870 Main Street
Belford, Monmouth County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
April 14, 2008
Tucked away in a Campbell's Junction strip mall, in a quiet corner of
Middletown Township, the Belford Bistro is an undiscovered little jewel
in a highly unlikely location. However... I should hasten to add that it will
not remain undiscovered for long. Indeed, even as I write, it is being sought
out by more and more of the area's knowledgeable foodies.
And I must confess that I have a certain personal interest, a sentimental
pride, if you will, in this charming establishment's burgeoning success. I grew
up in Belford, in point of fact, just a few blocks from the Bistro's
present location; and I would often pass by this very same strip mall on my way
to and/or from Middletown Township High School (now Middletown H.S. North) just
up the road.
The restaurant's exterior -- sandwiched between the Naples Pizzeria and
Sissy's Place (another eatery) -- looks unassuming enough; but your sixth
culinary sense tells you that wonderful things are transpiring just beyond the
confines of that storefront window -- and you want to be a part of them. Once
across the threshold, your suspicions are further aroused by the simplicity of
the décor -- tasteful globe lighting fixtures, walls minimally adorned with
mirrors, tables dressed in butcher block paper by day and clothed in cream and
brown tablecloths by night -- the bustling excitement of a semi-open kitchen,
and the animated conversations of the convivial clientele.
And the talented husband and wife team, proprietors Crista Trovato and Kurt
Bomberger, cook up a storm. Their New American bistro fare is lovingly prepared
& attractively presented, generously proportioned, and immensely
satisfying. Bottom line: The cuisine is casual and comforting rather than
uptight cutting-edge -- as is the entire scene. Some restaurants make you ill
at ease the moment you enter; Belford Bistro, on the other hand, is a
warm, welcoming space, and the food is the natural extension of that
Salads are an excellent way to begin. The greens, of course, are pristine
and freshly tossed, the accoutrements beautifully integrated, and the
dressings applied with infectious subtlety. The bistro salad ($11.00), combines
baby arugula and watercress with perfectly grilled shrimp, peppers, mandarin
oranges, sprinkle of addictive candied cashews, and tiara of crispy wontons.
The catalyst is a splash of provocative soy-ginger vinaigrette.
But the market ($8.00) and Boston Bibb ($9.00) salads should also not be
overlooked. The former incorporates warm herbed goat cheese, roasted beets,
apple, and toasted hazelnuts with mixed greens and an exquisite Champagne
vinaigrette; the latter blends smoked applewood bacon, earthy Gorgonzola
cheese, avocado, roasted cipollini onions, cucumber, and chopped egg with a
zesty Dijon vinaigrette.
But for those with more decadent designs, the barbeque butchers' bacon
($10.00) is an absolute must. The thick house-cured slabs are extravagantly
fatty, just as they should be, ultimately yielding a plethora of marvelously
moist meaty morsels. But, once again, as with the aforementioned greenery, it
is the synthesis of colors, tastes, and textures, that truly propels this dish
into orbit: the tang of braised red cabbage, the sweet, luscious undulating
layers of cipollini onions, and the pillow of soft polenta. All join to engage
the palate in a seductive gastronomic gestalt.
If you're searching for a viable alternative between the delicious
practicality of the salads and the sensuous indulgence of the butchers' bacon,
the jumbo lump crab cake ($13.00) will strike an excellent middle ground. The
crabmeat is sweet and succulent, devoid of filler, and simply dressed with
mâche and a delicate dash of citrus-infused aïoli. Dedicated crab lovers
please take note.
When contemplating your entrée selection, bear in mind that the roasted New
Zealand rack of lamb ($27.00) is a superlative effort. Not only is the portion
size more than generous, but the meat is also beautifully prepared, exhibiting
just the proper shade of pink and just the appropriate hint of gaminess. And
the accompaniments are exceedingly well chosen, providing a simple but
ultimately sublime point/counterpoint. The sautéed baby spinach is rife with a
verdant earthiness, the rich butternut squash is caressed by an ethereal pastry
crust, and the assertive port wine sauce proves the perfect foil for the
distinctive natural attributes of the lamb.
Carnivores also can't go wrong with the 16-ounce dry-aged New York strip
steak ($30.00). The meat is incredibly tender yet alive with flavor. I should
also add that the remainder was just as satisfying served cold when
incorporated into a salad the following day. And, yet again, the steak's
culinary companions add immeasurably to the mix. The herbed bistro fries are
superb (also available as a side, $4.00), and the tiara of chive maître d'
butter adds a deliciously decadent dimension.
Those who appreciate the treasures of the sea will be happy to learn that
the aforementioned jumbo lump crab cake(s) is also available as an entrée
($26.00). And, in addition to the mâche and citrus-infused aïoli, the
main course presentation is sided by addictively rich and buttery chive whipped
potatoes (also available as a side, $4.00). The Sicilian jumbo shrimp ($22.00)
also deserve serious consideration. The crustaceans are at the peak of good
health and are companioned by al dente gemelli pasta and enhanced with
tender broccoli rabe, white beans, tomato, and roasted garlic. A palpable hit.
If you can't make dinner, lunch is also a winning proposition. Recently
sampled, for instance, were fresh tuna in a honey wheat wrap tinctured with
wasabi & lemon-caper mayonnaise ($7.00) and a combo of chicken noodle soup
-- an intensely flavorful broth awash with farfalle pasta, diced carrots, peas,
and button mushrooms -- and 1/2 sandwich of melted Brie and tomato.
Desserts ($7.00) are an interesting amalgam. The benchmark Tahitian vanilla
crème brûlée and excellent tartufo are both made in house. The other sweet
endings -- hazelnut chocolate torte, cheesecake, and Key lime tart, for example
-- are courtesy of the highly-regarded Flaky Tart in nearby Atlantic highlands.
All are worthy of consideration... as are the potent espresso ($3.00) and
In the face of the nauseating onslaught of cookie-cutter chains that seem to
be invading the Middletown area, the Belford Bistro is, indeed, a
welcome breath of culinary fresh air. As such, it surely deserves our loyal
patronage. Kudos to Kurt Bomberger and Crista Trovato. They cook from the
heart... and it shows.
Cuisine: New American Bistro
Hours: Lunch: Mon, Weds - Fri, 12:00 noon - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Sun &
Mon, Weds & Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., Fi & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00
p.m.; Sunday Brunch: 10:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. CLOSED TUESDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Handicapped Accessible: Yes