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)

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!

#SCBDFavorite: Quality Italian at Cafe Luna in Old Bridge, NJ!

scbdfavorite

As I mentioned in my 10th Ave Burrito piece earlier, I’ve been taking a few short & long trips home this month. On one of my short trips home when I was there for basically a day, my mom decided to take me and her boyfriend out to a late lunch. I was craving a tartare (I still am) and really wanted to go to a nice, restaurant that wasn’t a typical bar. Nick, my mom’s boyfriend suggested we go to Cafe Luna in Old Bridge, since he heard tons of great things about it. I checked out the menu, which looked amazing so we did.

Cafe Luna has a great location and is right off Route 9 North, the dining room is spacious and seats were comfortable.Our waiter greeted us and took our drink order. I ordered the sangria, which was good and had tons of flavor. Since we were hungry we decided to order appetizers, we ordered the bruschetta and calamari (on bottom of pic below).

64765_10151264063740588_1710478303_n

The calamari (pictured above) was delicious, not as crispy as I’d prefer but it still had good  flavor and breading. The bruschetta was delicious: fresh tomatoes and onions on big pieces of crostini, it hit the spot. For an entree I got the Filetto di Pomodoro (middle), my mom, Arlene got the Anneletti (left), and her boyfriend Nick got the Linguine Nere (right). We all enjoyed our meals and had some leftovers, but they were pretty filling. I really like that Cafe Luna makes their own pasta, which is a rare find in restaurants in that area.

16510_10151263599230588_586002293_nOf course, our meal would not be complete without dessert. We decided to try their homemade tiramisu which was delicious. It had just enough alcohol flavor in it, and it was so light, one of the lightest I’ve had. Heck, I’d go back just for that with cappucino.

Next, time your in the Monmouth County area and looking for homemade Italian I highly recommend Cafe Luna in Old Bridge, NJ!

Buon Apetito!

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

#SCBDExclusive Interview with Christina Aurrichio, Owner of Chi Flo

scbdexclusive

This month, Christina Aurrichio, an FDU graduate like myself, launched an amazing new, up and coming fashion line, Chi Flo. The line is creative and unlike anything out there because of Christina’s passion and love for drawing and fashion. When I saw that she was launching the company and her premiere line, Grimm Street I had to get the 411 and have my readers get a first look because I see Chi Flo going places and you’ll probably want to buy your first shirt after you read this.

530765_279979785464104_1302445448_n

Christina Aurrichio, Owner of Chi-Fl0
Photo Credit: Rob Roselli

SCBD: Thanks Christina for letting me interview you and give my readers the first scoop on your new line, Chi Flo. It’s great to see another peer and fellow Jersey Girl make their mark. Who or what inspired you to come up with Chi Flo?

CA: No problem Sara! Thanks for all the support and promoting, I’m very impressed by all you’ve accomplished as well. What inspired me to create Chi Flo was a mixture of things. I am very passionate about my artwork and always wondered how to properly display it. I also am very passionate about fashion and the whole city scene. You know—the girls in the city with a sketchpad  in their backpack, a cup of coffee in hand, and a keen sense of style…just trying to make it big. Chi Flo is all about the balance of my artwork, the fashion sense, and actual occurrences life occurrences. It also showcases my love for making light of bad situations. For instance, the BAD GIRLFRIEND shirt should be worn by girls with a sense of humor who have been maybe labeled as a Bad Girlfriend before, or just know how to joke about themselves. It’s just so much bigger than a t-shirt line for me, and I hope someday it catches on.

SCBD: How long have you been drawing for? What’s the best drawing you’ve made?

CA: I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid, maybe about 7. My big brothers and mother were always extremely creative and seeing them creating music/crafts/drawings made me want to do the same. I can remember looking at my Flinstones storybooks, loving the character Dino and just taking a piece of paper and drawing him. It was always an exciting challenge to get better at drawing every time I picked up a pencil. It still is an exciting challenge. I’ve never been classically trained in drawing. I think that says a lot as well.

My favorite drawing I drew would be the “Not Your Savior”.

SCBD: Chi Flo focuses on using original artwork, why do you think that’s crucial to any successful fashion line?

CA: I  think nowadays, every time you turn a corner someone is creating a new t-shirt line from scratch or a website that re-sells already made t-shirts the buyer purchased wholesale. Granted, I am supportive of anyone doing so. However, most of those people aren’t coming up with the designs themselves. They are either Google-imaging “skull and crossbones” or “graffiti letters” and just placing them on a shirt. Again, those people are smart and I support them. They may also sell faster because they sell shirts that are trendy with the times. But myself personally, I just couldn’t come up with another carbon-copy t-shirt line. I thought “I have the ability to create designs, why not use that to my full potential?” Plus, what’s better than wearing a shirt that no one else has? If I had a dollar for every shirt I see with an inverted cross, or a typical sugar skull, I wouldn’t have to hustle a t-shirt line!

SCBD: Chi Flo is not just a fashion line but it is also a lifestyle, what does that mean to you and your customers?

CA: When I say that Chi Flo is a lifestyle, I truly believe it is. Chi Flo sells shirts with meaning. For example, the “Not Your Savior” shirt is my favorite design because I drew it when I was going through a bad break-up. It was purely from my heart. To me, Chi Flo shirts are like listening to a good song. If you can relate to the lyrics, or in this case what the shirt says, then the design will jump out at you and mean so much more. Chi Flo is self-expression, but in a cute way!

SCBD: Your first line, The Grimm Street Collection is unlike any line I’ve seen. You’ve mentioned that every collection tells a story. What is the story behind The Grimm Street collection?

CA:The story behind the Grim Street collection is a blend of things. As I had mentioned earlier, I designed the Not Your Savior after a bad break-up. Literally, I couldn’t ‘save’ the other person and had to focus on myself. Next came the Bad Girlfriend. That was an “insult” thrown at me in retaliation. Why not wear it on my shirt then? After graduation and difficult situations, I started to find myself. I drew the Chief Flo as a representation of discovering who I was and my artistic ability. The Street Pigeon represents the cool-side to fashion and just feeling like a boss. Finally, the Smiths Tribute reads the words “Honey Pie, You’re Not Safe Here” . That’s my favorite line from a Smiths song. It represents power and rising to the top. Whoever was going to get in my way wouldn’t be “safe there”. That kind of thing.

Take a peek into The Grimm Street Collection (photos by Rob Roselli):

BadGFCheifFloAsphlatMenbadgf2CheifFloBlue

NotYourSaviorNOTyourSaviorMenSmithsTributeSmithsTributeGirls

streetgirl2StreetPigeonTankMenstreetpigeongirlsHATZ

SCBD: What shirt is your best seller?

CA: My best seller is the Street Pigeon! I think it is amazing how girls and guys both love the design. I give myself props for that.

SCBD: What’s your favorite shirt and why?

CA: My favorite is the Chief Flo because I truly think the design is beautiful. When I was drawing it on paper, I looked in the mirror so I could outline a face and hair (I was alone so I used myself as the face model). From there, I just drew everything else and made her a sugar skull. I think it’s great that people probably don’t know they’re wearing my face on their shirt!

SCBD: I ordered the Street Pigeon shirt and received it really quickly last week which was awesome. I loved the packaging and sticker that came with it. What separates Chi Flo from other designers out there? 

CA: Great to hear! I think what separates Chi Flo is the whole ‘hometown’ feel. I designed the shirts and everything. A good friend of mine, Rob Roselli, photographed the pictures. Another friend of mine modeled the pictures and more friends of mine will continue to model for me. I created Chi Flo strictly from what I know and love. I’m just not trying to be anyone else. The packaging ties in with the hometown feel because I wrap it myself and put in a thank you note signed personally by me.

SCBD: Chi Flo seems to be really taking off, where do you see Chi Flo in 5 years? 

CA: I hope it continues to take off. I need to constantly keep on top of the advertising and promotion. I stay humble and noticeably hopeful through it all. I have so much stock left still, but I knew I would. I took a big chance. Plus, it has only been two weeks since it’s launch date. I must continue to advertise and be creative. If I continue to do that, I hope Chi Flo will be sold in stores in 5 years. I’d also love to open a boutique with Chi Flo brand clothing. Let’s hope for the best.

SCBD: What are some goals you want to achieve with Chi Flo this year?

I’m so excited to continue to create more designs. The more I sell the Grim Street line, the more profit I can make, and the quicker I can come up with more shirts. I just really want people to love the shirts and recognize that I am an independent business owner and need to sell, sell, sell! I can’t wait to create hoodies for fall and cover-ups for summer. Stay tuned!

SCBD:  What’s one quote that motivates you everyday?

“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better”

SCBD: Last, what’s one thing you’d like all the SCBD readers to know about Chi Flo?

CA: I’d like all the SCBD readers to know that anyone can rock Chi Flo and find the balance in their life. Chi Flo represents just that! Wear your heart on your sleeve and also wear art on your shirts. Self expression from deep within is SUPER important and don’t be afraid to be edgy. Stock is limited but there will be more as long as the sales go up! Chi Flo is a small business and needs YOU guys to help promote it! By people wearing Chi Flo, it sort of creates a little Chi Flo army. A bunch of people making a statement in favor of art, independent business, and staying Chi.

me street pigeonchifl0

I loved both of my purchases from Chi Flo, the Women’s Street Pigeon Crop Tee and neon pink beanie (pictured above) and I’m sure you will too!

scbddealalert

In honor of the launch of Chi Flo, Christina is offering Small Chick Big Deals readers an exclusive deal:

 Type SCBD into the code box at checkout to get 10% off entire purchase at Chi Flo from Monday the 18th-Wednesday the 20th! 🙂

Also be sure to sign up for the Chi Flo mailing list, here.

Happy Shopping and supporting Chi Flo! 😀

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

Authentic Mexican Food & Cocktails at Chapala Grill– #SCBDApproved!

So normally I try to go to a restaurant once or twice if I can before I write about it but I went to Chapala Grill in Bergenfield, NJ this past Saturday night with my roommate Leah for a girls night out and had to tell you all about it!

531565_10151242482915588_199681935_n

When we first decided to go we figured we’d just order drinks and appetizers since the cocktails they had and beer were an unbeatable price. Leah got a beer ($3.50)  and I got a Peach Margarita on the rocks ($5.50) to start and they brought us out some tortilla chips and salsa. The salsa was perfect not too thick and had a little kick in every bite. Next, we decided to order some of their specialties since they were amazing priced. Leah got the Burrito Chapala ($13.95) that is a burrito with crab meat, spinach, and more. I decided to get the Tacos Mexicanos ($11.75) with steak, pico de gallo, and cilantro. We both devoured our meals and enjoyed every bite. I even put some salsa on my tacos it was so good and we took our leftover rice & beans to go.

I’ve learned the secret to a great Mexican restaurant is that it has:

  • Strong, delicious Margaritas
  • Food Portioned perfectly
  • Affordable
  • Authentic

Chapala Grill was all that & more! We both decided to we had to bring our boyfriend, friends, and family here for dinner. They also have an awesome happy hour we were interested in attending sometime.

Chapala Grill is located at 52 South Washington Ave  Bergenfield, NJ 07621

Happy Eating…Cheers! 😀

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

#DealAlert: 50% Exclusive Events by IAdventure.com for #SCBD Readers

iadventure_banner

 

A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending the Chili Cook-Off held by Iadventure.com— it was a great time and I got to try some awesome chili. If you love Iadventure.com and the foodie events they have, I have good news…

SCBD is teaming up with Iadventure.com and offering an exclusive 50% off discount code to the following foodie events:

It’s easy just the click the link to the event (above) and when you purchase your tickets, put in the code  SCBD50 (all caps & ends with a zero) and you get half off your tickets!

Cheers to fun foodie adventures! 😀

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

 

 

Enjoy A Boozy, Filling Brunch At Sidewalk Cafe

It happened! I finally found out about a restaurant that serves legit boozy shakes! I think the idea of a boozy shake is genius– a milkshake with booze? Can you say heaven?

Before the holiday’s two of my best friends came up to visit me and to go to the city for the day. As I mentioned in my previous posts I’ve become quite the “bruncher” so we decided to go to brunch while we were in the city.  I was invited to go try Sidewalk Cafe located on Avenue A in Alphabet City in East Village so we decided to try it.

We opted to sit by the bar since there was room and each started off by ordering a boozy shake and an entree off the brunch menu. I got the White Russian shake which was huge, delicious and boozy. My friend’s Katie & Sam each got the S’Mores and loved it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them drink a shake so quickly!

The White Russian boozy shake at Sidewalk

The White Russian boozy shake at Sidewalk

The brunch menu at Sidewalk Cafe is pretty interesting but I got the buttermilk pancakes with blueberries since I had a random craving (note: I’m not a huge pancake eater). My pancakes were huge and I was astonished I ate about half of what was on my plate. My friend Katie opted for one of the breakfast melts and Sam got the french toast. They both enjoyed their entrees as much as I did mine.

Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes from Sidewalk

Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes from Sidewalk

For brunch in New York the menu is pretty decent priced, take a look at it, here. The boozy shakes are also totally worth the $9! So next time you are in the East Village looking for a boozy shake and to stuff your face, take a trip to Sidewalk Cafe!

Happy Brunching! 😀

Sara SCBD Logo Edited

*Disclaimer: The PR team paid for part of our meal. I was not required to write about these experiences and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*