(Restaurant Now Closed)
191 Woodport Road
Sparta, Sussex County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
March 10, 2008
Tucked away at the far end of a quiet strip mall in the space formerly
occupied by Francesca's, proprietor Don Luisi's Doc's is really two
restaurants in one. By day, the atmosphere is sedate and subdued, offering
business associates -- or lovers -- the promise of a peaceful, unhurried
repast. At night, on the other hand, the music picks up, the attractive bar
swings into action, and the atmosphere seems to reverberate with a kind of
finely controlled incendiary incitement. But whether you come for lunch or
dinner -- or both -- you will undoubtedly be well served, soothingly seduced by
the fruit of the vine, and, for the most part, convivially coddled by the
cuisine emanating from the establishment's bustling open kitchen.
If you arrive early in the evening, your first stop will undoubtedly be the
aforementioned busy but comfortable bar. Here you'll be wooed by an array of
complimentary olives & seasoned chips and an intriguing catalog of
specialty martinis ($9.00 - $11.00). If you do decide to perch here for a
preparandial libation, you'll have a bird's-eye view of chef/co-partner Mike
Juliano giving last minute instructions to the wait staff. This will also
afford you opportunity to peruse the establishment's first-rate wine list. By
the glass, you might consider the Estancia Pinot Noir ($9.00), the always
reliable and reasonably priced Rosemount Shiraz ($6.00), or the soft and oaky
Simi Chardonnay ($9.00). By the bottle, I'd recommend the heady 2004 Estancia
Red Meritage ($48.00), Ruffino Chianti Reserva Ducale Gold ($62.00), or the R.
Stuart "Big Fire" Pinot Gris from Oregon ($30.00).
In its previous incarnation, the dining area was extremely noisy. But this
problem has been somewhat mitigated with the installation of carpeting, rich
dark woods, and sound absorbing archways. Patrons may now settle into cushy
leather chairs surrounded by crisp white & tan napery and be able to carry
on a civilized conversation with their table companions.
Doc's majors in traditional steakhouse fare with an emphasis on wood
grilling. The Black Angus New York strip (10-ounce, $22.00/14-ounce, $28.00),
for example, is beautifully charred, bursting with flavor, and exceedingly
juicy and tender. Absolutely the best New York strip it has ever been my
pleasure to ingest. Also highly recommended is the velvety beef tenderloin
(6-ounce, $18.00/12-ounce, $34.00); and for those with ravenous appetites, the
house's signature prime dry-aged 20-ounce bone-in sirloin shell ($40.00).
The only disappointment in the red meat department proved to the sliced
Brazilian skirt steak ($18.00). Cut from the beef flank, skirt steak is the
diaphragm muscle, which lies between the abdomen and the chest cavity. It is a
long, flat piece of meat that can be exceptionally flavorful but also quite
tough if improperly cooked -- precisely the problem here. Instead of being
quickly grilled, it was obviously overcooked, which rendered the flesh both
chewy and tough.
Seafood, however -- which may be prepared wood grilled, blackened, or pan
seared (I opted for the former) -- is right on the money. Both the salmon filet
($22.00) and the swordfish steak ($25.00) were beautifully imprinted with
gentle kisses from the grill, as attractive to the eye as they were pleasing to
the palate. And both, while cooked though (that is, not translucent at the
center), precisely as ordered, retained their moist, succulent countenance to
In typical steakhouse fashion, you may supplement your entrée with a variety
of separately priced sides. The fresh baby creamed spinach ($8.00), presented au
gratin topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, is superb and
definitely worth the significant added expenditure. The beer-battered onion
rings ($5.00) are very good, as are the crisp, lightly battered fries ($5.00)
and the traditional mashed ($4.00). And Doc's potatoes ($4.00) --
skin-on perfectly roasted thinly sliced spuds sprinkled with sea salt -- are
Since all main courses include a diminutive chopped salad tossed with oil
& vinegar and sprinkling of herbs (and the addition of crumbled Rosenberg
bleu cheese, $1.50, is an absolute must), you may wish to take a bye on the
appetizers. On the other hand... you may just be in the mood to sample either the
delicious blackened jumbo shrimp ($12.00) or meaty blackened jumbo scallops
($12.00), both served up with a dynamite blue cheese slaw. And the delightfully
crisp and tender calamari ($10.00) are piled high and accompanied by ramekins
of thick marinara and chipotle & lime aîoli.
If you can't make dinner, lunch is certainly a viable and, as noted above, a
significantly more tranquil option. At the top of my list of midday
recommendations would be the Friday "Blue-Plate Special," the
luscious beer-battered fish and chips buttressed by lightly battered fries and
creamy homemade coleslaw ($8.00). Equally up to the mark is the classic iceberg
wedge doused with an earthy blue cheese dressing and crumbles of Rosenberg bleu
($8.00). There are, of course, innumerable variations on the "wedge"
retro theme, but this is one of the best renditions I have sampled anywhere.
Thick slices of ripe, meaty ugli tomatoes and chips of applewood smoked bacon
make their own unique contributions to the party, as do moist strips of wood-grilled
chicken ($6.00 additional).
As in most steakhouses, Doc's desserts are something of an
afterthought, and all are imported from off campus. The New York-style
cheesecake ($6.00), however, will prove to be a most satisfying conclusion to
your evening at table... as will a jolt of potent espresso ($2.00).
Whether dining for business or pleasure, lunch or dinner, Doc's
comfortable ambiance and comforting cuisine are guaranteed not to disappoint.
Hours: Dinner: Sun - Thurs 4 p.m. - 10 p.m. and Fri - Sat 4 p.m. - 11 p.m
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Recommended at dinner
Alcohol: License; excellent wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted?
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
E-mail Artful Diner!