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Category: Out and About

A tasteful tour of Bloomfield’s eateries at a ‘Taste of Bloomfield’

 

Photos by Jeff Bahr/ Rickell Hawkins of ‘The Sweets Boutique’ with her creations

 

By Jeff Bahr

I must disclose something before I begin. As a longtime Bloomfield resident, I have sampled relatively few of the township’s restaurants save for Hot Bagels Abroad – a much-celebrated bagel palace known for its fine water bagels and convivial atmosphere – plus assorted pizzerias around town. So, when I learned that Bloomfield was staging its sixth annual Taste of Bloomfield (TOB) event on Sunday, April 15, I strapped on my feedbag and set out to right this wrong. “Calories be damned!” I reasoned in a self-serving way. “I’m on a culinary mission to spotlight our township.”

As was the case in years past, Bloomfield’s 23-room Oakeside Mansion played host to the flavorsome event. This eye-catching holdover from the Victorian era, built in 1895, presented the perfect backdrop for the taste fest which registered more like a casual dinner party than a staged event.

Devised as an entertaining way to acquaint people with Bloomfield’s restaurants and several located in nearby communities, TOB drew hundreds of hungry patrons to its serving tables on this sunny and warm day. More than 20 restaurants and food concerns were represented for this year’s tastings, where the enticing aroma of Thai, Mexican, Jamaican, Italian and Greek cuisines (to name just a few) assailed the senses.

For $30 ($25 if tickets were purchased in advance), attendees could eat as much as they pleased, and eat they most certainly did. A casual inquiry into the number of restaurants being sampled revealed that most people tried at least 10 different outlets before folding their napkins and calling it a day. Others, even more gluttonous, told me that they wouldn’t rest until they’d sampled something from every vendor present. While I was doing too much munching to keep count, I’d guess that I hit somewhere between 10 and 12 displays myself; not too shabby for a TOB neophyte.

ShopRite caterers stand poised to feed the hungry

 

An accordion player made his way through the mansion, playing enjoyable tunes to improve the ambiance, but it was hardly necessary. The Oakeside has atmosphere in spades, so the taste-testers were sufficiently primed just walking in. Each room contained multiple vendors serving an array of dishes. This vast hodgepodge of food choices added to the fun, but it also presented a problem; people had to decide which food items were “must tries” and which fell into the “second string” category (those to be tried only if stomach space permitted). Choices, choices…

If folks couldn’t find exactly what they wanted to nibble inside the mansion, all they needed to do was walk into the rear yard where a large tent featuring an equally diverse contingent of food vendors was set up. Drinks were served here (for an additional fee), and the feeding frenzy occurring inside the big top was at least on par with that taking place in the mansion.

For the record, the dinner items that I sampled included:

jerk chicken, rice and peas at Taste it Again Jamaican Restaurant; mousaki, makarounes and spinach pie at Stamna Greek Taverna; eggplant parmesan, prosciutto and mushrooms at Calandra’s Restaurant; and indescribably delicious garlic mashed potatoes at Frungillo Caterers. Thanks, folks, you did Bloomfield proud!

Some unexpected food discoveries also occurred during the event. A notable find was the Brookdale Shop-Rite which knocked my low expectations straight out of the park with its mouth-watering meatballs in Italian sauce (“gravy” to Italian-Americans). After going back for thirds (hey, my fiancé hails from Avellino!), I asked the server if these scrumptious meatballs were available at Shop-Rite’s daily buffet. Alas, they are not. Anyone wishing to partake of these meaty masterpieces must hire Shop-Rite as their caterer; that’s something to keep in mind as the graduation season nears.

After stuffing myself to the gills, I did what any pot-bellied American male would do: I went hunting for sweets. Most of the dessert vendors were situated in perhaps the most fabulous room in the mansion – the eastern wing/sun porch. A notable exception was Anthony’s Cheesecake which, while buried deeper within the house, was well worth the trip.

I visited perennial favorite Applegate Farm ice cream for a scoop of their luscious vanilla; Cupa Cabana, for a cup of their full-bodied Columbian java; and, last but not least, The Sweets Boutique, a sinfully delicious and artfully-arranged enterprise that featured such tantalizing guilt-inducers as cupcakes, pudding/cake parfaits, brownies, cake shooters and push-up pops. Simply put, the sugary concoctions were a joy to behold and an even greater joy to eat. “I’ve always loved baking and I’m a candy connoisseur, so this (business) was a natural step,” said proud owner Rickell Hawkins of her artistic display.

She wasn’t kidding. Before the event ended, The Sweets Boutique was cleaned out of every single item on the table, including my favorite Oreo dessert cup which I had sampled earlier. It was a testament to the triumph of the sweets, and in a larger sense, to the event itself. I’ll be back next year but with a different strategy – to hit The Sweets Boutique first. As my absolute favorite taste of Bloomfield (to date), it’s only fitting.

‘Rivet’ -ing performances at W.H.A.T.

 

Photo by Joseph Ferriero/ The Queen (Francesca Stokes) listens as her son Sacha (Tim Firth) talks about his day

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski

The revival of an old West Hudson tradition continues as the West Hudson Arts & Theatre Company (W.H.A.T.) presents “The Frog Princess” on April 21 and 22 at Washington Middle School in Harrison.

In what has become the first children-oriented show in W.H.A.T.’s short history,

“The Frog Princess” features a story that both children and their parents can enjoy.

“I think it’s a show that will appeal to all ages,” explained director Joseph Ferriero. “For kids, it’s an interactive show where they will get to talk to the actors and participate. For adults, there’s modern humor to keep them entertained. It’s going to be a lively experience.”

Ferriero, who was born and raised in Kearny and has now settled in Bloomfield, has provided W.H.A.T. with a dedicated and experienced director whose theatre resumé includes 10 years working in the industry, including Broadway shows.

Ferriero’s path to theatre comes from a childhood hobby that eventually turned into a prospering career.

“I started it as a hobby and now it’s become what I do,” said the former school teacher. “I minored in acting in college and thought I would give it a shot. As I did more, the more I fell in love with theatre and just the thought of getting it together.”

For Ferriero, seeing the finished product and the journey it took to get there provides the ultimate feeling of pride.

“For me, it’s been a great thing to see live theatre become what it is,” Ferriero explained. “Working for six months or a year and seeing the finished product, you get a real sense of pride for what you have accomplished.”

Bringing his experience to W.H.A.T., Ferriero and the cast will perform “The Frog Princess,” an age-old tale derived from a Russian fairy tale that was recently made into a Disney film.

“I went through quite a few shows and I like this show not only because of its name, but because of the story behind it,” Ferriero said. “It’s a story about the idea that beauty isn’t on the outside, that people have inner beauty. It’s also very, very funny and I really liked that.”

Just like any good performance, the cast involved has to have great chemistry. If that holds true, Ferriero believes that he will be directing a great show.

“We have such a great cast,” Ferriero explained, saying that while auditions didn’t bring out a lot of actors, he was able to put a cast together that cares deeply about the production. “We see actors here that aren’t just actors. They worry about costumes and things like that. This cast just works so well together.”

The building of the cast has not only formed a working relationship for the performance, but has also given the cast members the ability to meet others within their community.

“Everyone lives in surrounding towns so you really get to network in the community,” Ferriero explained. “It’s really nice to see that. The cast is already talking about doing more shows for the theatre as well.”

“The Frog Princess” will be performed by the West Hudson Arts & Theatre Company on Saturday, April 21, at 1:30 and 4 p.m., and on Sunday, April 22, at 1:30 p.m., at the Washington Middle School, 1 N. 5th St., in Harrison.

Tickets and other information is available on the W.H.A.T. website at www.whatco.org or by calling (201)-467-8624.

The cast includes: Narrator, Bernadette Obendorff; Queen Natasha, Francesca Stokes; Prince Boris. Joe Ferriero; Princess Ursula, Paula Reyes; Prince Casimir, Scott Burzynski; Princess Vassilissa, Laura Byrne Cristiano; Prince Sashaa, Tim Firth; Princess Natalia, Julie Padinha; Lady in Waiting/Tutor, Pattie Marsh.

 

Commissioner hopes you mind your manners

Brian Haggerty (c), flanked by fans Rocco Mazza and Margaret Frontera at Lyndhurst Public Library

 

By Ron Leir

 LYNDHURST –

Are you one of those unfortunate souls who slurp their soup?

Do you “feel badly” when you’re unwell?

Are you comfortable plodding around in sneakers at a formal affair?

If you’ve answered “yes” to the above queries, then, dear reader, you are clearly in need of Brian C. Haggerty’s “Personal & Professional Life Skills For Success,” a prescriptive approach to functioning well in the world, no matter what your station in life.

It’s an “expansion and enhancement” of the Lyndhurst resident’s first book, “Mannerly Speaking: A Modern Framework for Social and Business Etiquette; Grammar and Public Speaking,” which was published last year.

So enlightening is his new text that the Belleville Board of Education recently engaged Haggerty, a member of the Lyndhurst Township Commission, to impart his insights to high school students one day a week for five weeks.

“I wrote it, more or less, as a textbook that could be adopted by schools,” Haggerty told a small audience invited last week to the Lyndhurst Public Library to learn more about the new book. “There’s a need and a calling for it.”

For the most part, the author drew rave reviews. Several people agreed that the social skills promoted by the book were missing from many of today’s citizenry – young and old, alike.

Evelyn Pezzolla, president of the Library Board, said: “I read the first book and Bryan does a wonderful job with it. We’re so proud.” She said that young people could benefit by a thorough grounding in both book’s contents.

As a former businesswoman, Pezzolla said, she discovered that, “It’s surprising what young people need to know and don’t (know).” When she was hiring receptionists, Pezzolla added, “it was surprising to see how many (job applicants) don’t know what to wear and are frightened to use the phone.”

Indeed, Haggerty’s new book touches on those issues and more, offering tips on “making the best personal presentation in each of three key areas in which we are assessed by others: the way we carry and conduct ourselves, the manner in which we speak and the way we dress.”

The book, he said, is intended as a “confidence builder” and a tool that will unlock doors for the otherwise uninitiated who haven’t learned these success skills, which are generally “not taught in schools and not promoted in popular culture.”

In a nutshell, Haggerty said, “it’s about being civil – creating an atmosphere where everybody feels comfortable … treating people the way you’d wish to be treated.”

On speaking well, “knowing what to say and how to say it” – as opposed to concentrating on speaking the “King’s English” – is essential for younger folks competing for a job or promotion, Haggerty said, “because employers, above all else, look for the ability to communicate.”

Common vocabulary usage pitfalls noted by Haggerty include the confusion between “I” (subject) and “me” (object); “irregardless” (wrong) versus “regardless” (correct); “I could care less” (meaningless) vs. “I couldn’t care less” (correct); and “lie” (recline or resting) vs. “lay” (put or place an object).

On conducting ourselves, people should pay attention to “being on time, being your word, being reliable,” according to Haggerty. Equally important, he said, are quick responses to dinner/party invitations and dining etiquette, such as how to properly engage in conversations at the table, understanding place settings and use of utensils, passing food at the table, not to mention bill paying and tipping.

On how to dress, Haggerty observed that “jeans, T-shirts and sneakers” seem to be the preferred mode for teens. What’s more, he added, “If I go to one more funeral where the altar boy is wearing sneakers under his robes, I’m going to scream.”

With that in mind, Haggerty is happy to outline the “classic dress codes,” aimed at “dressing for success,” whether it’s for a job interview or for a formal affair.

A tuxedo may be fine for some occasions, he said, “but I’m trying to bring back the white tie and tails as formal attire.” Some misguided folks are of a mind to appear in loud, colorful garb that only call attention to themselves, Haggerty said. Guests at a formal affair should dress the same, whether in white or black, he said, because “the purpose is to honor the event, not the individual.”

Civility says it all, Haggerty said. “It’s not about ourselves – it’s respect for each other in society. Each of us needs to embody civility to make a better world. Instead of yelling and screaming at each other, much better to hold back before you speak.”

No use blaming TV for broadcasting the frequent vitriol mouthed by critics or politicians of all stripes, Haggerty said. “We’re caught up in sensationalism today and the media is a reflection of what we the people want to see,” he said.

“That’s why I don’t write negative messages on email and, remember, given our technology, what you write is there forever, and, by the way, that’s why I use spell check,” Haggerty noted.

Also to be avoided like the plague, he said, is texting or taking a phone call during a conversation or at the dinner table. But here again, you can’t fault the instruments themselves for the lack of civility, he said. “Technology is an extension of who we are.”

And that’s why there must be a true commitment by people to engage in civil behavior, Haggerty said, because “you can’t legislate that. Nothing will change unless we, individually, change ourselves.”

“Personal & Professional Life Skills” (173 pages with illustrations) is available in softcover through amazon.com.

 

Book shows swamp’s transformation

Illustrations Courtesy of Thomas Yezerski

 

 

Illustrations from Yezerski’s children’s book, “Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story”

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski 

For many adults, the transition of the Meadowlands from a landfill-laden mess to a beautiful stretch of land has been a lengthy process, one not many can fully understand to begin with.

With the help of Thomas Yezerski, children may soon be able to see this transition with their own two eyes.

“There have been some good books written for adults on this subject,” Yezerski, author and illustrator of “Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story” said. “I thought there was a great story in it for kids and it’s a great way to teach kids about ecology and how people fit in.”

Yezerski, who has illustrated 14 books and authored four of those, fell in love with the Meadowlands while he was living in Rutherford.

“One of the first things I did was take a pontoon tour the week after the 9/11 tragedy,” Yezerski explained. “It was amazing because it was so quiet on the Hackensack River and the water was so still. You could still see smoke rising from the World Trade Center. I just kind of fell in love with this peaceful place.”

The story itself follows along with the history of the Meadows, from when the Lenni Lenape lived on the land, to Dutch farmers and eventually the creation and elimination of landfills. “Little by little, the meadows became a dumping ground,” Yezerski explained. “In the late ‘60s, New Jersey decided they wanted to clean it up because it was giving the state a bad rap.”

However, like any good story, the meadowlands has started to flourish again.

“When they started cleaning it up, the river was able to clean itself, allowing plants and insects to thrive again,” Yezerski said. “Eventually, fish and birds began to come back to the area and every year, more species begin to show back up there that haven’t been in that area in nearly 50 years.”

The story of the Meadowlands comes down to an even simpler story idea.

“It’s a story about rejuvenation, about a place that was kicked around and ignored,” Yezerski explained.

“Now, people from all over the world can look to our urban wetland and see that good stuff can happen.”

However, the story is not as simple as going from bad to good, as evidenced by the amount of time it took Yezerski to complete the book.

“It took me about 10 years to complete because there was so much to learn about it,” Yezerski said.

His largest challenge, however, came when he had to compress that information.

“When you’re making a picture book, its about 800 words at the most,” Yezerski said. “It’s hard to distill all that information down.”

Yezerski, a fabulous illustrator in his own right, will have his illustrations on display at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in the Meadowlands Environment Center.

In 2011, “Meadowlands” was named one of the best 11 children’s non-fiction books. The New York Times, in its original review of the book, said, “Yezerski not only can write a book on how to teach children about their environmental impact – he has. ‘Meadowlands’ is tremendously informative, fun to read, and gorgeous to look at.”

Copies of “Meadowlands” are available at the Meadowlands Environment Center’s Tideland Treasures Gift Shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Flyway Gallery hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Directions are available on the NJMC website at www.njmeadowlands.gov or by calling (201)- 460-8300.

Penque Jr. rides to new adventure

 

 

Photo courtesy of Ronnie Penque/ Ronnie Penque will bring his legendary skills on the bass guitar to Donegal Saloon in Kearny on March 31.

 

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski

After noticing that his son had been faking it on the bass guitar, playing just one string and earning the moniker, “One String Ron,” Ron Penque Sr. gave his son a few lessons. One day, Penque Sr., an accomplished bass player for 20 years, saw his son Ron admiring his ‘57 Fender Precision Bass in the closet. Penque Sr. said to his son, who now had become passionate about his play, “Ron, this bass is yours to borrow until the day you stop playing.”

Thirty-seven years later, Ron Penque Jr., known as Ronnie, still has that bass. The bass currently resides in the office of one of the most influential bass players of all time.

“My two brothers and I were all musicians,” said Penque.“Music was always a love.”

Penque is a member of the recently revived New Riders of the Purple Sage, a jam band that featured some of the most influential musicians of all time, including the likes of Jerry Garcia and members of the Grateful Dead. Since 2005, Penque has been the bass guitarist for the New Riders, a band he originally grew up listening to.

“I was sitting eighth row center at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic,” Penque recalled. “My friend and I were sitting there with binoculars trying to get the chords from the New Riders so we could play them at home.”

Penque’s seven-year-tenure with the band has been marked by stability, retaining the same members during that time — a record its predecessor band couldn’t match. Since his involvement with the New Riders, he has been a part of three studio records and a DVD.

“Absolutely not,” Penque responded when asked if he ever envisioned himself with the New Riders when he was young. “It’s like a TV movie. I would dream I want to be in the coolest band on earth and it’s been unbelievable to wind up in that band and end up on a couple records with them.”

While with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Penque has tried to branch out and perform his solo act, Ronnie Penque & Friends, who will visit Donegal Saloon in Kearny on March 31.

“I just felt like I needed to start recording these songs,” said Penque, who plans to play some of his solo works as well as some covers from his time with the Jerry Garcia Band. “‘Only Road Home’ (Penque’s most recent work) started as a glorified demo and it just kind of turned into a record.”

Penque’s solo debut was a successful one, as “Only Road Home” was the number one record on Jam Bands Radio in March of 2011 and was number two on the same list for January and February of the same year.

“It took me almost two years to get it produced and out to the public,” Penque explained. “I have many more and I’m thinking about getting back into the studio.” Penque’s songs off ”Only Road Home” are very similar to the style that Penque played with both New Riders of the Purple Sage and with the Jerry Garcia Band. Penque’s soft vocals help accent the relaxing feel that his playing produces. American Junkie, a tune off “Only Road Home,” showcases the natural flow that a jam band needs to have in order to be successful.

Regardless of what band he is playing in, Penque loves just one aspect of every show.

“Every musician likes big crowds at their shows because the energy is great,” Penque said.

Anyone with even the slightest ear for music will have no problem providing Penque with all the energy he needs.

Graced by the gods, locals invited to watch wily Pseudolus, anew

Photo courtesy of Matt Boryszewski/ William Ruff (l.) and John Pinto rehearse a scene from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski

HARRISON –

Harrison High School will turn back the back the clocks a dozen years when the school’s Drama Club will present “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at the end of the month.

“It’s a hysterical comedy on topics that everyone can relate to,” said producer Matthew Boryszewski.

The idea for reviving the performance came from Boryszewski, who acted in it during his junior year at Harrison High in 2000. He played Senex.

“I’ve tried to do a revival since I was (hired as a staffer),” said Boryszewski, who is now a social studies teacher for the high school.

And even though the play’s an old chesnut in the club archives, it continues to generate excitement among the cast.

“I think everyone is very happy with it,” Boryszewski said. “The students have been having a ball since (rehearsals) started in the beginning of the year.”

The play’s central character is Pseudolus, a slave living in the house of Senex who hopes to buy, win, or steal his freedom.

Harrison High’s Pseudolus will be played by veteran student thespian William Ruff. Ruff, a four-year member of the HHS drama club, is starring in his fourth performance. In past years, he has played Pippin in “Pippin,” Horton in “Seussical,” and Johnny Casino in “Grease.”

Photo courtesy Matt Boryszewski/ Cast and crew of Harrison High Drama Club’s upcoming production

 

“For this performance, I have to work harder and prepare and do whatever it takes to put on a great performance,” said Ruff, a recipient of the 2011 New Jersey Governor’s Award in Arts Education for Excellence in Acting.

Among the other actors involved in the performance is ninth-grader Heather Harris, who is playing Domina, the wife of Senex. “I was very excited to learn that I was being put up to the level that the upperclassmen were at,” Harris said. “It’s been such an honor to work with these people like (Ruff) who have been here for years.”

Boryszewski hopes that Ruff, Harris, and the rest of the cast will be able to learn from this experience.

“I just want them to have a deeper appreciation for musical theatre and to grow as individuals and as actors,” Boryszewski explained. “This is an excellent experience for a musical comedy.”

For Ruff, Boryszewski’s advice has resonated strongly with the young actor.

“This is another chance to show my talent and do what I do best on stage,” said Ruff, who will attend Montclair State next year where he hopes to major in musical theater.

The lesson has rubbed off on the young Harris as well.

“(The other cast members have) helped develop me as an actor,” said Harris, who hopes to build on this year’s experience during the balance of her high school tenure. “I’ve admired this program for such a long time.” The curtain will rise March 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium at 800 Hamilton St. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children and seniors.

Rounding out the rest of the players: Michael Cruz as Hysterium, Johnathan Pinto as Miles Gloriosus, Carlos Montufar as Hero, Kaina Almonte as Philia, David Pineda as Senex, Lucia Fernandes as Lycus, Wence Morales as Erronius, Natalie Camargo as Tintinabula, Vanessa Valeiro as Panacea, Alessandra Gomez and Letizia Gomes as Geminae Twins, Cecelia Rodriguez as Vibrata, Kayla Middleton as Gymnasia, DJ Droz as Tiberia, Kiara Bermudez as Statue and Eduardo Velarde as Statue. The Proteans will be played by Pola Farinas, Patty Jackowska,,Zenaida Miranda, Breann Mobus, Thayjin Suquitana, Ana Teixeira, Liliana Valeiro, Luis Velez, Daniela Villalobos, and Gennesie Zuniga. Luisa Coppola is directing; Leonardo C. DaSilva is musical director; Mary Pat Shields is technical director; and Colin Shields is set designer.

And the Oscar goes to….

W.H.A.T. sends ‘Love Letters’ to Kearny’s Arlington Players Club

Photos by Jeff Bahr/ Mary Costello and Jim Hague in “Love Letters.”

 

By Jeff Bahr

To love someone and to somehow lose that love is a sad circumstance nearly as common to the human existence as our very need to breathe. This divine heartache, as it has often been described by romantics, can attack without warning and it cares not whom it thrashes in the process. Left lying in the vast heap of love’s debris are members of every race, religion, creed, nationality, social stratum; the list goes on. The wrenching heartache that comes after Cupid’s arrow snaps knows no boundaries. And the residual effects of a love unrequited can last for a lifetime.

So, it stands to reason, it is that rare and lucky person who has managed to make it through life without being taken in by this beguiling force. For who really wants to be just another loser in the love sweepstakes; just another fallen warrior in love’s pathetic army? Would it be you, you, or you perhaps? What sort of masochist wishes to spend every waking day mourning a love that just couldn’t be?

It turns out the answer is a great many of us because reasoning has precious little to do with the pursuit of love. In fact this make-it-throughlife- unscathed theory, as reassuring as it may sound, holds about as much water as a kitchen strainer. Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson understood love’s contradictions at a level like no other. In his celebrated 1850 sonnet, In Memoriam, one now famous verse is as noted for its depth as it is for its lyrical beauty.

I hold it true, whate’er befall/I feel it when I sorrow most/ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.

Here, Tennyson’s meaning is simple yet profound: Despite the indescribable pain and emptiness that gush forth like a geyser when a love held dear suddenly ceases to be, it is within the former condition that we have truly lived to the highest; that we have transcended, if only for a spell, the mundane, the ordinary, the mortal.

In “Love Letters”, a play written by A.R. Gurney and performed at the Arlington Players Club by members of the West Hudson Arts and Theater Company (W.H.A.T.), childhood friends Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner sample such fl eeting love. And lucky members of the audience get to watch their story unfold while nibbling on truffles and sipping on wine. W.H.A.T.’s not to like?

In the two-person play directed by Mark Morchel and produced by Gerald Ficeto, Ladd, played with aplomb by The Observer’s own sportswriter Jim Hague, is a wealthy young man with high ambitions and a sense of charitable purpose. Living happily under his father’s controlling thumb, he believes he can change the world if given half a chance. Gardner, played just as masterfully by Hague’s reallife partner Mary Costello (who functions as a Hudson County Superior Court Judge when not acting) isn’t nearly as rigid or uptight. A freespirited girl of even greater means, she has money to burn and a family life she’d just as soon forget. Brought together by their families as youngsters, Love Letters follows the two for a 50-year span as their love blossoms, wilts, retreats and blooms once again, with each step of the saga recorded in pen and mailed back and forth to each other in the form of – you guessed it.

A natural wit, Hague, as Ladd, is at his finest whenever a line calls for humor and precise timing. But he’s equally impressive when he works his way through the play’s more subtle passages. In the acting business this is commonly referred to as “range” and it’s something that Hague has in spades. Costello, as Melissa, provides the perfect counter balance to Ladd’s booming presence, particularly when he gets up on his high horse. It is then that her rapier-like wit cuts him to ribbons and brings him back to earth.

Producer/emcee Gerald Ficeto sets the stage for “Love Letters” at the Arlington Players Club.

 

As the play progresses it becomes obvious to the audience that these pen-pals love each other, even if it’s something that they themselves aren’t always aware of. When the stars align and they become one for the very first time, the audience is on board with their budding romance and cheering them on from the sidelines. Unrealistic expectations and the force of gravity, however, conspire to make this first physical “outing” a disaster. Luckily, there will be a second act.

The chemistry between Hague and Costello is undeniable and infectious. A good chunk of this must be attributed to the duo’s acting prowess, but the ease that comes from their real-world relationship probably factors in as well. It’s a best-of-bothworlds scenario that adds even more validity to the crisp dialogue.

When the play moves into its final moments and Hague’s voice begins to crack with sadness, only the strongest souls will be able to force the rising lump back down into their throats. In all honesty, it was a feat that this reviewer couldn’t quite manage. Love letters is a beautifully written play that’s brimming with wit, irony, happiness, sadness, and a few unanticipated plot twists. Hague and Costello are wonderfully entertaining actors who – working in tandem as a skilled team – pull spectators in. By show’s end one can almost hear a collective “if only” coming from audience members who, along with the star-crossed lovers are betting against the odds. As plays go, it doesn’t get much better than that.

‘Mediterranean with a soft Asian touch’

Photo courtesy of yelp.com/ Sushi tower

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski

NEWARK–

Years of decay and decomposition plagued one former Portuguese watering hole on on Ferry St. in Newark. The once glorious Ironbound icon Roque and Rebelo had become a shell of its former self, with the building showing more years than it had been in existence. Since May 2011, Carlos Pinto has taken that dried up watering hole and created an oasis in Newark.

“It was one of the oldest restaurants in the area,” explained Pinto. “Basically, when the Portuguese immigrated into the area, this was one of their stomping grounds and it became a focal point of the community.”

For Pinto, the restaurant has some history. As a teen, Pinto worked at the restaurant and grew to love the place.

“There is definitely a kinship with the establishment,” Pinto said of the restaurant he would eventually own. He promised himself that one day, if he had the wherewithal, he would make the place something special.

Despite his years of working in the restaurant in various positions, becoming a member of the restaurant business was not something he’d planned on doing.

“I like design and architecture,” said Pinto, who now works as a power plant builder in Latin America and the United States. “This was my opportunity to do something special (for the restaurant).”

While the restaurant had become a fi xture in the area, Pinto wanted to add his own touch to the menu, creating the unique Tapas and Sushi combination that Manu’s currently uses.

“I’ve toured the world quite a bit and I took little ideas of different parts of the world to create a soft fusion,” Pinto said. “Believe it or not, there is a lot in the sushi kitchen that is in the tapas kitchen. I just wanted to create a new experience for the community.”

Manu’s and its unique menu has created a restaurant that has something for anyone, even if you’re not in love with tapas or sushi.

“(Manu’s) is Mediterranean with a soft Asian touch,” Pinto explained. “However, we have traditional dishes as well. The idea was not to own a restaurant – it was to make something special.”

Even the eatery’s name highlights this restaurant’s diversity.

“In Portuguese, Many is a slang term for brother,” Pinto said, referring back to his own history. “My sister used to call me that. It’s short, simple, and not very Portuguese, but I’ve been told people think it seems Spanish or even Asian, so it seemed like the appropriate title.”

While the restaurant has been revamped, Pinto and Manu’s has fought a social taboo familiar to others in his neighborhood.

“There’s a certain stigma that sushi in Newark can’t be good,” Pinto explained. “We can’t buy better fi sh and created our own reputation for good fish. We had to do it right.”

Keeping with the traditions that distinguished the old restaurant, Pinto wanted to keep the comfortable, family environment that had existed with the previous establishment.

“It’s a very family feel type of environment,” Pinto explained. “I wanted to create a cozy, comfortable, and familiar feel to the place.”

The unique challenge for Pinto is carrying the responsibilities of both the restaurant he owns, and his day-to-day job.

“The establishment is operated by my sister and other people who have been here since the beginning,” explained Pinto. “I wish I could have opened it earlier, but it was just a timing thing.”

The recently refurbished Manu’s, with its unique cuisine and comfortable environment, is located at 90 Ferry St. in Newark and is open until late seven days a week. It has a full bar and serves lunch on weekdays.

Bloomfield Restaurant Week hopes to highlight ‘Jewel of Essex County’

 

Photos by Anthony J. Machcinski

 

Photos by Anthony J. Machcinski/ Senorita’s (top) and Anthony’s Cheesecake are just two of the 24 restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, which kicked off on March 4th and will run through March 10th.

By Anthony J. Machcinski

‘Bloomfield’s restaurant scene is labeled one of the best kept secrets in New Jersey. I stand here today to say that it will no longer be a secret.”

These words, spoken by Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, signify the goal of Bloomfield Restaurant Week; to expose the diversity of Bloomfield’s restaurant scene.

“(Restaurant Week Committeewoman) Linda (Barucky) would always hassle me about how New York and Montclair have their restaurant week and we were sitting in Newark and they were having their restaurant week and she said, ‘Bloomfield has to have one,’ ” said liaison to the Township Council Michael Venezia at a mid-February press conference. “So I went to the council in October and it unanimously passed.”
Bloomfield Restaurant Week, which will become an annual event, will run from March 4 to 10, showcasing the many restaurants  that Bloomfield has to offer.

“What makes this unique is the diversity of the restaurants participating,” Gill said at the same press conference.

“Our main motivation was the number of diverse restaurants in town and we wanted to promote them in town and out of the area,” explained Barucky.

According to Barucky, March was chosen because, “March is generally a slow month for restaurants and we thought it might give a boost to the restaurants.”

In total, 24 restaurants, ranging in cuisine from the conventional American and Italian to the exotic Peruvian and Thai, will take part in the event.

Participating restaurants will feature prefix menus for a cheaper rate than normal, with dinners ranging from $18 to $30 and lunches from $7 to $15.

The event has restaurant owners excited about the opportunity to showcase their restaurants.

“The main thing (the week will do) is it will bring in more people and to get your name out there,” said Phil Byrne, co-owner of Anthony’s Cheesecake, the only Restaurant Week participant offering breakfast as a meal option. “We started with just lunch and it’s now a big thing. We do the normal turkey and beef things, bacon, waffles with chicken. I don’t think you get that anywhere. I think we’re a little more diverse.”

While Byrne hopes to gain more traffic in his restaurant, Andres Quesada, owner of Senorita’s Mexican Grill on Glenwood Ave., already sees positive signs coming from the announcement of Restaurant Week.

“It’s a good way to build a relationship amongst other business owners,” explained Quesada, who is also a member of the Restaurant Week Committee. “I know many (of the other restaurant owners) after this.”

Quesada also explained that the owners have asked about the formation of some sort of group to continue to improve the restaurant scene in town.

For Restaurant Week, Quesada will be doing a little bit of a trial. He has created a black bean soup that, with positive interaction, will become a new part of his regular menu.

“I’m trying it for Restaurant Week and it’s not normally on the menu,” Quesada explained. “I want to see how people respond to it to see whether we will put it on the normal menu.”

Quesada also asks patrons to try the Chicken Mole, as he feels, “it kind of encapsulates our cuisine.”

One possible patron might be Bloomfield Mayor Raymond McCarthy, who talked at the press conference about his excitement for the event.

“We’ve always said that Bloomfield is one of the most outstanding towns in the county,” McCarthy said. “This will bring people back to the community…This will make Bloomfield the jewel of Essex County…My anticipation is at least I’ll hit 10 places.”

To find a full list of participating restaurants as well as more information on Restaurant Week, go to www.bloomfieldrestaurantweek.com.

Donegal Saloon gets ‘Jack’ed up

Photos Courtesy of www.thejacknj.com/ Pictured clockwise from left, Kurt Balchan, Gary Gallagher, Adam Riley, Squigs, Alzie Sisco

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski

As time has gone by and music has evolved, many establishments have done away with hosting original bands, giving in to the bands that play the music of an era gone by. Donegal Saloon in Kearny isn’t one of those places, which allowed the crowd to be wowed by the performance of The Jack.

Bringing a new style back to the feel of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, The Jack classifies themselves as a jam band, evolving from their earlier days as a Rock ‘n’ Roll band.

“We came more from rock ‘n’ roll and evolved into a jam band,” said Bassist Adam Riley. “We went into more grooving stuff and wanted to let loose. Rock ‘n’ Roll will always be at the roots of our music.”

The band started in the early 90’s, as all the band members had been friends since growing up in Rutherford. The band was originally called One Eyed Jack, but when the former guitarist left, the band had to be renamed due to copyright; thus, The Jack was created, leaving the name similar to the old for simplicity’s sake.

Since The Jack’s reincarnation four years ago, the band has continued to be a mainstay in the Garden State.

“We’ve been playing Jersey for about 20 years,” said Riley. “If you play far away, you have to keep going out there. We’re at the point in our careers where we just want to consistently play.”

With families to support, the band hasn’t had the opportunity to travel outside of the state.

“(When we didn’t have families), there was a lot more freedom,” Riley noted. “Its not easy to just get up and go. We have our responsibilities at home.”

Despite familial responsibilities, the band has still managed to be successful in writing and producing their own music, a feat many musicians nowadays can’t claim.

“We’re always trying to get into the studio,” Riley explained.

When in the studio, The Jack has been able to produce their self-titled album, including five tracks that would make their predecessors proud. One track entitled “Liberty Bell” has the kind of groove found in some of the best funk songs of the ‘70s. The keyboard play of Squigs Minutello shines through the whole song, but never overpowers the performance of the other band members.

The Jack is even able to slow down their style and provide a powerful song in “Steal Your Crown.” The vocals of Kurt Balchan and Adam Riley provide a soulful performance to go over the top of Gary Gallagher’s blusier guitar playing and Alzie Sisco’s subtle drumbeat.

It is through the collective soul of the band that The Jack are able to do something not many bands can accomplish today, providing a new sound that crowds of all ages want to hear at bars, clubs, and other establishments.

“People (out-of-state) are more open-minded about the music you play,” Riley explained. “Jersey has a lot of cover bands and that’s why Donegal Saloon is so great. People just don’t expect you to play your own material.”

After playing Donegal Saloon on Feb. 24, the band will continue to play across New Jersey before booking Spring and Summer festivals around the state. To listen to the band’s music or to buy their album, visit www.thejacknj.com.