Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Michael Jackson: The Experience

I think one of the greatest discoveries that I’ve ever made was when I found out that you could play Wii Sports while sitting down on your fat ass. The first thing I remember thinking back then was, “Gee whiz, Nintendo sure did screw up this time. Who’s going to actually be able to lose weight with this thing when you can be just as lazy as ever? They might as well have just given me a regular controller." Not so with Michael Jackson: The Experience for the Wii, though. In addition to party gamers and hardcore MJ fans, this game will appeal to people who want to lose weight. It uses Wii-mote sensors better than any other game I've played.

Now note, when I said the three groups that this game is intended for, I never mentioned casual MJ fans. Being one myself, I found that I lost enthusiasm for the game by about the time I reached the boring "Earth Song." That's about the time I wiped off my sweaty brow and called it quits. Also, I think I’d rather play the old Sega Genesis game, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker than subject myself to another round of being surreptitiously filmed by my girlfriend’s sister. She couldn’t stop laughing at my terrible interpretation of "Thriller."

But, if you are in the three categories that I mentioned above, then this title is the game of your diamond sparkled dreams. It’s a great party game that will burn those calories off and will also allow you to do all the moves you grew up loving when you were younger and didn’t mind grabbing your crotch in public just to imitate your favorite musician. It’s really a game that I find myself not too impressed with myself but can definitely see a lot of people loving.

As I mentioned earlier, the Wii-mote is really effective with this game. I imagine that this is what the X-Box Kinect is like only with a hand accessory. Holding the Wii-mote in one hand, all you have to do is imitate Michael or one of his back-up dancers’ moves and you’ll be hoisting your arms up and attempting to lean forward without falling on your face in no time. It really is just a pick up and play kind of game. So much so, in fact, that it doesn’t even really have an option to teach you how to play. There’s a dance school mode, but all that is is actual videos of people replicating Michael’s moves rather than an actual step-by-step tutorial. The short learning curve is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing in that you can just start moving along with Michael and don’t have to spend a great deal of time informing your friends how to play. But it’s a bad thing because there really doesn’t seem any way that this game increases in difficulty if you’re playing it by yourself. Sure, some songs like “Thriller" might be more difficult than others, but the steeper difficulty isn’t that much steeper at all. I got a pretty good score on "Thriller" without really even trying that much all because I already knew the dance steps for the song.

Again, this both makes the game endearing, and also a little boring. It’s endearing in that I like the fact that I can do well on certain songs because I already know them, but boring in that, what’s the point of continuing to play it if I already did well on the most popular songs? While the track listing is pretty generous with his most popular tracks, that still doesn’t mean I want to dance to “In the Closet” from his “Dangerous” album, or “Speed Demon” from “Bad.” Again, this is where being a hardcore MJ fan really pays off here. But for a casual fan like myself, it’s all kind of blah.

Multiplayer mode is fun if not exhausting. In single player mode, the better you do on a song, the more stars you acquire, which enable you to buy videos of how to do some of MJ’s tougher moves. In Multiplayer mode though, you take on different roles as either a background dancer or MJ himself. It says four people can play the game all at once on the box, but after just playing with one other person, I found this might be a bit difficult if you don’t have a lot of space in your place, as having just two in the same small room can get a bit hectic. You’ll find yourself bumping into each other sometimes. Also, as mentioned earlier, this game will destroy you when it comes to cardio. After only about two songs, I was sweating like a hog, and I’m actually in pretty decent shape. If you don’t mind dripping and sweating next to three others, then go ahead. But I find that this is purely a game you play at a party when all you intend to do is play this game. If not, you’ll find that your party will be smelling like MJ’s backstage, which may not appeal to everyone.

Overall, I applaud Ubisoft for making a game that the hardcore fans of MJ can really appreciate. In making it so easy to pick up and play, though, they kind of eliminated the challenge. You’re pretty much unable to really lose at this game. If you’re one of the three types of people I mentioned earlier in this review, then give this one more star. If not, then leave it as is. It’s a decent game, but it’s not for everyone.

Players: 1-4
Platform(s): Wii
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
ESRB: Everyone

Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns

Ever since I picked up a Sega Master System controller when I was a wee lad, I’ve been a hardcore fan of gaming. Super Hang-On beget Super Mario Bros. beget Sonic the Hedgehog beget Super Mario World and so on and so forth. Over the years, graphics got better and better, and each new title made me sit up and take notice. The 16-bit era contained quite a few gorgeous gems at the time, but nothing, and I mean nothing, made me actually have to lift my glasses and rub my eyes like Donkey Kong Country, which looked like no other game that came before it on the consoles. Seriously, if you weren’t there in 1994, you wouldn’t understand, but this game was a looker beyond lookers, and just about everybody and their second cousins had to stand in awe of the title. It looked amazing. But how did it play? Well, that was the best part of all, you see, as it was one of the most addictive side-scrollers anybody had ever touched, and it was by Rare, which was a company that was on a hot streak with their other big title, Killer Instinct at the time.

Flash forward well over a decade later, and the original Donkey Kong Country still looks good given the SNES’ limitations. Back then, the SNES was at the top of the graphical heap, but today, the Nintendo Wii, is known for anything but its graphical power. So when it was announced that a new Donkey Kong Country was going to be released for the system, the first thing I thought when I saw the colorful, but unimpressive graphics, was that it better still have that addictive gameplay that the series is known for if it’s going to be worth a damn. Well, after a great deal of playtime with the game, I have to say that not only is Donkey Kong Country Returns addictive, but it’s also one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played in my entire life. And the graphics, when actually in motion, aren’t too bad too boot.

Not since the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater have I played a game where the words, “One more time,” were uttered with such frequency and with such reckless abandonment of the truth. Every time I missed a jump or got slammed by an octopus tentacle, I kept saying, “One more time,” no matter how many times I died. While the stages in the original DK Country trilogy were fun, I wouldn’t use the word variety when describing them—hop and bop stage, swimming stage, mine cart stage, repeat. But every level of this game provides something new and exciting to the player. Whether it’s riding on a whale and using its blow hole to shoot yourself skyward over obstacles, or it’s a flaming barrel that you have to pilot above and below explosions, or even a barrel blasting experience where you go hurdling in both the background and the foreground to topple rocks, every single stage provides something new to keep you going. And to think, this game isn’t even made by Rare, but instead, by Retro Studios, which is probably best known for taking the Metroid series to new heights with the Metroid Prime trilogy. Honestly, and some of you might think this is blasphemy, but I think Retro Studios should now be known as the company that makes series’ even better than the originators themselves. They’re seriously that good. And I’m going to go the length to say that this is the best DK Country game by far, the original being a classic, notwithstanding.

What sets this title apart from the original three on the SNES is actually what made the original three so excellent in the first place, and that’s the actual platforming. The original had a sturdy foundation of left to right exploration with a few secret paths here or there. But DKCR is brimming with different paths to take, as the background, foreground, underground, and sky, are all fair game for exploration this time, as the levels are completely sprawling. This is a game that rewards looking everywhere, with the completist in me wanting to collect every puzzle piece and letter that the game has to offer. I seriously spend great deals of time on these levels, just to find everything there is. This exploration aspect alone is enough to keep me addicted, but again, it’s the sheer platforming that makes it superior to any other iteration in the series, as every level has a different feel to it that you have to adjust to, meaning you won’t just breeze on by, especially in the later levels where the difficulty becomes insane.

What I also find interesting in this game is its two-player functionality, which seriously makes this game an entirely different experience. While New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii’s co-op play was nuts, with people either mad dashing for power ups or helping each other out, in DKCR, it totally changes the dynamics of this title. In single player mode, you can no longer switch monkeys on the fly, but instead, acquire Diddy Kong who sits on your back and can help you hover about to make safer landings. But in two-player mode, somebody else can control Diddy, and he’s a completely different character when played by an actual human being. It seriously changes the entire landscape and makes you want to play the game through twice, once on your own, and once with another player.

The presentation is also really unique. I know I said before that the graphics are unimpressive, but what they lack in graphical prowess, they make up for in creative design. This is a really colorful game, and it utilizes that rainbow effect to make it stand out from the pack of dull looking games today. One impressive level has nothing but DK’s silhouette with his red tie the only thing showing on his body as the calm orange background paints the entire level in shadows. It’s really beautiful. Another level atop ruins, has a lush jungle background that is all the more impressive when you actually shoot yourself into the background from a barrel. It’s great.

The controls are actually fun as well. I usually complain about how Nintendo sometimes force feeds the Wii mote to you when a standard controller would do just fine, but the nunchuku, WIi-mote combination works quite well, with this working just as easily as holding a controller with two hands. I’m still not too fond of holding the controller like a regular NES controller, but it’s an option that also works. It doesn’t hurt the game at all.

I seriously can’t find anything to nitpick about in this game. Sure, the story can be told to you in one sentence (These weird tiki gods hypnotize the animals in DK’s jungle and steal his bananas, the end), but when has DK ever needed a sturdy storyline to back up his exploits on a Nintendo system? The fact that Kranky Kong, who is the only Kong besides Diddy to actually make a return from the original series, is so funny is reason alone not to care that the story is so cut and dry. Seriously, Nintendo has always had its first party characters to make it worth owning the Wii, and DKCR is no exception. Pick this game up. It’s the best game on the system, since, well, Super Mario Galaxy 2. And that’s saying quite a bit, as that game was legendary.

Players: 1-2
Platform(s): Wii
Developer: Retro Studios, Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB: Everyone
Rating: Five stars

Friday, November 26, 2010

Question: Why Are Men Attracted to Women With Exotic Hair Colors Like Blue, Green, and Purple?

The Skinny: Though blond and red heads definitely drive most men wild, what drives many men even more wild is women with exotic, never appearing in genetics, hair colors like blue, green, and purple. But why? Why do so many guys go ga-ga for something that just doesn’t appear in nature? Women wearing blue wigs (Like Katy Perry, sigh) look about one million times hotter when they look like they’re part goddess, part Smurf, don’t they? So what’s the deal? Well, I think I might have the answer.

The Answer: I’m no Sigmund Freud, but I definitely think that having the hots for a woman with bizarre hair colors definitely stems from repressed, sexual feelings for cartoon characters men used to watch as children, namely Marge Simpson. For many men in my generation, Mrs. Simpson may have been the first female they unconsciously had the hots for but didn’t understand why. But she wasn’t the only one. Anime fans had a whole bevy of women to choose from, and that’s just from the Sailor Scouts alone. The truth is (And I’m seriously considering writing a thesis about this), the reason why men have the hots for any woman in their adulthood stems from the curves and appeal of the characters in their toy boxes when they were younger, with many of them being super curvaceous and having long, plastic hair (fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who you talk to, women haven’t adopted this last trait), that stretches all the way to their butts. So the next time you see a woman with neon green hair walking down the street and start salivating uncontrollably, it’s not because she’s an Asian in a school girl outfit, no (Though, that does help). It’s because she reminds you of some chick you saw in a Japanese anime when you were younger, yes. I hope that clears things up.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Question: Why Do So Many Men Hate Uggs Boots So Much?

The Skinny: Ugg. When the cold weather comes around, you can expect two things normally--Shoveling out your car (If you're an east and midwest man, that is) and women wearing Uggs boots, which, like it or not, appear to be here to stay. Now, as a guy, I have stared at these hideous Himalayan hikers with great loathing for years now and I've found that I'm not the only one. Many guys I know will blatantly tell women flat out that: "Those boots you have on are Uuuuuugg-ly. Get it? Ugly? Uggs? Aww, what do you know?" right to their faces, not feeling a shade bad about telling their girlfriends, wives, and yes, even their mothers that they've chosen a very poor style of clothing to keep their feet warm. But why do guys hate them so much? And why are some men so mean to women when they see them? Well, I think I might have the answer.

The Answer: Many men are still upset that Zubaz pants have gone out of fashion. If you don’t remember Zubaz (And I seriously question your masculinity if you don’t), they were the outrageous, stretchy pants that bodybuilders used to wear so the back of their pants wouldn’t rip whenever they would do squats. Zubaz were everywhere back in the 90s, and they came in awesome colors, like Zebra stripe, leopard print, and even the American flag (God bless America). They were pretty much everywhere men with testosterone could be found.

But then, something began to happen in the late 90s, something horrible. People started to think that Zubaz looked ridiculous. Not since wife beaters, had men had something distinctly their own in the way of fashion, but once many women started to point out the ludicrousness of them, men couldn’t just keep wearing them anymore, could they? No, no they could not, and after awhile, men started to feel awkward walking out in public with red and white striped pants, even though all they were doing was going to their local nutrition store to pick up some protein bars and many a new girlfriend.

So you know what, this is what I think. Deep down, many men resent women when they see them wearing Uggs because we know that they look just as ridiculous wearing them as we do wearing Zubaz pants (They look like something someone would wear if they were storming the ice planet, Hoth). But since women rule fashion, it’s impossible to do anything about it. We’re stuck to just wearing Zubaz in our houses and headbanging in front of the mirror to old GnR CDs. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Eating out in the Chesters: Mini Mac Diner

While Mini Mac Diner on Route 206 in Chester may be a diner, as its title suggests, it's so much more than that.

"My mother's European, so we do stuffed cabbage and things like that," says co-owner and chef Teri Petriw, who runs the diner with her mother, Anna Bartek. "We also offer pierogis."

Their soups are nothing to sneeze at, either.

"Everything's made pretty much from scratch," Petriw says. "We have chicken noodle (soup), vegetable and split pea. We do barley, we do black bean, we do like a mix."

"We try to do (more soups) as the weather gets colder," Petriw continues. "At least three a day."

Also topping the bill are a variety of treats that you won't even find on the menu, so it pays to talk to the friendly staffers — who would be happy to strike up a conversation with you.

"We make homemade cookies, pies, muffins and turnovers, so we're trying to do more of that for the holiday," Petriw says. "We've had it before, but I think a lot of people just didn't know it because we don't advertise it."

And to go along with that sweet tooth of yours if that last paragraph got you salivating, they also serve ice cream from one of the most popular companies around.

"We have Hershey's hard ice cream," Petriw says. "I picked (Hershey's) because I like their stuff. I used to have it when I was little."

Mini Mac is the kind of establishment that thrives on the reputation of serving breakfast all day, and one of its most popular sellers is the pancakes, which range from the commonplace such as blueberry and corn, to the not-so-commonplace, such as buckwheat and oatmeal.

"What we do is we make the batter (for the oatmeal pancakes), and then we put uncooked oatmeal into the batter," Petriw says. "I've never seen it anywhere but with us. They're excellent and they're tasty."

Also not seen at any other local diner is the local bands Mini Mac features once a week.

"Tuesdays, we still have live music here," Petriw says. "Which works out fairly well because we were pretty much quiet (on that day)."

Mini Mac actually used to have even more music during the week, but they decided to pull back on that when more people were coming for the bands rather than the meals.

"We were open until 8:30 at the time," Petriw says. "But I think the people maybe associate the music with drinking. That was the case here, but we didn't want to do the whole BYOB because of the young crowd, and I didn't want any kind of problems. That's why I didn't pursue that kind of part of it."

And that's just fine, because Mini Mac is all about the meals, anyway.

"We decided to just focus on the food," Petriw says.

The eatery is open seven days a week, which means Petriw and company don't really get much time to enjoy the scenery in Chester, because they devote themselves to the diner and its customers.

"We are in Chester, so I'm kind of in my own little world here," Petriw says. "I don't really get out. We're open seven days a week."

WHERE: 158 Route 206, Chester
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-879-8222
HOURS: 5:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday
CUISINE: Home cooking
PAYMENT: Cash or checks
PRICE RANGE: Soups, $2.25 cup, $2.95 bowl; platters, $5.95 to $6.95; breakfast, $2.75 to $7.05; lunch, $2.70 to $6.85
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: It may have a small interior, but a lot of magic is happening in that kitchen back there
ATMOSPHERE: It's close and comfy, so you really feel like you're a part of the family
PARKING: In the lot
OWNERS: Teri Petriw and Anna Bartek

Know of a restaurant you'd like to read about in MCW This Week? E-mail us at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: Valhalla Rising

Norse Mythology is awesome. Mads Mikkelsen is awesome. Combine the two together, and you have a match made in Valhalla, right? Well, maybe, maybe not, as advertising can be deceiving. Checking out the trailer for this film, you may think it’s all guts spilling and heads rolling, but it’s actually a quiet meditation on warfare and religion. Is that good enough for a Norse epic? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for in a Norse epic, now doesn’t it?

The Movie: Three and a half stars

Being a huge fan of Norse Mythology, I got really excited when I read the back of the box for Valhalla Rising, as everything just seemed so badass to me: Mads Mikkelsen (You mean Le Chiffre from Casino Royale?!) playing a prisoner named One Eye (Like Odin, One Eye?!) fights to the death but escapes and meets some warriors along the way headed for the Crusades? Uh, where do I sign up? I mean, seriously, nothing could be cooler to me, as Norse Mythology is the shit.

Then, when I popped in the movie and watched the trailer, which is the only special feature on the entire disc (more on that below), I got even more excited. What I saw was a one-eyed man eviscerating, decapitating, and doing pretty much everything else to the human body that I wouldn’t want done to my own. Seriously, I couldn’t be more psyched about this. And in the back of my mind, all I could think was, could this be the Norse adventure that I’ve been craving all my life? Sure, being an IFC Films release, I knew it wasn’t going to be anything visually spectacular. I knew I wasn’t going to see any scenes of Jormungandr rising from the shores around Midgard while Thor hoists his mighty hammer, Mjollnir, into the air and shoots him with lightning bolts, but it could still be pretty cool, right? And besides, it had to be better than Eric the Viking, which, even as a comedy, is the closest I’ve ever seen to a movie covering the Norse gods.

But alas, as a Norse adventure, it’s not better than Eric the Viking, as even Eric the Viking mentioned Fenrir the wolf once in awhile. Valhalla Rising, on the other hand, is as much a movie about the Norse gods as Do the Right Thing is a movie about helping old ladies cross the street. I can’t say that I’m too surprised, really, now that I’ve actually seen it. I mean, if it really was a giant, fist-pumping adventure film, then I’m sure it would have been more widespread than it was. But I definitely didn’t expect this, as Valhalla Rising is, at times, a plodding, meandering, slog of a film that demands a rewatch, but I don’t think I could possibly stay awake long enough to watch it over again a second time.

As mentioned earlier, the story is centered around a man named One Eye who is a prisoner from the get-go and is chained up to a pole where he has to fight for his captors’ amusement. One Eye is a freaking beast and destroys every single one of his adversaries. So much so, that at one point, he beats a victim in the coconut with a rock and exposes his brain, which definitely makes this the goriest film I’ve ever seen. That’s right, even though the violent scenes in Valhalla Rising are few and far between, this is definitely not a movie for the squeamish. If only the story were as clean cut as the brutality in it.

But alas, the story, while interesting, is presented in such a mundane fashion that I had a problem sitting through it because I was so bored. Valhalla Rising is the kind of film that you’ll like if you don’t really care about dialogue or communication, but you are excited by the possibilities that visuals can convey on a screen as a means to tell a story. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I personally like interaction. I like dialogue. Not to the extent that it bogs down a story, but at least to the point that I can relate to the characters and enjoy them. But One Eye is a mute who carries his emotions out through brutal violence. I hear this film is a big departure from Bronson, director Nicolas Winding Refn's last movie. And really, this film is a big departure from any movie I’ve seen of late. The closest I could compare it to is the opening scenes in the movie Irreversible, which are pretty much a hodgepodge of visuals that you have to make sense of on your own terms. That’s Valhalla Rising in a nutshell, a hodgepodge of images neither here nor there but definably present. It can give you a headache if you think about it too much.

Still, it’s not all bad once you realize just what kind of movie you’re getting yourself into. Valhalla Rising is a very quiet film, and if you’re willing to sink into what it has to present to you, you might just like it. My advice to you is to go into this movie without seeing the trailer or looking at the back of the box. If you do, you’ll actually find a rather somber story both beautiful and horrifying at the same time, albeit incredibly slow. That being said, I can still see some of the most memorable scenes in my head right now, and for that reason, I can’t score it too low. But I also won’t score it too high because of what the advertisements lead you to believe it to be. An action-packed samurai film with Vikings in it, this is not. But a deep reflection on religion and warfare, it is. And if that’s your bag of bones, then I advise that you check it out. It may not be the god-scaling epic that I was hoping for, but it definitely has its moments. Give it a look.

The Disc: One star

In what time period was having just a trailer on your disc considered an adequate special feature? Because in 2010 going into 2011, it’s just plain pathetic. As the sole special feature on this disc, I have to say that I’m more than just a little peeved about this. Some commentary discussing just why the director decided to make this movie would have been nice, or information on why the protagonist is named One Eye (I mean, seriously, I know you’re trying to make me think of Odin when you give your lead a name like that, but what does it all mean? Couldn’t you at least give me a hint?) Overall, if anything, the trailer actually hurts the film, especially if you watch it before the movie like I did. If you do pick up this movie, only watch the trailer afterwards to note how far a trailer can throw you off. Seriously, people, it’s 2010. We want more from our DVD special features than just a freaking trailer. By Odin’s beard, try harder!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eating out in Long Valley: Cornerstone Tavern and Grill

If you're looking for a big, hearty dinner or a really satisfying lunch, why go to just any pizza parlor when you can go to the Cornerstone Tavern & Grill in Long Valley? It has so much more to offer than just your standard slice of pizza.

"It has an Italian kind of feel to it," says manager Antoinette Ferrantely, who has worked in some form of pizzeria all her life. "We have a fully stocked bar, and we offer burgers, as well as numerous pasta dishes, chicken dishes, appetizers and soups."

Soups, in fact, are among the biggest sellers on the menu, and there is a tasty variety.

"We have baked potato, potato-carrot, which is my personal favorite," Ferrantely says. "We have the standard chicken noodle, pasta e fagioli and minestrone."

The potato-carrot is particularly special since it has a hint of carrot to it, but it's not overpowering like many other carrot soups you might have had in the past. It's a nice mix that offers a pleasant surprise when eaten with hot bread.

"We usually have a soup special almost every week," Ferrantely says. "Like this week, we're doing cream of broccoli, which is also very good. It will definitely take away the chill of the cold weather. That's what I eat when I'm cold."

In addition to the stellar soups, pizza is a mainstay at Cornerstone.

"People like the pizza a lot," Ferrantely says. "We try to make it crispy. I'm not a fan of doughy pizza, and from what I've noticed from working in pizzerias, most people don't tend to like it doughy, either."

Cornerstone, of course, offers the standard favorites, such as cheese and pepperoni, but it also serves also gourmet pizzas, such as BLT and honey-mustard chicken. Ferrantely attributes the variety of the pizza choices to the fact that people want their pizza to be traditional but different at the same time. People seem to like the change.

"My father has owned quite a few pizzerias, and he started in the '50s and '60s," Ferrantely says. "He tells me that when he first started out, there was no Buffalo chicken pizza, there was no baked ziti pizza. But you have to stay on top of it.

"People like to take a classic and make it into something new. Personally, I like the classics, but I have to say I love honey-mustard pizza."

Cornerstone also has a liquor license, which is somewhat unique among pizza places.

"Everybody finds it to be very convenient, especially for dinner," Ferrantely says. "Sometimes, people come in at 9 or 9:30 or so, and you know, liquor stores are closed, so we try to offer a good, fresh hot meal and complement it with a wine or a mixed drink."

And if you can't make it out to the eatery but love their food, they'll be more than happy to cater it for you.

"We've catered a surprise retirement party," Ferrantely says. "We've also done catering for the holidays, because the holidays are very stressful, so people don't want to cook, and I don't blame them."

As to what the Tavern and Grill wishes to offer Long Valley, Ferrantely keeps it simple: "We want to offer something different to Long Valley. We want to add a different flair to it, but it's always a work in progress."

WHERE: 71 E. Mill Road, Long Valley
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-876-1283
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
CUISINE: Soups, salads, pizza, pastas
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $1.95 to $10.50; baked pastas, $11.75; hot subs, $7.50 to $8.75; pizza pies, $11.25 to $20; gourmet pizzas, $15.50 to $20
PAYMENT: All major credit cards, cash, checks
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: This pleasant restaurant has a bar and an outdoor patio for when the weather is nice
ATMOSPHERE: A friendly staff and excellent food make the Cornerstone Tavern & Grill the place to be for lunch or dinner
DELIVERY: Yes, if it's close enough
PARKING: In the lot
MANAGER: Antoinette Ferrantely

Know of a restaurant you'd like to read about in MCW This Week? E-mail us at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eating out in the Chesters: Gaggani’s Pizza

Talk about the new kids on the block. Formerly Gianangelo's Pizzeria, Gaggani's Pizza is the new name for the locally famous pizza-delivery spot on Route 24.

"It's under new management now," says Raul Iramain, who once ran a barbecue shop in Argentina before he moved to the United States. As to why he's decided to move from barbecue to pizza, the answer is simple: "It's popular here," Iramain says. "People like pizza."

And while they also enjoy pizza in Argentina, Iramain says the pizza he makes in the here is a little different from what they make back home.

"We have thicker pizza in Argentina," Iramain says. "Here, it's not very thick, but it's very nice. It's very good. I like it."

Iramain has added a bit more to the menu (more on that in a moment), but most of the menu will be quite familiar to those who ate at Gianangelo's in the past.

"We have Philly cheesesteak pizza, we have Margherita pizza, chicken barbecue, chicken Parmesan, vegetable pizza, sausage pizza, the classic pepperoni, plain with mushroom, whatever," Iramain says. "We can also make gourmet pizza with pineapple, sweet pizza or normal pizza — whatever."

Iramain's main goal with the new shop is to keep it familiar but to alter some things — just to make it more interesting to regulars and newcomers.

"We added a little more staff," Iramain says, "We try to keep it the same, but we added a little more. We have a new menu this weekend that's a little different, and we have an agreement with Coke, so we can make a couple of things better, make the restaurant more attractive for people."

As for some of the new items on the menu that Iramain is going to unveil, he wants to keep a few things secret. But he did disclose one tidbit: "I want to make a menu on the Internet because it's so easy for people to search," Iramain says. "Eighty percent of our business is delivery."

Pizza isn't all Gaggani's sells, though. There's also a wide assortment of pasta dishes.

"We have ravioli, ziti, spaghetti with meatball, lasagna, ravioli, a couple of parmesans," Iramain says. "We also have seafood, because we have calamari."

Iramain wants to let it be known though that while they do serve pasta here, Gaggani's isn't a pasta place. It's a pizzeria — and they're proud of it.

"We are not a trattoria restaurant," Iramain says. "We make the best pizza, but we also make Italian dishes."

And even though they left the barbecue in Argentina, they did bring one thing over with them: the name.

"The name we use for the store is our last name," Iramain says. "We have two last names, Iramain and Gaggani, and we use the second last name for the business."

WHERE: 324 Route 24, Chester
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-879-0669
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
CUISINE: Pizza, Italian food
PAYMENT: Cash, credit and all major credit cards
PRICE RANGE: Plain pies, $14, any toppings $1.50 extra, pasta with small salad $12, normal pasta $7
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: This familiar shop has a new look with more lighting to make it feel more open
ATMOSPHERE: It's the same place you know and love with a few extra touches, and the delivery service is still superb
PARKING: In the lot
OWNER: Raul Iramain

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Eating out in the Chesters: Hacklebarney Farm

For a great eating experience that you can smell as soon as you step out of your car, take a trip to Hacklebarney Farm in Chester, where a cider mill pumps out everything from apple doughnuts to hot dogs dipped in cider.

"We've been running the bakery since 2000, but the farm has been here since 1850," says Bob Jacobson, who, along with his partner/baker, Mark Happel, and many others, took over the bakery in 2000 and work at a feverish pace to get everything done. "It's been in the family since my great-great-great grandfather, who built the place. We started out slowly, baking pies and doing a few doughnuts."

But those few doughnuts and pies blossomed into a wide variety, including cheesecake, cider twists, fudge brownies and many other delicious products.

"The cider mill has really been the main thing that started what you see today," says Jacobson, whose father put the mill in around the mid-'70s, and whose family started using it in the early '80s. "Then we started the doughnuts in '83."

The doughnuts are probably the biggest seller right now. The are fried in soy bean oil because it's a healthier alternative to lard. The pies are a very close second.

"We made about 185 apple pies in about three hours the other day," Happel says.

One of their most famous pies is, of course, apple, but they also have a variety that includes Chocolate Walnut and Harvest Crumb, which contains apples, peaches, pears and blueberries. There's even Swedish Apple, which adds an interesting twist to the standard apple pie.

"My dad is Swedish, and there's no crust on the bottom of that pie," Jacobson says. "It's made with mounds of apples and then a batter on the top so it cooks down through it, and there's no bottom crust."

Pumpkin pie also is very popular here, and Happel says they're midway there on their holiday requests.

"I think we're about halfway filled up on our Thanksgiving order already," Happel says. "Because we take about 600, and we're about at 330 pies for Thanksgiving already. We usually end up making about 700 pies for that."

While their pies and doughnuts are heading out the door like hotcakes, there's another item on the list that they just can't seem to keep on the shelves long enough.

"Our apple twists have become extremely popular," Happel says. "So much so that I think we're only going to feature them on the weekends through October. We can't keep up with the demand on the weekdays."

Happel attributes this occasional lack of product to the small work environment.

"It's getting harder and harder because we're little and we can only produce so much," Happel says. "We don't want to get any bigger than we are, because we don't want to sacrifice the quality of what we do. We try not to have left-overs because we don't want to hold it to the next day. We want it to be fresh every day, so that's hard sometimes for the public to understand. But we're only a farm. We're making the best thing that we can make. That's important to us. It's quality."

WHERE: 104 State Park Road, Chester
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-879-6593
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday
CUISINE: Baked goods, hot dogs
PAYMENT: Visa, Mastercard and cash
PRICE RANGE: All 10-inch pies $17.95 (nut and lattice, $1 extra); Irish soda bread, $5.95; fruit breads, $6.95 and $4.95; sour cream pound cake, $15.95
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: A cider mill that smells of doughnuts and deliciousness, this friendly farm is where it's at if you're a big fan of apples and other baked goods
ATMOSPHERE: The shop, while small, offers room to walk around and pick up a hot cider or other items you might see about the store
PARKING: In the lot
OWNER: Wanda Jacobson

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Mad Max (Blu-ray)

Better than Beyond Thunderdome but not as good as The Road Warrior, the original Mad Max fits snuggly in-between those two films, and looks super glossy now thanks to this new Blu-Ray release. It’s not the best action film in the world, but it definitely delivers some high-powered thrills, all looking quite nice on a flat-screen TV.

The Movie: Three and a half stars

I know this might compromise what you think of my taste in movies, but I’ve always thought that Mad Max was a bit overrated. Yes, I’m aware of its significance as an action film, and, more importantly, its significance as an Australian action film, but I think it’s always gotten a lot more acclaim for its relevance as a picture than for its overall quality. I also think it’s better in sections rather than as a complete whole, as it definitely drags in parts and is even yawn-inducing in certain sections. The romantic scenes are cheesy, the acting is subpar, and even some of the action sequences are overdone and dragged out with their constant cuts between the cars and the road. To put it bluntly, it’s a movie that I can understand why people like, but I can’t garner the same enthusiasm for it myself. If there’s any consolation to all this, it’s that I can at least say that I think its successor, The Road Warrior, is a much finer film, one filled with startling action and a better overall story. But we’re not talking about The Road Warrior here, we’re talking about Mad Max, and for what it’s worth, this new Blu-Ray edition isn’t all that bad. It’s just a movie I’d like to watch more than twice now that I’ve already seen it a second time.

The story takes place “a few years from now,” after some kind of apocalyptic event has made the world a sort of Road Rash-esque warzone. Nobody’s safe when it comes to the gangs that rule these roads, and a ragtag police unit known as the Main Patrol Force (MPF) is the only group that can stop them. This unit is hardly a threat against a group as psychopathic as the gangs in this movie, and it’s going to take a true hero to stop them for good. It’s going to take somebody who would later go on alcoholic benders and call an officer of the law “Sugar Tits.” That man is Mel Gib, er, I mean Max Rockatansky, better known as Mad Max to the world at large.

One of my biggest complaints about this picture is that it takes too damn long for Mr. Rockatansky to become Mr. Mad Max, because the build up to that transformation takes its sweet time. This being an origin story, it makes sense that we have to establish Max as this sort of badass character before throwing him out there to the public. But Mel Gibson, for all he’s worth today, just wasn’t a very strong actor back then. The truth is, Mel, even after he goes “Mad,” just wasn’t that much of a badass at all, and it’s mainly because he’s so young in this picture. Mel Gibson was only 21 years old when this film was made, and he doesn’t appear menacing at all, even if he is donning all that fancy black leather and driving the cool black car (Fun fact: He’s the only person in this film who actually is wearing real leather. Everybody else is wearing an imitation).

It’s this slow build-up that hampers all the cool action scenes, like a motorcycle flying high up into the air and sending its rider crashing down, or Max forcing another biker into an oncoming truck, with the ensuing fireball lighting up the Australian Outback. It must be said that these scenes are definitely amplified by the crispness of Blu-ray, as I compared how it looked on DVD, and the grainy quality is all but wiped clean with Blu-ray. But I must say, for a movie like this, I actually prefer it to be a bit grainer. It makes it feel more authentic.

Back to the film. As much as I’ve been ragging about how boring it can be, I think it’s definitely an important film that deserves to be watched by all. It’s one of those films that’s just classic, and while I’m not one of its biggest fans, it’s definitely worth a watch just so you can step into the far superior Road Warrior understanding how Max got the way he is in that picture. He goes through some pretty brutal stuff in this film. So, if you haven’t seen Mad Max before, definitely check it out. And if you have seen it before and you love it, then check out this Blu-Ray version, too, just to see how much prettier the barren landscape of Australia can be with the amplified quality.

The Disc: Four Stars

You can definitely tell that many of the special features on this disc are from an earlier release of the DVD, as there’s a documentary on here called, “Mel Gibson: The Birth of a Superstar” that is so in love with Mel that it has to be from before his downward spiral. Nobody could fawn about him this much in the wake of the sugar tits/Jew-bashing debacle. That being said, it definitely shows Mel in an impressive light, one that makes you both highly upset and also angry at Mel for ruining his career the way he did. He really was something special.

Another documentary entitled “Mad Max: The Film Phenomenon Featurette” gives an in-depth look at how successful the picture was, both in Australia and over here in America, and how it made Mel Gibson into an international star. Fans of the film will undoubtedly love all the info this featurette has to offer, as the wardrobe, the actors, and even the cars themselves are discussed in such loving detail that you expect to find drool all over the disc by the time you take it out.

There is also a commentary that includes the makers of the movie and a film critic (no George Miller or Mel Gibson, however). I, for one, found it tedious beyond belief and fell asleep on two separate occasions as they talked about all the low-budget techniques used to make the film, as well as swooning over Mel Gibson. Seriously, the love for Mel never ends on this disc.

Trailers, TV spots, posters, and trivia round out the special features on this disc. I have a feeling that many of these may have been on an earlier version, and if they have, there’s nothing new. But for what it’s worth, there’s a lot offered here, and fans who haven’t picked up a copy of the disc before will be doing themselves a great disservice to not pick it up now. There are enough special features here to have you watching long after Max has advised that scumbag to cut off his own foot.