Sunday, November 28, 2010

A North Jersey-style food run

Jack at Alstede's Farm, Chester, NJ 043Image by John Walker via Flickr
We found a well-stocked store on our visit to Alstede Farms in Chester.


An Israeli cheese maker, a farm store as American as cherry pie and a Lebanese chef were among the elements of a food-filled afternoon on a sunny but blustery day in northern New Jersey.

Our excursion on Saturday took us from Bergen County to two farms and on our return, to a restaurant and bakery in Paterson's Middle Eastern bazaar -- a round-trip of about 100 miles.

I'll have to find a route with more two-lane blacktop on our next visit to Valley Shepherd Creamery, a sheep-and-goat dairy that makes and sells artisan cheese and a lot of other food in Long Valley, a lovely little town with antique stores and restaurants.

We started out on Route 80 west, headed south on Route 206 and drove two-lane roads past horse and produce farms until we reached the dairy.

As usual, cheese maker Eran Wajswol was busy in the back of the cozy retail store, dubbed the Sheep Shoppe, "making cheese."

There were only a few other customers in the store as I looked over the sheep's-milk cheese, yogurt, ravioli and other products in the cold case, and my wife and son sampled a semi-soft goat cheese.

Some of the cave-aged cheeses are $24 a pound, so I bought only a quarter-pound of Oldwick Shepherd cheddar and a third-of-a-pound of a parmagian-romano style cheese called Hunterdon. 

We also picked up four plain ewegurts ($2 each), a walnut-raisin baguette ($3.29) and that Crotin goat cheese ($5), which my 13-year-old son loved.

Valley Shepherd Creamery, 50 Fairmount Road, 
Long Valley, N.J.; 908-876-3200, call for hours.

Alstede Farms in Chester 

We've taken hay-wagon rides and visited the pumpkin path at Alstede Farms, but we were happy with shopping in the store on Saturday.

There was more fresh produce than I expected, probably grown in hot houses, including beefsteak tomatoes, red cabbage, arugula, dandelion and other greens. Coffee and hot soup were available, too.

We took home a large tomato, a head of red cabbage and a homemade cherry pie ($13.99). My son asked for a large cone of farm-made rum-raisin ice cream and raved it was the best he's ever had ($5.99). I needed a pick-me-up cup of black coffee ($1).

Alstede Farms, 84 Route 24, Chester; 908-879-7189.

Early dinner in South Paterson

Our first stop in Paterson was Fattal's Bakery, where the Al-Shark Moroccan sardines are only 99 cents a can, in spicy or regular oil. I picked up 14 cans of the spicy, plus yogurt drink ($1.49) and a mixture of olives ($2.99 a pound).

I love Fattal's Syrian bread, but didn't buy any, because I am cutting down on all bread and losing weight as a result.

For dinner, I couldn't decide on whether to go to our favorite, Aleppo Restaurant on Main Street, or La Ziza, a Lebanese place on the Paterson border we've tried several times despite the availability of hookah smoking.

It was early, about 3 in the afternoon, so we chose La Ziza, knowing there would be few other customers and little smoke to contend with.  

But we've probably had our last meal there after we were overcharged, the credit-card machine ran out of paper and the adjusted bill included a 15% tip on the original, inflated total.

That's a shame, because the food was as good as ever: 

Cold grape leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables ($5.95); cumin-flavored hummus ($4.50); lentil soup with fresh lemon ($2.95); a tart, finely chopped Lebanese salad ($6.95); and meat arayes, a toasted pocket-bread sandwich of seasoned meat ($5.50).

Only the overly sweet La Ziza lemonade disappointed ($2.95 each).

 In addition, we ordered one entree, fried, whole whiting with rice ($12.95), and asked the waiter to hold the greasy fried bread usually served with the three fish.

During our meal, customers at only two other tables were smoking water pipes, and they were nowhere near us. 

When I looked over the itemized bill, I noticed we were charged for an appetizer we didn't order. I called the waiter over and pointed that out to him and later, my son and wife said he "smirked," and they thought that meant he overcharged us on purpose.

Although the smoke was hardly noticeable, except for the sweetish smell, the air-conditioning was turned on as the staff, including the female chef, hunted for more paper for the credit-card machine. That took forever, and I had to put on my jacket because it was so cold in the place.

I paid the adjusted bill, but noticed only later the tip hadn't been adjusted downward. 

This morning, I joked with my wife: "Do you know where the restaurant that overcharged us is located?" 

"Crooks Avenue." 

Fattal's Syrian Bakery, 975-77 Main St., Paterson; 973-742-7125.

La Ziza Restaurant, 341 Crooks Ave., Clifton; 973-772-2700.

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