Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bagel Cafe features unique bagel recipes

Most bagel shops have little variety on the menu, but that's not so at the Bagel Cafe in Chester, where superb bagels aren't the only delectable items topping the bill.

"We added fryers, so we do have cheeseburgers now," owner Abby Hassan says of the changes he made to the Bagel Cafe when he took over three years ago. "We have chicken fingers, chicken cutlets, mozzarella sticks and all the other stuff that goes in the fryer."

For Hassan, who used to be in the larger-restaurant business before he left it because he "didn't like the hours," bagels are a large part of what he serves at his shop — but not the only thing.

"We carry Boar's Head meat, and some of our famous dishes are the California wrap and our balsamic chicken wrap with fresh mozzarella, tomato, lettuce, avocado and grilled balsamic chicken," Hassan says, "Everything is homemade on the premises."

They also make good soups at the Bagel Cafe.

"Our famous soups are the lentil soup and the chicken noodle," Hassan says, "And as for our cream soups, we have the cream of tomato and the cream of potato leeks."

The cafe has on the classic bagel treat: "Our bagel recipe is unique," Hassan says, "It's a very expensive recipe, and we use brown sugar and bake it with whole grain flour right in the bagels."

Some of their most popular bagels also have some interesting ingredients.

"One of our most famous bagels is the harvest grain," Hassan says, "It has whole grain flour with carrots and raisins."

Also on the list are pumpernickel, which is made with real pumpernickel flour, and the honey whole wheat, "made with real honey."

The Bagel Cafe has been open for 18 years, and it retains the same name since Hassan took over. But that doesn't mean that it has the same look.

"Well, when we took over, it was like any other place," Hassan says, waving his hand at the shop, "But We fixed the place up, made it a more cozy, homey place."

He started with a new paint job.

"It was like the ceiling was all funky looking, if that's the right word for it," Hassan says, "It was a red ceiling with orange walls, and it wasn't appealing. It wasn't relaxing."

Next, Hassan spread out the shop fixtures so that there would be more room to stand in line and sit.

"We added more chairs. And we cleaned it up completely. There are also new deli cases."

Also special about the Bagel Cafe is that if you can't go to the shop, it will come to you.

"We do a lot of catering for offices around us, and we do a lot of churches for bagels on Sundays," Hassan says, "A lot of offices request us for catering, and if it's breakfast, it's usually bagels with cream cheese. And if it's lunch, people usually prefer wraps. It's much lighter."

In addition to Hassan's love for cooking and making bagels, he has one other thing he finds delightful: "Chester is like a little bit more upper-class, but the people themselves are very down to earth. They know us by name, and we established a nice relationship with them."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

From the humble pizza to gourmet cooking

When does a pizza restaurant not only have gourmet pizzas with toppings such as clams and shrimp, but also have menu items such as Tonna Befanna (grilled ahi tuna served with a warm pancetta-infused cannellini bean salad topped with wilted arugula) or Tagliatella Pescatore (fettucini tossed with an assortment of clams, shrimp, scallops and calamari in an herb-infused light tomato sauce)?

The answer: When it's Dante's Ristorante, which is a quant little Italian restaurant in Mendham with both a sit-down option complemented by dinner seating areas with candlelight (perfect for dates) and a stellar takeout menu, offering the best of both worlds.

"We have sort of a gourmet takeout," says manager John Triana, "You can go from basic stuff like subs or pastas or pizza pies to items including rack of lamb and lobster. We have something for everyone here."

Dante's, which has been around since 1991 and is named after the son of owner Lisa Durso, is the kind of restaurant that people keep coming back to for many reasons — not just for the stellar food.

"We treat everyone like family here," Durso says of the Zagat-rated restaurant, "That's what's important."

She also attributes most of her business to the fact that the menu has stayed fairly consistent since the restaurant opened.

"Whatever we put out, I make sure that it's good, warm and comfy," Durso says. "I think part of our success is that the service that we give here is amazing."

Not only is the service amazing, but the food is too. Customers have long-time chef Jairo Rojas, who has been with Dante's since the beginning, to thank for that.

"My chef will do anything that anybody wants," Durso says about deviating from the menu if customers request something different, "If we have the ingredients, we'll make it, it doesn't matter what it is. And we've gotten some strange requests before."

Dante's also is very involved with the community, giving back to it whenever possible.

"We have a program where we help the high school kids," Triana says, "I hire like 15 kids a year. I keep rotating them because they go to college. And it goes from junior, sophomores and seniors, and they take care of the takeout. They take the orders and learn the menu.

"And we have donations for all the kids on the lacrosse team at Mendham High School. We help during March, and we're going to donate 10 percent of every Monday's sales to the lacrosse team. We do the fencing team, too. We help out a lot of different teams."

The folks at Dante's also help out the frequent customers who return to the restaurant, offering them great deals to make sure that they keep coming back for more.

"Sometimes, we'll do promotions," says Triana. "This February, we're going to have something called 'Avoid the Crowd,' because you know how Valentine's Day is a crazy event."

This "Avoid the Crowd" event is exactly what it sounds like. People will receive e-mails from Triana about when to come in, and they'll do just that — avoid the crowd.

Most restaurants are so crowded on Valentine's Day that service is not good, Triana says, adding that "our service is going to be great" because of the program.

"Avoid the crowd" allows customers to celebrate Valentine's day Monday through Thursday, he explained, adding that, "We tell you to come to Dante's and we'll give you a 20 percent discount, and we can do some nice things like giving you chocolate, and we're going to give you flowers."

If you think it sounds like Dante's is looking to please the customer, then you're right.

"People like Italian food, and it's very popular," Triana says, "That's why the owner got into it."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thin is in at Chester pizza place

In Chester and New York City, thin is in — at least when you're talking about pizza crust.

Bella Gourmet Italian Deli and Thin Crust Pizza, on Main Street in Chester, is both a pizza shop specializing in thin-crust pizza and a deli shop.

"It's a little bit of everything," says store owner John Bucetaj, who also owns Benito's Trattoria just down the street, "It's a combination of things. I didn't want strictly one thing."

Bella, which celebrated its second anniversary in October, has a deli counter up front and a pizza oven in the back. On the display trays are everything from spinach rolls and sandwiches to one of the store's mainstays — the thin-crust pizza.

"We have New York-style pizza," employee Maria Solano says, "so it's all thin crust, which you don't see around Chester."

Giving it that New York-style taste is head cook David Herra.

"I'm the big provolone over here," Herra says with a smile on his face and pizza dough on his hands, "I've been making food for 13 years, and my basis is pizza, that's what I do.

"Thin crust is my specialty, that's what I've been making all my life."

But the eatery has other dining options

"We have homemade foccacia," Solano says, talking of the bread with a delightful aroma that just came out of the oven. "There's grilled chicken, sauteed broccoli wrap, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella. We make it all from scratch in the morning."

Solano attributes Bella's success to the fact that the restaurant only uses the best materials.

"I think people are repeat customers because of the fresh ingredients," Solano says, "And if you're into food, then you know the difference between a can of soup and some fresh soup."

As for the deli portion of the shop, Bella offers a wide assortment of items to keep the stomach satisfied.

"Before I bought it, this was a sandwich place only," Bucetaj says. "Now, I have everything in one. They didn't have a pizza oven back then. They only did like, cold cuts and other deli items."

Those cold cuts now include a wide assortment of items, many with playful names given by the employees.

"For people who like eggplant, we have the Eggplant Supreme, which is on a toasted roll, fresh mozzarella, eggplant, olive oil, basil," Solano says. "And if you like roast beef, we have the Philadelphia Chaser. It's roast beef, melted provolone, tomato, romaine lettuce, all on a toasted roll."

Also on the bill are the Roller Coaster Hero, which is turkey, American cheese, peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato, coleslaw and Russian dressing, and John's Favorite, which is named after the owner. This has grilled chicken, mozzarella, roasted peppers, lettuce, tomato, mayo and oil and vinegar.

While the food is king here, Herra, like everybody else who works in Bella, also has another love outside of the food, and that's the town of Chester itself.

"Chester is a beautiful town," Herra says, "There's great people, happy people here, and I like it. It's a beautiful area."

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Top Ten Most Important Launch Titles Of All Time

You can find the article all glossy-like here:

A launch title can make or break a system. When people first saw an arcade perfect version of Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision, their first reaction was probably to feel all over their faces just to make sure that their heads hadn’t exploded. The inverse applies, too, though. When people first saw Cybermorph for the Atari Jaguar, their first reaction was probably to tiger uppercut themselves right in the kidneys (*thinks about how that would actually work*) for actually believing the TV when it said that the Jaguar was 64 bits when in reality, it was only 12.

So, why this story now then when there isn’t a new system coming out for years? Well, after just forking over $150 to my friend for his PS3 just so I can play God of War 3 when it comes out in March, I thought back to all the systems I picked up on day one just so I could get my filthy paws on all those delectable first day releases. But be warned with this list. The title of it is, “The Top Ten Most IMPORTANT Launch Titles Of All Time,” not “The Top Ten BEST Launch Titles Of All Time,” so don’t get mad when you see that the best game on this list is only at number 6. My qualifications were that these titles had to be SO important that they pretty much guided players to buy these consoles and stick with them for quite awhile, all because of the novelty (Because let’s face it, that’s what most launch titles are for—to show off what a system is made of) debut title. Also, I put the games much higher on this list if they reached a point where people instantly connect the system to that game whenever they think of it. So, without further ado, the top ten most important launch titles of all time.

10. Geometry Wars (X-Box Live Arcade)

While not technically a launch title for a system, this overly simplistic (But genuinely genius) game kick-started the whole X-Box Live phenomenon and seriously brought the “arcade” back to the gamers. With an objective as simple as racking up high scores, Geometry Wars was important for Microsoft online because it showed that great games could also be affordable, too. Oh, and did I mention it was addictive as all hell? Getting killed by a puny triangle early on would mean trying to get yourself killed for the rest of your tries just so you could start all over again and do a better job the next time. Most importantly though was that this game truly turned people on to the possibilities of what a single-player online game could do. And it did this by giving them the opportunity to actually post their high scores on-line for the whole WORLD to see. Online console gaming would never be the same.

9. Tetris (Gameboy)

Okay, show of hands for how many people truly fell in love with Tetris when it first came out for the Gameboy in 1989. While a Mario game DID come out on the same day in the states (The sumptuous Super Mario Land, of course), it was Tetris that was the REAL gem when the Gameboy first came out. Really, even though the Wii appears to be the gender-bending, multi-age group reaching console of the millennium, it was the Gameboy that was the TRUE trendsetter for this concept, as everybody loves Tetris, young and old, estrogen fueled and testosterone pumping. If you ask me, it was THIS game that single-handedly made Nintendo the go-to company when it came to handheld systems.

8. Call of Duty 2 (X-Box 360)

Oh, snap, Microsoft releases a brand new system after the success of their predecessor, and there’s no Halo to come out on launch day? What’s Microsoft to do? No worries here, people, as COD2 is here to take command. It was this game that officially proved that the idea of a first-person shooter on the X-Box didn’t necessarily have to be relegated to starring a green armor clad, Master Chief. This beautiful game, which had a plethora of awesome campaigns, truly showcased how pretty the graphics could be on the 360 and dared anybody to question if Microsoft still didn’t have what it took to be competitive in the next-gen console wars. Looking back at it today, it still impresses me, (Though, it’s completely overshadowed by Modern Warfare 2, but, really, how could it not be?).

7. Soulcalibur (Dreamcast)

Okay, so the Dreamcast was officially the end of Sega’s run in the hardware business. That still doesn’t stop Soulcalibur from being an overall impressive masterpiece on a highly underrated system. Many to this day cite that the Dreamcast’s biggest flaw was not the games themselves, but the fact that it was so easy to pirate games for it, and Soulcalbur is proof of the Dreamcast’s potential, as many people, after playing this game, were ready to claim Sega as the victor again as no console had been able to make a game this beautiful before. The gameplay was nothing to sneeze MRSA at, either. Sporting combat to die for and an updated 8 way run feature that allowed warriors to walk all around the screen in true 3D glory (None of that Battle Arena Toshinden rolling all over the place crap—more on THAT game in a minute), Sega proved that they finally made a powerful enough console to actually combat Sony’s newfound dominance on the market. Now, if only the system wasn’t so easy to burn games for…

6. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

Besides pretty much being the trendsetter for all games on the system to have a dumb “64” after its title, Super Mario 64 shocked and awed pretty much everybody when it was unveiled to be the first TRULY realized 3D world in a platformer. In many ways, the argument could be made that, as far as how much it revolutionized games forever, that THIS is the most important launch title of all time. But the fact that the system as a whole was pretty much a failure (In Nintendo terms, anyway) kind of hurts this game’s spot on the list. Still, for anybody who played this game on launch day, THEY knew that the future of games was all wrapped up in this cartridge.

5. Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

It seems that Sega, when they were in the hardware business anyway, really liked to jump the gun when it came to releasing consoles. The Genesis came out before the NES, the Saturn came out before the Playstation, and the Dreamcast came out before the X-Box. But let’s talk early 90’s now, shall we, when Sega was still a force to be reckoned with. The NES was still going strong in the late 80s, early 90s, with Super Mario Bros. 3 being the pinnacle of greatness for a console that had a slew of great (and also awful) titles. But what does Sega decide to do? Well, they decide to drop the H-bomb on Nintendo and release the Sega Mega Drive (That’s Genesis to you, buddy) ahead of time, and along with their release, they’d shortly unveil their new mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, and all of a sudden, Sega does what Nintendon’t. Aw, shit! Who the hell wants a Nintendo anymore when they can have BLAST PROCESSING?! (whatever the hell that is). So, when Nintendo was planning their feet-first leap into the 16-bit era, they had to come out strong with a REALLY superb first day title to make Sega look really dumb. And that game was Super Mario World, a game so awesome that Mario not only had to own the land on the Gameboy, but also the entire WORLD on the SNES. Awww, maaaan. That’s badass. Seriously, though, while SMW really wasn’t that big of a leap over the magnificent Super Mario Bros. 3, SMW WAS a good enough sign from Nintendo that they were going to keep it simple but also keep it classy, too by delivering the best games possible with their licensed characters. And with that simple gesture, they went on to prove that no matter what Sega threw at them, they’d still have superior titles, blast processing or not.

4. Battle Arena Toshinden (PS ONE)

Kids who look at Battle Arena Toshinden today will likely say, “You old farts are a bunch of idiots! What the hell were you THINKING?! This game blows a snow leopard’s ass!” But back when it first came out, the future of fighting games, which were all the rage back then, was in Sony’s hands, and thy name was Battle Arena Toshinden. Taking a very unique approach by releasing a game that wasn’t already an arcade staple and making it their lead-in title, Sony had the guts to take a risk, and man did it pay off. If you weren’t there to see it, then you wouldn’t BELIEVE how big this game was and how revolutionary it made Sony look for taking the CD route. While Sega had long been dabbling in this format (Sewer Shark anyone? No?), it was Sony that truly showed what CD’s were capable of. Today, the game looks like squashed cheese and sneezed polygons. But back then, there wasn’t anything in the WORLD stopping Battle Arena Toshinden. Nothing at all.

3. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Mario IS Nintendo. If you ask any idiot off the street what game they remember most with the NES, it will probably be Super Mario Bros, no doubt about it (Unless they’re that weird guy on the subway who pushes up their glasses when they say Kid Icarus was the best instead). Well, while The Legend of Zelda may have been a more epic, better game, (Yeah, I said it) no game emphasized the Nintendo Entertainment System better than the original Super Mario Bros.. It’s footprint on the map of video games is undeniable, and the system, as good as people remember it to be, wouldn’t be diddly squat if not for this one title, which many people remember coming packaged with Duck Hunt or Track and Field. Put simply, Nintendo wouldn’t be where it is today if they hadn’t come out with this title, and I think that’s reason enough to place it so high on this list. It’s arguably the most important title on here.

2. Halo: Combat Evolved (X-Box)

Halo, as much as some people would like to believe, is NOT better or more important than Super Mario Bros.. No matter, Halo, as generic as it is (This is my bias speaking, of course. I know y’all love it) officially made the X-Box a household name over night. The sheer success of this title has led many gamers, who have been playing video games all their lives, to bow at the alter of Microsoft and proclaim the X-Box and 360 as two of the greatest consoles of all time, even though they’re both from an American company that doesn’t have the name brand recognition (As far as video games are concerned) of say, a Sony or a Nintendo. And that’s pretty potent stuff. At its essence though, Halo is a game that took the fun-loving thrill of a game like Counter-Strike and Quake and jumbled them up together to give gamers some of the most fast-paced and accessible action in an FPS ever. It’s a game that both the hardcore AND the casual could play, which I guess is the reason that so many people adored it. Quite simply, when people think X-Box, they think Halo, and if that doesn’t sum up what a killer-app is, then I don’t know what does.

1.Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii)

Oh, I just shot myself in the foot by putting this one at number 1, didn’t I? Well, not so fast, cowboy, as all those sold out Wii’s when the system first came out had to be because of SOMETHING, didn’t they? And it certainly wasn’t Red Steel. Really, it was all because of Wii Sports, which, as simplistic as it was, still managed to get people excited for Nintendo again and put the long battered company (with a string of weak entries with the Virtual Boy, Nintendo 64 and the Gamecube) back on top of the console heap. The secret to the success of the best selling game of all time (Though, to call it as such is a bit of a cheat as it came with the system), is that it truly showed how different the Wii was and also, how accessible it was, too. Images kept popping up online of grandmas who can’t even wipe their own asses properly, swinging that Wii-mote around, making the score 30-Love in the tennis portion of Wii Sports. So what if the hardcore gamers out there—such as the ones who would actually read through the entirety of this article—might have only played it for about a minute before they decided to boot up Twilight Princess, the rest of the masses out there fell head over heels for this game, making the Wii the dominant system of choice for the brief amount of time that it’s been around. Honestly,Wii Sports and the Nintendo Wii go hand-in-hand. Just make sure that you put a strap around said hand when actually playing this game, or that remote might go flying right through the window…

Oh, and as an added bonus, here are some launch games that totally sucked…

Clu Clu Land (NES) Fighting Street (NEC Turbo CD), Marky Mark: Make My Video (Sega CD), Street Fighter: The Movie (PSOne), Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy (Atari Jaguar), Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo Gamecube), Fuzion Frenzy (Microsoft Xbox), Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360), Red Steel (Nintendo Wii), and Every launch title for the NGage.

What was YOUR favorite launch title game?