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2013 Best of the Best: Food & Drink

by Erica Bauwens, Colleen Patrice Clark, Amanda Hamm Hengel, Liz Hunter and Peter Proko; Select photography by Jeff Fusco

It’s been a year since we last brought you our annual Best of the Best issue, but the wait is finally over. And trust us when we say that we’ve been busy these past 12 months, working extremely hard to make sure this roundup of the greatest people and places in South Jersey is our best effort to date. From the stellar meals we enjoyed to the punishing exercise classes we endured, this list represents South Jersey’s cream of the crop.
Why else would we call it the Best of the Best?

Maria’s Mom’s Italian Cookie Cupboard
Growing up, Maria Ritter worked alongside her mother Mary Lyn in their home kitchen, baking cookies for the holidays. Last year, they baked a batch that made its way into gift bags at the Emmy’s. Not bad for a family tradition turned family business. But don’t worry, they haven’t gone Hollywood on us and we’re thankful because we don’t know what we’d do without their biscotti or their oatmeal raisin or their chocolate chip or their … you get the point. Marlton, (856) 988-8189,

Salt and pepper wings at King Wong
The first time we heard about the salt and pepper wings at this Chinese restaurant, we were more than a little intrigued. Now we’re hooked. Whole wings are breaded with a unique seasoning mix and baked before being topped with a mixture of chopped peppers that give eaters a welcomed change of pace. Marlton, (856) 596-8990,

Simply Soups and a Little More
The name says it all, but the soup here is much more complex than its moniker. Each day of the week brings a rotating lineup of hearty homemade bowls of chicken orzo, cheeseburger, and spinach tortellini, just to name a few. Audubon, (856) 546-3939

Chilly gorillas at Animo Juice
You don’t have to worry about cheating on your diet with this dessert. Bananas are frozen then blended to an ice cream-like consistency and topped with everything from honey and fruit to chocolate and granola. Haddonfield, (856) 427-9070,

Al Dente Italiana
Few desserts speak to us like the cannoli. It’s hard to say you’ve ever had a bad one, but when they are good, it can be an absolutely euphoric experience. Put Al Dente in that category for their homemade (so important) tube piped full of rich and creamy ricotta that is the proper send-off to any meal. Moorestown, (856) 437-6593,

Max’s Seafood Café
There are mussels and then there are Max’s mussels. These plump beauties come in an array of sauces and broths, all of them worth ordering. There’s the traditional white and red (don’t be afraid to spice it up here; the added kick is worth it), but it’s the Thai-inspired offering in a sweet coconut milk broth with hints of lemongrass and ginger that pleases our palate. Gloucester City, (856) 456-9774,

The ChopHouse
When it’s time to get down to brass tacks, you’ll want to book a table here. A modern, inviting décor sets the tone and the menu is strictly business with an array of steaks, gourmet salads, sandwiches and other options portioned just right so you won’t bust your gut or the company budget. Gibbsboro, (856) 566-7300,

Woodbury Station Café
This charming restaurant housed in an old train station building dating back to 1883 is our new favorite breakfast place. Try not falling in love with the Chesapeake Benedict, two crab cakes with poached eggs and hollandaise served over a bialy. Did we mention the beignets? Doughy, covered in powdered sugar and served all day. Woodbury, (856) 384-6700,

The Bagel Spot
There’s a certain contingent around these parts that will lead you to believe you can’t get a decent bagel outside of NYC. Apparently, they’ve never been to this Cherry Hill spot, where we line up early in the morning for the chance to start the day off with a whole wheat everything or French toast bagel. Cherry Hill, (856) 755-9330

The Capital Grille
Eating at the bar used to only include orders of chicken wings and mozzarella sticks. Here, the elegant steakhouse approach extends to the bar menu as well, where savvy gourmands can sample everything from lollipop lamb chops to slider-sized lobster and crab burgers. Even the fries get a boost thanks to shaved Parmesan and white truffle oil. Cherry Hill, (856) 665-5252,

The Irish Mile
Anytime we’re looking for quality craft brew on draft, you can find us at this unassuming bar that has a neighborhood feel and a world-class beer list. With 62 taps, yes 62, the friendly bartenders here pour everything from West Coast favorites to beers made closer to home. Haddon Township, (856) 858-8500,

Dominic’s Tavern
The wings are large, meaty and come in more than 10 varieties. Given the choice, we’re suckers for the signature “fat daddy” sauce, a tangy blend that helps further elevate this place from the pack. Bellmawr, (856) 931-4742,

Caffe Aldo Lamberti
Seeking out that special bottle is so much more fun thanks to a modern twist that allows guests to navigate wirelessly on an iPad. Searches can be broken down by region, varietal, even price, and you’ll get information on tasting notes, background on the wineries and much more. It’s like having a sommelier in the palm of your hands. Cherry Hill, (856) 663-1747,

Fischer’s Pelican
Chef/owner Bill Fischer is a commercial fisherman with plenty of experience cooking up the catch of the day. His vibrant menu reflects his love for the sea (did we mention he’s a certified captain for the Coast Guard?) where plates consist of pan-seared day boat scallops, miso and sesame crusted ahi tuna, and Scottish salmon stuffed with crab imperial. Don’t miss the drunken seafood bisque or the zucchini crab cake, either. Sewell, (856) 589-6969,

Cuban nachos from Casona
Few things are as addictive as this specialty menu item consisting of fried green plantains (the chips) topped with your choice of pork, chicken or beef along with black beans, cheese, sour cream and diced tomato. Collingswood, (856) 854-5555,

Little Tuna Market
Pick a lobster out of the tank, survey the raw bar options or settle on some of the appetizing prepared foods and you may just flirt with the idea of becoming a pescetarian. Haddonfield, (856) 795-0888,

The Original Mart Pretzel
We highly recommend the everything version, but for the carb-conscious, there’s also whole wheat. Want a real twist? The pretzels even turn up as the base for their sandwich menu. Cinnaminson, (856) 829-0012

Grilled octopus at Arugula
If not cooked properly, octopus can become a rubbery, chewy mess. That’s not the case at Arugula, where the fish is grilled to ideal tenderness, drizzled with a limoncello dressing and served with olives, tomatoes and white beans for the best starter we’ve had in some time. Sewell, (856) 589-0475,

L&M Bakery
This place is an institution and their doughnuts are part of the fabric of what makes them stand out in South Jersey and beyond. But sometimes, you need to be reminded of the good things in life. That’s when we stop in and order a strawberry glaze or a cream-filled beauty. Oh, who are we kidding? We order a dozen. Delran, (888) 887-1335,

Yogo Factory
A mix of traditional, unique and seasonal flavors make this fro-yo factory a hit with the locals. Even the toppings like candied sunflower seeds and Pop Tarts are worthy of your attention. Multiple locations,

Johnson’s Corner Farm
Few things are as American as apple pie, and Johnson’s Corner Farm is just the place to make you feel patriotic. Their apple crumb is one of the most sinfully sweet delicacies you’ll ever slice into, but we would be remiss if we overlooked the rest of the menu that includes similarly popular takes on pecan, blueberry and coconut custard. Medford, (609) 654-8643,

Top Notch
Thanks to chef Dave Levecchia’s reputation in the area, Top Notch has quickly become one of Medford’s dining destinations. The bahn mi sandwich is light and refreshing and the chicken pot pie is comfort food we’ll gladly eat during any season. Add the lobster quesadilla and a few, forgive us, top notch burgers and you’re not going to be in a hurry to get back to the office. Medford, (609) 654-6240,

The sleek bar here makes for the perfect setting come happy hour, which inexplicably runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday. Not that we’re complaining. Discounted drink specials get the ball rolling, but the real star of the show is the mouth-watering menu. Mussels with chorizo, penne vodka with crab, and homemade potato chips are just some of the reasons why we’ll never look at happy hour the same. West Deptford, (856) 579-7900,

Prime Burger
The folks behind Philly’s Pub and Kitchen and Avalon’s Diving Horse are responsible for these unbelievable grass-fed burgers found just steps away from Rowan’s main campus. We love The Whitney (arugula, tomato, blue cheese and a red onion jam) but even Quentin Tarantino would be proud to bite into their Royale with Cheese. Glassboro, (856) 243-2191,

La Esperanza
Step foot inside La Esperanza’s doors and you’re instantly transported south of the border. Taste one of the Cordova family’s many traditional dishes on its menu and it’s a trip you won’t want to soon end. Start off with a margarita and the guacamole. Where you go from there is up to you, it’s your journey. Lindenwold, (856) 782-7114,

La Cita
We dream about their tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple) and visits also often include ordering the huarache—a handmade corn tortilla stuffed with refried beans, topped with your choice of meat, salad, salsa and cheese. Cherry Hill, (856) 375-2194,

This bakery predates most of its customers, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a no frills, old-fashioned place that does everything well, from the pastries on down the display case. If only they were open on Mondays. Haddon Township, (856) 854-3094

Tavro 13
At this popular (and eclectic) Swedesboro restaurant, there are no fancy mixology lessons going on behind the bar, just classic cocktails done right. Think Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sidecars with all the regalness and none of the pretentiousness. Swedesboro, (856) 467-8413,

Tagliatelli al Limone at Zeppoli
Chef Joey Baldino has mastered the art of homemade pasta and never is it more evident than in this buzzworthy dish. Tagliatelle is lifted thanks to the citrusy addition of lemon and completed with either shaved Sicilian bottarga (a dried fish roe) or prosciutto. It’s remarkably light for a pasta dish and, despite its simple approach, will have you talking for weeks. Collingswood, (856) 854-2670,

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar
Dark woods and warm colors give the dining room at Fleming’s an understated classiness that you wish more places had. And the modern vibe crosses over into the private dining rooms as well, where you’ll get the royal treatment no matter if you’re having a family dinner or hosting a wine-tasting party. Marlton, (856) 988-1351,

Joe’s Peking Duck House
Dim sum is great because it allows you to sample many different items in one sitting, from savory to sweet, in a family-style atmosphere. At Joe’s, the menu is both authentic (chicken feet, beef congee) and approachable (barbecue pork bun, Chinese pizza). Make your weekend plans early, as you’ll only get this experience on Saturdays and Sundays. Marlton, (856) 985-1551,

Olde World Bakery
Reading the cake menu at this bakery is like looking at a hall of fame ballot for pastry chefs. Witness the Javamoon Eruption Cake: two layers of fudge cake soaked in cappuccino, filled with chocolate mousse and iced with dark chocolate ganache. Eastampton, (609) 265-1415,

Indulgence Cupcakery
While they have all the ordinary flavors, there’s nothing ordinary when it comes to the likes of strawberry lemonade, jalapeno cream cheese or chocolate peanut butter pretzel. Haddonfield, (856) 354-0400,

Dream Cuisine Café
If you’re looking to spark some romance, you could do worse than taking your main squeeze to a cozy French restaurant where the food is cooked by a Nice-born chef. The classic dishes and intimate setting will help set the mood in no time. Cherry Hill, (856) 751-2800,

Victory Sports Bar and Grill
When the big games are on, this Berlin sports bar has all the right ingredients: cold beer, plenty of HDTV screens, and a highly respectable menu. Even when your team loses, you’ll feel like a winner here. West Berlin, (856) 768-5454,

Treehouse Coffee Shop
Slaves to Starbucks would do well to pay a visit to this Audubon java hut. The rich roasts have depth that you just don’t find at grab-and-go places, and their menu of light bites and homemade pastries make it a place to linger and order another cup. Audubon, (856) 547-3270,

If you’ve ever stood in line for ice cream at Daddy-O’s, you know there’s gold at the end of that rainbow. That’s because they specialize in making homemade ice cream that’s smooth, creamy, flavorful and oh, so memorable. Marlton, (856) 983-0011

The Bistro at Haddonfield
There’s nothing better than one of their refreshing salads that actually have some thought behind them, not just the Caesar you order every Wednesday (though they do have a pretty good version of that, too). Instead, feast on crab and portabella, fig and prosciutto, and a delicious Mandarin salad with a toasted sesame dressing. Haddonfield, (856) 354-8702,

Reuben on Rye
It’s a Jewish deli on wheels, with enough knishes, pastrami sandwiches and matzo soup to go around. But they also have their takes on street food, too—reuben fries anyone?—to make sure they fit in with the rest of the crowd while bringing something completely different to the table, er, curb. (856) 208-7671,

Cool Dog Café
French fries are one of those junk foods that never goes out of style. Here, we love the Belgian-style fries, or should we say frites? Double fried, they provide plenty of crunch before unveiling the soft potato inside. Cherry Hill, (856) 424-0400,

Da Soli
It’s kind of a good thing that chef Mark Berenato’s restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license. The drink menu would potentially distract you from all the wonderful food he’s cranking out of his semi-open kitchen. From the always popular risotto balls and house-made pastas to signature entrees like the boneless beef short ribs and the grilled veal porterhouse, we’ve never had a bad dish here. And the dough we save on liquor just means we can order up another one of the can’t-miss desserts. Haddonfield, (856) 429-2399,

The Pop Shop
These battered stacks the size of manhole covers are soft and delicate and come filled with everything from bacon to Oreo crumbles. We’re partial to the banana walnut with caramelized bananas, walnuts and nutmeg, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy them all. Collingswood, (856) 869-0111,

The Peruvian ceviche at El Sitio
As traditional as it gets, here the appetizer features tumbles of corvina cubes comfortably resting in a sauce of sweet-yet-spicy Peruvian chili oil called aji amarillo. The plate is rounded out with boiled sweet potato and plump corn kernels for a one-of-a-kind flavor profile. Collingswood, (856) 240-1217,

Bobby’s Burger Palace
When celebrities lend their name to a franchise, you hope they turn out more Bobby’s Burger Palace and less Kenny Rogers Roasters. The burgers are what draw the Cherry Hill Mall crowds in, but the milkshakes should be the real talk of the town. Your 11 ounces of ice cream comes with your choice of anything from real strawberries to pistachios and is just thick enough without being a chore. Cherry Hill, (856) 382-7462,

Joe Canal’s, Route 45
At this West Deptford liquor store, they take their beer seriously. Not only do they rotate the stellar lineup of brews, occasionally allowing one company to do a tap takeover, but because it’s not a bar, they don’t charge bar prices. We can certainly drink to that. West Deptford, (856) 464-8787,

Catelli Duo
Brunch is great because it can provide so many options and if you do it right, you won’t have to eat again for the rest of the day. At Catelli Duo, omelettes, fritattas and chicken and waffles mingle with a collection of pizzas, burgers, salads—even their signature $20 meatball can be shared by the table. We have a hard time deciding between the lemon-ricotta pancakes and the short rib grilled cheese. Voorhees, (856) 751-6069,

Megu Sushi
With locations in Cherry Hill and Moorestown, we’re never too far away from our favorite sushi restaurant, where chef Steven Lin makes signature rolls with great precision. Don’t miss Lin’s namesake creation—the Steven sashimi roll made up of spicy tuna, yellowtail and asparagus wrapped in soy bean paper and topped with salmon, eel, avocado, fish roe and just a bit of crunchy crumbs for texture. Cherry Hill, (856) 489-6288; Moorestown, (856) 780-6327,

Bacon Bloody Mary at Zinburger
This version of a bloody Mary has opened our eyes wide. Sure, the usual suspects are all accounted for: tomato juice, Worcestershire, cracked pepper, etc. But it’s the inclusion of bacon-infused vodka (no, we’re not kidding) and the garnish of a bacon strip that take this drink to new heights. Cherry Hill, (856) 488-7590,

Village Cheese Shop
The friendly staff at this shop will gladly guide you through the myriad of cheeses they stock, and they are lessons worth learning. With cheeses broken down by country of origin, you’ll travel around the world without leaving South Jersey as you explore new tastes and flavors. Haddon Heights, (856) 310-0827

This liquor store claims that wine is their passion. No kidding! The aisles are full of all the in-demand varietals, vintages and regions. Not to mention their sampling station houses 24 different wines at any given time. The man to get to know is Charlie Beatty, the resident oenophile who brings in those hard-to-find bottles your so-called expert wine buddy always brags about. Marlton, (856) 596-3330,

Bringhurst Fine Meats
Bringhurst has been a community institution since 1934, so it’s evident they know their meat. But, with that type of longevity, it also means they know their customers. They dry age their steaks, slow roast their pigs, and offer everything else from whole lambs to ground venison. There’s even raw items and bones for Fido at home. It’s no wonder this place is a cut above the rest. Berlin, (856) 767-0110,

Aunt Selma’s Chocolate and Candy Shop
If you’ve ever met owner Pat Orris, you know she loves candy. But what she loves more is people enjoying her candy. So she takes her background in art and handcrafts everything from edible centerpieces for events to whimsical creations that any hostess would be thrilled to receive. Mount Laurel, (856) 642-6363,

Pie Lady Café
It seems the Pie Lady, aka Christine McHale, has the Midas touch. And with all due respect to her scrumptious pies, it’s her scones that have us head over heels. There’s not a bad one in the bunch, but we could eat the orange cranberry or banana cream all day. Not that we’ve tried or anything. Moorestown, (856) 778-1437,

Indian food has some of the best dishes for vegetarians and, at this upscale Mount Laurel restaurant, they do it better than anyone else. Mixed veggies scorched in a tandoor oven; okra blended with tomatoes and onions; and chick peas given the traditional Punjabi treatment. Full of flavor and far from bland, even a carnivore would agree. Mount Laurel, (856) 234-0080,

Ralph’s Market
Fresh lunchmeat, a gracious staff and dynamite hoagies make this deli one to brag about. It may be small, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in overall quality. Sure, there are other delis around, but they haven’t captured our hearts or our appetites quite like Ralph’s. Moorestown, (856) 235-0132

The omakese at Fuji
Leave yourself in the overly capable hands of Japanese-born chef Masaharu Ito as he handcrafts a five-course menu full of mind-twisting dishes from his native land. Not only will Ito prepare these plates for you, but you’ll get a little education on what you’re eating. Food for thought from a truly master chef. Haddonfield, (856) 354-8200,

Miel Patisserie
The French certainly know their pastries and, at this Cherry Hill confection shop, they take pride in baking these light bites of sweetness. Cherry Hill, (856) 424-6435,

The Courtyard at The Madison
When the summer heats up, so does the Courtyard at The Madison. The chefs prepare specialty dishes—like roasted pepper and provolone sausage, a garden salad with a pesto grilled chicken breast, and their Asian spice burger—on their flaming outdoor grill station. Riverside, (856) 764-4444,

Tamagoyaki at Yokohama
It’s the Japanese version of an omelet, and we’re using that word loosely. Sushi chefs at the classic Maple Shade eatery roll thin layers of cooked egg together, pressing them until they form what appears to be a spongy, yellow cake, then serve it sliced as sashimi or on top of rice. Maple Shade, (856) 608-8812,

2013 Best of the Best: Food & Drink


Classic Cake
Cherry Hill, Washington Township


Cherry Hill, Maple Shade and Marlton

Zinc Café


Illiano Cucina Mediterranea

Carolina Blue

The Telford Inn

Braddock’s Tavern

Locations in Cherry Hill, Cinnaminson and Marlton

Los Amigos Restaurant
West Berlin

Harvest Coffee

Let’s YO!

The Apron


Iron Hill Brewery
Maple Shade

Haddon Township

William Douglas
Cherry Hill

Traino’s Wine & Spirits

wxyz Bar at Aloft Mount Laurel
Mount Laurel


To find the rest of 2013’s Best of the Best, click on the following links:

For 2013 Best of the Best: Retail, click here

For 2013 Best of the Best: Health & Beauty, click here

For 2013 Best of the Best: Lifestyle, click here

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July, 2013).
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