A good week for dining out in Cherry Hill

Diners at Caffe Aldo Lamberti. The restaurant and 21 others are set to host Cherry Hill's first Restaurant Week.
Diners at Caffe Aldo Lamberti. The restaurant and 21 others are set to host Cherry Hill's first Restaurant Week. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)

Many township restaurants are offering deals for lunch and dinner to draw attention to their cuisine.

Posted: August 10, 2014

Cherry Hill appears to have arrived on the culinary front as South Jersey's latest foodie town.

The township will host its first Restaurant Week - modeled after Philadelphia's but on a smaller scale - Sunday through next Saturday.

"It's great for Cherry Hill to do something on its own," said Aldo Lamberti, owner of Caffe Aldo Lamberti at 2011 Route 70 W., one of the participants. "Of course, not just Cherry Hill people are coming to town."

Twenty-one other restaurants are taking part - located along Routes 70 and 38, and at Cherry Hill Mall and the Market Place at Garden State Park.

The meal prices are meant to entice: $25 or $35 for three-course dinners, with several venues also offering two-course lunches for $15 or $20.

"From the moment we decided to move forward, the feedback from our participating restaurants has been extremely positive," Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn said. "We've put together a diverse lineup that offers something for everyone."

Cuisines from around the globe, from Thai to Greek, will be featured. Cherry Hill Mall's growing culinary clout will be reflected by three of its restaurants participating: California Pizza Kitchen, Capital Grille, and Seasons 52.

Cherry Hill's oldest restaurant, Ponzio's, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sept. 23 at its 7 Route 70 W. location, is part of the mix.

Co-owner Nick Fifis said diners don't get enough credit for their dinner menu, only their lunches. Restaurant Week is "an opportunity to showcase what we do have for dinner," he said.

Fifis said dinner specials normally served during weekends, including sea bass, a filet mignon special, and a lobster mac and cheese, will be on the menu during all of Restaurant Week.

Some trace Cherry Hill's culinary evolution back a decade to the rehab of the former Garden State Park into the upscale Market Place at Garden State Park and the expansion of Cherry Hill Mall. About 6,000 seats of dining have been added over 10 years and have transformed the corridor.

"Before us, there was really nothing going on," said Lamberti, whose Italian restaurant opened in December 1987 and has achieved a loyal following. "Cherry Hill died when Atlantic City opened up, in terms of restaurants and entertainment. Everything went to the casinos," which he said contributed to the racetrack and Cherry Hill hotels' folding.

That no longer holds true.

"Restaurant Week was, first and foremost, a way to highlight all that Cherry Hill has to offer," Cahn said. "But it's also a unique way to encourage support of local businesses, eating fresh and local, and to offer our residents a relaxing night out at a special price."

Joe Kajohnnatikoon, 32, manager of the seven-year-old Little Thai Kitchen at 1900 Greentree Rd., said the pace of bookings for Restaurant Week, especially for dinner, has been brisk all week.

Kajohnnatikoon hopes to lure in new customers with Thai favorites, including lemongrass soup and drunken noodles. The restaurant sits just off I-295 at the 34A Exit. Route 70 is two blocks away.

"We are trying to get our newest menus up at the end of this week, so they show what we're serving for Restaurant Week," he said.

Brio Tuscan Grille, which boasts of "a Tuscan feast" in its ads, sits at the end of the Market Place at Garden State Park at 901 Haddonfield Rd.

"Definitely, I think this says Cherry Hill has arrived on the culinary front," said Craig Weiler, one of the restaurant's managers. "Being right across the bridge from Philly, we learned a lot of lessons. We are really trying to step up our game because there are a lot of great restaurants in New Jersey, and people are realizing they don't have to go across the bridge."

Weiler said Americans' renewed interest in food was a key driver of the area's restaurant renaissance.

"You really have to credit the fact that restaurants are the big thing right now," he said. "Between all the TV shows about food, the Food Network, and reality [TV] shows, like Top Chef, the fact is, restaurants are putting out a great product."

All of the restaurants interviewed for this article emphasized that they shop daily for fresh, local ingredients - a farm-to-table approach.

"People are more health conscious in some ways," said Charlotte Markey, a professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden, whose research examines eating habits and the psychology behind them. She is author of the book Smart People Don't Diet. "Awareness about the importance of eating well seems to be growing."Caffe Aldo Lamberti, for instance, serves fresh seafood and offers fresh fish filleted table-side, and makes its own gnocchi.

Restaurant Week "is going to grow because people are looking for quality," said Lamberti's daughter, Rosita. "People today . . . are watching a lot and are a little more adventurous and educated."

Assad Khoury, co-owner with wife Sofia Karakasidou of the 49-seat BYOB Kuzina by Sofia, said he is offering a four-course dinner for $25 with a focus on vegetarian and gluten-free.

The Greek Mediterranean restaurant, a member of the independent restaurant association called South Jersey Hot Chefs, is at the Sawmill Village shopping center at 404 Route 70 E. It's known for its Portuguese octopus appetizer, lamb shank, and grilled branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass entrée.

"It's showing how far Cherry Hill has come to being more like a downtown location rather than a suburb," Khoury said of having its own Restaurant Week. "We are . . . taking this opportunity to give people a bargain and an array of meals with fresh local ingredients."


Participating Restaurants

Cherry Hill Restaurant Week runs Sunday to next Saturday. Prix fixe meals are $15 to $35:

Brio Tuscan Grille

Caffe Aldo Lamberti

California Pizza Kitchen

Capital Grille

Coastline Restaurant

Dream Cuisine Cafe

Dubh Linn Square

Farm & Fisherman Tavern

Hong Kong Fusion

Il Villaggio

Kaminski's

Kuzina by Sofia

LaCita Mexican

Little Thai Kitchen

Longhorn Steakhouse

Ponzio's

Red Lobster

Salt & Pepper

Seasons 52

Steak 38

Toscana

Tutti Toscani


sparmley@phillynews.com

856-779-3928 @SuzParmley

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