Newark has never been a town that has captivated me much. Even in college, I maintained this rather arrogant air about me in which I didn’t often find myself in the town because my own whacked-out biases assumed Newark was simply a place where one went to either get drunk or visit long-forgotten high school friends pursuing degrees at the University of Delaware. And, because neither of those things interested me, I was much happier keeping my life relegated to the confines of Claymont Steak Shop in Northern Delaware.
But what I missed during most of my twenties in Newark was some truly wonderful eating. Homegrown. Peace-a-Pizza. Klondike Kate’s. Deer Park’s nachos. Yum. Thankfully, I’d gotten over my Newark-a-phobia by the time The Stone Balloon Winehouse opened several years ago. I’ve been a handful of times, mostly for light snacks, drinks, and dessert, but never for a full meal. Newark’s Restaurant Week was last week, and a three-course meal for $25 would have been foolish for me to miss!
My friend and I arrived on a Wednesday evening for what I thought was a rather late dinner – around 8pm. But late it wasn’t. The restaurant had a crowd that belied this chilly mid-week evening; it felt more like a Friday or Saturday. We were immediately seated and the waiter asked us for a drink order. Considering I’d be spending so little on the meal (and totally ignoring that it was a school night), I ordered some pineapple juice with vodka to help soothe away the day’s lingering stresses.
We decided we’d stick to the chef’s offerings on the prix fixe menu. We added on, though, and started our meal with the Lamb Chopper cheese plate ($8). A semi-firm sheep’s milk cheese, it had a very buttery flavor. Almost like a harder version of brie, which was fine by me. It was paired with some water crackers and crostini toasts. Providing the perfect contrast to this creamy and salty cheese was a too-small dollop of tart raspberry jam. Seeded raspberry jam. I’m no seed-a-phobe and enjoy the texture of those tiny bits roaming through the jam.
For my main, I ordered the deckle of beef. This is an extremely fatty – yet delicious – cut of beef that is close to filet in texture, when cooked right, but containing much more flavor. The beef was served with a delicious demi-glace over some turnips and Brussels sprouts. I felt the turnips were a little undercooked, though they did have a nice crunch. The sprouts, though, were nicely crisp tender and perfect when paired with the beef’s glace.
My friend got the pork belly and I, of course, took the risk of pulling back a nub by trying his dish. The pork had a nice smoky flavor and a deliciously thick and meaty texture. Chewiness was kept to a minimum, as I’ve found improperly cooked pork belly can have a bit more bite than I like.
For dessert, we each got something different and there was absolutely no sharing. I ordered the chocolate cake with a banana Chantilly crème. The cake was sub-par. It tasted a bit overcooked and had too much toughness going on. However, it was lightened up nicely thanks to the banana crème, the true star of the dish. My suggestion? The pastry chef should have nixed the chocolate cake and taken that delicious crème and filled a pie shell. Add some fresh banana slices and the tastiest banana crème pie would have been born.
Newark is still a town that intrigues me. I tell friends to this day it’s a town that I mostly avoid if only because I hate being reminded of my insignificant college years. Come to think of it, maybe I want to mostly avoid Newark because of all the great restaurants and the potential damage they could do in bringing back my once-significant waistline!