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47 South Main Street
Mullica Hill, Gloucester County, New Jersey
(856) 478-2112

By The Artful Diner
June 9, 2008

Tucked away in what was the Hilltop Restaurant, Blueplate is something of an anomaly. By day, for breakfast and lunch, it serves up the likes of creamed chipped beef, scrapple, burgers, salads, sandwiches, and wraps to local diners. At night, however, chef/proprietor James Malaby pulls out all the stops and dazzles visitors and Mullica Hill residents alike with his superlative New American cuisine.

Mr. Malaby, a Philadelphia native, is an alumnus of several of the area's most respected kitchens, including Jake's Restaurant and Bar in Manayunk and Brasserie Perrier in Center City; and that extensive experience is immediately palpable in his innovative offerings.

Indeed, some would say -- as one critic already has -- that the creativity of the evening menu stands in sharp contrast to the flowered carpeting, rather frumpy window treatments, booths & banquettes, and polished wood tables & library chairs. On the other hand, while Mr. Malaby's cuisine is certainly contemporary, it also exhibits a rather cozy countenance, so it actually seems to conveniently coalesce rather than conflict with the homey decorative embellishments.

Take his signature Fontina cheese and sweet onion tart ($7.50), for instance. A golden brown wedge is adorned with a perfectly addictive combo of caramelized onions, bits of bacon, and melted cheese; the finishing touches are a tiara of mixed greens and splash of sweet balsamic syrup. A comparatively simple presentation but sublime in its combination of colors, flavors, and textures.

Then, of course, there is the equally irresistible special appetizer of chilled filet of beef ($9.50). Luscious slices are set on a pillow of tender spears of fresh Jersey asparagus, dotted with crumbles of blue cheese & grape tomato slices, and finished with a catalyzing brown butter sauce.

Two other excellent starters include handmade potato gnocchi ($7.75) and chicken spring rolls ($7.50). The diminutive dumplings are just the proper texture -- neither too firm nor too mushy -- and the wild mushroom duxelle (finely chopped and cooked in butter & wine with shallots) adds an exciting dimension... as does the sherry-infused broth awash with chopped tomatoes. The spring rolls are appropriately crisp, not at all greasy, and filled with shredded chicken that has been slowly braised in ginger, chilies & garlic, and then served up in a woven basket accompanied by soy and ginger-peach dipping sauces.

When it comes to entrées, there is no question that die-hard carnivores are exceedingly well served by Mr. Malaby's extraordinary signature cut New York strip steak ($24.00). The cut of meat is thick yet marvelously moist & tender (and I've sampled several extremely tough customers in numerous upscale locations at infinitely more expensive tariffs). The steak is set on a crispy risotto cake and topped with two large golden brown onion rings. The pièce de résistance, however, is a heady red wine reduction infused with a splash of beet oil. "Flavor Intensive" is the phrase that comes immediately to mind.

The pork tenderloin ($20.00) is also worth the price of admission. Luscious slices are set atop a mound of vegetable-herb stuffing, companioned by perfectly cooked broccoli florets, and finished with a superlative sage sauce. And in the divine decadence department, nothing can quite match the special veal short ribs ($24.00). Braised in red wine & rosemary and consummated in red wine sauce, the meat is incredibly tender; but its fatty countenance finds a perfect foil in the distinctly flavorful dimensions of a piquant parsnip purée.

Menu substitutions are discouraged, but there are a number of reasonably priced side dishes to supplement your meal: The delicious vegetable-herb stuffing that accompanied the pork is available at $3.50; a first-rate corn risotto goes for a paltry $3.75; and an addictive mound of roasted garlic mashed potatoes will set you back a mere $3.50. In addition, not only do diners begin with a luscious assortment of bread and rolls, they are also treated to a complimentary plate of strips of roasted red and green peppers swimming in a pool of olive oil enhanced with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Desserts, however, are all worth saving room for. Both the homey apple crisp ($3.25) and the sour cream apple walnut pie ($3.25) are very, very good. But the warm chocolate cake topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and chocolate tuile ($6.50) is utterly superb. A feast for the eye as well as the palate.

Also not to be missed is the wonderful chocolate-peanut butter pie ($3.25). Any combo of peanut butter and chocolate immediately arrests my attention, but this is a particularly noteworthy effort. Too often, peanut butter confections fall short, exhibiting off-puttingly artificial flavors and equally odd consistencies. Mr. Malaby's rendition, however, is the genuine article, beguiling the palate with a rich peanut buttery taste and smooth creamy texture.

There is no question that Blueplate is somewhat off the beaten track... After all, Mullica Hill isn't exactly a booming restaurant town. But, once discovered, this intriguing establishment is certain to woo you back again and again. If you reside anywhere in the Delaware Valley area, it is certainly worth a pilgrimage.

Cuisine: New American
Hours: Breakfast: Mon - Fri, 6:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.; Sat, 6:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Sun, 7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Sun, 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner, Tues - Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. (Closed Mondays for dinner)
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended for dinner on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: One step up at entrance
Website: www.blueplatenj.com

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