Restaurant Review

Food For Thought

More than ten years ago, Food For Thought was a modest, 30-seat neighborhood oasis, serving organic, mostly vegetarian dishes in a Haddonfield storefront.

After its move to a Marlton shopping center and its expansion to 180 seats, the restaurant became known for its elegant dining room, with its lead-glass windows, tapestry-upholstered chairs, linen table cloths, and elaborate flower arrangements, and a pianist on weekend nights. Its full-scale menu featured not only seafood and pasta dishes, but also lamb, filet mignon, and, occasionally, fresh game, along with lots of fresh vegetables.

But with so many new restaurants opening and competing for business in South Jersey, Food For Thought is no longer the grande dame it once was. After two recent visits—with many empty seats on Saturday night—the restaurant, although still respectable, seemed worn and dated.

While there are still standouts on the menu, there are also lackluster dishes. Service, while friendly, is underwhelming. With entrée prices topping out at $32, you don’t expect, as happened one night, that dishes will linger in the kitchen and arrive at the table barely warm. Even the live entertainment—with medleys from Billy Joel to Frank Sinatra—seems stale.

Longtime former owners Robert and Liz Sanabria sold the restaurant last year after having opened Word of Mouth in Collingswood in 2003, but Chef Alan Lichtenstein remains at the helm under the new owner, Margaret Zack Hall, who has given him creative control over the menu. An update may soon bring improvements.

Still, memorable items remain: Our favorite starter is the goat cheese with fried panko-coated tomatoes served with a pistachio-basil pesto; the creaminess of the chevre provides a nice contrast to the light crunch of the tomatoes, which we love to swab in the pesto. Also enjoyable is the split-pea soup appetizer special, with its subtle smoky flavor of rendered apple bacon and pulled smoked ham, plus whole petit peas and a touch of fresh thyme. The crab quesadilla, with a generous helping of jumbo lump crab with cilantro, cheddar, and red onion, is tasty, but the herb-garlic tortilla spent too much time on the grill and the butterflied horseradish shrimp lack the expected kick.

Entrées also present mixed results. The crab cakes, even though filled with crab, are a disappointment; the roux binder masks their flavor and makes them gummy inside. The mildly spiced New Orleans gumbo is well done, full of crawfish, shrimp, Andouille sausage, crab, and chicken. Yet the dish, which conjures the chef’s years at Philadelphia’s Rose Tattoo and the cooking classes he takes in New Orleans, is skimpy on the lobster, even though that appears first among the ingredients on the menu.

On the plus side, the filet mignon, hand cut by the chef, is tender, juicy, and grilled to perfection, seasoned with only salt and pepper. The accompanying roasted mushrooms, alas, taste as though they’ve been sitting around the kitchen for too long.

A rave goes to the linguini with crab meat: huge hunks of sweet crabmeat, a smattering of grape and sliced plum tomatoes tossed with spinach, and whole wheat and plain strips of pasta, in a terrific, buttery sauce with a touch of white wine, shallots, basil, and a shot of lemon juice for a citrusy finish. I wish I could say the same for the farm-raised salmon, which is dull and tasteless, although we do like the warm wilted spinach, radicchio, and tomato salad that accompanies it. The pan-roasted chicken, served lukewarm, is dry and cottony, and the basil mashed potatoes with it are cold.

The desserts offer some consolation, especially the traditional apple pie, made with paper-thin Granny Smith slices and a dash of cinnamon and served warm with a scoop of vanilla Häagen Dazs. The chocolate-chip bread pudding is a soft, comforting rendition of the enduring classic, served with a drizzle of crème anglaise. Skip the crème brûlée, which is merely ordinary and too eggy, and opt instead for the chocolate mousse cake, which is a deep, rich, chocolate lover’s delight.

Reviewed in: July 2006

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Modern - Seafood
  • Price Range:
    Moderate
  • Ambience:
    Formal, traditional
  • Service:
    Pleasant but underwhelming
  • Wine list:
    BYO
  • Food For Thought
    129 Rte 73 S
    Marlton, NJ 08053
  • Hours:
    L: Tue - Sat, 11:30 am to 2:30 pm; Sun, 4:30 to 8:30 pm;
    D: Mon - Sat, 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm
    High tea: Sat, 12 pm to 3 pm

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