Crab and Mushroom Crêpe at Lorena’s in Maplewood
Humberto Campos Jr., chef/owner of Lorena’s, has several dishes (like his superb beef duo) that he can’t take off the menu, but none as inviolable as this sumptuous crêpe, created on New Year’s Eve 2005, capping the restaurant’s first months of life. It enfolds lump crabmeat and morels, chanterelles, or whatever specimens are in season, in an herb beurre blanc finished with truffle oil. Simple, but…stand back! “I’ve had women tell me they had an orgasm when they had it,” says Campos with a chuckle. “Other people say it could end a war. We watch people take their first bite. They close their eyes, say ‘Holy shit!’ or just moan.” It could happen to you.—EL
Surf ’n’ Turf, Jersey Style
Steak Maryland at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern in Atlantic City
Since Angelo and Isabella Mancuso opened in 1935, their classic red-sauce recipes have drawn crowds year-round. Angelo’s is still family run. But the only thing Italian on its signature dish, Steak Maryland, is the Gorgonzola that crowns it. The 16-ounce sirloin is seared in a cast-iron pan, topped with a mound of jumbo crabmeat (providing its Maryland moniker), covered with blue cheese and Gorgonzola—Italy’s brilliant blue—and run under the broiler. The cheeses melt and caramelize. A perfect bite joins tender, juicy steak with sweet crab and creamy/tangy cheese. At a modest $31.50, it’s the best, most flavorful steak in a city where steak is king.—AE
2300 Fairmount Avenue, 609-344-2439.
They Cast a Spell
Voodoo Shrimp at Drew’s Bayshore Bistro in Keyport
Hurricane Sandy shut down chef Andrew “Drew” Araneo’s popular Cajun and Low Country bistro for four months. When he finally reopened, the Voodoo Shrimp appetizer, his longtime bestseller, shot right back to the top. “One guy had it to start, then had it again for dessert,” says Araneo with a laugh. “He said he missed it that much.” Little wonder. The shrimp are big, plump and juicy, accented by tomatoes. But the secret is the sauce, a two-hour reduction of shrimp stock, dark beer, Cajun spices, Worcestershire sauce and cream. How did the $14 sybaritic sensation get its name? Near as the chef can recall, “somebody said, ‘Ooh, it’s a magical dish.’ And it just happened.”—EL
25 Church Street, 732-739-9219.
Splendor in the Raw
Jersey Oysters and Clams at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen
First, a standing O for Rutgers biologist Harold H. Haskin, who in 1957 developed a disease-resistant species of oyster, saving oyster farming from Maine to Florida. And one for the state Legislature under Governor Christie Whitman, which in 1997 passed an aquaculture development plan. Both helped oystering return to Cape May and more recently take hold in Barnegat Bay. You can enjoy several fine Barnegat varieties (right) at JHBK in Morristown. The raw bar also serves gorgeous farmed Barnegat clams in an inspired coupling of pickled red Calabrian chile and an herbal sofrito, firing pinwheels of flavor.—EL
110 South Street, 973-644-3180.
Sole Meuniere at Chez Catherine in Westfield
Wild, whole Dover sole, sautéed meunière in brown butter with fresh lemon juice added at the end, is as superb as it is simple. Stéphane Bocket, 48, has been filleting it tableside since he was a teenager working Michelin-starred restaurants in Provence in his native France. He still does, and you owe it to yourself to have it at what is now (after many years as its maitre d’) his restaurant—Chez Catherine, the purest jewel of classic French cooking remaining in the state. For dessert, go equally simple and superb with Chez Catherine’s soufflé of the day. All the flavors (lemon, hazelnut, mango) are pure and fine, but if you are really lucky, the flavor of the day will be Grand Marnier.—EL
431 North Avenue West, 908-654-4011.
Fresh Off The Boat
Dine at the Dock at Hooked Up Seafood in Wildwood
“We kill it, we grill it” is the motto of Hooked Up Seafood in Wildwood, Bill and Michele Bright’s dockside eatery. Bill sallies forth in his boat, Defiance, bringing back mahi, mako, bigeye and yellowfin tunas, swordfish and wahoo.
Bill’s second boat, the Retriever, captained by others, fishes for squid (and sometimes John Dory, a deep-water delicacy) on the edge of the Continental Shelf. “All our product is packed in ice instantly upon coming on board to ensure absolute freshness,” says Bill, who sells most of it to restaurants in New York, Philly and Boston. “We save fish from our last day at sea to use at Hooked Up.”
The kitchen is in a trailer. You order at the window and eat your meal at red-and-blue picnic tables by the dock. Michele fries, grills or blackens and sears the fish and serves them on paper plates with sides like corn on the cob, sautéed zucchini and garlicky Caesar salad, the vegetables grown at Clinton Conover Farm in Cape May Courthouse. Bowls of steamed littleneck clams, served with butter, lemon and parsley, are local, too, raised on back-bay beds the family leases from the state. Hooked Up’s food is simple but unbeatably fresh and delicious. It’s a taste of summer like no other.—AE
1044 West Rio Grande Avenue, 609-522-2722.