The Best Things We Ate This Month: December 2023

In the final month of 2023, New Jersey Digest Editors enjoyed plenty of good food—as we tend to do every month. From charred, thin-crust pizzas and seafood stews to braised beef cheeks and steaming bowls of ramen, these are the best things we ate in December. 

Italian Sub – Porta Rossa

160 Jacoby St, Maplewood, NJ 07040

Italian Sub | Porta Rossa

New Jerseyans live and die by the legendary Italian sub . It’s a true working-class meal—meat, cheese, more meat and something zingy to bring it all together. Even though this formula has been established, there is always room for improvement. At Porta Rossa in Maplewood, NJ, they serve up a serious contender for best Italian sub in Essex County. Prosciutto, salami, ham, provolone, shredduce (AKA shredded lettuce), oil, vinegar and even the often-criticized mayonnaise make up Porta Rossa’s version of the Northeast classic. It’s well worth going out of your way for.

Chicken Katsu Sandwich – Tenmomi

22 Washington Ave, Nutley, NJ 07110

Chicken Katsu Sammy | Tenmomi

Remember a few years back when Popeye’s released a chicken sandwich and people waited over an hour to try it? Yeah, us too. Glad that’s over. However, one good thing to come out of the fried chicken sandwich craze was, well, more chicken sandwiches—everywhere. At Tenmomi, a ramen pop-up in Nutley, NJ, they serve a chicken sandwich that fuses the American classic with plenty of Japanese verve. Fluffy potato bun, crispy Japanese chicken katsu, Chef KC’s own drama oil (house garlic oil, can be purchased here), mayo, teriyaki sauce and a crisp miso pickle—what more could you ask for? 

Chicken “Scarpariello” – Felina

18 Prospect St, Ridgewood, NJ 07450

Chicken Scarp | Felina

When you hear the words “chicken scarpariello” you probably think of chicken thighs, sausage, spicy vinegar peppers, maybe some white wine and potatoes—roasted and braised. At Felina, Chef Joe Tartamella is serving up the Italian-American classic with a bit of new-age panache. Perfectly cooked chicken breast marries with sausage and pickled peppers to produce a sauce that lathers the whole dish. What was so pinpointable about it was that every bite of chicken was flavored with sausage—something that has perplexed me since. Felina doesn’t totally reinvent the wheel, but it does change how you view the red sauce classic.  Felina was also just named one of our 25 best restaurants of 2023

French Onion Grilled Cheese – Turf Surf & Earth 

46 E Main St, Somerville, NJ 08876

French Onion Grilled Cheese | Turf Surf & Earth

In December, we attended one of Beyond the Plate’s tours of Somerville, NJ. The food-centric tour included an array of tasty bites and sips. This French onion grilled cheese from Turf Surf & Earth included gruyere cheese and caramelized onions, sandwiched between two griddled pieces of bread. To ensure maximum deliciousness, the sandwich comes with a sidecar of French Onion soup to dip in. Talk about messy good. 

Tokyo Ramen – 7 Doors Down Ramen Co. 

271-273 Glenwood Ave, Bloomfield, NJ 07003

Tokyo Ramen | 7 Doors Down Ramen Co.

A decade ago, ramen was hard to come by in North Jersey, but today, we are lucky enough to have dozens of options when it comes to the Japanese noodle soup. With that being said, 7 Doors Down produces what is probably the best bowl you can get. The Tokyo ramen in particular is mind-blowingly good, with a combination of pork and chicken broth, seared pork belly, mushrooms and nori. The broth at this Peruvian-style ramen shop is what really sets it apart—deeply flavorful, and brought to life by a savory shoyu tare. 

(Note: The Tokyo bowl typically comes with a soy-marinated egg, but Food + Drink Editor Peter Candia despises eggs with his entire being)

1986 Thin Crust Pizza – Ava’s Kitchen & Bar

1 N 21st St, Kenilworth, NJ 07033

Thin Crust Pie | Ava’s Kitchen & Bar

Ava’s in Kenilworth serves one of New Jersey’s best pizzas—full stop. But, they have a secret up their sleeve. On Sundays, Ava’s is dishing out a pizza special that differs slightly from their usual crisp, but puffy crust. The 1986-style thin-crust pizza is a true miracle, especially if you’re someone who prefers thinner pizzas to the typically-seen cornichon that comes from a wood-fired oven. The same great flour and natural fermentation is still used, but without a full proof, allowing for a thinner and crisper pie. If you’re a fan of that flavorful char that Ava’s has become known for on their pizzas, then the Sunday pie is sure to please. 

Cioppino – Peter’s House

Cedar Grove, NJ

Chip-a in! Chip-a in! | Peter’s House

Food + Drink Editor Peter Candia hosted Christmas Eve this year and as such, put together his version of the feast of the seven fishes (there were actually nine, but don’t tell anyone). The final course was this cioppino—a seafood stew born from Italian-American fishermen in San Francisco. Legend has it, at the end of the work day, each worker would throw their catch into the pot: “Chip-a in! Chip-a in!” they would yell in their Italian accents. Thus, the name “cioppino” was born. Peter’s version featured a full-bodied shellfish stock, clams, mussels, shrimp, fennel and lump crab meat. It was a feast in and of itself. 

Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese – Sparo’s Deli

197 B Bellevue Ave, Montclair, NJ 07043

T.H.E.C. / P.R.E.C. | Sparo’s Deli

We released a list of the best Taylor Ham, egg and cheeses in October along with the expert himself, TeamTaylorNJ, but we might need to update it because this version from Sparo’s in Upper Montclair packed some serious heat. Nothing was reinvented here, just the classic sandwich—Taylor Ham (fine, or pork roll), American cheese, fried egg and ketchup on a steamy hard roll. Layered with perfection, Editor-In-Chief Michael Scivoli says it’s one of the best he’s had all year. 

Braised Beef Cheek – Viaggio 

1055 Hamburg Tpke, Wayne, NJ 07470

Braised Beef Cheek | Viaggio x Fiorentini Collab Dinner

Chef Antonio De Ieso (Fiorentini) and Chef Robbie Felice (Viaggio) teamed up at the beginning of the month for their second-ever collaboration dinner. This time, the meal revolved around everybody’s favorite fungus: the truffle. Each course was remarkable—showing both chefs aptitudes for bold and inventive flavors—but, the final savory course of the evening was something exceptional. Felice served a braised beef cheek with fresh horseradish, mustard greens, fried gnocchi and, of course, a healthy dose of shaved truffle. The beef was fall-apart tender with just the right amount of heat from the horseradish. It was undoubtedly one of Felice’s best dishes to date. Yeah, seriously. My only gripe is that I’ll (likely) never have it again. 

About the Author/s

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

Michael is the Editor-in-Chief of New Jersey Digest, COO of X Factor Media, and an avid writer. Growing up in Bergen County, he discovered his passion for words while in Friday detention. Michael loves kayaking, a fat glass of Nebbiolo, and over-editing.

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