Presided over by owner John Henry, Sr., and sons John, Jr., Gary, and
Gerald, John Henry's Seafood Restaurant has been a mainstay of Trenton's
Chambersburg section since 1988. Known for its plenteous portions, moderate
prices, Old World atmosphere, and friendly service, the restaurant's cuisine
isn't likely to hold any big surprises, but diners are certain to find it as
comforting and comfortable as the surroundings.
And the pleasant, diminutive bar sets just the proper tone for your evening
at table. Here you may enjoy your favorite preprandial libation or make a
selection from the compact wine list. Good bets by the glass include a light
and refreshing Aristcratico Pinot Grigio ($7.00), Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay
($6.00), sleek & seductive William Hill Merlot ($8.00), and lusty St.
Francis Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.00). By the bottle, the Franciscan Oakville
Chardonnay ($26.00) is an excellent choice, as are the rough and ready Ruffino
Chianti ($17.00) and more sophisticated Antinori Chianti Riserva ($33.00).
Smoking is permitted at the bar and in the adjacent subdued and softly lit
dining area. The room reserved for nonsmokers is a bright and cherry domicile
tastefully adorned with skylights, mirrors, and subtle hues of salmon and
green. Wherever you finally alight, however, you will be serenaded by the
mellifluous melodies of Al Martino, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Vale, Dean Martin, and
the haunting refrains of the theme from the Godfather.
Which brings us to the food... Politics, as they say, breeds strange
bedfellows -- and, in point of fact, so do matters culinary. Take, for example,
the unique symbiosis between steak and seafood. Leaving aside that maladroit
contrivance known as "Surf & Turf" -- which, incidentally, is
available on John Henry's bill of fare ($33.95) -- these two
comestibles, in the minds of many diners, have always been the objects of a
certain gastronomic ambivalence. So allow me to cut to the quick...
In my humble opinion, ordering seafood in a steakhouse (depending upon the
quality and reputation of the establishment, of course) is generally to be
considered a safe, sane, and socially acceptable practice. And the reason for
this is quite simple: X number of years ago, for various reasons of health,
Americans had red meat on the run. In order to survive, beef emporiums were
forced to add finny fare and other inhabitants of Davy Jones' locker to their
repertoires and prepare same with at least a modicum of proficiency. And even
though beef has staged a remarkable comeback, seafood continues to hold a
prominent place in many bovine-based chophouses.
Unfortunately, the obverse is usually not the case. I wouldn't go so far as
to say that anyone who orders steak in a seafood restaurant has a gastronomic
death wish... However, in my experience, meatier matters simply don't fare
terribly well within piscatorial precincts. In establishments majoring in
seafood, like John Henry's, for example, it is always better to swim
with the tide rather than against it.
And there is certainly a plethoric variety of excellent appetizers from
which to choose... The mini crab claw cocktail fingers ($7.95) are a first-rate
starter. Arranged in a circle on a bed of ice, an epicenter of homemade spicy
mustard sauce provides a zippy counterpoint to the sweet crabmeat. Pristinely
fresh clams (6 at $5.95; 12 at $9.95) and oysters ($7.95) may be ordered on the
half shell or casino-style (clams, $6.95; Maryland oysters, $7.95), adorned
with a spicy seasoning and topped with bacon.
The mussels ($6.95) -- sautéed in a white wine/olive oil/garlic sauce and
sprinkled with fresh basil, chopped tomatoes & garlic -- are of excellent
quality and completely devoid of sediment. My only quibble with this daily
special is the fact that the oil is much too pronounced, eclipsing rather than
enhancing the natural attributes inherent in the sauce. The Manhattan clam
chowder ($3.25 cup; $4.00 crock) is good but not exceptional and could use a
bit more pizzazz.
Among the non-seafood items, when Garden State beefsteaks are in season, the
Jersey tomato salad ($6.95) is not to be missed. The slices are thick and
meaty, topped with a basil leaf, mozzarella cheese, sprinkling of diced red
onions, crisscross of anchovies, and finished with an oil and vinegar dressing.
The salad is a simple but most satisfying mélange of colors, tastes, and
textures -- save for the anchovies, which throw the otherwise subtle balance of
flavors into a cocked hat. I would strongly suggest that these horrid little
fiends be eighty-sixed from the guest list, as the party will be infinitely
more enjoyable without them. You might also prevail upon the kitchen to go
light on the dressing, which, unchecked, tends to envelope all constituents in
an ostentatiously oleaginous outpouring.
... And an overabundance of oil also proves to be the Achilles' heel of
several of the entrées. The charcoal shrimp ($15.95), for example, are
beautifully seasoned, crunchy and delicious and set on a pillow of rice...
which, for some inexplicable reason, is awash with oil. The special black and
white sesame seed-encrusted tuna ($23.50) suffers from a similar fate and a
number of other problems as well. Accompaniments of wasabi mashed potatoes,
miniature charcoal-grilled shrimp, and sprinkling of chopped Jersey tomatoes
serve the dish well, but the tuna itself, ordered medium rare, arrives well
done and moves on to VERY well done at the drop of a fork. It is also too
heavily encrusted; and the portion size is so overwhelming that the
presentation isn't particularly attractive to the eye. Add to this the
aforementioned surfeit of oil and it only takes a few bites to completely turn
off the palate.
The most edifying entrées here are clearly those that require the least
amount of complicated preparatory procedures. Orange roughy ($17.95), for
instance... The filet is simply broiled with a touch of lemon, butter, and
white wine. Its moist, flaky texture is just right, as are its presentational
companions: a first-rate vegetable medley -- yellow squash, zucchini, snow
peas, and carrots -- and perfectly roasted potato wedges. Sweet, meaty sea
scallops ($18.95) are similarly prepared, as are the filet of flounder ($16.95)
and Boston scrod ($15.95).
Atlantic salmon ($18.95) -- which may be ordered poached, grilled, or
broiled -- is another good bet. However, when it is teamed up with a strawberry
cream sauce as a nightly special ($21.95), the two principals go at each other
like riled up strangers. Trust me, this is not a culinary match made in heaven.
And a soggy mound of vegetable couscous makes a decidedly poor chaperone.
You might also consider a number of Italian seafood specialties: lobster
tail, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and clams served up in marinara or fra
diavolo over linguine or angel hair ($27.95); littlenecks sautéed in red or
white clam sauce ($15.95); or tri-color seafood tortellini with scallops and
shrimp in an Alfredo cream sauce ($17.95). Or why not drop by on Tuesday
evening, "Lobster Night," and order a 1-1/4 pounder replete with
vegetables or pasta and a house salad for a mere $15.95?
Desserts are probably this restaurant's weakest link, but there are still
one or two that are worth considering. The macadamia/white chocolate cookie ice
cream sandwich garnished with strawberry coulis and crème anglaise
($5.50), for instance, is a down-home winner. And, although it is commercially
produced, I still find it hard to resist the seductive charms of Reese's peanut
butter pie ($4.95). The house-made tiramisù ($5.50) isn't bad either;
unfortunately, the representative sampled was frozen in the middle.
John Henry's isn't likely to impress you with either culinary
fireworks or environmental razzle-dazzle. But then, of course, it isn't trying
to. This is one establishment that seems to know instinctively its role in the
ultimate scheme of things... and it is perfectly content to offer its patrons a
warm welcome, pleasant surroundings, gracious service, and a solid array of
seafood at less than wallet busting tariffs. Whether dining at lunch or dinner,
for business or pleasure, John Henry's will surely make you feel...
well, yes... downright comfortable.
Cuisine: Seafood with Italian
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs,
4:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 3:00 p.m. -
Credit Cards: All major except Discover
Smoking: Separate nonsmoking section
Reservations: Highly recommended
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: www.johnhenrysseafood.com
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