Sunday, June 12, 2011

Old Man Rafferty's - Hillsborough, New Jersey

Pork Medallions with Gnocchi
Today my two daughters had their dance recital, and a few family and friends came out to see them- so we felt it was a great opportunity to take everyone out for dinner. Luckily, there's a local restaurant that serves well crafted, yet comforting food at a fair price (and has a killer selection of desserts) called Old Man Rafferty's.

Old Man Rafferty's has a great vibe to it- high quality food that clearly shows a great deal of pride and craftsmanship without crossing the line into pretension- and a relaxed, family friendly atmosphere that is very "pub-like" for lack of a better term. The menu basically has something for everyone- classic comfort dishes such as barbecue ribs or meatloaf (it's listed as "I'll have the Meatloaf" on the menu) to more complex dishes that read like a fusion of classic American and rustic Italian cuisines- something that is, personally, right up my alley. Dishes such as a Mediterranean Sea Bass served on a bed of asparagus risotto still have that comfort food charm, but have enough complexity to keep a self-styled "foodie" happy as well.

This is what I call a dessert menu...
Old Man Rafferty's also has a notable selection of desserts- in fact they display them prominently in the entryway. This was my second trip to Old Man Rafferty's, so I knew from experience that the printed dessert menu is basically a guideline, and that the display case is the real menu.

I would post a photo of the dessert my wife and I shared- a chocolate cake with cappuchino and peanut butter based cream fillings... however, when it arrived, we wasted no time tucking into it- it did not last long enough to snap a photo...

For my dinner, I chose what seemed to be one of the more complex dishes on the menu- titled "Pork Medallions" - the title belies what the dish really is though. The dish does indeed feature pork medallions served with a rich demi-glace. The side component is what interested me the most though, and, in fact stole the spotlight from the pork.

That side was a healthy serving of ricotta gnocchi sauteed with radicchio and spinach and oh so lovely ribbons of prosciutto. The sauteed components have a lingering seared pork flavor about them that implies that they were sauteed in the same pan used to sear the pork medallions- giving them a rich smoky undertone. Th gnocchi were pillow soft, and surprisingly light- with a little sear on them from the pan that gives them a nice bite. Honestly, I think the gnocchi dish could have easily stood on it's own without the pork, the demi-glace or the mashed potatoes that were hiding under the pork. I did, in fact, enjoy all of these components both on their own and in the context of the dish as a whole, it just struck me that the gnocchi could have easily been it's own dish, and one that I would order again. That said- the pork portion of the dish still made sense- the porky richness that permeated everything tied it all together into a cohesive dish. To me it read like two entrees in one tied together with the common note of pork throughout.

The restaurant is actually the second of three locations- the original flagship Old Man Rafferty's is a few miles down the highway in New Brunswick, New Jersey near the Rutgers University Campus, and a more recent third location is in Bruce Springsteen's home town, Asbury Park. The quality and attention to detail in the food, the unpretentious comfort food angle evident in even them more complex dishes, and the comfortable pub-style atmosphere have clearly been successful enough to build a small restaurant empire- thankfully, part of that empire is (a very short) drive from home. I've been a patron at Old Man Rafferty's before, and would gladly dine there again.

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