eat & drink
HOW WE REVIEW Restaurants are chosen for review at the sole discretion of the dining editor, based on input from our food writers and critics around the state. Our reviewers visit a restaurant at least twice, always maintaining anonymity to avoid preferential treatment. The reviewer brings up to three guests per visit and tastes everything
that is ordered. NJM reimburses the reviewer for all food and beverage expenses. After the final visit, the reviewer conducts a phone interview with the chef, owner or other
key members of the team. The review is then submitted to NJM and edited for clarity and fairness. Stars are assigned by the editor in consultation with the reviewer. As a
final step, an NJM sta;er checks the review for accuracy, always calling the restaurant to confirm all facts.
Excellent Fair Good Very Good Extraordinary P H
OPEN KI TCHEN, OPEN FLAVORS
The dining room, with counter facing the open
kitchen. Right: three guacamoles, clock wise from
top left, with bacon and brussel sprouts, traditional, and with peanuts and pumpkin seeds.
FOOD New American
AMBIENCE Comfortable country club
SERVICE Low-key, accommodating
DRINKS Craft beers; seasonal cocktails; solid, mid-price wine list
PRICES Appetizers, salads, $9.50-$24; entrées, $23-
$30; desserts, $3-$8
OPEN Lunch and dinner, daily; brunch, Sunday ;
F273 Main Street, 908-234-9055
By Fran Schumer
Sometimes, it feels like ;;; percent,” says chef/owner Tom Carlin, asked how many of his
customers are regulars. Since Carlin
transformed the vacant Chatfield’s into
Gladstone Tavern ;; years ago, it has
clearly proven to be one of the most
popular restaurants in the area.
One reason is the food. Ranging from
good to occasionally exceptional, the
dishes showcase the know-how Carlin
has acquired during his long career.
A Rutgers grad who grew up in South
Orange, Carlin, ;;, learned from many
noted mentors, including Jonathan
Waxman at Jam’s, Alfred Portale at Go-
tham Bar & Grill, Barry Wine at Quilted
Gira;e, and Tom Colicchio at Mondrian.
From Waxman, Carlin learned the less
coi;ed California style, the forerunner
of today’s farm-to-table ethos. As Carlin
notes, “In New Jersey, farms are produc-
ing only a short time of year. Where I
can, I use local produce. More important
to me is that we make everything from
scratch and avoid shortcuts.”
A fine example was spring’s scintil-
lating baby-artichoke salad with raw
sunchokes, thinly shaved Chioggia
(candy cane) beets, arugula, slivers of
Castelvetrano olives and salty feta. A
lemony vinaigrette, bright with fresh
mint leaves, heightened the flavors.
Other reasons the Tavern has so many
against acid, crunchy against creamy,
heat against sweet. For carnitas, Rose
uses Berkshire pork belly instead of the
more customary pork shoulder, braises
the meat overnight in cola as tradition
dictates, and folds it into a tortilla with
roasted corn and cotija cheese.
Crisp nuggets of beer-battered cod
nestle in tortillas with cabbage slaw,
bright lime crema and a jolt of ser-rano. Rose’s tender, vinegar-braised
lengue (beef tongue) tacos with smoky
chipotle-pistachio salsa can win over
even the squeamish. He took his hugely
popular grilled-scallop tacos o; the
menu when prices spiked in 2016.
“But,” he says, “we keep it as a silent
option for those in the know”—a group
that now includes you.
Early on, entrées at Villalobos gener-
ally weren’t interesting enough to sac-
rifice tacos for. But Rose’s diligence has
paid o;, and the five current entrées
are worthy. Big enough to share are the
crisp-skinned black-bass fillet on black
beans and corn in poblano salsa beurre
blanc; and the Go;e Road Farm heri-
tage chicken, which Rose sous vides
in (gasp!) achiote-infused chicken
fat, soaks in buttermilk, dredges in a
cornmeal-cornstarch-flour mix, and
flash fries to crackling-crisp bliss.
Aces, too, are the vegetarian en-
chiladas, with their lacinato-kale and
sweet-potato filling, herbacious green
mole, sprinkling of peanuts, and cheeky
garnish of fried kale “chicharrons.”
Only the bowl of ancho-coriander-
crusted baby back ribs with chunks of
grilled pineapple fell a tad short. The
ribs are tasty and meaty, if a bit fatty
for some, with not enough sauce to
moisten them up. Absent Rose putting
more sauce in the bowl (hint), the
work-around is to combine a bite of
meat with a bite of pineapple for a bal-
anced, juicy mouthful.
Many dishes come paired with
specific salsas or sauces. Of the seven
supplementary salsas o;ered for $2
each, the one fully worth the expense is
the smoky/silky chipotle honey.
No matter. Rose’s one dessert
makes amends: hot churros with bit-
tersweet Mexican chocolate ganache.
“It’s not traditional,” he admits, “but
I use a pâte à choux dough because I
think it just tastes better.”
One dense, delicious bite tells you
he’s still right to trust his gut.