There’s not much in the way of a crowd at Stax Pancake Factory & Bar on this weekday night, but we’re having fun enough for a stadium full of fans who’ve just seen their hometown team score a big, fat W.
What’s not to enjoy at this newbie on Route 22 in Branchburg from Nikolaos Renieris, pilot of Nik’s Restaurant Group and owner of a slew of spots in the Somerset County environs? Stax, as you might gather from the name, is a pancake place that serves breakfast all day. It’s also got a liquor license, so there are libations on board as well.
But we’re here on this fall evening because shortly after Stax’s opening in September, Renieris introduced a nightly list of dinner specials that spotlight ingredients he’s sourcing at area farms. Stax’s pancakes, you’ll be happy to know, are made with eggs from local farms, and the rest of the bill of fare employs organic ingredients whenever possible. The evening offerings double-down on the local and the homey.
Such as the cauliflower soup, creamy and rich and flecked with shards of carrot and snips of parsley.
We pluck from the full-time menu a couple of Stax apps (which range from edamame and disco fries to quesadillas and mozzarella sticks) that show the kitchen’s global scope: The best part of the Punjabi-style samosa is the thick, cucumber-studded tzatziki, a strained yogurt made from local grass-fed cow’s milk, while the star of the pot-sticker show was the ground pork filling with just the right amount of oomph to its seasoning. The kitchen could use a lesson or three on how to make dough that’s lighter and less chewy and tough.
Our server, relatively new on the job, cheerfully retrieved all manner of information we sought from him. A toss called the “Hydrating Salad” is Stax’s most popular, he said, so we nabbed the mix of cucumbers and avocado, tomato and red onion all swathed in a plush balsamic vinaigrette with, perhaps, a dash too much sweetener. The under-ripe tomato wedges could’ve used a switch-out with cherry tomatoes.
The entrees we sampled from the nightly list are champs. The eggplant parm tastes nonna-made, with slices of lightly breaded eggplant topped by a mellow marinara and a glaze of mozzarella tinged golden brown in the oven.
The meatloaf, mid-week’s old-school favorite, comes plied with a mushroom gravy sporting hunky slices of button ‘shrooms. OK, the side show of mashed potatoes were gluey in texture (did someone speed the cooked spuds through a food processor rather than push them through a ricer?), but they were pocked with tasty bits of skin and lavished with butter.
We needed a steak wrap, we decided, and darned if the local Cedar Lane Farm beef didn’t live up to its billing as a local favorite: Here, slices of beef mingle with mushrooms, onions and peppers before being slapped by a film of Monterey jack and a schmear of horseradish cream sauce. A side of homemade potato chips capped a plate fit for teens of all ages.
I felt like a 1950s-era teenybopper sipping a Nutella ice cream soda speared with banana and topped with a drizzle of caramel for dessert. Some restaurants just want you to have fun.
Stax Pancake Factory & Bar, 3205 Route 22 in Branchburg. Open daily. 908-253-6700; niksrestaurant.com.Click here to leave a comment