It’s a rainy winter mid-week night and the parking lot of this L-shaped shopping center in the heart of commuter country in Jackson is as crowded as a mall the Saturday before Christmas. Drivers of SUVs are following folks heading to their cars, ready to pounce for a parking spot.
True, there’s a slew of restaurants here—Surf Taco to standard suburban Italian—but none is hopping more than Cornerstone Kitchen & Tap, where an ever-evolving lineup of craft brews and a menu of modern-day comfort food fuel the families who have pumped up the population of a community that was, a generation ago, considered sparsely populated.
Flights of brews sit on many tables and at the sizable bar that anchors part of the dining room. The Atlantic Highlands-based brewer, Carton, is featured on this night with no less than eight different beers, including the sought-after 077xx DIPA, Nitro Carton of Milk, and This Town Lager. Flights are $10 or $12, depending on your choice of brews; good deal, my beer-geek companions tell me.
I think the meat-and-potatoes starter is a good deal, since the meat’s shredded short rib of beef and the spud portion of the plate potato-stuffed pierogies. It’s mild, quite mild, actually—as are most of the dishes I try at Cornerstone. Nothing here pushes the edges of flavor or gives a dish a shake of pronounced spice to wake up the taste buds. No, Cornerstone is about easy eating.
So the “Sriracha” lime wings taste more of sweetness, with only a hint of lime offering a smack of tanginess and a short stack of carrots and onions, billed as pickled, having just a suggestion of vinegar.
The market salad is fine enough, a toss of greens, slivers of pear, shots of dried cranberries and almonds sitting under a tame apple vinaigrette. Shaved brussels sprouts, promised on the menu, were needed in more than a cameo appearance on the plate.
If you like your shrimp-‘n’-grits creamy and plied with Parmesan, you’ll smile at the bowl set before you here, crowned as it is with a generous rasher of shrimp, a dollop of bacon jam and a spray of Cajun oil. Just realize the Cajun oil won’t rock your world with heat; that’s not Cornerstone’s way.
Pulled pork tacos? Heavy on the pico de gallo and onions and light on sauce for the pork. But the skinny fries served in a baggie are awfully fun. And that goes double for the beer-battered fish and chips, which turned out to be my favorite plate here: Moist fish, properly fried with a batter neither thick nor thin, coupled with a remoulade scented with green Tabasco work it well.
We snag a Belgian waffle with a scoop of pumpkin ice cream with squiggles of caramel-espresso sauce for dessert. Yup, that ice cream needs more pumpkin to be labeled as flavored with anything and the sauce is simply bland. Could the waffles have used a shot of cinnamon? Couldn’t hurt.
The Cornerstone crowd is thinning out as folks finish their brews and genuine whopper-size burgers. Tomorrow is, after all, another school day.
Cornerstone Kitchen & Tap, 21 South Hope Chapel Road, Jackson. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 732-994-5286; cktjackson.com.Click here to leave a comment