Bensi co-owner Genci Previzi helms an immense menu of classic Italian cuisine, including hearty homestyle dishes with roots in Calabria, Italy. Entrees, joined by a house salad or cup of comforting housemade soup, range from spaghetti and meatballs to gluten-free grilled chicken in a lemon-garlic marinade served over a veggie medley. The chefs also prepare an array of specials such as pignoli-crusted goat cheese and arugula salad, barolo-braised veal osso buco, pan-seared Chilean sea bass with eggplant caponata, and nutella chocolate pizza with fresh strawberries. The dishes are served in a modern dining atmosphere where minimal table settings and simple dark-wood furniture keep the focus on the vibrant cuisine.
Though Loving Hut is part of an international group of restaurants spearheaded by Buddhist Supreme Master Ching Hai, each franchise, including the Ledgewood location, cultivates its menu according to local tastes. The result is a menu of thoughtfully crafted vegan fare. For instance, the cheese sauce that smothers macaroni and burgers is made in-house without dairy, and soy protein adds substance to a selection of sandwiches and noodle and rice dishes. All of this is served in a clean white interior lit by ornate golden chandeliers. On the walls hang floral paintings and a fish tank whose bubbles spell out "Thank you for not eating me".
Until earthquakes manage to bring New Jersey closer to Texas, The Rib Shack brings the unique flavors of Memphis barbecue here instead. In true homestyle fashion, cooks prepare every menu item from scratch, from the salads, sauces, and sides to the pulled pork slow-cooked for 12 hours every night. Other entrees include racks of slow-cooked ribs, dry-rub beef brisket, and the Texas meatloaf wrapped in bacon and slathered in house-made barbecue sauce. Cutting fresh meat rather than corners, the staff also carves cheesesteaks straight from rib-eyes and serves special platters of Tex-Mex on the weekends.
For Sean Ulley, the owner Smokehouse Barbecue in Somerville, grilling meats is a family tradition; his father runs his own barbecue joint in Andover. To infuse ribs, brisket, and pulled pork with deep flavor, Sean seasons the cuts with a dry rub and smoke them for up to 17 hours—as deliciously described in the Somerville Today. The cooks also make good use of their fryer, deep-frying everything from corn on the cob to Oreos. Patrons can also opt for fried chicken, burgers, or Creole dishes such as the Louisiana Steampot—a medley of clams, mussels, crawfish, and shrimp served over rice and garnished with a strand of sautéed Mardi Gras beads. In the summer and spring, diners can head to an outdoor patio to eat in the warmth of the sun.
There are a lot of smiles in the restaurant photo album of J. Michael's Northern Cucina. Customers, cooks, and the Dicataldo family—who own and operate the eatery with a little help from their tiniest member—all showcase shining grins. It's clear J. Michael's is a friendly place, and with dishes like beet-leaf-topped white pizza, it's clear that it's also unique. Specialty pizzas, pastas, and Italian entrees inspire nostalgia and anchor dining-room gatherings. The chefs also cater, whipping up trays of chicken saltimbocca, as well as party subs crammed into piñatas. "Make our kitchen yours," say the Dicataldos, and between the grins and the classic flavors, many diners do just that.
Speaking with Barbara Aichem-Koster, it's pretty clear that Black Forest Inn is a family business. "My father is head chef Heinrich. My brother is Heiner––short for Heinrich––and his two children are Heinrich and the other, Hansi. They're cooks too." Barbera and her kitchen full of Heinrichs have helped feed Stanhope for more than 34 years with what she calls German continental cuisine––a product of the elder Heinrich's rich culinary education.
"My father was born in Germany, learned to cook there and across Europe," she says. "He worked his way up in different restaurants. Then my brother went back to Germany and did the very same thing." It's this attention to tradition that Barbera credits to the freshness of the ingredients. "We try to use a lot of local produce in seasonal menus and specials. … We don't buy prepared items." Luckily for diners, that also means that the wurst sausages and the German-style pasta, or spaetzle, are housemade.
The elegantly rustic dining room has hand-painted stained-glass ceiling panels, exposed brick, and a hand-crafted bar stocked with a multitude of imported German beers. This, along with periodic live music, has helped bring a younger clientele to Black Forest. "I had a group of 20 young people in here for the Friday-night buffet. The staff pointed out what everything was, explained it to them. And one of the girls, she called later that week, wanted to say how fabulous it was. I grew up in this restaurant, so that was really nice to hear."