MO Café & Grill
(Formerly at the Ritz Center in Voorhees)
373 Egg Harbor Road
Washington Township, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
Ensconced in the heart of yet another strip-mall/mega-movie complex,
this stylish, bustling BYOB occupies the space formerly inhabited by the
Bluegill Café. And MO's interior design -- a curvaceous California chic
combo of colors, shapes, and textures -- screams "Wolfgang Puck Slept
Here" from every corner and banquette. The restaurant also serves up its
offerings on snow white plates whose curvy countenances prove the perfect match
for the dapper décor.
The decorative scheme has changed very little from its original
incarnation... but there the similarity ends. Whereas the Bluegill majored in a
series of hit or miss gastronomic gimmicks (appetizers and entrées named after
movie stars, for instance), chef/proprietor Michael O'Mara -- formerly of
Philadelphia's La Truffe and Café Society and the 841 Wood Fired Grill in
Marlton -- serves up some absolutely first-rate culinary offerings from his
energetic open kitchen. These encompass an eclectic array of small plates,
scintillating salads, au courant brick oven pizzas, and
globally-inspired main courses. The brick oven also turns out scrumptious
piping hot rolls that prove to be exceedingly homey harbingers of the
delectably diverse palatable pleasantries yet to come.
The engaging selection of small plates allows diners the option of doing a
bit of gastronomic grazing in lieu of a regular size entrée or choosing one as
an appetizer before moving on to the restaurant's "Main Plates." If
you happen to be in the mood for seafood, for example, you might elect to start
things off with the lobster and crab nachos in the company of avocado salsa and
smoked Gouda ($11.00) followed by either the pan-fried calamari ($9.00) or
prosciutto-wrapped scallops with micro green salad ($11.00). Should you be
feeling more culinarily carefree, there's always the homemade kettle chips
bathed in melted Gorgonzola ($8.00).
My own favorites include the tempura-battered string beans ($7.00) and
cheese steak spring rolls ($10.00). The green beans are cooked just right --
marvelously crunchy to the bite -- and are given over to the loving embrace of
an absolutely ethereal tempura batter. And the sweet/sour mustard dipping sauce
offers just enough punch to maintain the palate's undivided attention. The
cheese steak rolls are absolutely scrumptious and thoroughly addictive. The
crisp golden brown exterior yields to a moist, creamy core rife with tender
beef, melted cheese, and savory seasonings. A ramekin of spicy ketchup and
smattering of fried Vidalia onions are perfectly complementary finishing
Either salad or soup also makes a splendid opening move. Among the former, I
would highly recommend the tri-color wedge ($10.00) -- iceberg, red leaf, and
Boston lettuces -- sprinkled with crisp bacon, surrounded by quarters of
hard-cooked egg and crowned with one grilled shrimp. A judiciously applied
zesty homemade Thousand Island dressing strikes just the proper consummating
chord. When it comes to the latter, two freshly made soups are available each
day ($6.00). Recently sampled was an exceptionally seasoned hearty potato
pottage imbued with bacon, cheddar cheese, and scallions.
Even before arriving at the so-called "Main Plates," there are
still a number of interesting dining options. One may, for example, decide to
zero in on the first-rate individual brick oven pizzas ($11.00). The
"Margherita" -- fresh buffalo mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and Thai
basil -- is very, very good and certainly the most straightforward of the lot.
Then, of course, there's always the "Smoked Salmon" route, comprised
of goat cheese, caramelized red onion, and crispy capers; "Barbeque
Chicken" with smoked Gouda, scallions, and Alfredo dipping sauce; or the
"Chorizo Sausage," also featuring grilled chicken, shrimp, bacon,
chopped tomatoes, and saffron infused oil.
But even these don't exhaust your casual choices. If you happen to be
overwhelmed with a craving for a great burger, this is the perfect spot to
assuage that hunger. MO's version ($15.00) is prepared with Kobe beef,
topped with Gruyere cheese, and garnished with smoked bacon, a juicy slice of
Jersey tomato, and companioned by crisp, battered pommes frites.
Needless to say, the entire package is completely irresistible. Burger fans
Among the regular entrées, the cedar plank salmon ($19.00) is particularly
noteworthy. It is at the very peak of good health, nicely grilled, and
presented with tender baby bok choy and pan-seared butter gnocchi that is
pleasantly firm to the bite rather than feathery. Also highly recommended is the
crisp cranberry/pistachio-encrusted tilapia paired with Israeli couscous
The moist chicken Milanese ($19.00) is caressed by Asiago cheese and served
with an excellent cauliflower gratin that is also available as a side ($5.00);
bucatini ($19.00) -- thin, hollow pasta -- is served Bolognese-style imbued
with pancetta and sautéed onions; and the wasabi-crusted filet mignon ($29.00)
is partnered with luscious roasted shallot mashed potatoes and finished with a
zippy ponzu sauce.
The "Veal Trio" ($27.00) -- saltimbocca, francaise, Oscar --
accompanied by a savory roasted garlic orzo and beautifully grilled asparagus
spears is also quite good. My only qualm here is that the uniform sizes and
texture of the medallions seem to suggest processed veal rather than fresh
cutlets. If this suspicion is in error, apologies are duly offered.
Desserts ($7.00) are the weakest aspect of MO's culinary repertoire.
Apart from the banana chocolate peanut butter spring rolls, which are made
in-house and are quite excellent, other offerings are imported from off campus
and generic at best, including a strictly rank-and-file Oreo torte that tasted
like it had spent entirely too much time languishing in the nether regions of
The only other problem here is a logistical one. In the bleak midwinter, the
tables situation along the wall of windows are decidedly drafty... and even
more so when the front door swings open, permitting the mistral to blow down
this icy corridor and chill diners to the bone. If you wish to stay warm,
prevail upon the powers-that-be to seat you in one of the cozy booths along the
MO Café & Grill is the perfect spot for a casual chow-down before
or after checking out the latest flick (there is even a temperature-controlled
wine cabinet where diners may leave their vintages before a movie at the Ritz
and return later for dinner). If your dining experiences have become somewhat
humdrum affairs of late, this energetic eatery is guaranteed to add a little
pizzazz to your gastronomic pursuits.
Cuisine: Northern Italian
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs,
4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. -
9:00 p.m.; Sat & Sun Brunch: 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Handicapped Accessible: Yes