not over garlicky so it set the tone for the food to come. Shortly after, the busboy stopped by again with warm Italian bread and butter, in a covered basket. We ordered our appetizers and entrée at the same time. The waitress said she would ask us for our dessert choices later. (Some JSRW venues ask for your entire meal choices at once). Our appetizers were shrimp angels, which were butterflied shrimp covered with angel hair pasta and a very complementary horseradish and dill sauce, was that cognac in there? The other appetizer was mushrooms stuffed with sausage and fontina cheese and a hearty brown sauce. It is clear they know what they are doing in this kitchen!
In between appetizer and entrée we were asked if we wanted another drink. My companion asked for a 2nd unsweetened iced tea. We were surprised to a charge for refills on our bill. Not many places charge for that today.

meal 1

Our appetizers were cleared and our entrees arrived. My companion ordered the Seafood Della Casa. And man, they were not kidding about that fish. Shrimp, scallops and what seemed like unending pieces of lobster. All this served with angel hair pasta and asparagus in another delicious sauce. I had ordered something a little out of my usual choices. It was a veal chop and shrimp dish called Veal Chop and Shrimp Scapreciatta. I was just amazed that a veal chop could be as tender as a veal scallop. And let me tell you it was huge, this was a no skimpy chop and again, rich brown gravy covered it. The shrimp were tender and seasoned well and it was accompanied by seasonal veggies, carrots, zucchini and mashed potatoes. What a wonderful meal!

dessertdesert
Of course, since it’s JSRW there is a dessert to be had. My companion picked the apple cobbler and I chose the chocolate chip cheesecake. Both of these were apparently made on premises. The apple cobbler came warm and was more of an apple cake with a crumb topping. It got a very positive reception from my companion. And I have to say, my chocolate chip cheesecake had to be one of the best cheesecakes I’ve eaten. It came with chocolate syrup and just enough whipped cream.
While there are so many choices during restaurant week, we just might go back to Fratello’s once more before it’s over.

Mexico Lindo-translation –Pretty Mexico, Beautiful Mexico, the choice is yours.

Looking for some authentic, yes….really authentic Mexican food at a price you just can’t beat? Then Mexico Lindo at the Monmouth/Ocean county border is where you want to go. It’s in a little unassuming building in a little unassuming strip mall on a busy road at 1135 Burnt Tavern Road in Brick, NJ. 732-202-1930

When you walk in the door it seems like everyone knows everyone and you feel welcome to the party, too. It is decorated in the colors of Mexico and there are pictures and decorative items from Mexico as well. On this visit we sat near a poster with ingredients for tamale detailed on it! It was fun to read while waiting.

We really did not wait long for anything. Our waitress came right over and asked if we wanted something to drink. Mexico Lindo is a BYOB and they are happy to help you with whatever you bring, but they also have a tempting array of Mexican sodas. Tonight we both chose Mango. They serve it to you in the bottle with a side glass of crushed ice. And just as quickly they bring you homemade chips….still warm, with homemade salsa. Most times I’ve had the red, but on occasion they will serve the green. It is fresh and tasty, middle of the road spicy. Since they make all their own here you can ask for what level you’d like. The same goes for the food heat, too.

dinner

Fajitas

We debated about an appetizer, but really wanted to save room for the desserts on this trip, so we went right to main dishes. My companion always gets the same thing, the shrimp burrito. You might ask why would someone get the same thing all the time. I would guess, why mess with perfection? That is what their shrimp burrito is, perfection. I’d have to say it’s about a foot long and 3 inches round and filled with rice, beans, veggies and lots of decent sized shrimp. It’s definitely a knife and fork type of burrito, and plan on half of it for lunch for the next day. Yes, it’s that big! And I think the price is ridiculously low at $8.95. My choice was a bit more difficult to make. I’ve had some of their dishes that are traditional Mexican dishes in the past, such as chilaquiles, which are tortillas, broken up and marinated in a creamy green sauce and picante (spicy) . However, tonight I thought I would try a Mexican restaurant staple, the fajita. Now, everyone knows that good fajitas come in 2 parts, so first came the tortillas, in a tortilla holder to keep them warm, and with a plate on top to keep the steam in. on top of that plate was all my fajita goodies. There was guacamole (homemade), sour cream, pico de gallo and yellow rice. Next, came the steak, red and green peppers and onions on a sizzling platter. It was hot, hot, hot! Now, anyone can tell you, the steak is the test of a good fajita and this steak was hot, juicy and full of flavor. It was delicious just to eat alone. Also, the tortillas are fresh, very fresh and that makes a difference as well. I have to say these were the best fajitas I’ve ever had.

dessert

Usually we are way too full to have dessert, but with half the burrito packed away for lunch the next day, we decided to try something. Our server knew the desserts and their descriptions by heart. Ya gotta love that. We decided on the sopapillas. These were lightly fried tortilla chips with honey, cinnamon, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. All this for $3.50.  A nice light, sweet finish to our meal and certainly enough dessert for 2 or more.  A nice meal of real food for the price you now pay for fast food. Whatever we get rarely costs us over $30. Now, that’s a deal!

Nothing Poor about Doyle’s Pour House

I’m Arlene, Empty Nester of Small Chick Big Deals. This weekend started out in the south Jersey shore area. Just some adults looking for some good food at a good price and some good company. Friday night, decided to meet up with some friends from southern jersey in a town about halfway between us is Barnegat. Heard there was a Doyle’s Pour House that had opened there. I’ve been to the one in Tuckerton and found they had some unique menu items and a comfort food/Irish bar atmosphere. It sounded just right for some adults on a Friday night. We met our friends there and they told us there was a 30 minute wait. Okay, on a Friday night, I could live with that. The bar was full, so we waited and chatted by the doors with our call buzzer in hand. Now, when I say the bar was full this was a bar that wrapped around 1/3 of the restaurant. There are also 2 pool tables on the opposite wall that were busy as well.

Guiness Stew

Guiness Stew

Once seated, we had great service. Drinks brought promptly and well made. I had an Absolute martini and it was made absolutely perfect with 3 olives. Now a little thing that is my own particular pet peeve about martinis; if you served martinis, you should be serving them with nice sized olives, not little salad olives. Here, Doyle’s gets an A+ with 3 huge, healthy olives. One of the specials was a Guinness stew served over mashed potatoes. One of my buddies and I decided to order that and the stew was great. The stew covered the mashed potatoes and filled the plate it was served in. The meat fell apart, no need for a knife for this meal. It was comfort food at some of its best. You know I’ll be going back to Doyle’s.