Authentic down-home cooking, expertly prepared and presented in this New Brunswick eatery.
By: Pat Tanner
NEW BRUNSWICK Delta’s, which serves home-style Southern food, is the newest restaurant at 19 Dennis St. an attractive, two-level, brick-walled space just down the street from New Brunswick’s The Frog and The Peach. Previous restaurants on this site include J. August’s, Zia Grill, and, until last July, Napolitano’s.
Add to the appealing setting, live jazz on weekends and Delta’s menu of reasonably priced down-home standards such as meatloaf, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, ribs, catfish, and macaroni and cheese and you have a winning concept.
At 27, owner Coretta King (named after the famous one) may be New Brunswick’s youngest African-American restaurateur. This is her first such venture, although her brother owns a string of restaurants in Los Angeles. Ms. King has brought in chef Harry T. Dominick, who grew up in South Carolina and was last at the Hasbrouck Heights Hilton.
The result is authentic down-home cooking, expertly prepared and presented with sophistication. Take, for example, the Maryland crab cake appetizer ($8). Two small, flattish disks nothing outside the ordinary, really are paired with a lively mixed bean salad whose vinegar dressing pairs beautifully with the cakes.
The menu wisely offers concessions to present day health concerns and trends, as evidenced by choices like grilled portobello focaccia ($11), pasta with roasted vegetables ($12), and Southern vegetable bean chili ($9). The latter is a satisfying bowl of black beans, small red beans and black-eyed peas cooked up with vegetables into a thick, dark, spicy brew. It is best savored with Delta’s delicious cornbread (included in most entrees, although, perversely, not this one). Buttermilk biscuits, a basket of which is brought to the table first thing, aren’t a shabby alternative by any means.
A large bowl of chicken and shrimp gumbo ($4.50), offered as a starter, could have been a meal in itself. I loved the mouth-tingling spiciness of the thick roux, which was the color of bittersweet chocolate. I followed this with fried catfish (broiled or blackened are alternative treatments), $18, served with excellent hush puppies and two sides. The catfish was simply the best I’ve had, and I’m not a big fan of this fish. I chose as sides collard greens, which were tender and tasty, having been spiked with red pepper flakes, and black-eyed beans, which were dull and muddy tasting.
Side dishes are a main attraction here. How to choose from such favorites at baked macaroni and cheese, fried okra, mashed potatoes and candied yams, just to mention a few? Thin, flavorful sweet potato fries were a big hit with an entrée of baby back ribs ($20). The ribs were meatier than most and had been marinated for 24 hours, then slathered with a rather ordinary sweet sauce and grilled.
Delta’s has a gorgeous old carved wood bar to the right of the entryway, and the bar offerings are supplemented with a selection of 35 American wines a thoughtful and fitting touch. These are helpfully categorized by their characteristics: light, aromatic whites; medium to full bodied, robust reds, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed the Lockwood cabernet sauvignon. Its $26 price tag it is also available by the glass for $6.50 is typical of the offerings, which are mostly in the mid twenties.
A turkey dinner with cornbread sausage dressing ($19) and one of chicken and waffles ($11) are two appealing "everyday specials" on this menu of beloved standards. Others include pot roast, whiting and smothered chicken. This last looked spectacular when it was brought to a neighboring table.
Delta’s brick walls are hung with fascinating black and white photos from the golden age of jazz. It is almost possible to imagine the musicians in them smiling down from their frames when area artists, including talented students from the nearby Mason Gross School of the Arts, are performing. Plans are in the works for adding live gospel music to Delta’s Sunday brunches in the next month or so. The brunches have been a big hit since the restaurant opened its doors in December.
Even though we visited mid-week, some dessert choices weren’t available. Mango sorbet, had it been available, would have provided a much needed light choice, because the rest of the dessert menu consists of delicious but substantial down-home treats. House-made desserts include bread pudding with caramel sauce, peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream, and Delta’s signature dessert, sweet potato cheesecake (also not available on our visit). We opted for carrot cake ($4.50), which turned out to be a decent commercial version, and the kitchen’s own banana pudding ($4). For this, a glass bowl was piled high with a pyramid of vanilla wafers interspersed with sliced bananas. A banana pudding made potent with banana liqueur was poured over top, and the entire concoction crowned with wonderfully fresh, barely whipped cream. It was good as it came from the kitchen but much better the next day when I smashed the mixture into a deli container and the pudding was allowed to moisten and mingle with the cookies.
Response to Delta’s has been so positive that on weekends service can get a bit overwhelmed and the kitchen has been known to run out of things. With its experienced kitchen, however, it is sure to smooth out these bumpy spots. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends, when this restaurant’s unique blend of cool jazz and warm comfort food make it a popular destination.