2001 James Beard Award Nominee


Restaurant Reviews

Artful Weblog

Artful Weblog

Jersey Shore


Dining Articles

The Artful Diner Artful Diner logo
Black bar
Check out ArtfulDinerBlog.com.
NJ Reviews by Location Sussex County Restaurants Jersey Shore Washington DC Reviews

191 Woodport Road
Sparta, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 729-0555

(Restaurant Now Closed)

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 the last.

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 positively addictive.

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.

Cuisine: Steak/Seafood
Hours: Dinner: Sun - Thurs 4 p.m. - 10 p.m. and Fri - Sat 4 p.m. - 11 p.m
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended at dinner
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; excellent wine list
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.docsofsparta.com

The Artful 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.

Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted? E-mail Artful Diner!
Black bar
London Munich Jersey Shore DC Reviews