Today’s Restaurant Visit is by contributor John Howard-Fusco. Enjoy. I’ll be back tomorrow.—Andrea Clurfeld
The Park Place Cafe and Restaurant in Merchantville is small and easy to miss. But as a neighborhood magnet with a warm welcome and long hours—early morning through dinner—it’s one you don’t want to pass by.
Chef/owner Philip Manganaro presides. A South Jersey native, Manganaro has cooked in a number of Stephen Starr restaurants in Philadelphia. From making his own pastas to butchering his own beef, even roasting the coffee, he is passionately hands-on about everything that heads to the table.
Menu items are listed in order from small to large – no visible partitions between appetizers and entrees. Plates are meant to be shared. And share them we did.
The pan-seared scallops had just the right amount of sear, and the roasted radish accompaniment was a spicy surprise.
The gnocchi special was meltingly soft, with a bone marrow butter bringing plenty of richness without being heavy.
In the hamachi crudo, crumbled pistachios and a drizzle of pistachio oil added contrasting texture and flavor.
The most playful dish we had was charred octopus with a colorful blast of pickled baby peppers and a thin slice of pork, fried to cracker crispness.
When I saw spätzle as a side dish, I had to have it. I was rewarded with a bowl of comfort. The delicate, twisted little noodles in butter and sage made me giddy.
The only dish that didn’t quite succeed was pancetta bread soup, which needed more pancetta punch. Yet the tableside pouring of the broth from an elongated antique teapot onto the bread cubes was adorable.
During the evening, we saw a couple head into the kitchen. Finding out that Park Place has a chef’s table in there, we asked and were given a short tour.
While we chatted with the couple, I observed drawings by the chef’s son on the recipe-covered wall behind them.
Family, connection, great food – that’s what you want in a neighborhood restaurant, and that’s what you get at Park Place.
Park Place Café & Restaurant, 7 E. Park Avenue, Merchantville. BYO. Open Tuesday through Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Brunch and dinner Saturday, just brunch on Sunday. 856-662-2200 parkplacecafeandrestaurant.com
Photos: John Howard-FuscoClick here to leave a comment