Happy New Year ~ A Look At The Best and Rest Of A Great Year

Jonathan's Balloons

Team Hot From the Kettle recently got together to talk about the best of 2012. So many ideas were exchanged, so many opinions were strong, but most surprisingly were the number of times each of us paused and realized we had forgotten something truly great from the past year.

Sure, there were the usual Coke vs. Pepsi and Ovaltine vs. Nesquik debates, but in the grocery aisle everyone agreed that Nutella wins hands down. At one point “Gangam Style vs. Call Me Maybe, which is more Pepto inducing” discussion started until we all agreed that we had to focus our attention back on the matters at hand.

Tunisian Eggs at Uncle MoustacheUncle Mustache is a favorite of the team, with Dianne Wenz declaring it the best new restaurant and Melody offering it the title of best Vegan, or was that Vegetarian? Listening to Melody share about how much her kids love Uncle Moustache I lost track of the exact title. Funny name, great food, and the Falafel is the best in Montclair.

But wait, everyone knows I am obsessed with the Falafel at Jackie’s Grillette. How could I ever let another restaurant take the best title from the Home of the Montclair Sub? Simple, Jackie’s is in Upper Montclair, Uncle Mustache is in Montclair. Both are the best!

And since Vegetarian seems to be a theme right now we all seem to forget True North Osteria. Situated “down Bloomfield Ave” True North tends to fall off our radar but the pizza will change your life - for real. And yes, there are great vegetarian options including Pan Seared Brussel Sprouts with Pistachios and Shallots that will leave you rethinking Brussels Sprouts forever.      

Corso 98 is another one of those hidden gems. Located on Walnut Street, since well before Walnut Street was rediscovered as the cool street in Montclair, Corso 98 has been out of the spotlight’s reach with arrival of Le Salbuen, Red Eye, and of course the revitalized Montclair Bread Company. Remember that restaurant in Moonstruck, where everyone, not just Cher and Olympia Dukakis, were treated like members of the family on a special day? That’s what its like in Corso 98. Declared by Melody as the “Best BYO Date Night Restaurant” the team agreed 100%. Everyone agreed too that Corso 98 has the best service in Montclair.

When it comes to great places to take out of town guests there was a throw down. Had the gentleman and ladies at the table been wearing gloves there would have been some literal throwing down. But alas there is only one Downton Abbey addict in the group so there were no gloves. In the end we agreed that the two best places to take out of town guests are Mesob: the only place in Montclair where adults are encouraged to eat with their hands, and Indigo Kitchen, because it walks that wonderful line of being formal yet familiar. Whether intentional or not, both restaurants have that “you gotta try some of this, here, let me put some on your plate” vibe while still being places ideal for entertaining business associates.

At CulinArianeThere were no reservations about what the team considered the hardest reservation to get: Culinariane. Here too there is a little of that “under the radar” thing going on as Ariane Duarte has made several television appearances in the last year and has traveled across the country to attend all manner of food festivals and competitions. The praise and accolades are well deserved, and yes, it’s worth getting on the list today for dinner sometime in the future. You know all those people who waited forever for Stone’s tickets in 2012? Don't Start Me Up but Culinariane is so much better and worth the wait in 2013!

The discussion even got a little pedestrian when we discussed our Favorite Place to Buy Groceries - It's a tie between Fairway in Fairfield and Trader Joe's in Clifton. Trader Joe's is great for basics, but Fairway has hard to find grocery items like vegetable broth powder, Nigella, and Berbere. Kudos to Trader Joe’s for some of their vegan items like dairy free chocolate. Keep in mind that vegan items are suitable for lactose intolerant people, somehow that fact, and egg allergies, always fall off of everyone’s radar when discussing vegan food.

Drink Up! The Best Bar and Cocktails are at Pig & Prince and The Orange Squirrel.  Pig & Prince also made our list of the most promising restaurant for 2013. It’s a gorgeous space, the bar is great and food is off the charts, and we all love the “keep it local” aspect of the ingredient sourcing. Of course the Best Ladies Night is Upstairs.

Everyone loves Samba, so much so that even though the restaurant opened at the very end of 2011, most everyone discovered it in 2012, so we all agreed that Samba is the best new restaurant in Montclair. For 2013 things at Samba are going to get even better: dinner service will start on Sunday evenings this coming weekend and more Brazilian items will work their way onto the lunch menu. By this time next year we expect Samba to have a waiting list for weekend reservations akin to the wait at Culinariane.

With so much good foodie news in 2012 we forget that some establishments folded to make way for new experiences. Dianne Wenz will miss Go Lightly the most. The eco-friendly gift shop turned cafe had amazing raw sandwiches and the most delicious non-dairy ice cream but sadly it closed in June. We were all taken aback by the closure of Epernay this fall. Known as the restaurant next to the Montclair Rooster, Epernay was the only truly French restaurant in town. On the bright side the original owners are coming back to turn the clock back to the authentic place it once was. The Montclair Bread Company went through a similar transition with the beloved owners moving to Australia. Instead of closing shop Rachel Crampsey and family took over, brought in traditional European baking techniques and breathed new life into the bakery scene in Montclair.

When Mondo closed no one was surprised. And what was going on along Church St? 32 Church became Café Amici which became Albert’s, it was like a foodie version of that classic tv movie “Sybil” in which Sally Field portrayed a woman with multiple personality disorder. In the course of discussion about restaurants that may go away in the coming year no one had an answer for my Molecular Gastronomy question “Where on the USDA Food Pyramid is Foam?”

Among our predictions for 2013 - Vegetables! We started to see vegetables and fruits take interesting places on Montclair plates in 2012 and the trend will continue in 2013. Sure, some of this has to do with the Food Truck groupies acting out a scene from the Pied Piper and making their way to Montclair farmer’s market where we discovered such gems as Jim Matarazzo’s White Radishes but some if it us just great foodie sense. Over at the Red Eye Café we saw pickled blueberries appear on the Blue Velvet Sandwich, yes, pickled blueberries!  Ilson’s Passion fruit Mousse at Samba is reason enough to dine there, but veggies are taking on other roles in Montclair as well. Being Vegan, Dianne Wenz is always on the lookout for Vegan and Vegetarian meals in and around Montclair. Since joining the team she’s opened our eyes to realize that vegan doesn’t mean doing without, it’s about a wonderful healthful world where spices and seasonings perform like a culinary show choir.  No beef solo here – it’s all about the players who are usually singing backup.

Of course the Vegetable trend will continue as more than one Montclair establishment has set up a relationship with Matarazzo’s Farm in North Caldwell to plant their own local produce. Jim Matarazzo deserves a shout out for offering free produce to the needy at the farmers’s markets this past summer.  A tangential trend is the number of people in the area replacing their ornamental trees like Dogwoods with Apples, Pears, and Peaches.

Bone-in Filet Mignon at Strip HouseNot everyone want to have a suruban orchard. Wanna splurge on a great meal out? The best Splurge is the Strip House which is also best in Beef. Pig and Prince took top billing in “Best Pork (any surprise there) and Urban Chicken on Bay Street gets our nod for Best Chicken. We love the Chicken at Indigo Kitchen, but Lance’s Shrimp and Grits far outshine any others in town!

The Death Seat Burger Platter at the Old Canal Inn got our nod for the Best Burger. Elevation Burger almost made the list but since the restaurant went on hiatus they become “Most Anticipated Burger for 2013.” Just down the street from Elevation Burger, and with much better parking, Ah’Pizz is definitely the best pizza, on the east coast, period.

Zod Arifai is, without a doubt, the Head Executioner (read, Best Chef) in Montclair (that sounds like a title out of Game Of Thrones, but we like it!) Blu is also Montclair’s best Sure Thing.  Looking for a place for the family: Grandma’s is always the first choice, but in the restaurant world that would be Salute. Leave the kids at home and try Fin for the Best Raw Bar in Northern NJ.  Thinking about lunch? Osteria Giotto without a doubt!

In what is perhaps the most important story of 2012 was the passing of Shegan Rubin of the Hunger

Construction Food Truck. Shegan was one of those people who could just make you feel like you were the most important person in the world. His smile and genuine kindness were things one would usually expect from someone who knew you forever, even if he had just met you 30 seconds earlier. When he was taken from us following a freak accident all of Montclair felt the loss. We all mourned the loss, understood the fragility of life, and perhaps just a few of us learned the lesson that a smile can change the world, if only for a brief moment. We are all better for having known him.

And while we are on the topic of smiles, the happiest foodie news of 2012 is HOT FROM THE KETTLE WON AS BEST FLOAT IN THE 4th OF JULY PARADE! We did it! We did it! Woo Hoo!

2013 is going to be a great year. Let’s grab a nosh together at someplace great!