Perched on a steep hillside overlooking the shores of Lake Hopatcong, Alice's
Restaurant beckons beguilingly. The top floor of this handsome structure,
which has been home to several different eateries over the years, boasts
vaulted ceilings, striking barn-wood walls, comfortable booths, and a full bar
that extends from the restaurant's interior to the breezy deck.
The downstairs "Big Fish Lounge" provides the perfect contrasting
complement to the casually-appointed dining area, exuding a cozily classy air.
Here you find subdued lighting, sumptuous leather appointments, weathered
mirrors, and an impressive marble bar. You can't quite shake the feeling that
you're sipping cocktails tucked away below the deck of a luxury yacht.
But on to more important matters... When the restaurant first opened its
doors this past spring (2009), I think it is fair to say that the food suffered
from a number of inconsistencies. But since late July, when David Drake was
brought on board as consultant/executive chef, things have changed dramatically
-- and certainly for the better. Mr. Drake, formerly the celebrated power
behind the stove at the Stage House Restaurant in Scotch Plains -- who now
presides over both David Drake's in Rahway and Daryl Wine Bar & Restaurant
in New Brunswick -- has done a superlative job of fine tuning the cuisine.
Mr. Drake, of course, is well known for his innovatively upscale American
fare. The food at Alice's may be more casual in scope, but it is utterly
impeccable in the quality of its preparation and presentation; and the chef
still manages to balance the soul-satisfying familiarity of comfort cuisine
with dishes that are more creative in nature. The menu exhibits broad palate
appeal -- and sports reasonable prices -- the perfect match for this resort
Appetizers, for example, offer a wide spectrum of possibilities: The earthy
mushroom soup is garnished with wild mushrooms, chives, and a balsamic glaze
($6.50); the Maine crab cake is
fried to a golden brown and embellished with coleslaw and baby greens ($8.00);
and the spinach and bacon salad is tossed with an incomparable and judiciously
applied Caesar dressing ($7.50).
And for those in search of homier pursuits... the spicy chicken wings are
teamed with an addictive blue cheese sauce ($8.50); the homemade fried onion
rings are served up with a zippy ketchup; and a hearty, country-style chili is
guaranteed to ward off winter's icy chill. All are worthy of consideration...
If I had my druthers, however, I'd vote for the fabulous "Mac &
Cheese," which arrives at table in an individual iron skillet ($8.00). The
Vermont cheddar imbues the dish with a rich, buttery texture, while chunks of
thick-cut smoked bacon provide a touch of decadence. Not to be missed!
Entrées demonstrate the same alluring culinary diversity as their
predecessors. If you're feeling laidback and lyrical, nothing satisfies quite
like "Alice's Big Burger" ($10.00); savory and sumptuous, it is
served up on a toasted onion roll and companioned by first-rate steak fries and
homemade mayo. Equally comforting are the homemade meatloaf ($15.00) and fish
and chips ($15.00). The former is a succulent combo of ground pork and beef
accompanied by glazed Yukon gold potatoes and mushroom gravy; the latter
features strips of fresh flounder rather than cod, lovingly embraced by a
crispy, ethereal batter and teamed with benchmark coleslaw and zippy chipotle
On the other hand, if you'd prefer to go a bit more upscale, matters
piscatorial clearly take center stage. The Atlantic salmon ($18.00), for
example, is beautifully grilled and set on a luscious seabed of red onion
marmalade and topped with a tempting tiara of perfectly steamed asparagus. But
even better, in my opinion, is the grilled swordfish ($19.00), aided and
abetted by stewed tomatoes, spinach, black olives, garlic sausage, and
sprinkling of fresh basil... Carnivores, of course, will find it impossible to
resist the marinated, grilled skirt steak ($21.00).
And do save room for dessert... And the star of the show is the simple but
sublime apple tart garnished with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream
($7.00). Worth both the added expenditure and the extra calories.
The restaurant's only weakness is the wine list, which is clearly a work in
progress. It is, to quote a turn-of-phrase, serviceable; but that is about the
extent of it. Knowing Mr. Drake, however, I have no doubt that this situation
will change for the better in the coming months.
As Lake Hopatcong is basically a summer resort community, many of the
restaurants in the immediate vicinity generally close their doors or at least seriously
curtail hours in the off season. Fortunately, Alice's owners have both
the will and the financial wherewithal to remain open seven days a week during
the winter months, hence establishing a strong culinary presence when the
warmer weather rolls around.
I might suggest, however, that if you wish to avoid the frustrating hustle
and bustle of the omnivorous summer tourist hordes, now would be the perfect
time to pay a call at Alice's, which is surely destined to become a
popular dining destination for year-round residents and visitors alike.
Cuisine: Casual &
innovative American Hours: Open 7 days from
Credit Cards: All major Attire: Casual Reservations: Highly recommended in summer Parking: Onsite Alcohol: License Price: Moderate/Inexpensive Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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