If you’ve ever walked down Main Street in Ocean Grove you know the streets are lined with green, red, and pink canopies that cover small tables or racks of clothing and specialty goods. There are always people walking about, some with dogs, others with shopping bags or beach chairs depending on the season. Under one of those green canopies sits Yvonne’s Café, a small restaurant with big flavor.
Chef Oleg was born in Romania and learned to cook throughout his travels in Europe and the U.S. He cooks up an array of innovative dishes including Yvonne’s classic Italian specialties like Eggplant Rollentini and Mediterranean pasta featuring sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, spinach, feta cheese, and garlic to less traditional fare like Pacu (more to come on that later).
Yvonne opened Yvonne’s Café 6 years ago and couldn’t be happier with its success. The night before I came, they hosted a food critic and had a packed Friday and Saturday house. I decided to skip the crowds and dine with them on a drizzly summer evening where my husband and I shared the dining room with a few other customers.
Stepping into the small restaurant, you feel immediately at home. The décor is rustic (the building is very old – after all it is Ocean Grove) and the ceiling is beautiful. We were able to sit by the window and enjoy the bottle of red wine that we brought.
Our waiter was on top of his game. He greeted us, opened our wine and then delivered homemade roasted red pepper hummus with crostini to the table. Let’s just say, this topped any bread platter that’s normally served at other restaurants. Perusing through the menu made both of our taste buds do dances of delight. My husband ended up ordering the Red Wine Braised Lollipop Short Ribs served over polenta and kale. I decided to be a little more adventurous.
While reading the specials, our waiter told us that one of the plates of the evening would be Amazon Pacu ribs – a species related to the Piranha. I kindly asked our waiter to repeat what he had just said because after all, we’re in New Jersey, and I’ve never seen or heard of eating Piranha anywhere in the U.S. (for those of you that have, I’m impressed). Now, I love trying new things and since my sister-in-law had just come back from studying abroad in Brazil, I figured I would try it out. Our waiter assured me that it was delicious.
For those of you who only think of Pacus as those fish with the extremely sharp teeth in the Amazon, well you’re right, but apparently they are also are quite edible. (I also couldn’t help myself and kept repeating the line from Finding Nemo “I’m a piranha!) The Pacu is a robust fish with an oval shape, which is flattened laterally. It’s dark grey to silver and features darker spots on the fins. Since they are naturally found in the Paraguay-Parana River basin, farmers have started to farm-raise because of their popular taste. After doing some investigating I also found that Theodore Roosevelt wrote about eating pacu in his book Through the Brazilian Wilderness where he said pacu “were delicious eating.” I have found that pacu can be compared to striped bass, tilapia, and rainbow trout. Who knew?
Then our dishes arrived. Large colorful portions. My pacu ribs (yes ribs, there were small slivers of bones within each piece of meat) were blackened and served with risotto and kale. The meat of the pacu was delicious. I would compare it to the flavor of dark meat chicken with the flakiness of tilapia. I would eat it again in a heartbeat and only wish that Wegman’s carried it in their fish case.
After our adventurous eating, we saved some room for dessert (Yvonne’s Café won the 2012 Judge’s Choice Dessert Wars competition). Because we couldn’t help ourselves, we ordered one of each dessert off the menu. Yes, I know, absolutely crazy, but we really just had to up our game after those pacu ribs.
Our waiter delivered every dessert to us and they were all tasty, sweet, and the perfect ending to our meal. We tasted the key lime pie (a favorite of mine and lime green, just like it is in Key West which I later found out was because Chef Oleg lived in Key West), the banana cheesecake, the strawberry cheesecake, the tiramisu, the flourless chocolate cake, and our favorite a dessert that had chocolate gelato, whipped cream, biscotti, and fresh made espresso poured right over the gelato and cream at the table in a beautiful wine glass. I don’t drink coffee or any caffeine, but it looked too good not to try. My husband later said it was the best chocolate “shake” he’s ever had.
After our visit to Yvonne’s Café, I couldn’t believe that we had never been there for dinner before. Not only was the food outstanding, the service was great, and you really couldn’t ask for a nicer owner and creative chef to serve you. If you haven’t been already, go try their food and be sure to be adventurous! It’s worth every bite.
54 Maine Avenue
Ocean Grove, NJ
Open Daily for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Melissa Beveridge is a freelance journalist and editor, focusing on great food, healthy living, and wellness. Her passion for eating and living well embodies her writing. A lover of all things Jersey, she is also an avid traveler, always looking to discover those hidden culinary gems everywhere she goes. Her musings can be found on her blog mbeewell.wordpress.com. – See more at: http://www.jerseybites.com/the-team/#sthash.wcUGo7Ob.dpuf