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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Shelby's
4 Main Street
Hamburg, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 209-0300

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
6/1/98

This review reflects the critic's impressions of the restaurant under previous ownership. New ownership began in 2001. The Artful Diner will return for an update in the near future.

If you've ever found yourself on safari in the Garden State's outback in search of proper dining facilities, Shelby's is an absolutely essential addition to your little back book of restaurant possibilities. After all, who knows when you might be passing through the wilds of Sussex County in need of civilized physical sustenance? On the other hand, you might just decide to make this gastronomic pilgrimage for its own sake... Yes, Shelby's is that good.

A lovingly restored former bank building, this enchanting establishment boasts delicate lace curtains, pressed-tin ceilings and tasteful shades of celery and "Martha Stewart" green. And the proprietors, Terry and Susan Earl, also add their own special touch of class to the surroundings. Mr. Earl is most often seen holding court behind the diminutive antique bar, shaking and stirring up a variety of preprandial potions for his appreciative patrons; his wife is the consummate hostess, as charming and stylish as the understated country decor.

But all would be for naught, of course, were it not for the superior quality of the food. Chef Joseph Salonia, formerly of Ruga in Oakland and Brooklyn's River Cafe, combines the best of American, Mediterranean and Asian cookery--and few have fused these divergent culinary cultures as seamlessly.

Who could possibly resist his incredible appetizer of Japanese fried shrimp? These yummy crustaceans are lightly battered and then fried and served on a salad of daikon and napa cabbage--with the wasabi and soy honey sauces providing just the right touch of pizzazz.

Various soups and salads are just fine... But the pasta dishes, which may be ordered as appetizers or entrees, present more interesting possibilities. Take the rigatoni, for instance. It's served up with assorted grilled veggies, spinach and plum tomato sauce... and then finished with lusciously rich shavings of Asiago cheese. Another favorite, which puts in frequent guest appearances in a host of shapely pasta guises, is roasted chicken and chorizo sausage accompanied by white beans and escarole in a white wine chicken broth. The perfect (and utterly delicious) cure for those "tomato sauce blues."

When it comes to entrees, the special piscatorial offerings are always worthy of your consideration. Fish chefs, or so they say, are born and not made... and Mr. Salonia is certainly proof of that old adage. He is marvelously adept at treating these finny creatures with the delicate touch they so richly deserve.

He might begin, for example, with salmon... and then add a number of intriguing embellishments. On one occasion, it might benefit from a prolonged swim in a soy honey marinade before being presented on wilted greens with a carrot ribbon salad and tangy citrus vinaigrette. Or it may arrive at table in the company of an eggplant potato pancake, sherry soaked shallots and an intriguing lemon/olive/tomato vinaigrette. Of course, the potato wrapped red snapper and seared Florida pompano should not be dismissed out of hand either.

Among the other items under consideration, the mesquite grilled pork tenderloin undoubtedly tops my list of personal recommendations. Rich and succulent, it is served with savoy cabbage, bacon, onions and mashed sweet and white potatoes. A perfectly marvelous combination of flavors and textures. The veal chop in mushroom brandy sauce is another winner. Ditto a special rack of lamb rubbed with grain mustard and bread crumbs.

You will dine well here; this is the kind of robust fare that satisfies psychologically as well as physically... And--unless your abdominal capacity happens to exceed that of a ravening hyena--you are not likely to depart grumbling about "small portions." Whatever the state of your appetite, however, make certain that you leave room for Beth Scholl's wonderful desserts. Ms. Scholl, who is also responsible for the restaurant's tasty assortment of breads, biscuits and muffins, turns out a streusel-topped apple pie that is destined to become (if it has not already) an American classic. Her lemon tartlettes are memorable, her chocolate creations are lighter than air, and her creamy rice pudding gives "comfort food" a whole new meaning. Perfect endings to a perfect meal.

Shelby's service is professional, the casually-attired clientele sophisticated, and the atmosphere decidedly romantic. Indeed, you will inevitably spy an interesting variety of couples in attendance--enjoying both the cuisine and each other's company--either sipping one of Mr. Earl's potent libations or choosing an appropriate vintage from the reasonably-priced wine list.

Hours: Mon - Thurs, 5 - 8 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5 - 9 p.m.; Sun, 4 - 8 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: This is a nonsmoking restaurant
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Ample street parking
Price: Approximately $100 - $125 per couple (including tax & gratuity)

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