Let me start this review with a quick explanation as to why I’m the one writing about food: while I don’t consider myself an amazing chef (my mom is actually an executive chef, we are always talking about food when I’m home; she doesn’t have the patience for confections and I don’t have the patience to cook meat so we generally impress each other) or someone that buys fresh ingredients every night after work and spends the rest of my night dabbling in the kitchen (like my roommate who also brews his own beer as a hobby). I generally hate the term “foodie” but I do love everything about a meal, from the flavors and textures to the sociological/ anthropological implications of meals. I have a simple appreciation for food.
I was having a conversation with someone on Friday, at work, during lunch about our weekend plans – I shared that I had a show that I was in and he said that he was trying “that new place, that just opened up… Bud & Marilyn’s…” And then he said the magic words “yeah, it’s like comfort food.” “Comfort food” for me is immediately boner-inducing, so I gathered some friends and figured we’d give it a shot. (Just a side note: this is a Marcie Turney and Val Safran restaurant, the same geniuses behind Little Nonna’s, Jamonera, Barbuzzo, and Lolita’s).
I’m going to start with the atmosphere before the food, because it’s always helpful to know what you’re walking into. The restaurant itself is reminiscent of 50’s diners, and some current diners in NJ, I’d say kitschy but with class even though the two contradict, but warm and comfortable nonetheless. When I first walked in, I thought the tables were too close together, but as dinner went on, I actually found it helpful, and ended up looking around to plan what I would get during my next visit.
We started off with an order of the Crispy Cheese Curds, deep fried cheddar with smoked guajillo chile salsa and house-made garlic scape ranch, which was a divine spin on mozzarella sticks. The sauces were equally delightful and while I expected more heat from the salsa, it was a good mix between smoke and spice that didn’t leave me reaching for water. The ranch sauce wasn’t your typical ranch either, as it was creamy and did nothing but accent the crispy shell of the cheese while the garlic didn’t overpower the flavors in the cheddar. I could eat these everyday… for the rest of my life.
Our main courses came out as they were prepared – I ordered the scallops, and my friends ordered the Nashville Hot Buttered Buns with orders of meatloaf and a rotisserie chicken. I’m a pescatarian (no land meat, only fish), so I didn’t partake in the buns, but they were described as being really good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something that size devoured in that short amount of time… outside of porn. One friend said there was a hint of heat but it was unexpectedly in the pickle and not in the chicken. I’m thinking it was from the pickle brine slaw? (If you know where the spice is in the buns, leave it in the comments below.) My scallops came out with the buns, so I kind of took a couple of mouthfuls, which I should NOT have done. It was torture waiting for their main course as I couldn’t get enough of the smoked orange dressing on the succotash and beans. The wait wasn’t long and soon their food arrived – all three plates were works of art with decent sized portions – although if you get the chicken, it is basically a chicken on vegetables and can totally be shared with someone.
The scallops were seared perfectly and melted on the first bite, as when they’re prepared fresh and skillfully. The mixture of soft and firm on my plate had me going from the corn and zucchini succotash back to the scallops. The saltiness of the corn cakes offer a polite break up to the sweet (almost tangy) sauce. Just about everyone has had meatloaf before. It’s an American staple and diner favorite BUT I can promise you haven’t had your meatloaf served this way. At first, my friend was hesitant to give his recommendation until he came to the hidden, cheesy treasure buried within, delicious fontina cheese. This dish is served with mashed potatoes (of course), peas and carrots, and is drizzled in royal mushroom trumpet gravy. Is it worth the $22? For him, not quite. But if you’ve got that nostalgic craving for something just north of home cooked, this is probably going to sate you. I almost fell off of my chair when the chicken came because there was so much of it, but my friend, not a particular fan of vegetables, lit up. I don’t think I’ve seen him so excited for a plate of food before. He managed to consume the entire plate of succulent, and expertly prepared meat.
“Dessert is probably the most important stage of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table,” and so we had pie and ice cream. I wasn’t expecting to see vegan ice cream on the menu but I was delighted that it was vietnamese coffee made with cashew milk, and so, I ordered with fervor. Both friends had the apple buttermilk pie with vanilla ice cream after a lengthy debate of cake or pie and if it was going to be chocolate cake or apple pie. They seemed torn at first, until dessert arrived. The bourbon in the pie is slightly more than a hint – perfect for me, but if you aren’t a fan, it might be too much. The oat streusel that encased the warm, sweet apple was crisp and matched the tart filling to perfection. I was jealous and couldn’t think of a better way to end my next meal there. My vegan vietnamese coffee ice cream was perfection its own. The common issue with ice creams made from tofu, coconut milk, or mashed fruit is that it can sometimes have ice crystals and seem more watery than creamy. This was my first experience with cashew milk ice cream and I’d like to experience more of it.
Remember how I mentioned how close the tables were, earlier? Our neighbors at the table next to us shared their courses and had nothing but rave reviews for their chop suey. They told us it was also perfectly spicy without being over powering. The menu also notes that it can be made vegetarian, so I may just have to add that to the list of favorites.
Overall, our experience was great. The cocktails compliment the food without getting you sloppy in the first round, and they even have a special brew from the team at Yards. I’d like to say it was special though, but it tasted like it came from Yards, so take that whichever way you’d like as my palate isn’t refined for beers. The flavors this place manages to conjure from good ole’ fashioned American eateries is nothing short of magic. The big question is: do they have staying power for a corner of the Gayborhood notorious for failing? I think these two magical, restaurant sorceresses have a proven track record and Bud and Marilyn’s will be with us for quite a while.