The Best For Less

Top restaurants want you. They really want you. With these deals you can eat royally and still tighten your belt.

Home-style italian: Lamb meatballs are available at Fascino in Montclair.
Photo by Andy Foster.

Blackbird
Collingswood

Even before the Dow flopped, chef-owner Alex Capasso was planning a three-course prix-fixe dinner for $30, Sundays through Thursdays. It’s a great price considering that the average entrée is about $25. Choices might include frisée salad with smoked bacon dressing, gnocchi with tomato basil sauce, and lemon souffle. “Restaurants are one of the last places where the average person can still afford something that’s been handcrafted,” he says. “We want to be accessible to everyone. I don’t want folks to feel like they have to spend $150 for two people, because they don’t.” 619 Collings Avenue (856-854-3444, blackbirdnj.com).

Dish
Red Bank

In October, the eclectic American restaurant Dish joined Red Bank’s monthlong Dine Downtown, offering a $25 three-course prix-fixe. When the event ended, owners Judy Matthew and chef Anthony Ferrando decided to extend the menu through the winter, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Choose from several appetizers (crispy fried spinach, sweet potato spring rolls) and entrées (salmon with miso glaze, lemon vinegar chicken). Even beyond the prix-fixe, Matthew notes, “we try to be mindful of prices on our specials, and we’ve avoided raising our prices because of the recession.” 13 White Street (732-345-7070, dishredbank.com).

Fascino
Montclair

Since the DePersio family opened Fascino in 2003, chef Ryan DePersio has taken its Italian-inspired cuisine to celebrated heights. But on Sundays, when Fascino is closed, the family members gather to enjoy the simple, hearty, Italian-American food they grew up on. With customers feeling the pinch, DePersio transposed those dishes to the restaurant, touching them up a bit but keeping them affordable. Fascino’s Traditional Tuesdays menu (offered alongside the main menu) changes weekly. Recent offerings have included short-rib meatballs, vegetable-and-parmesan risotto, scungilli salad, shrimp scampi, stuffed cremini mushrooms, and sausage, peppers, and onions.

“These are dishes that could have been on our grandmother’s table on Sunday,” says DePersio’s brother, Anthony, the general manager. “These are the dishes that inspired our love of food.” Desserts, as always, are prepared by the brothers’ pastry-chef mom, Cynthia DePersio. Prices range from $7 to $12 for appetizers and $15 to $19 for main courses such as pork Milanese and chicken cacciatore, with one or two entrées at $21 to $24—about a 20 percent savings compared to the main menu. 331 Bloomfield Avenue (973-233-0350, fascinorestaurant.com).

Restaurant.mc
Millburn

They don’t mince words at this sophisticated spot created by chef Mark Cooperman and consultant David Burke. Arrive before 7 pm Monday through Thursday, and get a Bailout Burger—gruyere, caramelized onions, handcut fries, and a beer for $16—or a Recession-Proof weekday three-course dinner menu for $24. Tuesday to Friday, a three-course Recession Lunch Special is just $18. The Dollar Lunch Menu features fifteen or more small items (a filet mignon skewer, a single shrimp tempura, a truffled chicken-salad sandwich) for, you guessed it, a buck apiece. 57 Main Street (973-921-0888, restaurantmc.com).

Serenade
Chatham

Chef James Laird and his wife, Nancy, offer an “appetite stimulus program.” Their 100-Mile prix-fixe menu presents three courses sourced mainly within a 100-mile radius (such as grilled shrimp with cauliflower risotto, or braised short ribs with ragout of fennel, chestnuts, and apples). It’s available at lunch ($25) and at dinner on Sundays only ($35). Oenophiles note: On Monday evenings, Serenade slices a stunning 50 percent off any bottle. 6 Roosevelt Avenue (973-701-0303, restaurantserenade.com).

Stage Left
New Brunswick

Most entrées at this venerable New American cost $25 to $39. But challenging times call for friendlier prices. Thus, the new Petite Menu, a three-course dinner for $35, with items from the à la carte menu (like butternut squash and bacon soup, or pork belly and pork tenderloin with parsnip purée). For $49, you also get a glass of wine to complement each of the first two courses. “This gives people a lot of flexibility,” says co-owner Francis Schott. 5 Livingston Avenue (732-828-4444, stageleft.com).

The Frog and the Peach
New Brunswick

At this acclaimed 25-year-old, many dinner entrées cost well into the $30 range. A more casual comfort-food menu has long been available, with entrées in the low- to mid- $20s. Now a $38 daily prix-fixe dinner has been added, partly to make use of the chef’s new toy, a spit roaster. The set menu wards off winter with a sunny Provençal theme: Warm artichoke and fennel salad with black olives and lemon chervil dressing; spit-roasted leg of lamb with ratatouille goat-cheese flan and sherry-vinegar glaze; and Meyer lemon panna cotta with olive oil financier. A New New Deal wine list offers about twenty different bottles at minimal markup. 29 Dennis Street (732-846-3216, frogandpeach.com).

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