Note: Jersey Bites was invited to attend this event. The meal was complimentary.
Like one big Italian family, our group of food bloggers sat at a long table inside Joe Italiano’s Maplewood. On Wednesday, February 7, the Moorestown Mall hosted a media tasting event to celebrate the grand opening of its two newest restaurants.
Joe Italiano’s Maplewood: An Inside Look
We waited for our food to arrive inside one of Maplewood’s cozy, private dining rooms. Our servers brought out a few of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, including their raspberry martini. I’m not a drinker, but my husband enjoyed sipping the Gentleman’s Jack, a drink that will appeal to fans of sour cocktails. The room filled with laughter and the clinks of martini glasses.
As we sat, Maplewood’s current owner, Jimmy Italiano, provided an oral history of the Maplewood legacy. In 1945, Italiano’s father, Joe Italiano Jr., founded Maplewood’s flagship location in Hammonton, New Jersey. He named the restaurant after a grand maple tree on the property. In 1981, Italiano opened his second restaurant in Mays Landing. Although Italiano Jr. passed away in 2014, his family has continued to expand Maplewood’s presence in South Jersey. Last month, the Italiano family opened the new Moorestown location, marking Maplewood’s first foray into Burlington County.
The Moorestown location’s dark, modern ambiance might surprise diners familiar with the original Maplewood. But Italiano assures our group that the family-owned restaurant’s tradition of homemade Italian cuisine has not changed. In fact, much of the cooking is still done using the same cast-iron skillets passed down through generations of Maplewood ownership.
Time to Eat
The meal began with fresh-baked, seeded Italian bread and garlic toast, which Maplewood sources daily from Lucca’s Bakery in Winslow. With its soft, pillowy interior surrounded by a flaky crust and served with a side of butter, the bread proved a crowd favorite during our tasting. We sampled several appetizers, including my favorite: crispy fried calamari with marinara dipping sauce.
Our main courses included veal parmigiana and chicken parmigiana, each served with a side of homemade spaghetti made fresh daily at P&S Ravioli Company. Our group raved about the meatballs, which were tender and full of flavor. Because they come from old family recipes, several of Maplewood’s dishes are named after Italiano family members. Uncle Nino’s spaghetti, my favorite of the main courses, was topped with lobster, shrimp, Dungeness crab, and clams. The dish is served with diner’s choice of white or red sauce. We sampled the white sauce, which was light with a spicy kick.
For dessert, we chowed down on chocolate chip cannolis and raspberry-drizzled cheesecake with a thick graham cracker crust. In both desserts, I could taste a hint of cinnamon. All of Maplewood’s pastries are prepared in-house by pastry chef Antoinetta Romato, who was trained in Italy.
By the time we left Maplewood, I was certain I wouldn’t be able to eat another bite. Still, we made our way to Hash House, which is set in the 7,800-square-foot space formerly occupied by Distrito. The Hash House story begins in 2000, when Executive Chef Andy Beardslee, of Indiana, and co-founder Jimmy Rivera, of San Diego, opened the first Hash House. Beardslee learned to cook classic comfort foods from his mother and grandmother. Today, Hash House offers midwestern comfort foods, each with a modern, Southern California-inspired twist. Hash House’s new Moorestown location marks their first restaurant to hit New Jersey.
Welcome to Hash House a Go Go
Somehow, I managed to find room for more food. Our meal began with Hash House deviled eggs topped with bacon. We then sampled their fried green tomato stack, a visually-stunning tower of tomatoes stacked atop a slice of pineapple. Hash House’s Bacon, Bacon, Bacon appetizer, with salty, savory bacon glazed with sweet brown sugar, was served in a mason jar alongside a single romaine lettuce leaf. Although I don’t feel as passionately about bacon as many foodies do, this appetizer was good—seriously, good.
Then came Hash House’s signature brown sugar banana flapjack, a pancake large enough to feed our entire group with leftovers to take home. (After all, there’s a reason Hash House staff compares the pancake to a tractor wheel.) Our server informed us that if diners order the flapjack to go, they can take it home in a pizza box. Caramelized on the outside and fluffy on the inside, I remarked to my husband that the flapjack was the best pancake I’d ever tasted. We agreed that returning to Hash House would be worth it just to taste that pancake again.
Next we sampled Hash House’s most famed dish: sage fried chicken and waffles. Like the fried green tomato stack, this visually stunning dish earned a series of “oohs” and “ahhs” from our group. Several attendees were particularly impressed by the level of detail in the dish: a strip of bacon contained inside each waffle and a steak knife set inside the center of the presentation to hold it all together.
Beverages for the Books
Throughout the meal, our server brought out several Hash House cocktails for sampling. Hash House is big on their visuals, and their Famous Hash House Smores Mocha—which can be made alcoholic upon request—is no exception. Topped with marshmallow and graham cracker and artistically drizzled with chocolate, the smores mocha made my mouth water. Served in a barrel mason jar, the Huckleberry Sin cocktail was topped with blueberries, lemon, and mint garnish.
Perusing the menu, I noticed that Hash House offers fried green tea. As a tea lover, I have never encountered fried tea, so I asked our server about the beverage. He explained that frying the tea results in a unique flavor. I declined a sample of it for the same reason I didn’t try the smores mocha: caffeine near bedtime usually leads to insomnia for me. But I’m looking forward to visiting Hash House for brunch and sampling it then.
While Hash House is a chain with a dozen locations throughout the U.S.—primarily in the midwest—Hash House aims to make each restaurant unique by working with local purveyors. At their Moorestown location, Hash House sources their baked goods from Boaggio’s Bread Inc., in Mount Laurel. In the summer, Hash House gets its blueberries from farms in Hammonton, known to many as the Blueberry Capital of the World. Much of their produce comes from J. Ambrogi Foods, headquartered in Thorofare. In addition to sourcing local ingredients, Hash House’s mission also supports green restaurant practices like recycling and water-on-request.
With its modern red and black walls and old-fashioned farm decor, Hash House’s ambiance is a lot like its food: a blend of classic and hip. Ideal for casual date nights or family brunches, Hash House has already proven a popular local hangout: the restaurant and bar were packed by the time we left.
Changes at the Mall
Hash House and Maplewood represent just one part of the Moorestown Mall’s recent revitalization efforts. Currently, PREIT—the real estate group that manages the mall–is also reimagining the 25,000 square-foot space formerly occupied by Macy’s. Home Sense, Five Below, and Sierra Trading Post recently opened inside the former department store.