Valente’s Italian Specialties is Becoming Valente’s Cucina

A few weeks ago, Marcello De Feo announced that Valente’s Italian Specialties brick and mortar store would become Valente’s Cucina, a new Italian restaurant concept at 7 Kings Court in Haddonfield.

I sent Marcello a few questions to learn more about the transformation and what to expect at the Cucina.

South Jersey Food Scene: When did you decide to convert Valente’s Italian Specialties into Valente’s Cucina, in a town that already has many Italian restaurants?

Marcello De Feo: It was pretty organic and a decision that made itself, really. Haddonfield really does have a lot of Italian restaurants but so does Collingswood and they all seem to coexist. Truth be told, I did not want to be one of them. I never intended to focus on hot food and refused to make sandwiches for the longest time but the demand was there. So, I caved and I am glad I did. It became a bigger and more regular part of the business than the specialty products and I enjoyed making the food for people.

Now, I can bring the best of both concepts together. Combining those specialty products with freshly prepared foods is exciting. Instead of talking up a retail bottle of saba or bottarga, I could use them in dishes.  

Doing this gives me better quality control over the food too. Takeout and delivery really compromised the quality of the product, especially with third-party delivery services. Everything we make is made fresh from scratch and meant to be consumed that way. Dishes like Carbonara do not travel very well and food steams inside of takeout containers. So, I cut out the third-party services, limited what was available for delivery and decided to give people the option to sit and eat their food as soon as it is made.

SJFS: How much effort is involved? (I know you’re shutting down briefly for construction – what work will be involved in converting the space?)

MDF: There is a lot more effort than I expected but it will really be worth it in the end. There is no room for error in my space. Everything is transparent. We need to be as efficient as possible.

The first thing I did was to seek out the help of people who really excel at that. I hired Danielle Capozzi from Adorna Design and Lauren Hooks from Seedling Project Management to help me develop and organize the space. While cutting the kitchen size in half, they managed to increase storage space, give us more cooking equipment, add two types of seating, and design something that is incredibly beautiful.

We built banquette seating, a bar, cabinetry, a wet bar with wine storage, high end finishes, and a lot more. During the pandemic, we have been making gradual changes, which spread out the chaos of construction in both good and bad ways. The shape has evolved slowly over the last few months but it you have not been to Valente’s in a while, it will look completely different when you come in again.

SJFS: What can we expect at the Cucina? What will set you apart?

MDF: I pared down and split up the existing menu to create a Lunch menu of South Philly comfort foods and a Family Meal menu of Italian-American classics for takeout and delivery. Our kitchen will close from 3-5 to prep for dinner. During that time, the front of house will remain open and we will have a Café menu available for anyone who wants an espresso and biscotto.

When I think of Cucina, though, I think about dinner. That is the star of the show. In that regard, I think of it as more of a wine bar with a focused menu of small plates meant for sharing than I do an Italian restaurant. My heritage and experience permeate the menu but with a more liberal approach to Italian food. At its core, Italian cuisine is all about using a few fresh, local ingredients and making them shine. That is my goal. So, while I will approach menu development with the influence of Abruzzo in mind, I will be focused on using what is available around me. I have tentative plans to have some farmers grow ingredients for us and I hope, at some point, to have a bit of land I can use to grow ingredients too.

No matter the time of day, I want you to feel like you are in my home kitchen, like you are a member of my family. Naming it Cucina seemed perfect. Having a cozy space was a perfect pairing too.

SJFS: Who is working in the kitchen?

MDF: I am working on our roster. I am the Executive Chef. Jon D’anna (Sous Chef) and Harry Dallmer (Chef de Partie) remain on board from Valente’s Italian Specialties and we have hired an industry vet, Luis Contreras (Chef de Partie), who has worked in a number of great kitchens in and around Haddonfield over the years. He is quickly becoming the glue that holds everything together.

I have been in talks with Chef Antonio Lozzese from Milan who has worked in Michelin listed restaurants about joining us but that will remain on the back burner until the pandemic blows over and the restrictions on work visas loosen up again. My hope is to have him over here by 2021.

SJFS: Are you hiring or do you have all the staff you’ll need?

MDF: We just began hiring some front of house staff. I am really excited about a server we just hired. I have very high hopes for her. I hope to have her on full time and hire a second server to work part-time. If the last few weekend nights are an indication of what is to come, I will likely add another Sous at some point too.

SJFS: When do you expect to reopen?

MDF: Valente’s will only be closed for this upcoming week, really. The work that is being done right now is work that required everyone to be out of the building and it should not take too long to do. Of course, I just jinxed myself by saying that, though.

Our new sign should be done soon. If the timing works out, when we do reopen, it will be as Valente’s Cucina.

SJFS: Any special dinners coming in the future like you did last year?

MDF: I loved doing the outdoor fundraiser dinners with Walt (Gouldsbury), but there are no new ones in the works right now. He does make our desserts through The Custard Cart, though.

We may do some Founder & Signer pop-ups as the opportunities present themselves. Chef David Murray from Denim BYOB has hopped on board with us. He’s a great addition! What’s not to love about that guy?

I get a sense that, when the iron is hot, we will strike and open up a brick and mortar spot for F&S. There are no concrete plans for that, just my gut feeling. If a place pops up in Haddonfield that makes sense, I can see us making a move on it.

Looking forward to checking out Valente’s Cucina when it opens! Be sure to check it out when it does.

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Bubbakoo’s Burritos Reopens in Cherry Hill

Bubbakoo’s Burritos, a nationwide brand known for its Mexican-fusion style cuisine, is bringing back an original store in South Jersey.

The Cherry Hill restaurant, located in Camden County, NJ is soon-to-be back in business! After closing last December for some renovations and a change in ownership, the new franchisee, Danish Imtiaz is eager to reopen this store and implement his new ideas.

“I have great, new plans for the Cherry Hill Bubbakoo’s, and I can’t wait to get started!” says Imtiaz.

The popular Modified-Mex chain was founded in 2008 by seasoned industry veterans and restaurateurs, Bill Hart and Paul Altero. Their shared vision was to create something different; a build-your-own-burrito restaurant with fresh ingredients and a strong focus on customer service. Inspired by coastal life, our surf & skater décor and vibe offer a short getaway with each visit. Since the opening of their first location in Point Pleasant, NJ, Bubbakoo’s has expanded significantly throughout the country and continues to spread at a steady pace.

However, as COVID-19 has impacted the nation, it has also affected the expansion plans of many restaurants, including Bubbakoo’s Burritos. Maintaining the current stores and the wellbeing of the employees was the number one priority during these troubling times.       

As the country begins to reopen, Hart and Altero are ready to get their plans moving again. Bubbakoo’s Burritos will soon be opening several new stores across New York and New Jersey, with the grand reopening of Cherry Hill up next.

The Cherry Hill location opens its doors on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, at 56 Haddonfield Rd, Cherry Hill, NJ, and a Grand Reopening will follow shortly.

The location will be open for curbside pickup and delivery through Door Dash, Grub Hub, and Uber Eats. A few outdoor tables are also available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Lickety Splitz Ice Cream at Laurel Lanes Coming Soon

Laurel Lanes in Maple Shade announced that they will be opening a sweet & sinful handcrafted ice cream shop inside of the bowling alley where Tony Luke’s had previously been located. More details on Instagram:

I’m there for the alcohol-infused adult shakes! 😉

Laurel Lanes is located at 2825 Route 73 South, Maple Shade, NJ 08052.

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Where to Order Custom Grazing Boards in South Jersey

Let’s face it; entertaining will be slightly different this summer. Even as some COVID-19 restrictions gradually lift, large organized gatherings continue to be discouraged, and strict social distancing protocols are strongly recommended.

As sad as these times feel, you can still celebrate within the confines of your home or backyard by splurging on a custom cheese, charcuterie, or grazing board. Luckily, there are several small businesses in South Jersey that specialize in the creation of such boards for entertaining small crowds or JUST FOR YOU! 🙂

But First…What is a Grazing Board?

A grazing board is a small or large board or platter primarily featuring cured meats, cheeses, and crackers with a diverse array of accompaniments that can be tart, fruity, crunchy, smooth, or savory. Abundant and neatly organized, grazing platters act as gorgeous centerpieces and dramatic displays for entertaining. Typically offered as finger foods or nibbles at social affairs, these visually attractive spreads allow people to pick from and sample casually.

In other words, you’ve probably seen them many times at parties or events, but they’re getting a lot more attention these days for any occasion or no occasion at all.

Grazing Boards in South Jersey

Board Catering

Board Catering offers various sizes of grazing platters and board boxes featuring top-quality cured meats, varieties of cheese, fruits, fresh vegetables, nuts, olives, bread, dips, and chocolate. During the pandemic, customers can order The Q Box (Quarantine Box) and have a mystery box sent to them filled with goodies. Board delivers in the tri-state (NJ/PA/DE) area.

Cut + Board

Cut + Board offers a variety of artisanal charcuterie boards as well as a brunch box. Based in Cape May, owners Sarah and Andrea have a background in graphic design and luxury management, respectively. Sarah also owns a small farm and often uses ingredients from it on their boards.

Dream Boards

Dream Boards specializes in custom, one-of-a-kind sweet, and savory boards. Perfect for holidays, baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, brunches, and girls nights, boards can be unique and fit any theme the customer requests.

Farm to Board

Farm to Board builds meticulously-styled custom charcuterie boards sourced from the finest cheeses, freshest meats, unique and delicious accompaniments. They work with local purveyors as much as possible and offer contact-free home delivery.

Grazing Affair

Grazing Affair offers many bountiful boards and transportable takeaway boxes filled with fresh fruits and veggies, Italian meats and cheeses, crackers, homemade beet hummus, olives, dried fruits, and nuts. While grazing boards for events are not currently available due to COVID-19 restrictions, takeaway boxes are available for pickup in Medford on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Graze to the Occasion

Graze to the Occasion crafts visually stunning and playful grazing boards and platters for all occasions. They accept custom orders via Instagram.

What’s on your favorite grazing board?

The Little Sicilian Now Delivers Arancini with Free Shipping

With food truck season still uncertain, food trucks have come up with creative ways to stay in business. Some are delivering family meals to neighborhoods, some are parked, while others are adapting and creating a whole new business model.

The Little Sicilian, a South Jersey food truck specializing in authentic Italian riceballs, is rolling with the latter. Just recently, they launched an e-commerce business to sell and ship their famous arancini across the country.

The Little Sicilian Riceballs

The Collingswood-based company, which runs three trucks and employs five, has been hard hit by the lack of food truck events and corporate clients and needed to expedite selling their riceballs online offering all of their specialty flavors individually or in variety packs.

“We always had it in mind to ship our riceballs, but the quarantine and the lack of events forced us to move more quickly in establishing the e-commerce business,” John S., owner, told South Jersey Food Scene.

The Little Sicilian Riceballs Frozen [Photo: Marilyn Johnson]

Recently, I tried online ordering for myself and received a shipment. The riceballs are delivered frozen with ice packs inside the box they are shipped in and instructions for frying or baking are included. I opted to bake them in the oven on convection for 15 minutes as 10 minutes didn’t seem to get them up to temperature for me. Your oven may vary.

Then I took them out of the oven and pan-fried them for a couple of minutes on each side in a little EVOO for some crispiness and color on the outside. Served on a bed of baby arugula and a side of marinara, they were absolutely scrumptious!

The Little Sicilian Riceballs [Photo: Marilyn Johnson]

For a limited time, they are generously offering 15% off to the readers of South Jersey Food Scene. Simply use promo code “southjersey15” at checkout. If you’re a fan of this Italian street food staple, I suggest you order these arancini. Then come back here and tell me how good they are. 🙂

Please note: orders placed on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (and sometimes Thursday) can be delivered by Friday.

Samples were provided, but opinions are our own.
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Cupcake Carnivale Announces Brick & Mortar Opening in Moorestown Summer 2020

While there’s still a good bit of uncertainty over when restaurants and specialty food shops can open to allow customers inside, a popular South Jersey-based cupcake truck announced it will be opening a brick & mortar location in downtown Moorestown.

Cupcake Carnivale will take over the old location of The Cubby Hole, which, earlier in the year, moved into more spacious digs on Main Street.

The new bakery and cafe, located at 55 East Main Street is currently undergoing a fresh coat of paint and expects a Summer 2020 opening.

Once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, they will be serving brunch on the weekends offering such fare as scratch-made fluffy buttermilk biscuits and gravy, house-made granola and yogurt, and stuffed brioche French toast with seasonal fruit toppings.

The award-winning sweet food truck, known for its fancy cupcakes, started in 2012 by Jeffrey Jimenez and quickly became a food truck festival favorite in the Philadelphia and South Jersey area.

Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

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Groark Boys Drive-Thru BBQ at Washington Twp Senior Center

Just because we’re all being socially distant doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy good old-fashioned American BBQ. With BBQ season fast approaching, one South Jersey BBQ business is not letting canceled events stop them from firing up the grills.

On Thursday, May 28th, Groark Boys BBQ will set up their BBQ rig outside of the Washington Township Senior Center, located at 315 Greentree Road in Sewell, between 12:00 and 7:30 PM. Folks are encouraged to pre-order their meals for cashless and contactless pickup without leaving their vehicles.

Customers will have a choice of a pulled pork platter (with macaroni and cheese and slaw) or a rack of smoked baby back ribs.

Advanced orders can be placed online here.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Washington Township Mother’s Cupboard Food Pantry.

And — in case you missed it — Groark Boys BBQ recently won a $10,000 grant from Sam’s Club for small businesses struggling amid the coronavirus crisis. Nice job, guys! #SouthJerseyProud

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A & A Soft Pretzel Baking Co. in Camden Bakes On

The Great Depression. World War II. 9/11. 2008.

A 90-year-old soft pretzel baking company in Camden has seen a lot since it first opened in South Philly in 1929. Add the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 to the list.

A & A Soft Pretzel Baking Company located at 1100-1106 North 32nd Street in Camden is one of many small food businesses hurting by the coronavirus crisis. The South Jersey soft pretzel baking company has been impacted since a lot of their customers are closed and fundraising events paused.

“We deliver to a lot of places that are currently closed,” said Anthony Panara, fourth-generation owner of A & A. “With our customers closed, we don’t have that revenue stream. This is a test of agility for sure. We are adjusting our business like everyone else in these crazy times.”

Folks are always welcomed to pick up at their soft pretzel bakery in the Cramer Hill section of Camden. They’re using social media to promote a drive-up window for easy take out. They’ve also found a shipping solution so customers can order pretzels and have them delivered at home.

“We’re going to get through this like we’ve gotten through all the tough times in the past 90 years...focusing on the customer. They want quality ingredients, quality products, and quality customer service.” expressed Panara.

They are asking folks who want home delivery of soft pretzels, to get in touch with them to place an order and provide a shipping estimate. Call 856-338-0208.

You can follow them on their Facebook and Instagram pages (@a_and_a_soft_pretzel_baking_co) to see all of their specials and offerings.

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Valente’s Introduces Virtual Pasta Classes & Pasta Kits

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta? Valente’s Italian Specialties based in Haddonfield will be hosting virtual pasta making classes.

To get started, those interested would need to schedule their live class, then arrange to pick up the ingredients ahead of the class at Valente’s store at 7 Kings Court.

Each class including ingredients is $75.

Build your own pasta kits are also available which feature pasta cut, sauce, and meatball of your choice for $15.

Happy pasta eating!

Doing Good: Denim BYOB

I’m not sure if this will be a series of posts, but I wanted to call out some local restaurants who’ve stepped up to do more than just provide pickup and delivery during these turbulent times. They’re providing more than food, too.

When non-essential businesses were required to close to the public, many dine-in restaurants quickly saw their business plummet, some by more than 80%. Many decided to close altogether and simply ride it out temporarily. Denim BYOB in Haddonfield did just that.

But after a few weeks, Chef and owner David Murray started to become restless. Accustomed to working up to 90+ hour weeks at his Kings Highway restaurant, sitting around doing nothing isn’t his style. So, he decided to re-open with a revamped daily menu covering both brunch/lunch and dinner options at affordable price points.

“We’re not paying our bills doing this, but we’re trying to offer people inexpensive food,” said Murray.

The menu varies and is posted daily on their Facebook page and includes a la carte and family meal packages. Contact-free pickup is available between 12-8PM and delivery can be arranged within 5 miles of the restaurant.

Not only that, but Murray is also offering groceries and some essential quarantine items such as sanitizers, toilet paper, paper towels, and vinyl gloves in what he’s calling the Denim Marketplace all at very reasonable prices.

“I’m focusing more on the marketplace orders because this is what people need most. I started doing it because people were asking me for these things that I have easy access to. Plus it’s keeping people indoors and that’s important right now,” explained Murray.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, as the say.

He’s more than ready to open when the time comes and the restaurant will take extra precautions to ensure people are confident about dining out again.

Are you aware of restaurants who are going above and beyond for customers? Let me know and I’d love to feature them!

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