John used to work in commercial real estate; Janice, who “learned to cook when I got married,” later gained experience as a catering chef.
Couples huddle in Janice’s nine original leatherette-upholstered booths, flirting like it’s 1949. (“An old-timer told me the booths used to have jukeboxes,” reports John.) A long Formica counter with round chrome stools, coveted at breakfast, lunch, and brunch, runs parallel to the booths. Nowadays, bebop and the occasional Kenny G ballad fill the air, and tabs are equally contemporary. Numerous entrées surpass $30, appetizer specials are $15, a bowl of soup costs $8. We aren’t in luncheonette land anymore, Toto.
The printed menu is deceptively small. But your waiter is sure to recite many daily specials in a tortuous incantation that veers into Monty Python territory and is too long to remember.
The food is hit-or-miss. On my visits, numerous dishes were served lukewarm. Lobster bisque, sent back for reheating, proved creamy, coral-pink, and chunky with lobster. But gazpacho was merely chopped vegetables in cold tomato soup, not a genuine gazpacho purée. Crabcake was skimpy and bland. Pommes frites were undercooked. Calamari was dreary.
Assured that the mussels had been delivered that day, I ordered the special appetizer of mussels with chorizo. The delicious, saffron-enriched broth was thick with roasted cherry tomatoes and ample shards of peppery Mexican chorizo sausage. But most of the mussels were shriveled and off tasting.
I ordered a seafood fra diavolo entrée and took out the mussels. Its steamed calamari and half lobster were decent, so too its bed of linguine al dente. But the marinara had no trace of fra diavolo heat and little flavor. Bolognese ragù on rigatoni was much better, with ground beef chunks in a gentle, sweet tomato base that became even lusher with a shower of Parmesan. Sliced yellowtail tuna, while fresh and daintily seared, gained nothing from its sticky-sweet ginger scallion soy sauce and crust of untoasted sesame seeds.
Grilled filet mignon was hefty, juicy, and cooked exactly to order, but sadly devoid of beef flavor, even for filet mignon. I liked the duck breast’s zesty coat of Szechuan pink peppercorns, but I had never before seen duck breast with a seam of sinew running though it. The CD-sized burger was flavorful and satisfying, though for $15 you should get a toasted bun.
Of the seven house-made desserts I tasted, I was won over only by coconut custard pie and a chocolate gelato in which I detected a pleasing Telícherry- pepper kick. Creditable pecan pie was compromised by a boring and (I asked) store-bought crust. The chocolate cakes—a flourless and a Bundt—were tasteless and dry.
Twice a busboy spritzed a nearby table with eye-watering cleaning spray while we were still eating. The Tinaris can take pride in their charmingly reincarnated luncheonette and a worthy burger. But they have let too much else slide.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - European - Italian
Janice, A Bistro23 Sheridan Avenue
Ho Ho Kus, NJ 07423
Hours:BREAKFAST: Tuesday through Friday, 9 to 11 am
BRUNCH: Saturday through Sunday, 9 am to 3 pm
LUNCH: Monday through Friday, 11 am to 3 pm; Sunday, 11:30 am to 3 pm
DINNER: Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 pm; Friday through Saturday, 5 to 11 pm