The Heart & Soul Cafe is Truly a Special Place

Another visit to the Heart & Soul Cafe at West Broad Street (corner of Osborn Ave). This time we went there for lunch. Previously impressed by their breakfast, absolutely wanted to try their sandwiches orother lunch items. Fortunately, the very favorable impression from our initial visit was more than confirmed: This is truly a special place. When we arrived there around 12:30 there were a few - seemingly - regular customers at the counter and over the course of our meal a few regulars showed up or stopped by for take out.

Although she is not typically a fan of warm breakfast, my wife was easily convinced by the breakfast special. Fried fish with scrambled eggs and grits. OK let's talk about the grits: Today's visit totally changed my perception of grits. (And it is a rare thing that one event totally changes my view on something). I remember vaguely that I had grits several years ago when we were in New Orleans. I recall it as an amorphous, tasteless mass of empty carbohydrates with a weird texture. I was not at all impressed, didn't understand why this was such a big deal in "The South" and wasn't planning to have it again.

Now with the grits we got at the Heart & Soul Cafe things changed dramatically. The grits there had a unique, pleasant and truly comfortable, mellow balanced flavor in itself (which is enhanced by some butter on top) and a surprisingly good mouth-filling texture. Yes, I'm sure one would still not consider grits a health food, but it is truly enjoyable and absolutely worth it. My wife was pretty happy with the fish and eggs as well.

I had the ham and capicola sandwich. I actually, I had half a sandwich, which easily satisfies a normal lunch appetite. Not only is the sandwich fairly large but it is loaded with lots of meat. And this is not the rather tasteless run of the mill sandwich meat you often get in chain stores but rather tasty higher quality meat. The sandwich bread is baguette like and has a good taste by itself and is slightly chewy and moist, again not what you far too oftent encouter when getting a chain sandwich, tasteless, foam-like sub rolls. As a side you get potato salad. I'm not sure if it is home made, but it certainly has a well rounded flavor and impressive lasting mouth feel and a good texture. The potatoes have a discernible taste of their own, they are not just chunks of tasteless starch. Although the salad is mayonnaise based, the mayo is not overpowering and nicely enclose the other components. For me the high point: It comes with chopped eggs, the one most critical ingredient for a superb potato salad.
Overall a solid, well made deli sandwich which very tasty ingredients and sides. For $5.50 a really good deal.

The service was again very friendly, attentive and efficient. Although this place has a lot of regular guests, new comers are welcomed and treated with the same warmth and attention and - I believe - in a lot of cases will become regulars in no time.

The Heart & Soul Cafe is already becoming a favorite place of ours that we will frequent more often for breakfast or lunch. I will still go to Panera when I travel, but when I'm home in Westfield the Heart & Soul Cafe just feels much better than Panera, et. al. and a bit more like home.

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A new Source for Good Bread: Breadsmith in Cranford

When we recently went to the Car Show in Cranford we also saw that there is a new bread store called "Breadsmith". When I initially drove by I thought the place would become a bank (immediately thinking "No, please, not another bank") as the logo they put up at the store somehow reminds you much more of a typical bank logo than an artisan bread store.

Breadsmith is a Mid Western chain. Most of their stores are in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. The Cranford, NJ, location is their first and so far only store in the Northeast. I'm not sure why they selected Cranford as a bridgehead to conquer the East Coast. But good bread is certainly dearly missing in NJ. Manhattan has Le Pain Quotidien, so the market there is already pretty competitive for high-end artisan bread. NJ probably has more opportunities for them. One might speculate that the site was selected anticipating an acceleration of the current upgrades happening in downtown Cranford.

Breadsmith is certainly a friendly place. The staff is really helpful and attentive. At the left side of the store they have a large rack where all the bread is displayed. There is a little divider/fence in front of that rack as they seemingly don't want people to actually touch the bread. The fence is also a good place to put down the coffee cup that I don't to walk around with all the time. The staff behind the fence will explain and show to you the different breads they have and they will also give you good sized samples of pretty much everything. I really like that. The bread isn't cheap so at least you can figure out if you like it before you buy it.

They do have a few standards that are available every day and a weekly rotation of breads that are only available at particular day of the week. The menu is on their web site. I think this is a good idea and comprise. Their turnover is probably not high enough to afford having 50 different types of bread available all the time. With rotation, you can still get some variety.

After tasting several of their breads (all good but not all really super excellent) we selected the focaccia that was overall the best tasting sample. A firm but somewhat chewy texture with some moisture of the inside. The outside you can't really call a crust. It feels more like a membrane (that keeps the moisture inside) which is exactly what a good focaccia should be. It contains some herbs that give it well round flavor profile. Overall it is a bit heavier than a lot of the super market focaccias but I actually liked that. And it lasted for a long time. We had a piece left after 5 days. It was a little drier than at the first day but it was still a bit moist and had a good consistency. If all their breads lasted that long that would be another bonus.

Although their breads are certainly not bargains their prices are not too much above upscale breads you can get in a supermarket. At least for the focaccia, I can certainly confirm that compared to the supermarket version the one from Breadsmith tastes better, lasts longer and is typically fresher. So the premium on the price is IMHO justified.

I'm sure we will be back to try a few more of their breads.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Breakfast at Java's Brewin in Cranford

After our traditional early morning workout at the Westfield Y, we originally wanted to go to Bovella's to get some of their sensational croissants. But then we remembered that we had seen a new place in Cranford that looked like a coffee house that also had advertised a variety of food options. Curious as we are we decided to go there and check it out.

Java's Brewin is a franchise concept that is proposing an alternative to Starbucks. With a similar focus on high quality (and high-margin) coffee drinks and a pleasant atmosphere to hang out. However, they have added a much broader food selection. Starbucks typically only has some bakery food items like croissants, scones, muffins, etc. (some locations also have pre-made and pre-packaged sandwiches). Java's Brewin tries to attack Starbucks at that front: It offers a more comprehensive selection of typical breakfast and lunch food items (salads, sandwiches, soup). It also offers free WIFI supposedly at all locations. You can get WI-FI at Starbucks via T-Mobile at a significant fee. With a lot of other places offering it for free, I think Starbucks' approach to WI-FI is anachronistic. I typically go to Panera, Cosi or some other place if I need WI-FI. And I believe I'm not the only customer that Starbucks has lost this way.

The web site of Java's Brewin is more targeting potential entrepreneurs that are interested in a franchise opportunity, not so much the (potential) customer. Some of the individual locations seem to have their own web sites, however not the one in Cranford (yet).

When we came there at 8:15 or so there was nobody else in the restaurant. The atmosphere is nice, well lighted, comfortable and cosy enough to hang out and do some work on the computer as needed.
They actually do have on impressive and interesting sounding selection of breakfast and lunch food items on the menu and on display in the glass counter. The fact that the sandwiches, quesadillas, etc. are on display there also means they are not made fresh to order like at Panera or Cosi.

The menu claims that they are made fresh daily. In my world that would imply that they are also only offered that same day they were made. However, it doesn't say that explicitly, so I'm curious. Next time I'm there, I will verify this.

They told us that the place has opened about two weeks ago. Considering that, they should have gotten over the typical start up operational problems by now. But unfortunately they haven't.

My wife ordered a breakfast wrap. This is pre-made and it took some time to find it among all the sandwiches in the counter. I had a classic ham, egg and cheese on a bagel breakfast sandwich, which is freshly put together, with the (really small) egg patty being pre-made. They seemingly have problems operating the toaster so the first bagel was burned to be pretty much black on one side. I requested it not to be used. The second attempt was better but still not perfect. My wife's sandwich was in the contact grill and seemingly nobody watched over its progress. So my wife had to remind them to avoid it getting it burned, too, and saved them from another small disaster.

The whole process of putting together these sandwiches took a rather long time. I'm curious to see how they deal with their order processing when the customers line up during peak time. Operating the cash register and putting the right items at the right price in was another drama that we got sorted out after a while.

The sandwich wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either, essentially the sum of its parts. I have had much better breakfast sandwiches at other places around here. At $3.00 ($2.25 for the sandwich plus $.75 for the meat) the price is OK. My wife felt the same about her El Ranchero Burrito: Not bad, but nothing special. So what about the coffee? This was a highlight. I really don't like the fairly bitter coffee you get at Starbucks, so I was glad to see that they have a few options at Java's Brewin that are not dark roast and I really liked their house blend.

While we were enjoying our breakfast a few more clients came in and we could observe some additional customer service and food preparation problems. The staff behind the counter is friendly and tries very hard. However, it seems management doesn't care too much about training their folks and refining the operational processes of the place.

Overall, the Java's Brewin in Cranford, NJ could be a very nice coffee house to hang out, enjoy a java drink and have a good breakfast or lunch. Most of the lunch food items on display actually looked pretty good and I'm sure we will be back to try them.

In summary, we have an excellent promising concept that unfortunately is undermined by less than average execution. I'm really concerned that management after only a few weeks since opening doesn't seem to be involved in day to day operations any more and lets an under-trained staff figure things out by trial and error. I'm hoping for the best, as I really would like to see them succeed.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger.


Dinner at Gauchos with Live Music

A few weeks ago I blogged about our opening night visit to Gauchos BBQ & Grill at South Avenue West. Now, three weeks later we were once again in the mood for a more meat oriented dinner and we also remembered that Gauchos had live music every other Friday and today was one of these Fridays.
We arrived there at around 8:15 PM and they just had one table available for us. Because of the weather there was no outside seating so all the business had to be accommodated inside. And seemingly they had been quite busy that evening.
Three weeks ago, I remarked on a couple of kinks in their operation that needed to be ironed out for prime time. This evening, I'm glad to report that they have successfully worked on all of them and things work quite well. Despite the evening being fairly busy, the service was as warm and welcoming as the first night but also attentive and efficient. I decided to go for the Brazilian Sausage BBQ platter which they didn't have the last time we were there. My wife went for the BBQ Ribs. My BBQ platter is essentially the same as the Rodizio except that it is just a portion of a certain meat without the all-you-can-eat feature. Certainly enough for a regular appetite. The Brazilian sausage is very tasty and a bit spicy and has a firm texture. It comes nicely grilled. And all dishes come with generous portions of sides. In addition to rice (pretty good), fries (OK, not bad but had better fries) and a choice of red or black beans (try both if you can).
Some people remarked that the full blown Rodizio for $26.95 is actually a bit expensive. I would not agree with that statement. Yes, if you are in the mood for a light dinner you shouldn't get it, as you probably will not be able to eat as much as you pay for and there are enough other options to satisfy your desires. However, if you like meat and you have a good appetite the Rodizio is worth it. Not only do you get the salad bar and all the available sides (including a pretty remarkable fried polenta) but you also get to eat as much as you like from the truly outstanding "Top Sirloin Cap" from the Rodizio skewer. We didn't have that dish, but the owner was kind enough to give us a small slice to try, and it was very good, tender and very flavorful.

Overall we again had a very pleasant dinner there at a reasonable price with a lot of left overs to take home which turned into Saturday's lunch. The live Brazilian music was a nice complement to round out the evening, a bit emotional, tense but smooth. I think Gauchos is off to a good start and we hope things will work out for this place to become a permanent addition to the Westfield restaurant scene.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


An Evening with Cars - Smart Cars and Old Cars

More by coincidence than based on planning this evening has mostly to do with cars, first with Smart Cars and then with Old Cars.
The Mercedes Dealership in Edison sent us an invitation for a preview and test drive event for the new Smart Cars that will be introduced to the US market next year. My wife likes cute little cars in general and I'm always interested in innovative car designs, two good reason to go there and check things out.
The Smart Cars are pretty hip in Europe and there people buy them as a fashion statement. Financially, they have only been a limited success for Mercedes. Although small, they are not actually that cheap to design and build. The security concept alone required a serious research and development effort. Combined with some other innovative design elements, e.g. the engine in the back, the sandwich design, these cars also became quite complex to manufacture. So when you are looking for an economical small car, the Smart is not for you: depending on what source you believe the basic model will start at between $12 and 14 k. Yes, you heard that right. You can get the Toyota Yaris or the Nissan Versa nicely equipped for the same or a few grand less.
So the Smart is really for people who can afford it as an additional car for driving short distances in the city or the suburbs, easy to maneuver and to park.
We test drove one and I was not at all impressed. The interior feels nice, but the car is very bouncy (despite the fact that the wheels are as far out in the four corners of the car as possible) and not comfortable, the automatic transmission has a serious lack of power for a short period when it shifts and the engine revs quite high when accelerating and is a bit obtrusive.
And with 40mpg the fuel economy is not that impressive, certainly not compared to a Prius which is a much larger car. And then even a conventional car with a Diesel engine gets pretty close to that.
Although the Smart is pretty cool and looks cute, I doubt that we will ever buy one.
From there we went to Cranford to the Vintage Car Show, a.k.a. Cranford Cruiser Night. I remember a few years ago they had vintage car shows in Westfield in the downtown area (Elm Street and Quimby). At one point that stopped and I really don't know why.
Seemingly quite successfully, Cranford has taken over that tradition. Two blocks of Union Avenue are closed for regular traffic and shiny vintage cars are lined up for the interested public to watch, inspect, photograph and admire, but certainly not to touch. Most proud owners are - understandably - quite peculiar about this. It is amazing how many of these cars are still around and in what good condition. Respect to all the folks that invest a significant amount of time, effort and money into keeping these cars in good condition for people to enjoy. I'm personally mostly fascinated by the tail fins that some of these cars had in 50s.
If you like to see vintage cars or just have a general interest in car design these vintage car shows are great fun. Unfortunately, this was the last one in Cranford for this year, but there is a website that lists all of them in NJ. I believe there is one more in Westfield on the parking lot south of the train station on 2007-09-10.
Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Sweet Sounds Downtown and Dinner at Xocolatz

Another Tuesday night with perfect weather for "Sweet Sounds Downtown", Westfield's summer jazz festival.

At the PNC Stage we spent quite some time with the Eric Mintel Quartet, a classic refined jazz combo, playing jazz standards from Dave Brubeck et. al. as well as their own (very interesting and innovative) compositions. Most impressive were the sophisticated solos and improvisation parts. For me, who I'm just starting to learn to play the piano, Eric Mintel's mastery of that instrument is incredible.

Next, on the lawn in front of the train station, the Chuck Lambert Band played high-energy dynamic traditional blues. Not a bad performance, but IMHO, I have seen other bands at this same place that I liked better with a more refined and expressive sound.

At the Bombay store stage we had Westfield's own Full Count Big Band perform smooth, energizing big band sound. The very authentic Tom Jones impersonation by one of the musicians (see image) was quite enjoyable. Similarly moving were the vocals of Aubrey Parasolle who in her early 20ies performs stylistically confident similar to some of the old stars of the genre.

The Roamin' Gabriels in front of the Baptist Church were unfortunately just taking a break when we arrived. As we were both somewhat hungry we didn't want to wait much longer and headed back to restaurant row.

We wanted to find a place where we could get good food, sit outside and enjoy the music. And once again we were lucky at Xocolatz. Not only did the owner come outside to welcome us, ready to put out another table, they also had a very interesting sounding "Mexican burger" on their special jazz festival menu.

As usual we got a bottle of wine at the Liquor Basket. As much as I was impressed about the decent selection of white wines, in particular in the chilled section, the last time I shopped for wine there, as much was I disappointed by the somewhat limited selection of reds. Most of what I saw was pretty mainstream, things we've had before. Only a few curious ones can be found on the shelf. I picked a pinot noir from Australia that turned out to be OK but nothing special.

But then the food more than made up for the only average wine. To start it off, I had the navy beans and chorizo soup. It came in a large bowl and was topped with some fresh herbs. The soup tasted very good, full-bodied and just a little bit spicy, comfortable but not boring. The burger then was a handful, size wise and taste wise. It was not one of these mega-pounder burgers that are en vogue in some chain restaurants but it wasn't one of the smallish ones either. I ordered it medium-well as I'm always a bit careful with ground meat and they got it just right. The meat was just a slight bit pink in the middle, nicely seared on the outside to keep the juices and the taste inside. The texture was slightly firm without being dense and dry as it often happens when overcooked. The burger was loaded with bacon, sauteed mushrooms and cheese. The explicit taste of the beef together with the smoked bacon flavors and the mushroom nuances combined to a splendid, very enjoyable burger experience. It came with side of Cajun spiced fries. I'm typically very critical with fries, but these had a good texture and the Cajun flavors only enhanced the experience.

My wife had the quesadilla salad from the regular menu. Previously they had only offered items from the special menu Tuesdays, probably because of the high demand for the jazz festival. They seemingly did change that policy and you can now order from the regular menu which is replete with interesting, creative sandwiches and salads as well as entrees at reasonable prices. My wife was as impressed by her quesadilla salad as I was by my burger. With the decent portion size we decided to skip dessert and instead got a small pastry on our way home passing by at Bovella's.

On Tuesdays for the jazz festival or for any other occasion, Xocolatz is a very pleasant, often overlooked, choice in Westfield's restaurant scene. In particular, it is typically fairly easy to get a table outside. Check out their web site for their hours as they aren't open for dinner every day.

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Dinner at a Real German Biergarten (Beer Garden)

Today was a real beautiful summer day. It was cool (almost chilly) at night so it was still a bit crisp in the morning and then it became increasingly warm over the course of the day, very little humidity and a nice mild breeze contributing to an easy relaxed mood. In Germany they have a name for that type of weather: they call it "Biergartenwetter" (literally beer garden weather), i.e. the type of weather where you want to spend the day in a beer garden. You would typically plan a hiking or bicycle tour with your family or friends with the destination being a nice beer garden to have lunch/dinner and hang out for a few hours and then return home.
If you have never been to a biergarten, it is essentially an outdoor restaurant. You typically have long tables and benches spread out in a shady garden/wood setting with big old trees. You would normally go there with your family or a group of friends. Food is traditional German home style cooking (meat and potato, bratwurst) and beer is served in 1 liter beer mugs.
On top of my list of things that Westfield doesn't have (but absolutely needs to get) is certainly a beer garden. Fortunately, you don't have to look far to find one. The "Deutscher Club Clark" (German Club) has a very nice one. There is a large open area where the typical biergarten benches are lined up under some tall old trees that provide shade. There is also a larger area (aka Festhalle) that is open to the side but covered with a wooden roof in case there is rain. There are quite a few pictures on the club's website that give you a sense of what their biergarten looks like.
The "Deutscher Club" is a private club, that means to go there you need to become a member (which requires an existing member to nominate you), you can be the guest of a member or you can come for a public event when the club is open to everybody. These public events happen roughly every month and there is typically an admission fee of $5. Parking is free.
Luckily, today they do have such an Oktoberfest event that is open to the public. It starts at 4:00 PM. When we arrive there a little later there are already quite a few people but we don't have a problem finding a very nice table in the shade.
They have a very decent selection of typical German food items that you could find in a similar fashion in a Biergarten in Germany at very reasonable prices. (See image). OK, they also have not-so-German hamburgers and hot dogs.
Food is self service. You have to queue at different food counters and pay right there. A small thing: If you want to get food from different areas you have to queue several times. But the queues weren't too bad.
We decide to have the Bratwurst Platter which comes with potato salad, sauerkraut and a roll, the "Leberkaes" platter with potato salad and a side of Spaetzle with gravy.
The bratwurst is nicely seasoned and grilled just to the right point. Potato salad and sauerkraut are good but nothing spectacular. The Leberkaes however is special. This is a very German food item that is difficult to get here in the US. It is technically a meatloaf however the meat is much more finely ground and then processed in a way to give it tighter, firmer more homogeneous texture. Lightly seasoned and baked it is then cut in slices and served. The one we get at the DC is actually quite good. As you can see in the picture the food comes on paper plates and is eaten with plastic "silverware". In recycling conscious Germany that wouldn't happen. ;-))
With the food we obviously have to have some beer. They have a typical German beer selection on tap. There is the Hacker-Pschorr "Helles" (Helles is a standard German Lager), Warsteiner Pils and a Hefeweizen (a wheat ale with yeast in the bottle or keg). And for $3.50 per cup or $11 for a pitcher that is a bit more than 4 cups this is actually not a bad deal. Domestic beer (if you really must have it) is slightly cheaper.
To finish things up we get some German cake for dessert. A "Zwetschgenkuchen" is a flat cake that is made on a baking sheet (similar to pizza but sweet dough) that is covered with plums. Google has lots of pictures.
Bienenstich (literally "bee sting") is a cake filled with a layer of (usually more fluffy) custard in the middle and a thin layer of honey and sliced almonds on the top. Again some pictures at Google.
While we were having our dinner around 5:30 a German band (Buchenauer Lausbuam) started to play traditional German folksy music. Conceptually similar to country pop. Not my kind of music but lots of people love it and it wasn't loud enough to be annoying.
Oktoberfest (and other similar activities) at the "Deutscher Club" are roughly every month during the summer/fall while the weather is good enough. You can find details on their website. So if the weather is nice and you like German food and music, this is a great place to go with friends or family.

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A Great Breakfast at the Heart and Soul Cafe

The regular readers of this blog know that weekend breakfast is something almost ritualistic for me. So I'm always searching for new, interesting places to have the first meal of the day. And I found one today.
When my wife and I did an evening walk recently we discovered the Heart & Soul Cafe on West Broad Street (corner of Osborn Ave).
It was closed for vacation at the time, but is has since reopened, so today I had an opportunity to have breakfast there after my early morning workout at the Westfield Y.
And its name lives up to the promise. This is a place that certainly has Heart & Soul. It is a small place. Only three tables with a couple of chairs around and a few stools at the counter. The atmosphere is warm and cozy. The service is friendly and welcoming. I immediately liked the place, it is very personal, you feel at home there, a place to hang out and relax for a while.
The menu is typical breakfast as well as lunch deli fare. Nothing spectacular or outrageous but a good variety so it doesn't get boring if you come there frequently. And seemingly there are a lot of regulars that enjoy the food and the friendly surroundings.
The coffee comes in a china mug, it is fresh, really hot (which I like) and has a full bodied solid taste (not too bitter and not to mellow). And the refills come in timely and fast.
For breakfast I had the two egg sausage breakfast sandwich with home fries. The sandwich comes on a fresh poppy seed roll that has a slightly crisp and chewy texture (not the dry soft foamy stuff you often get). That alone tells me that there is attention to detail. The nicely seasoned sausage patties are fried just right so you get the flavorful juices coming out drenching the roll. You actually get two patties on the larger two-egg sandwich. The eggs are nicely scrambled and fried in a way that they are still fluffy and not overcooked. Overall, this is one of the better breakfast sandwiches I had in a while.
But the best thing are the home fries. There are two types of home fries that I like. The crispy, crunchy, browned ones that are best made in a heavy iron skillet. They are difficult to make in large quantities in a restaurant as they often come out not crispy enough or blackened. I like these more for the crisp, crunchy texture than for the actual taste of the potato.
The other type are the ones that are more stir fried with spices and other ingredients, i.e. not crispy but rather covered with a sauce all around. Such home fries are more about taste than texture. The Heart & Soul Cafe has the latter ones. I don't know what spices they put in but the combination between the subtle taste of the potatoes (yes, potatoes actually do have their own taste) and the seasoning is very pleasant and satisfying. The home fried alone are worth a visit.
In addition to great service and great food, the prices are reasonable. The two egg sandwich with meat is $3.50 (one egg is $2.50). Add home fries for $1.75.
They open at 6:00 AM. If I have to get up that early I'm typically not in the best mood. It is good to know that there is a place in Westfield where I can get a good breakfast that early and where people are nice and friendly. They are also open for lunch and then close at 3:00 PM.
The one and only drawback: There is no outside seating. I think there is enough space in front of the store to put up two tables and a few chairs. Maybe I can convince the owner to do something about that.
When I have an opportunity I will come back for lunch to check out their lunch menu.

This is a mid day blog post. We are planning to go to a very interesting place for dinner. So stay tuned for more to come later today.
Thanks again to Westfield photographer Andrea Ewald for letting me use her photos.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger.


Dinner at Freshwaters in Plainfield

After I came home from my traditional Friday Power Yoga class at the Westfield YMCA, that put me in a very relaxed, centered and a bit mellow frame of mind, we weren't in the mood for home cooking. One reason: It was a pretty hot and humid day and we don't have central air in our house. So the idea of working in the hot kitchen wasn't particularly appealing.
We initially contemplated to go to Gaucho's again to check out the Friday live music. However, we both did not feel like large portions of meat. After weighing our options we decided to try Freshwaters in Plainfield for the first time. Fellow blogger sivyaleah had recently recommended Freshwaters on Chowhound and she even has it listed as one of her Top 5 restaurants.
My wife is a big fan of Southern food, in particular seafood, whereas for me it is not typically top of my list (but I still enjoy it) and tonight my wife was the decision maker.
Freshwaters is certainly an interesting place. The service is very friendly, welcoming and warm. Nevertheless it is also attentive, efficient and professional, a combination you rarely find. They must have developed a very effective way of hiring the right personalities for their wait staff and to motivate and train them properly.
The interior is an amazing and eclectic balance between kitch and style. By themselves some of the decoration would be a weird or cheesy but in combination it actually works quite well and creates an open and warm atmosphere. You almost feel like you are in somebody's living room. The only thing I personally didn't like (and a lot of people disagree with me on this) are the glass panes on the tables. IMHO, food just tastes better with table cloth. The glass on the table somehow alters you mental frame towards food, at least for me.
The menu has classic Cajun/Southern food, not much fusion or creativity. Which is perfectly OK, as we weren't looking for fusion but for traditional well-made Southern home cooking. And that is what you get.

I had the corn chowder which was well composed and intensely (but not overbearingly) seasoned and had the right thick creamy texture that you expect. Then I had the Cajun Chicken Pasta. An interesting combination of sauteed chicken, spaghetti type pasta and a Cajun Alfredo sauce. The sauce is really what makes that dish work. It seemingly consists of heavy cream, some cheeses and a variety of Cajun spices. This creates a heavy (but pleasant) full-bodied flavor that fills your mouth and sticks to your palate for a long time. Voluptuous is a good term to describe the sauce. But don't ask for the calories. And there are lots of sauteed pieces of chicken in and on top of the pasta. I also liked the very tasty, slightly spicy interestingly seasoned okra -tomato side that I selected from a long list of side dishes.
My wife had the crab cakes and the pecan-crusted catfish. I'm not really into fish, so I don't want to comment on these items. My wife liked them and felt they were well made, very tasty and certainly above average but - to quote her - "The cat fish at Mojave Grill is better." But then Mojave Grill is southwestern fusion and not Cajun.
In summary, Freshwaters is probably as close as you can get to authentic Southern cooking in this area. It is a pleasant and satisfying dining experience if you like Cajun food. However, it is not upscale dining and it does not claim to be. A lot of restaurants would benefit quite a bit if they learned from and adopted Freshwaters' notion of customer service.

Prices are just about still reasonable, it is not a bargain dining experience but I wouldn't consider it overpriced either. The place is BYOB. If you like Southern cooking it is almost a must to try it. On Saturdays they have live piano/jazz music.

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Construction Action at CoolVines

When walking through Elm Street in downtown Westfield today, I finally saw some action happening at Coolvines, at the former location of "Planet Smoothie". I had previously blogged about this new wine store and my conversation with the owner Mark Censtis about his plans. At the time they were still hoping to open by the end of July, but that didn't materialize.
For a long time I didn't see any action. Finally, now things seem to get going. Several people were working in the store and seemingly at an aggressive pace. If things go well, we could be looking at a grand opening within the next few weeks. While peeking into the store and observing the construction activities, I realized how fairly small the space actually is. I'm curious to see how they will arrange things to create an appropriate retail space for wine.

And I certainly like their Philosophy about wine. Wine indeed is poetry.....

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