Sunday, April 25, 2010

The name says it: Food's good, food's good

The name outside of a restaurant can mean a lot, as it can direct potential customers inside. At Ho Ho Kitchen, the name doesn't only indicate the food is Chinese. It actually means the food there is very good.

"In Chinese, ho means it's good," says manager Carol Zhanz, who has been working for the past 10 years at the restaurant, which is owned by her brother. "Ho ho is like, very good, so that's why we kept this name. I think we will keep it forever."

Her family has owned the restaurant for about half of its lifetime.

"The restaurant is maybe, I think, 30 years (old)," Zhanz says, "so we had it about 15 years."

Nestled in the side end of the Chester Springs Shopping Center — where its sign is beneath an unrelated one that says "Travel" — Ho Ho Kitchen sits across from the Clearview movie theater and has a frequent clientele of fans.

"What is popular here is General Tso's chicken, chicken and broccoli and sweet and sour chicken," Zhanz says, "And our people (also) like steamed dumpling. The people call it a pot sticker. It's very popular in the restaurant."

Also very popular are the healthy options found on the diet section of the menu. Steamed mixed vegetables or broccoli, steamed chicken with string beans and steamed shrimp with broccoli or other vegetables are available for very low prices.

"A lot of people like healthy food," Zhanz says, mentioning a dish of steamed vegetables served with brown rice. "A lot of people like the brown rice. Some people might not like it fried, so they'll get it brown."

Her family comes from China, says Zhanz, adding the family finds Chester "really nice." There are some differences between American Chinese food and the food in China, she said.

For example, in China, meats such as chicken and fish are not usually de-boned before serving, she said.

"Here, we buy chicken from a company, and they take the skin off, take the bone off, and then we cook it," she said.

The restaurant also has regular specials to liven up the familiar menu.

"We have a special, Thai-style shrimp. That's very good, and it's very popular, too," she said.

The shrimp has a strong, garlic flavor, she said.

Great eats: Giuseppe's, a Chester mainstay

Giuseppe's Trattoria in the Chester Springs Shopping Mall is celebrating its 33rd anniversary, and it always has served the kind of great food that has made it a neighborhood staple for decades.

Giuseppe's is family owned, by Giuseppe and Maria Sica along with Michael and Antonietta Iannaco.

"We've been serving the community for 33 years, and we're a family owned restaurant," says Antonietta Iannaco. "We are famous for our pizza, and our original recipes from Italy with all natural ingredients."

Iannaco and Sica come to the shop every day and watch over the place to make sure things run smoothly on a daily basis.

"We're the wives," Maria Sica says with a laugh. "The better half."

Both Iannaco and Sica pride themselves on Giuseppe's being a family restaurant, and over the course of time, they've seen their community grow along with them.

"We have seen kids grow up and create their own families and bring their own children in, too," Sica says, "They feel like part of our family. You know them, you know the parents, you know their grandparents, and now, you know the kids."

Giuseppe's, which has a wide variety of menu items from which to choose, is primarily known for its stellar pizza, which comes in many different varieties.

"We have the traditional cheese, pepperoni and sausage pizza, as well as a wide variety of gourmet pizza, which includes eggplant, tortellini and margarita," Iannaco says.

"We can even do seafood on the pizza — anything you can think of," Sica says.

In addition to pizza creations, Giuseppe's has a wide assortment of other menu items as well.

"We serve traditional Italian cuisine such as chicken parm, chicken Francese and veal dinners," Iannaco says. "We have seafood dinners as well, even homemade lasagna, manicotti and baked ziti. All our dinner entrees include soup or salad and bread."

"We also serve subs, paninis, wraps, salads and soups that are made daily," Sica says. "Even an extensive dessert menu. And prices are reasonable."

"We also do weekly specialties," Iannaco adds. "On Mondays, we have two large plain pizzas for $18; Tuesdays we offer 10 percent percent discounts for senior citizens; and Wednesday is our pasta night, with specials where you can choose from a variety of sauces with your choice of pasta for $8.99."

The restaurant is spacious and allows for big parties. The tables are spaced out enough so that you don't feel on top of other diners, but close enough so that you can lean over and talk to somebody if you wish. But the look you see in the shop today isn't the look that it always had.

"In 1996 we remodeled the interior of Giuseppe's and expanded the menu to better accommodate our customers," says Antonietta Iannaco.

Why has the shop stayed open for so long when many other places have folded? Iannaco has a rather simple explanation for that: "We like to hear customer feedback and make every effort to assure quality and consistency with our products. We strive to accommodate everyone who comes in and do our best to make our valued customers happy."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thai with a French accent at Thai Kitchen

Tucked into the Streets of Chester mall on Route 206 is the restaurant Thai Kitchen. The eatery offers a pleasant blend of French and Thai cuisine that is unlike anything else in the area.

"There's a lot of people around here, but they don't realize there's a restaurant here in this mall," Oscar Chia, Thai Kitchen manager, says.

But for those in the know, Thai Kitchen is a quite a hit.

"There's no Thai restaurant in this location — Mendham, Chester, Long Valley," Chia says. "There's only one: us."

But to call this place merely a Thai restaurant — even though the decor is quite Thai oriented with pictures of elephants everywhere in this quant little building, even on the menu — would be doing it a great injustice. The French elements added to the cuisine make it so much more than just that.

"The boss tried something different," Chia says. "He used to have four restaurants that were just Thai food, so he wanted something that was a challenge, something different here."

The challenge was to integrate French and Thai food in a fusion that melds many of the cultures' greatest features.

"Many people order the lamb chops or the tuna,"' Chia says. "But the tuna is a little different. It comes with a creamy green curry sauce, so it's a mix of French and Thai."

Even the appetizers are different: "Our calamari is lightly breaded and deep fried," Chia says. "Then it's stir-fried again with garlic, onion, chili pepper and some sauce on it. It's a Thai recipe, and it's very good. Some find it a little bit spicy or a little bit salty, but there's no sauce, unless customers request it. We see what sauce they like, like a sweet chili sauce."

The dessert menu also has its own flair, Chia says. "For a French dessert, we have creme brulee. And we have mango mousse cake, which is sort of French and Thai. And for a Thai dessert, we have sweet sticky rice with fresh mango, and we have Thai coconut custard."

If you're looking for straight-up Thai without the French accent, Thai Kitchen has that as well.

"One of our most popular dishes is a noodle one, and it's called pad thai noodles," Chia says. "A lot of people order it. It's originally from Thailand, and it's Thai noodles sauteed with shrimp, turnips, bean sprout, carrots, and it comes with crunchy peanuts. And lemon," he adds, "Especially lemon."

Chia has broad experience in the food industry. Originally from Malaysia, and since he emigrated to the United States, he has worked at restaurant jobs from busboy, to cook and, finally, to manager. He says that people who have been to the other restaurants he's worked at are happy to see him here.

"Most people who went to my first restaurant in Bridgewater say: 'It's great you're here.' "

To get to this hidden treasure, head inside the small Streets of Chester shopping center, beyond the Coach store and the Gap building. Close to the rear of the mall, you'll find Thai Kitchen, near the Fast Frame store.

Chia hopes that those who already enjoy Thai Kitchen's food will talk the place up a bit so that more people find the restaurant.

"Some people hear about this place, but they can't find it," Chia says. "Hopefully, my customers will get people interested with word of mouth."

Chile exchange student aids her homeland far away

Imagine you're a 16-year-old foreign-exchange student from Chile. You're visiting America, and while you're here, you learn that an earthquake has ravaged your home. What do you do?

If you're anything like Mendham High School foreign-exchange student Francisca Madrianza Montoya, you get involved helping in any way you can.

Montoya used every opportunity she could and collected donations at her school for earthquake relief.

"I talked with the principal and asked him for some help," Montoya says. For five hours after the quake didn't know whether her family members were alive because communication lines were knocked out.

Her family was safe, but an estimated 1.5 million Chileans were reported displaced by the damage caused by the Feb. 27 earthquake.

"And the International Club helped me, too. They said it would be good to make some collections inside the school, so the first thing they did was go to basketball games in Mendham, and I collected $216," she said, giving credit to International Club leader and teacher, Joy Burdette, for helping.

That was only the beginning.

"I started another donation (event) inside the school," Montoya says. "I made a bake sale after school Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and I walked around at lunch asking for donations. Every day, (we collected) around $200."

After the bake sale, Montoya advanced the cause at school functions in the theater department.

"Then I went to the play, 'Guys and Dolls,' where I got about $300," Montoya says. "For everything at the end, it added up to $1,715."

The money will benefit an organization that Montoya has been working with called Un Techo para Chile.

"I gave the money to the school, and the school will write a check to an organization in Chile that will rebuild houses," Montoya says.

Apparently, helping those in need runs in Montoya's family. Her mother, who owns a supermarket in Chile, also aided those who lost their homes in the earthquake.

"When this earthquake happened, she didn't rest," Montoya says. She was fortunate: She found only minimal damage to her supermarket.

"She opened it and gave the people what they needed — water, bread, whatever she had, she would give, because as my mom, said, 'We are lucky. We didn't lose the house.' "

Those who wish to donate to Montoya's effort may visit and click on "donaciones."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Robert Gerber lights up the Mendhams

When Robert Gerber found out that he would be inducted into the Mendham Hall of Fame, which recognizes residents who have contributed years of service to Mendham, he at first didn't know what to think.

"My neighbor, Mrs. Ford, told me (about it) about a month ago, and she said: 'Mr. Gerber, you're going to be in the Hall of Fame,' and I said, why?"

His neighbor, Laura Ford, who was among many people who nominated him, can answer that question: "I think that part of what Mr. Gerber does is so traditional. "And every night, I look out the window, and it's a complete, absolute treat. And you feel like you're in another country."

The treat that Gerber provides for all of Mendham comes annually, and it's the lighting of the 61 trees on his property for the Christmastime holidays. He's lighted trees every year since 1968, when he moved to Mendham. He grows a new tree every year, and next year will light up 62 of them.

"When we came here, we put in the driveway, and I put in the pond," says Gerber, squinting and mapping out the layout of his property in his mind. "I wanted to have a ski lift over here, so I put in all kinds of underground wiring because I knew that someday, I was going to put up Christmas trees every year, and I've done it for 61 years."

The ceremony inducting him into the Mendham Hall of Fame, which is organized by Mendham TV, was conducted earlier this month.

Gerber lived in Switzerland before he came to this country in 1948. His holiday display delights the community.

Some people have even popped the "big question" on his lawn, he said, recalling the "nice young couple that came up to me and said, 'Did you know we were engaged at the bottom of your Christmas trees?' And I said: 'Gee, isn't that a nice compliment?' That makes me feel good."

Ford recounts another story, this one about a neighbor in the military.

"Our other neighbor's son was in Fallujah," Ford says. "And we were kind of keeping in touch with him, and he said, 'Laura, the only thing I want is a picture. Can you send me a picture of Mr. Gerber's trees, because that would really make me feel great. It's all I really want.' "

If you make the trip past Gerber's house on Mendham Road during the holidays, don't expect to see lights of different varieties. Gerber stays traditional to his Swiss roots.

"The Christmas lights that I like are the white ones, not blinking, not twinkling, not going on and off, just nice, soft, soft, soft," Gerber says.

"In Switzerland, lights are white," explains Gerber, "And I like that. Because, in Switzerland, most Christmas trees still have live candles on them."

Gerber, who is now 84, can't put the lights up all by himself anymore, so he's enlisted the help of his grandson, Robbie, who is a volunteer fireman in town.

"Well, it looks like my grandson, Robbie, knows that I no longer can walk as fast as I used to," Gerber says, "so he's taking over."

Still, Gerber will keep putting up lights for as long as he can, and he gets great joy out of doing it for Mendham.

"It's been a hobby," he says, "And it's been a really gratifying thing to do."

Taylor's Ice Cream offers 48 flavors -- something for everyone!

Ron Klein, co-owner of Taylor's Ice Cream Parlor along with his wife, Margaret, didn't start out as an ice cream man, but he couldn't see himself doing anything else now that's he's been in the business for 15 years.

"The years go quickly, but it's fun," Klein says. "It's nice to do something that people enjoy. It's a comfort food."

Klein's foray into the ice cream business wasn't too comforting: "Originally, I worked for my father for 20 years in the scrap-metal and recycling business in Hillsborough, and he sold his business in '87. Then, I went to work for a scrap-metal business in Plainfield and was laid off there in April '92. I couldn't find a job for a couple of years, (and ended up) delivering newspapers at 2 a.m."

With three sons — one of them in college — Klein knew he needed to find a more lucrative job. He began scanning the newspapers for a possible franchise, and he found one in Pennsylvania.

"I saw an ice cream franchise for sale, and I took a ride there the next day," Klein says, "I talked to the people, and I brought my wife, and we put down a deposit on the store, and then, my wife started having second thoughts, big time."

After some discussions with her, Klein gave up the idea and was out of work again. A year later, he found that the place in Pennsylvania was still for sale, which he acknowledges should have given pause.

"I had to take out home equity loans because we had no money, and then we had to go to Los Angeles for three weeks of training. It was kind of a nightmare," he says.

The nightmare consisted of suspicious franchise owners who constantly sent people to check up on him, the inability to really make a profit on the place and a rising crime rate around the location.

But things got much better for Klein and his wife when they took over Taylor's Ice Cream Parlor in Chester.

"One hundred percent better," Klein says.

He now makes his own ice cream — 48 flavors — and he also helps out the community by donating ice cream, showing people how to make it and hiring people from the area.

"We probably employ more people here than most businesses in town, especially in the summer when we're busier," Klein says, "In the summer, we might have three, four people working, and I have time so we can get customers in and out quickly, so a lot of people don't have a problem waiting."

His store's ice cream flavors feature many different variations such as chocolate chip cookie dough, pumpkin — seasonal, around Halloween — and Smurf, which is blue-colored vanilla with marshmallows and chocolate chips.

Klein also is conscious of food allergies and adjusts his customer service around it.

"If a mother comes in with her child, and he's allergic to anything, we'll clean the scoopers we use for ice cream and sanitize them before we scoop anything," Klein says. "And if there is any question, I'll break out a brand new tub of ice cream."

With all the equipment he's added to the store, he also can boast that he serves real soft-serve ice cream, as opposed to what many other vendors sell.

"In order to be called ice cream, there has to be about 10 percent butterfat in the mix, and with our hard mixer, we get the best there is, which is 60 percent," Klein says.

"And with soft ice cream, it's 10 percent. There's a lot of places that will advertise soft-serve, but they won't say so because it's not really ice cream. Legally, they can't say it's ice cream. It's like ice melt."

Klein also sells ice cream cakes that can be bought immediately, or, if you can give them time, they can make you a cake out of any flavor.

"We always have 8-inch and 10-inch rounds, readily available to personalize when somebody walks in the door," Margaret Klein says. "But if somebody gives us 24 hour notice, we can combine any flavors and do specials. If they want a special thing on it, we can do it. We just need 24 hours."