The Fox & Falcon by David Burke

David Burke is no stranger to making something old new again. For 85 years, the Dixie Lee Bakery was a local institution in Keansburg, NJ. It was the kind of bakery that had a little bit of everything, ranging from black and white cookies and lobster tails to cupcakes, wedding cakes, and beyond. Although it was regarded as a popular spot among locals, its visibility outside the immediate Bayshore area was limited. That all changed when David Burke claimed ownership of Dixie Lee in May 2022. Over the past 10 or so months, Burke has elevated the bakery’s status, giving it a kind of nostalgic glow in Instagram posts and raising its profile through strategic partnerships with nearby restaurants and community pie-eating contests, all while maintaining the crux of Dixie Lee’s appeal to locals: straightforward counter service and a little something sweet for everyone.

When I heard that Burke was taking over the Fox & Falcon in South Orange, I was intrigued. Burke is well-versed at the area, with 1776 in Morristown getting rave reviews and a previous post at the Orange Lawn Tennis Club just down the road from downtown South Orange. He’s developed a reputation as a restaurant kingmaker all over New Jersey, with eateries following along the shape of the state, from Sea Bright all the way up to West New York and Rumson.

Having lived here for many years, I had been to the Fox & Falcon frequently, always hoping for something more with each visit. The menu was limited, the entrees were a tad pricey, and the sheen it conveyed through its handsome, masculine interior turned out to be hollow when it came to flavors. Rumor had it, that management was taking advantage of its waitstaff in late 2022 — the community around here is very on top of sudden and unexpected closures of all places in SOMA — and it sounded like it was only a matter of time before the Fox & Falcon as I had once known it would close for good.

Last night, MDP and I had a date night — the first one in about eight months — and decided to give the new Fox & Falcon by David Burke a try. I had seen photos of our village president proudly attending a ribbon cutting with Burke earlier this week. When I checked the website, I noticed an expanded menu on the site, with some intriguing options (clothesline bacon, anyone?). I’m glad we made a reservation because every single seat — including surrounding the unusually shaped bar — was taken. I had never seen this space so crowded, and the vibe was one of anticipation and excitement among the patrons. I couldn’t help but notice that the number of tables in the long restaurant space nearly doubled from the previous form of the restaurant; a nod to Burke’s knack for business. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s cramped now and may have been overly spacious previously!)

We arrived early so we decided to get a drink at the bar, since, as luck would have it, two satisfied customers had just departed, leaving their half-eaten FOXY burgers on the counter. It took about 15 minutes for the plates to be cleared and for us to receive a menu. As a note, in general, my overall impression of service at the new Fox & Falcon is there are a few kinks to work out. When I asked for a Maker’s Mark (guessing that they’d have this old reliable, as most bars do), I was told they only had two bourbons available, neither of which this bourbon aficionado was thrilled about. Once it has its wits about it, I expect the restaurant to stock typical liquors, so I’ll give them a pass for now! They’ve got negroni on tap — which MDP felt was a little bitter and compensated for with a tad too much sugar — and a healthy draft list, so I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like when you go!

After we sat down at our table with menus, we settled on the chickpea and herb hummus as an appetizer and took a bit more time to decide on the entrees. Something entirely new with this iteration of the Fox & Falcon is the speed at which service is happening. It’s evident a seasoned restauranteur is now at the helm, given the two minutes flat it took for the waitress to come over and take our appetizer order, and the approximate seven minutes to get our dish. Knowing how to turn over tables well — without customers feeling rushed — is certainly a skill.

The hummus is outstanding. To my surprise, it came with a little, lightly dressed baby kale salad, which was delightful and fresh-tasting. The hummus itself was spread out in a thin layer across the dish, with ample points of pita bread forming a layer over it. I’m not sure I’ve ever had hummus this good. Yes, herbs were there, but the overall flavor profile was far punchier than any flavored hummus I’ve ever had. I suspect this particular appetizer will go under the radar, as it is accompanied by a lot of really intriguing brethren in this dish category (tuna tartare tacos, “wings and rings,” and lobster dumplings, to name a few), but don’t sleep on this one if you’re looking for something relatively light.

Burke has chosen to keep some of the old standbys of the previous Fox & Falcon menu — a few standout pastas, a falafel burger (which was actually quite good), and a burger the restaurant could apply its impramatir to — but has expanded the menu in notable ways. For one, there’s now a few steaks available — TL;DR: the steak is delicious — and there‚Äôs also chicken parmesan, baby back ribs and shrimp, and a few other dishes that caught my eye. The overall theme of the menu expansion appears to be more approachable for a wider audience, rather than convey that this place is for exclusive palates only, as the previous owner seemed to communicate.

MDP ordered the rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe, and he felt the dish was very good. The pasta appeared to be cooked just-right (al dente, for those who wonder what this could possibly mean). His only complaint was the “woodiness” of the broccoli rabe. This may be one of those quirks the restaurant is still smoothing out, however.

I opted for the 12 oz. sirloin steak, which came with watercress and something called a B1 sauce. I found the steak to be delicious in the parts that were cooked to my preferred temperature (it was a bit unevenly cooked) but I’m not sure I could detect the sauce’s flavor.

We also ordered three sides: broccolini, roasted brussels sprouts (truly roasted!), and the Falcon fries. For me, the simply sauteed broccolini was the winner. Yet the Falcon fries were pretty good and these fries were a vast improvement over the prior Fox & Falcon’s “salt and pepper” kind. Falcon fries are tossed with bacon, shishito peppers, and a few spices, and the resulting effect is robust and delicious.

We couldn’t resist dessert — the menu came to us midway through eating our entrees, positioned as “be sure to save room for dessert” (pretty seamless, I’ll admit) — so we tried the key lime pie. Tangy and creamy, the key lime pie filling was yellow-y goodness and covered with a hearty layer of lightly sugared whipped cream. I found the crust in particular to be quite good.

I highly recommend the Fox & Falcon by David Burke to anyone near and far. Judging by his track record, I expect Burke’s touch on this space known for turnover will be to elevate the restaurant as a destination dinner spot. Now that South Orange is hip as hell — a pretzel shop (!), a storied bakery, a beer hall, and an aerial fitness studio (????) all claim the downtown area as home these days — the Fox & Falcon by David Burke may become a cornerstone of a new wave of interest in SOMA.

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Butter & Jam

I always love a good restaurant recommendation. That’s why I joined the SOMA Eats Local Facebook group, where people from my community gather to discuss the latest and greatest food nearby. Get the lunch menu meatball sandwich, they might say of Arturo’s, the legendary wood-fired pizzeria in Maplewood village. The Maple Leaf Diner has great specials and ample portions, someone might opine. Most days, I log on to Facebook for the explicit purpose to see what people are saying about good eats in my community.

A while back, possibly in January, someone posted about Butter & Jam, a restaurant in downtown Madison known for a delectable brunch. I tucked away a mental note about the place for a future outing with a friend. Fast forward to today, when my friend Carol and I visited Butter & Jam for lunch. And, reader, it was worth the wait.

I wouldn’t call the interior welcoming, although the people who work there are warm. The spare environs with probably bad lighting belies the glorious food that’s churning out of the Butter & Jam kitchen.

We started with beverages from their “cafe” menu (accessible via QR code because this is how restaurants work now): I ordered an iced latte and Carol got a hot caffe mocha. The iced latte was delicious, likely due to the fact that Butter & Jam uses illy coffee and espresso, known for its high-quality, consistent bean blend. Poured into a cavernous mug, Carol’s mocha was delicately decorated with chocolate sauce cross-hatches and foam a mile deep. It was, in a word, gorgeous.

Butter & Jam Board

Moving on to the winning food, we ordered the Butter & Jam board: mountains of housemade, fresh-baked miniature buttermilk biscuits, miniature croissants, and quartered (normal-sized) corn muffins surrounded by blended butters — strawberry, blueberry, and cinnamon honey — and three housemade jams — strawberry, peach, and blueberry — all sitting like Hallmark ornaments on a spacious tray. As Carol and I pored over the menu, we noticed that the Butter & Jam board was recommended for “two to four,” which struck me as odd because the difference between two people and four people seems relatively vast — how could this serve up to four people or also be satisfactory for two? Once I dug in, I realized that the board is actually sufficient for two people like Carol and me.

The star of the Butter & Jam board is unquestionably the corn muffin. Supple and — dare I say — moist, the muffin has a vibrant corn flavor with a touch of sweetness. The divine texture makes it the perfect canvas for one of the jams, which were all bursting with colorful fruit flavor. The butters were, on a whole, less impressive to me. While the cinnamon honey butter offered a hearty tang, the strawberry and blueberry butters were a tad too subtle in my opinion. It’s worth noting that the dense and crumbly buttermilk biscuit and flaky croissants were also a notch above. But the corn muffin is the star of this place, and I won’t accept a different opinion on this matter, thank you very much.

Mexicano Ensalada with Salmon

Moving on to our entrees, Carol and I both ordered the Mexicano Ensalada (which both of us called the “Mexican salad” for whatever reason). I paired mine with salmon, while I twisted Carol’s arm to get some grilled chicken on hers. I found the salad to be exquisite. The salsa verde dressing — which, if I’m being honest, I didn’t quite understand from the menu description — is a runaway favorite, I’m sure. It’s bright and floral, with a sweet undertone, and totally creamy. Our delightful waitress commented that our salads were the last ones they were making for the day. Not only is there a baby formula shortage happening in America today, but apparently there is also a shortage of this perfect salsa verde. Somebody call The New York Times.

In addition to the completely delicious dressing, the salad boasted a half avocado that was conveniently sliced (although I forked through chunks of it anyway), red onions, and cherry tomatoes tossed with mixed greens and topped with a pile of tortilla chip strips. It was perfect.

I highly recommend Butter & Jam, but it’s important to note that Apple Maps didn’t take me to its actual location, which I somehow intuited toward through an alley that Carol and I were both surprised we didn’t pass by without notice. What I’m trying to say is don’t use Apple Maps to get there.

Butter & Jam also serves dinner, which is certain to be outrageous. After your meal, be sure to stroll around downtown Madison, which is filled-to-the-brim with charming boutiques, like a yarn store and old-timey toy store.

Butter & Jam

30 Cook Plaza

Madison, NJ

Valley Street Eatery

Taylor ham, egg, and cheese with potato rosti on a brioche bun.

Any New Jersey denizen will tell you that the taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich is a delicacy not to mess with. Most bagel shops, delis, and diners keep it simple: a few slices of taylor ham crisped on the flat top, over-hard egg, and American cheese on a kaiser roll. Salt, pepper, and ketchup typically adorn this statewide treasure of a sandwich. As someone who has eaten many taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches in her life, I can confidently say this is usually the optimal way to consume this particular food.

That is, of course, until I ordered one from Valley Street Eatery.

New kid to the block in Maplewood, Valley Street Eatery takes the place of the old Tara’s Deli, an establishment I’m not sure I ever saw anyone enter in my three plus years of living in this community. Valley Street Eatery is a short walk from Memorial Park and the Maplewood train station, making it a great place to pick up lunch for a picnic or a quick bite while waiting for the train. I had heard of Valley Street Eatery from a community group called SOMA Eats (it’s important to note that this Facebook group has quickly become my GOAT group to belong to and makes me use Facebook every day). Word on the street is the owner of Sabatino’s, a widely praised (and deservedly so) pizzeria just a few blocks away from Valley Street Eatery, opened up this new breakfast-and-lunch joint. Intrigued by its pedigree, I decided to give it a try this past week for lunch and then breakfast.

So, back to the sandwich. I’ll admit, at first I was skeptical of Valley Street Eatery’s take on the taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. Their menu noted that it was pressed between brioche bun halves and an adventurous eater could even get a potato rosti (a Swedish version of the latke) on it. This sounds a bit too fancy to me, and maybe they’re trying to do too much, I thought. But, lover of all things taylor ham that I am, I decided to order it. Reader, believe me when I say that the Valley Street Eatery sandwich is the best taylor ham, egg, and cheese I’ve ever had. Yes, ever. That means it beats Hoboken’s well-known O’Bagel’s version and every other sandwich I’ve ever had, including those from New Jersey’s many well-respected diners. So, what puts Valley Street Eatery’s rendition above the rest? It’s the perfect, sumptuous combination of the buttery brioche roll with the just-greasy-enough insides. The potato rosti certainly elevates the sandwich to distinguish itself from any other in the great Garden State, but it also tastes at home in this tried-and-true combination.

Breakfast burrito.

When I visited Valley Street Eatery, the nice woman taking my order highly recommended the breakfast burrito, which comes stuffed with scrambled eggs, avocado, onion, peppers, American cheese, and the refined potato rosti. MDP felt it was perhaps too cheesy (likely due to the sheer gooeyness of American cheese), but found it satisfying. I tried a bite and thought it was delicious.

Apple turnover.

I also snagged an apple turnover, which may be housemade based on what I see in the Valley Street Eatery Instagram account. This pastry felt like a revelation and I encourage commuters to arrive early to get one before they sell out. It was both delicate and flavorful, with an almost croissant-like pastry exterior and not-too-sweet cinnamon-flecked sliced apples within. Valley Street Eatery also has muffins, although the flavor variety may be lacking for some.

On a different day, we ordered lunch: the kale apple salad and cubano sandwich. Both were satisfying.

Kale apple salad.

The kale apple salad is fresh-tasting and hearty. My takeout container came packed with bright-green kale, chunks of honeycrisp apples, toasted walnuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese crumbles. I added grilled chicken ($5 extra) to round out my dish. I found the balance of ingredients to be superb and particularly liked that they tossed the salad with just-enough of the white balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Cubano.

MDP’s cubano sandwich looked good and he found it to be satisfying bite, as well. It’s important to note that Valley Street Eatery uses a good hoagie roll as the “case” for their Cuban sandwich, rather than the light, crisp Cuban bread you’ll find at an actual Cuban eatery. MDP felt the bread, which had been pressed, was pretty good but agreed that Cuban bread — such as what you’ll find at La Isla in Hoboken — is preferred. Nonetheless, the actual roasted pork shoulder was tender and meaty, while the sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and dijonnaise formed a delectable complement.

Aside from what we ordered, they have a handful of other specialty sandwiches, like a portobello mushroom one, a fried chicken sandwich, and a double burger. You’ll also find some deli sandwiches on their menu, like the spicy turkey, roast beef and provolone, and chicken cutlet. On the side, you can try their potato leek soup (always a favorite of mine) and their french fries.

You’ll see a few types of bagged chips and soft drinks near the entrance, so be sure to grab these before you order. If the weather isn’t great for a picnic in the park, you can sit at a table inside Valley Street Eatery. According to their frequently updated Instagram, Valley Street Eatery also has chocolate icebox cake — which just sounds so delicious, doesn’t it? — so be sure to get a slice for dessert.

I hope the word spreads about this awesome new place in our community, so Valley Street Eatery gets the love they deserve!

Valley Street Eatery

503 Valley Street

Maplewood, NJ

973-320-9722

Open 7 am to 4 pm, Tuesday through Friday; 8 am to 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday; and closed on Monday (as of November 21, 2021).