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The Chophouse
4 South Lakeview Drive
Gibbsboro, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 566-7300

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
2/9/2004

I was skeptical... I admit it. I mean, the leap from casual "pub grub" to upscale steakhouse fare can be a perilous one, indeed... as a host of disillusioned and bankrupt restaurateurs lying at the bottom of the culinary abyss will clearly attest. But, despite the somewhat daunting odds, Bob Platzer -- proprietor of the popular chain of P.J. Whelihan's Pubs -- has made the tricky transition with a definitive sense of style... The Chophouse, now entering its sophomore year, is a palpable -- and delightfully palatable -- success.

The restaurant is a class act in every sense of the word... Some might say a touch too classy for this neck-of-the-woods. And while there was some initial grousing that prices were a bit over the top for beautiful downtown Gibbsboro, one visit is enough to convince you that this is one Chophouse that is most assuredly worth the price of admission.

Allow me a very telling illustration with regard to the Achilles' heel of most eateries: service -- or the lack thereof. On one particular visit, my grilled salmon ($23.00) arrived at table absolutely raw in the middle. I called this to our server's attention, and he immediately whisked it away to the kitchen, apologizing profusely. He was then back in a flash with a small plate so that I might partake of the side dishes and a few bites of my wife's sirloin while I waited.

When the salmon returned, it was cooked through, precisely as ordered, and came with a generous replenishment of sides... And, at the end of the meal, the server indicated that the salmon had been removed from the check and, once again, apologized for the inconvenience.

Service of this caliber, needless to say, is hard to come by... Like the gracious hostess on our first sojourn who, noting our displeasure at being seated within earshot and eyeshot of the kitchen doors, checked her reservations list and promptly offered us an infinitely more pleasant venue... Or the members of the management team, all spiffily attired in dark suits, who restlessly prowl their prearranged precincts to make certain that all is as it should be. Customer satisfaction is "Priority One," and it shows.

Of course, the sophisticated ambiance doesn't hurt. Situated on picturesque Paintworks Lake, the interior is a far cry from the typical dark and murky, testosterone-driven décor. Faux brick walls and mission-accented woodwork predominate, along with plush leather booths and a lively bar/lounge that serves as the newest "in" spot for the area's Porsche/Lexus/Mercedes/BMW set.

All the aforementioned will add immeasurably to your dining experience. However, were it not for the superior quality of the food, The Chophouse would soon degenerate into just another eminently forgettable "meat market," if you catch my drift. In addition to the "quality" factor, "quantity" also plays a strong supporting role, as portions are more than generous and many starters and sides are quite suitable for sharing.

Starters here are particularly noteworthy and seafood is definitely the name of the game. The New Orleans blackened shrimp ($11.00) bring to table appropriately spicy and perfectly crunchy crustaceans in a mini cast-iron skillet accompanied by a ramekin of sweet pepper remoulade sauce. And the jumbo lump crab puffs ($12.00) -- four sweet and succulent golf-ball-size nuggets presented with a first-rate house-made tartar sauce -- are also a delight for the palate.

There is also a raw bar, should you care to indulge, featuring jumbo shrimp and jumbo lump crab cocktails (both $12.00), and culminating in a grand and glorious shellfish sampler ($38.00). On the other hand, if you are a confirmed carnivore and will broach absolutely no compromises, take a step back in time and dig into the classic steak tartare ($11.50), a sensuous superstructure consisting of tiers of chopped hard-cooked egg, onion, and minced tenderloin infused with capers and zippy Dijon mustard.

If greenery is more to your liking, I highly recommend the huge fresh wedge of iceberg lettuce bathed in a extravagant blue cheese dressing and sprinkled with morsels of crisp bacon ($5.00). The chopped salad ($8.00), romaine lettuce, hearts of palm, chopped eggs, tomato, feta cheese, and garbanzo beans tossed with superior white balsamic vinaigrette, is also quite good... although the presentation -- a mountainous mishmash of ingredients that have obviously been allowed to freefall onto the plate from twenty-thousand feet -- would hardly be considered a feast for the eye.

When it comes to entrées, while the aforementioned salmon (once it had been cooked through) and the grilled swordfish ($25.00) do acquit themselves with reasonable distinction, red meat, as you would expect, is clearly this kitchen's strong suit.

The 14-ounce New York sirloin ($27.00) is lavishly textured yet mouth-wateringly tender and gushing with flavor. And the 12-ounce center-cut filet mignon ($30.00) is pure velvet and possesses infinitely more character than do most representatives of this particular genre. If you want to sample of best of both world, however, don't be shy about tying into the 24-ounce porterhouse ($30.00).

All entrées, it should be noted, are served with your choice of mustards, butters, or sauces. The shallot & dill butter, for example, makes a marvelous accompaniment for finny fare, whereas the Chophouse steak butter (garlic & herbs) marries quite well with the sirloin or porterhouse. And the Napa red wine demi-glace adds a nice assertive touch to the filet. The domestic lamb chops ($32.00), on the other hand, are so moist and savory that they are best enjoyed au naturel.

Side dishes are an integral part of the steakhouse repertoire, and those offered here are generally up to the mark. The mashed new potatoes ($5.00) are rich and buttery and simply impossible to resist; the Lyonnaise potatoes ($5.00) -- fried with onions -- are incredibly flavorful but not at all greasy; and the ragout of pan-roasted wild mushrooms enhanced with shallots and dash of sherry ($8.00) is outstanding. I also like the creamed spinach ($6.00) -- neither too creamy nor overwhelmed with nutmeg -- but much prefer the rendition that is sautéed with garlic and olive oil ($6.00). The broccoli ($6.00) is impeccably fresh and simply steamed, but the hollandaise sauce, which also accompanies the grilled asparagus ($7.00), falls flat.

Desserts ($7.50), if you still have room, run the usual routes. Although... the upside down apple pie, bolstered by a deliciously crunchy almond crust and dollop of Bassetts cinnamon ice cream, is well worth considering. Failing that, I'd go for either the New York-style cheesecake or Key lime pie.

Majoring in red wines, particularly cabernets, the wine list is both impressive and reasonably priced. The 1998 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley "Alluvium" ($60.00) is soft, lush, and silky, and the 1998 Travaglini Gattinara ($50.00) is a bit lighter on the palate but just as satisfying. By the glass, I'd suggest the Rosemount Shiraz ($8.00), Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir ($10.00), and the Rancho Zabaco Sauvignon Blanc ($7.50). The restaurant also sports an excellent selection of after dinner libations.

Whether dining for business or pleasure, whatever the occasion, a visit to The Chophouse is highly recommended.

Cuisine: Steak plus
Hours: Mon - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Smoking: Smoking is permitted in the bar only.
Reservations: Highly recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; excellent wine list
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

2001 James Beard Award Nominee
Journalism


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