Eating Local in Mt. Olive, NJ: Gabby’s II – the Review

10 03 2011

We heard about Gabby’s II  in Hackettstown from good friends Tara and Dan,  and I am pleased to welcome this new Italian restaurant to the area. Sure, we are flooded with so many pizza “joints” you can throw a rock and hit one in any direction on RT 46, mountain Ave, or RT 57 – but you won’t find this care of ingredients, preparation and quality of food in any of the rest.

Hector & Josh, Owners of Gabby's II

Gabby’s II resides were Carlena’s was – 190 Mountain Ave. in Hackettstown (to the right of the IHOP). It opened in December, 2010 and the owners are warm and gracious hosts Tricia and Hector Salazar (locals from Mount Olive) and partner Josh Harris (of Flemington). They come with a wealth of experience – this is their second restaurant (Gabby’s I is in Flemington, NJ).

By the way, Gabby is the name of Hector and Tricia’s little girl, which makes sense as this does feel like a family place.

We came in and sat at a one of the available tables early on a Tuesday night. A few people were already sitting and it was just after 5 p.m. We were given menus (nice selection) quickly and decided to order a few things to share – so we can see how they prepare some of our favorite Italian-American dishes (no Osso Bucco tonight).  We decided on Chicken Francaise, Eggplant Parmesan hero, and Penne in Vodka Sauce. Dinners come with the usual salad and pasta choices.

Gabby's II Dining Room

Tricia took our orders and returned quickly with bread and soon followed up with the salads. Nice crisp fresh greens, onion, tomato and olives, with a good balsamic dressing (not to heavy).

We were given both garlic and regular bread in a basket and I had a good feeling after taking a bite. Hot, crunchy, amazing. No bits of raw or overcooked garlic or over oiled. The bread itself is actually seeded French bread (as Hector explained) to give it the right texture. This was not the soft spongy bread that are the norm in these parts, it was crunchy outside with a great bite and taste, and just enough garlic and butter.

The food came out and the Eggplant Parmesan hero had the perfect combination of eggplant, tasty sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and of course – served on that excellent bread.

The Shrimp Parmesan dinner was equally good – with large shrimp breaded perfectly and topped with that delicious Marinara sauce and fresh cheese. Generous portions!

The Penne was cooked perfectly al denté and the vodka sauce was rich and thick – extremely creamy! Plenty to share all around.

The Chicken Francaise was the best dish so far, with a perfect blend of lemon, butter and lightly breaded, fork-tender, thin chicken. The ziti that accompanied it was also cooked perfectly al denté and served alongside (perfect in the lemon sauce too). This is my favorite dish and something I learned to cook from a chef many years ago and has become my “signature dish”. This was even better than my own – I love this dish.

We were too full order dessert, but they have a nice selection! The pizzas looked great too and we will certainly be back to try those!

Hector came around to the table and introduced himself, and asked how everything was. We  explained were really here to try his food and see if we liked it (which we did) and see about catering for an upcoming party. He was very accommodating and sent us home with a sample of the Sausage, Onion and Peppers to try  since we were interested in having it on our menu for the party. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly –with tender sausage (sweet not hot). It was so delicious that I ate the peppers and onions as ravenously as the sausage!

Hector’s care about ingredients is evident, as he told me they do not buy that frozen pre-breaded stuff that typically helps cut corners (time, money but most of all, quality). You can taste care in everything they do.

It is a BYO so don’t forget to bring something to pair with your meal. I had a Cupcake Vinyards Sauvignon Blanc that had nice lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors and paired well with the Chicken dish. I have recommended it in earlier posts. For $8 on sale, it is a great value. I wish I had also brought the Falesco Vitiano from Umbria (under $10 and always an easy drinking Italian Red Blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Sangiovese) that would pair well with the red sauce dishes).

I welcome Gabby’s II with open arms. I know we all get set in our ways and remain loyal to our tried and true dinning establishments we frequent with family and friends. I too understand how easy it is to fall into that, but quality and taste are what we are after right? Everyone in the area should give Gabby’s II a try one night – instead of the usual Frank’s, Branda’s, Mamma’s or Pietro’s. I think you will taste the difference, I know I did. Their tagline is “Love at First Bite”, and they deliver on that promise.

Oh, and speaking of deliver – did I mention they will DELIVER! Hard to find a great Italian place that will drive your food to you around here anymore!

Gabby’s II: 908 850 1803 • 190 Mountain Ave., Hackettstown, NJ

Gabby’s in Flemington: 908 237 9990 • 203 Main Street, Historic Flemington, NJ

More information on their website and there is a coupon when you click “Specials”.

Buon Appetito!

Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromTheTrellis, 2011

Note: My reviews are always uncompensated and honest – based upon my palette. Your taste/opinions may differ. I base my opinions not only on taste – but always a baseline of quality that is factual. I have no affiliation with any restaurants or wineries. Full disclosure: I am known to be extremely picky, critical and often brutally honest about food and wine, taste and preparation. I welcome any and all comments on this blog.

Out and About: The Prickly Pear Restaurant Dinner and Pairing

22 11 2010

As I write this, it is 4:00 AM. I should be sleeping but here I am, writing about one of the best wine and dine experiences I have had since Napa earlier this year, and perhaps years before that.

Every once in a while it will happen – when perfectly prepared food and excellent wine work together to elevate the experience into something magical and memorable. Saturday night I felt the magic again. I’m not talking about the basic parings that always help wine and food come together to help each other, I mean something to remember always!

There is a place in Hackettstown, NJ that is known by the locals as “THE” place to go for a special night out called the Prickly Pear. Since last night was that “special” night, I checked out the menu online to see if anything changed since my last visit and to plan the wine selections.

In New Jersey BYO is very much the norm (difficulty and costly to get Liquor Licenses) – which is perfect for people who enjoy purchasing in advance to cellar for the right time. As I read through the menu, my stomach and head told me…meat. Not sure about the type yet, so I went down to pick a Cabernet and a Pinot Noir. I already knew what we would start with, as I had saved this 1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparking wine for this. I had last had a bottle of this New Years Eve and wanted to see if or how it evolved since. I polished up my Riedel glasses and put them in the case (yes, I bring my glassware at times too and I will explain this later). I picked out the Waypoint 2003 Napa Cabernet from the Beckstoffer/To-Kalon Vineyard. Again, these are serious wine by themselves, and price on release was in the $50 – $75 range. I did bring a bottle of the 2006 W.H. Smith Sonoma Maritime Pinot Noir, in case I went with roasted lamb for my dinner entrée.

As we walked in, Linda Andes, the owner, host and “front of the shop” manager was there to greet us. It was around 6:00 PM and the line was already out the door as reservations are only taken for parties of 6 or more, so get there early! Smiling, she sat us and we were quickly served with fresh warm bread and butter. Simply but elegantly decorated, you would never know you were in a strip mall, or even in extreme west New Jersey for that matter!

As I turned around, I saw a few large empty tables and it looked as though a party was going to take place in the rear of the restaurant (we have been here with a large party before and that area is perfect to keep noise and privacy for all).

After perusing the menu (specials listed on the front) I spotted a 16 oz. T-bone, simply grilled, with roasted small potato and blue cheese. I was sold. The starter for me would be the smoked salmon flatbread with a jalapeño-spiked crème fresh and lightly dressed (house vinaigrette) arugula served on a flatbread. I was a bit concerned about the heat/spice against the sparkling wine, but it was not an issue.

As the party guests arrived and were seated, our service remained excellent and we were served our appetizers quickly. My wife opted for the goat cheese and caramelized onion and sage perogies and my daughter went for the Prickly Pear Salad (both were amazing and passed around the table to share).

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

1999 Argyle Extended Tirage Sparkling Wine

Our Argyle bubbly that had been taken from us upon entry arrived back to our table opened, and I poured a glass for my wife and myself. The nose was a bit different from last time, and felt deeper. Plenty of yeast and biscuit. Tasting it, it had put on some “weight” and was definitely much fuller and complex. So smooth and creamy at the finish. Not overly heavy – but plenty of layers of flavor like pear, apple, melon, toasty brioche and vanilla. This has a very long finish and will dance in your mouth for a while after!

I feel this is one of, if not THE finest sparkling wines from the USA I have had. I would put it up with top champagnes and far most cost. This is the type of wine that you can have with your entrée, not just an appetizer. It has the weight and complexity to stand up to many dishes and guess what, it held up to my steak (but was perfectly paired with my salmon appetizer). Some of you reading this may balk at this, but there sparkling wines that can pair well with heavier fare.

This was rated the #18 Wine of the Year from Wine Spectator last year, and given 95 points. I would say it has improved and would go a bit higher. It has become smoother, seamless and if you have the chance to try this, you wont forget. Bubbles are the perfect wine, they go with almost anything and lighter style versions are great for starters while deeper and more complex iterations (like this Argyle) can take you through main courses.

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet Glass

I opened the 2003 Waypoint To-Kalon Cabernet and poured/swirled to prepare it for the upcoming entreés (my t-bone and my wife’s fillet). I brought my Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernet glasses because they DO make a difference! If you don’t believe me, try and see. The thin crystal and gorgeous shape (tall with plenty of room to swirl) of the glass help enhance the wine and allows your tongue and mouth to get the best from it (hitting all areas). Think of thick beer mugs for instance and how that forces the beer in your mouth to the back. I did not believe this when I first heard of Riedel, but I can definitely taste the difference.

Riedel make several lines now from the top of the line Sommelier to the overture basic affordable glassware, but the Riedel O glasses emerged as a huge commercial success. They are those stem-less glasses that have now been copied by lower end producers like Libby. I love them and these have all the quality of their other lines, but without the stem (and less likely to break) they fit into the top track of the dishwasher (yes, these Riedel’s I do wash in there) and are like weebles, they wobble but the don’t fall down! I will create a post dedicated to stemware soon to get geeky/scientific on this topic, but do check out the Riedel website.

Our main courses were served and service remained excellent (even with 2 large parties going on in the back). Perfectly grilled to medium rare and seasoned simply to let the quality of the meat shine. The potatoes were amazing. Just enough melted blue cheese on them to give that tangy flavor but not too overpowering. Some fresh string beans were also served on the same plate.

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

Waypoint 2003 To-Kalon Napa Cabernet

The Waypoint 2003 Cabernet was a perfect complement to the meat. Extremely dark in the glass and when I swirled – cassis, dark berry, plum and vanilla cream on the nose. Initial reports on this wine were that it needed time to soften the tannins (too harsh on release) but it has aged very well and the tannins are totally integrated – all smooth sailing with dark plum, berry and oak. I was thrilled with this wine and the pairing was amazing. Kudos to Chef/Owner Joe Andes. He never fails to have something on the menu that exceeds expectations! The filet was also cooked perfectly and was wonderful with the Waypoint Cabernet as well.

Dessert consisted of a crème bruleé, crispy on top and perfectly smooth with rich vanilla custard. I was unable to try the Pumpkin Cheesecake (nut allergy) or the Chocolate cake (nuts again) but the word from the table was – thumbs up. My double espresso was the perfect foil for the rich creamy bruleé.

It was a great night out with family, made even more special with great food and wine. Truly a perfect evening with all the right ingredients.

Santé and have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday to all those celebrating. I will try to publish my top picks for Turkey Day Pinot Noir before Thursday!

Steve From the Trellis

Related Links:

The Prickly Pear Restaurant: 80-30 Main St. Plaza, Hackettstown, NJ                   908-879-0003

Riedel Stemware

Argyle Winery

Waypoint Wines from The Bounty Hunter

Party etiquette: Bringing a bottle to an event

17 02 2010
View from the sill 3

View from the sill 3 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Kim N. just asked me about this last week, and it is a great topic – thanks Kim!

Many of us like to bring wine to an event, party, dinner at a friends, etc. and may run into one of two scenarios:

  • We want to actually drink what we brought and they host/hostess doesn’t open it
  • We want them to save it for later so they can enjoy it another day (i.e. not for this event) but they open it

How do we broach this topic without any hard feelings or awkwardness?

First of all, it is nice that you are bringing something for the event. Most of the time, it is not asked or expected.

Secondly, unless you have told them not to open it, you should expect that it be served for the event. There have, however, been times that I have not followed this advice myself. This has happened when:

  • When the wine was so poor in quality that I did not want to serve it with the better bottles that I have already selected for the event
  • It was a really nice bottle that I wanted to save for another time

Ok, so if someone brought something nice to my event, I would open it unless they say otherwise!

Here is what I would say (and right away–do not wait)  if I wanted the host or hostess to open/serve the bottle in question at that time:

As you walk in the door, after exchanging greetings, kisses, hugs, handshakes, small talk, etc. say:

“Hey, I brought this for the party and I am hoping you can open this now because I understand it is good and want to try it with you”.


“Listen, this is really not for this event and I want you to try it another time (wink wink, nod nod) when you can enjoy it yourself and perhaps on a special occasion”.

If they do not take the hint or forget to serve it during the event, you can approach them and ask if it would be ok to serve the bottle.

I have gone through this before, trust me, many times. I sometimes get frustrated because the bottle I brought for the party was far and above the quality of wines served and I really was in the mood for what I had selected for the evening.

A host should really follow the hints and serve the bottle to avoid being rude, even if it is only to the guest that requested that wine be served.

Many times I have actually brought 2 bottles, one for now and one for the host to enjoy later. This actually gives me more of a leg up and subliminally tells the host that I made the effort to supply for both the event and guests at that moment, and as a nicety – I have also provided my hosts a bottle for another time. How can anyone argue with that!

One other thing, if it is a sparkling wine (see my Valentine’s Day wine post for value sparklers to bring), white or even a red that might be warm and in need of a cool down, let them know right away.

Let me know what you have encountered and how you have handled similar situations. Post below.


Steve from the Trellis

© 2010 Tales from the Trellis