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Does anyone else feel like they always overlook the places that are closest to them when it comes to eating out?  Jared and I are definitely guilty of that, searching wide and far for places when there are plenty of nice options less than 10 minutes away.

After passing Bolu for the hundreth time last weekend, I mentioned that I wanted to try it.  Jared’s mom came to help him with the garden on Monday, so that seemed like the perfect time to check it out.  Billed as a Trattoria with traditional brick oven pizza and antipasta, we figured we couldn’t go wrong.

Bolu is located right off Route 78  in Basking Ridge.  Located in a shopping center that also includes another restaurant we’ve checked out, the location is pretty convenient for us.  The inside of Bolu is cozy and welcoming.  While it wasn’t very busy the day we went, the atmosphere was relaxing and inviting.

Bolu prides itself on using organic, fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.  While I’m certainly not fanatical about things being organic, I think it’s nice to be able to take people somewhere where everything is made fresh and not just taken out of a box.  The menu at Bolu has a lot to offer-from salads to individual pizzas to an antipasto bar, it’s a great compromise for families or groups with different tastes and dietary needs.

It took me awhile to figure out what to get.  None of the salads were really grabbing my attention, so after painfully looking away from the pasta dishes, I decided on the Arugula Pizza with a multi-grain crust.  Jared’s mom chose the same pizza, both of us getting an individual size, and Jared chose the Rustica individual pizza.

The individual pizzas come with about 6 small slices.  I’m rocking the other half for leftovers this week

Bolu Arugula Pizza

Behold the glory of fresh leftovers!

, so I definitely think these can be shared among 2 people for a small meal.  Although I will admit that in  my former non-Weight Watchers hey day, I could have polished off the entire thing.  The pizza was beautiful, with fresh arugula and tomatoes with a generous coating of cheese, making it light, yet satisfying.  The crust was delicious as well and not too dry like some multi-grain options can be!

Dessert options were a bit slim here, with some traditional items as well as gelato.  We opted not to go for dessert, since nothing really caught or eye.

Service was attentive, yet definitely relaxed in pace.  As I mentioned, there were not a lot of people there, but things definitely moved slow.  I’m guessing that’s because they make everything to order.  From the looks of the open kitchen, they do a great take-out business, which is definitely something to keep in mind for great-tasting pizza.  Although the options are a bit more expensive than traditional pizzerias, you know you’re getting something fresh.

Bolu is BYO, however, if you forget, there is a wine store in the same complex.  With plenty of parking and a lovely looking outdoor seating area, Bolu is definitely a great option for antipasto, pizza, or homemade pasta.

Trattoria Bolu
25 Mountainview Blvd.
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
908-647-0033

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I’ll admit it:  “Cellfire” as the name of a Web site automatically makes me think of companies spamming my phone.  Luckily, first impressions are not always correct!

If you shop at Shop Rite, Kroger’s, Safeway, Giant Eagle, Shop’nSave or Foodtown, you should be signed up for this site.  Jared and I first discovered it through Fios TV, and I think the concept is awesome.  By registering with the site, you are able to register your store loyalty cards and add coupons directly to the card.  No more coupon clipping or searching for coupons you’ve misplaced (Disclaimer:  I’m still a coupon clipper, and my system is so organized it would make your head spin.  But I digress).  Simply log on, add the coupons you want to your card, and the discounts will be automatically taken at checkout.

The site has a multitude of ways to keep consumers connected to the coupons they choose, whether it’s online, through your TV or through a mobile app.  The offers are for popular brands that you might shop for anyway, making it worth the time to sign up and browse.  The site also features a section that allows you to print coupons by installing an App onto your computer.

I’m desperate to use this site and all its features, but for some reason Jared and I are having a problem with our Shop Rite card, where the site doesn’t seem to recognize it.  We’ve noticed this before too in Shop Rite when they try to look us up, so I think the problem is on our end.  Once I’ve got it up and running properly, I’ll be sure to share any hints and tricks I’ve found when using the site!

Anyone else currently using this with success?  Or have you had trouble as well?

To wrap up my series on our Cape May trip via Living Social, it’s time to talk about what to do in a shore town when half the town is still shut down and it’s way too cold to sunbathe.  Cape May is still full of activities in the off-season, so here are some highlights from our own trip.

Physick Estate
Jared loves touring old mansions.  In fact, whenever we travel, I think it’s safe to say we visit at least one.  We even made a special trip to Rhode Island to do the mansion tours one 4th of July weekend.  This trip was no exception, and with an abundance of Victorian-style homes, Cape May offered a lot of options when it came to tours.

The Emlen Physick Estate is the only Victorian house museum in Cape May.  It’s a neat story.  This house was in disrepair, and then the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts was formed in 1970 to bring it back to its historic state.  I won’t bore you with the historical details, but for $10, you get a 45 minute tour of the estate that concludes with a visit to the Carraige House, which typically has a separate historical display towards the back.  For $18, you can do a combination trolley tour of historic Cape May plus the mansion tour.  Our hotel gave us a voucher for the tours, however, we visited the mansion before we visited the hotel.  Darn.  Check with your hotel to see if they offer any deals for the tour.

Cape May Winery
I’m about to make a huge claim here and say that the Cape May Winery is one of the best wineries we’ve ever been to from an atmosphere perspective.  The tasting room is a gorgeous, expansive room with tables, couches, a bar and barrels lining the whole side wall.  Large enough to accommodate large groups without making other people feel like they are waiting around forever, the tasting room is really just a fantastic room.

Given how awesome the room was and how much it made us want to linger, we chose to do a tasting for $6 that included tasting 6 wines plus a souvenir glass.  Both Jared and I chose a mix of reds and whites to try, along with a dessert wine for me and a port for him, which I usually don’t find too much of at local wineries.  The wines we liked the most, like the Victorian White were very sweet.  That happens to be our preference, however, I also enjoyed some of the other more dry whites as well.

After our tasting, we decided to purchase a full glass of our favorites and sit in the tasting room for awhile, something I’ve never seen at other wineries.  Typically you go straight from tour (if there is one) to tasting, and then to the gift shop.  The Cape May Winery really encourages people to linger, with a balcony upstairs that looks over into the vineyard.  If it hadn’t been so windy and cold that day, this is something I definitely would have loved to do.  In fact, we saw one couple up there splitting a bottle and just hanging out.  Such a great, restful and fun activity, and we can’t wait to open the bottles we ended up buying.  Definitely worth a long afternoon stop on your trip to Cape May!

Cape May County Zoo
Another thing we’re huge fans of are gardens and zoos.  I’ll admit I was spoiled in DC, visiting the National Zoo sometimes every month without having to pay.  The Cape May County Zoo was a fabulous find.  With free admission year round, I was kind of expecting just a few animals set up in a dinky little park, but was pleasantly surprised to find it is so much more than that.

From lions and tigers and bears to simple geese, ducks and wandering peacocks, the zoo layout is one of the best I’ve seen in awhile.  I think we spent about 2 hours wandering around, enjoying the weather and all of the diverse animal populations.  Although the zoo was packed the day we were there, the expansive nature of the set-up allowed us to see everything we wanted to see without crowding around with other people.  Perfect for children and adults alike, the zoo is located a few miles outside of downtown Cape May in Cape May Courthouse.  Worth the drive, particularly since it’s free.  Just remember to support organizations like this with your donations to keep them up and running!

For all those that think of a certain show when they think of New Jersey, try visiting us first.  You’ll see there’s much more here than bumps and fist pumps.

I don’t know how many other people do this, but every time we visit a new area, we always think we’ll just find restaurants as we’re walking around to wander in to and enjoy.  Sometimes, that’s easy.  However, during off season in Cape May, it’s not!  I had done a bit of research before our trip, and written down a few restaurants, however, many of them ended up still being closed for the season.   After asking around at the Cape May Winery, we decided to have dinner at Axelsson’s Blue Claw Restaurant.

Funny enough, Jared had actually also been here with his parents when he visited Cape May years ago.  To be honest, in my research I had been avoiding strict seafood restaurants, as I’m not a huge seafood fan.  Not easy to do when you’re visiting a shore town.  I was a bit nervous that Axelsson’s wouldn’t have anything that would not only fit with my Weight Watchers plan, but that would also leave me feeling satisfied.  I was happy to find that the menu was diverse enough to include seafood options that weren’t too over the top “fishy” so to speak.  We settled on the Fromage as an appetizer (because who can resist brie??).   For an entree, I had the crabcakes and Jared had the seafood kabob, a totally new pick for him!

The food was fantastic at Axelsson’s.  The man we talked to at the winery had told us that “you can’t go wrong with anything you get there” and he was right.  The service was friendly and attentive without rushing you through, although it was a busy night.  They did seat us right by the piano, which I thought would annoy Jared, but the music blended in nicely and wasn’t overpowering to the point where you can’t talk.  While we did skip dessert, we had a full view of the station where these were being made, and they looked wonderful!  Although Axelsson’s is about a 5-10 minute drive from where we were staying, it was definitely worth the trip (however, if we had to give up parking, I might change my mind about that!!).

After our fabulous dinner, we returned to the Carroll Villa and hit up The Mad Batter for dessert.  Jared had been talking about a white chocolate mousse for days that he remembered having as a kid, and lucky him, it was still on the menu.  The Mad Batter bar was alive with groups of people hanging out, listening to the live music, so we ended up sitting at an actual table.  Jared was correct about the White Chocolate Mousse-it was worth the points.  Topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and a light strawberry sauce, the mousse was creamy, with bits of white chocolate in it, and so rich I almost couldn’t finish it (and I never say that!).  Definitely worth it!

Our trip included a voucher for brunch at The Mad Batter, so we returned the next morning to sit in the “sun room” type portion of the restaurant.  The Mad Batter had a great assortment of brunch-type libations, such as mimosas and bellinis, along with a pretty extensive menu.  The food was your typical brunch fare, but I’d certainly go back to check out the dinner options.  All around, a great experience with The Carroll Villa and The Mad Batter!

While The Mad Batter did not take reservations while we were there for brunch, it’s worth an ask in the summer if they do.  The restaurant was pretty busy for off-season, so I’d call ahead if you’re visiting during a busy time.

Looking for more options?  Find more Cape May restaurants here.    Happy eating, travelers!

 

OMG, another deal site.  I know, I know, it’s all too much for those of you that can’t effectively manage your email inbox.  Stay calm:  this one is only for the Jersey crowd.

Daily Deal is sponsored by a number of local newspapers in the area, including the Asbury Park Press, Courier News and The Daily Record.  Deals are available in the following counties as well as in a generic “South Jersey” category:

  • Somerset
  • Morris
  • Ocean
  • Monmouth
  • Middlesex

Daily Deal works just like the other deal sites:  a deal is announced for 50%-90% off the regular value.  Once a minimum number of people buy, the deal is on.  No fine print, everything spelled out before you buy, including the expiration date.  Once the deal is on, you receive your voucher within 24 hours.  If you share the deal with a friend, you get $10 worth of “Deal Bucks” toward a future purchase.

So far, Daily Deal has had a lot of relevant items for sale.  I joined the site because I wanted something more focused on our area, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far.  I bought a facial from Great Lengths Salon and Spa for only $45 (typically a $90 value).  This spa is less than 10 minutes from our house, and I’d been dying to get back in the facial game, so I was excited to see a spa deal that was relevant.  Sometimes on Groupon and Living Social, the locations are too far for me to justify taking advantage of it.

Today, in Somerset County, there is a deal for $20 for $40 worth of food at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Although this is only redeemable at the Watchung location, I love BWW, and would consider making the short drive to use this.

Once again, while Daily Deal isn’t necessarily a novel concept, it’s another great way to find relevant deals in your county if you’re in the area.  Happy shopping, and happy Friday!

 

 

Thanks to Living Social, Jared and I recently had the opportunity to check out Cape May, New Jersey for the first time (well, my first time-Jared was there as a kid).  As we walked around, I started thinking about all the great places we’ve been to in New Jersey that might get overlooked for those of us that live in-state.  Hence my new mission to tell you about them as we go along.  🙂

We covered a lot of ground while we were in Cape May, so I’ll start today by reviewing the lodging that we used.  The next set of installments will cover dining and area attractions.  We don’t want a super long post, after all!

The Carroll Villa Bed and Breakfast
The deal we purchased included a one night stay at the Carol Villa Bed and Breakfast, located less than a block from the beach.  Upon arrival, we received our complimentary bottle of champagne, as well as some coupons to area attractions (all part of our deal).  The check-in attendant was very friendly and made us feel welcome.

While the room we stayed in was certainly a bit small, it worked fine for us since we didn’t spend too much time in it anyway.  The shower had great pressure, and the bathroom was very clean and well kept.  Our room was right above The Mad Batter, the restaurant at The Carroll Villa, and during the live music, it was a bit noisy.  As in we could hear the specific songs the singer was performing.  However, we got back to our room around 9:45 p.m., and it all seemed to stop by 10.  If you’re sensitive to noise, though, as I know many are, this may not be the place for you!  I believe there are rooms on the other side of the hotel, so I would ask about those just to make sure.

Given that it was off-season, we were able to find parking about a block away.  In the summer, I can definitely imagine that parking is a challenge for guests at The Carroll Villa.  If you’re planning to stay in the summer, I would recommend calling ahead to find out what is recommended.

As mentioned, The Caroll Villa does have a restaurant, The Mad Batter, which is a great restaurant with a modest bar as well.  I’ll talk about this more in dining, but our deal did included a breakfast voucher, and we liked the convenience of having something right there.

Overall, The Caroll Villa was a beautiful place to stay, with an at-home feel that made even our short stay relaxing and comfortable.  If you’re thinking of vacationing somewhere this summer, I’d call early-I’m sure they book up pretty fast!  Thanks to Living Social and The Carroll Villa for helping us find out what Cape May has to offer!

I’ve written in the past about our visits to some Somerville, NJ restaurants.  For those of you not in the area, Somerville is the county seat of Somerset County, and isn’t too far from our house in Martinsville.  Every time we drive through Somerville, I’m always charmed a bit by the old-school downtown feel.  However, as Main Street America as we know it is quickly fading away, and I love when towns do all they can to help draw people into the local feel of our downtowns.

Find Somerville is a great Web site that takes you through everything Somerville has to offer, from restaurants to shopping to nearby attractions.  The restaurant search is pretty thorough, listing everything from Pizza Hut to their upscale restaurants like Il Pomodoro.  Jared and I are looking for someplace to go tonight, and this list will certainly make that choice easy!

The Find Shopping search works the same way, listing the many shopping options Somerville offers.  Somerville is a great spot to try if you like antiques, as each street seems to offer a plethora of stores that deal in antiques.  A small savings section clues you in to ways you can save at restaurants and stores alike.

While Somerville seems to have a bit of a ways to go as they revitalize their downtown and try to fill empty lots, I applaud the efforts they are making through this Web site.  A great resource for those in Somerset County and beyond!

Just when you thought I was finished writing about online discount sites…..

As we all know by now, I’m a bit addicted to online shopping and deals, so I LOVE when emails from sites like Groupon and Living Social show up in my Inbox.  Even if I don’t buy anything, I just like having the option.  A friend of mine recently posted a link on her Facebook profile to Eversave.  Since I always post links to the sites I belong to, and want people to sign up so I can get referral bonuses, I thought I might as well help her out!

There aren’t too many differences among Eversave and the other coupon sites out there.  The referral program seems a bit better (just for signing up I got a $2 credit toward a purchase), but other than that, it’s the same theme:  sign up, get daily emails, buy, and save.  If you refer friends, you get $10 once they make their first purchase.  Pretty decent reward, if your friends remember they signed up for it….

I’m signed up for Eversave NYC, and the deals I’ve gotten so far have all been discounts for e-tailers, which is actually better for me than any NYC deals, since it’s highly unlikely I’d go to the city to take advantage of them.  The sites are all pretty unique and botique-like, so it’s been fun reading through and seeing what they have to offer.

From a location perspective, Eversave has some work to do.  As of today, there were only about 55 locations across the United States, most of them focused around cities.  This hasn’t seemed to matter yet, as I haven’t seen too many deals that can’t be redeemed online, but it would be nice for one site to penetrate the rural areas a bit better than the other sites have done.  It would certainly set them apart.

Another way Eversave is trying to differentiate itself is through the Savings Center, which lists coupons and other deals and integrates with Coupon.com.  I’ve personally never used Coupon.com, because you have to install this special print application, but I might consider doing it just to get some variety in my off-line coupon clipping.  I’d like this feature better if I could add the coupons to my store card and have the deals deducted automatically at check out.  But I won’t judge.

Besides printable coupons, the Savings Center gives you the opportunity to sign up to take surveys, get discounts from clothing stores, and some cool contests and giveaways.  I’m a bit leery of signing up for anything yet, but it might tempt me eventually….

I know what you’re thinking-there’s only so many emails with deals I can stand, Valarie.  That’s ok.  But for those of us that really love to shop, and really love to save, what’s one more discount to browse through each morning?

Sign up here, and start saving!

 

I mentioned The Beer Mapping Project when I was talking about Egan & Sons recently, and felt this site deserved a bit more exploration.  As I mentioned, Jared is pretty familiar with this site in his constant quest to find quality beers in our area.  There are a lot of great features on this site, so I’ll highlight just a few of them in this post.

1.)  Location Lookup:  This is great for people that travel a lot or simply want to get a bit more familiar with breweries, beer bars, home brew options, beer stores or brewpubs.  Simply type in a city or zip code, and a list will populate with the option to sort by the type of venue you are looking for.  I had to search using just New Jersey, since a zip code search wasn’t giving any results for me.  Still a great way to find places in the area, just make sure you refine your search.  And again, perfect if you’re in an unfamiliar city and need a place to eat and drink!

2.)  Beer Trip Planner:  This is a beer lover’s personal heaven-the ability to plan a trip centered around quality beer drinking.  Simply type in a city, name, or postal code, and a list will populate with suggested options in the area.  Add that to your list, and once you are done adding, the site takes you to Google Maps for directions. Pretty sweet. Once again, a great way to plan a trip!

3.)  City Beer Maps:  If you live in, or are planning to visit a big city and need help finding a great place to have a beer, this is another search function that makes that super easy.  Simply click on your city, and a map loads which pinpoints different types of beer establishments around the city.  I chose New York, and each listing allows you to click through for more details.

Whoever came up with the idea for this site should really be Jared’s best friend.  Seriously, Jared is addicted to this site.  I could go on and on about the fabulous features of this site.  But it would take days.  And we have drinking to do.  So, off with you to search!

If you hadn’t figured it out already, most of our restaurant choices come from NJ Monthly or from Jared’s tireless searches for breweries or restaurants with a great beer selection.  Our selection of Egan & Sons was a blend of both.  Jared recently found a Web site that lets you type in your zip code for a listing of breweries, beer bars, and other quality beer venues near you.  Egan & Sons came up on the list in Montclair, and was one we hadn’t tried yet.  Couple that with the fact that I remembered it from NJ Monthly, and we were set to meet some friends out for a great meal.

I was expecting Egan & Sons to be crowded to the point of hatred.  After all, it was Saturday night, it’s a bar/restaurant with quality beer, and the Jets were on.  The parking lot in the back off Label Street was full, but we got lucky when someone pulled out just as we were coming in.  The train station isn’t too far down the street, so perhaps parking wouldn’t be too much of an issue.  We only had to wait about 20 minutes for a table for 4, and there was a decent amount of room at the bar to wait and have a drink without feeling like you’re standing around awkwardly.  Egan & Sons had a very decent selection of beers on tap, as well as a great selection of bottled beers and their own craft beers.

While I wasn’t really feeling like trying the craft beers, Jared of course tried a sample of their beers, which included a lager, an amber, a pale ale and a stout for only $4 (which is great).  He decided to have a larger glass of the lager and stout since he thought that these had the most flavor and had a bit of character.  He thought the pale and the amber were lacking in flavor, making them taste the same. I had a small sip of the lager, which I didn’t find to be too heavily flavored, but I’ll defer to him on that one.  Overall, not our favorite place for beer, but the fact that they feature so many other great selections makes up for it.

The food at Egan & Sons, however, did not disappoint.  A mix of Irish pub/Americanized food choices, the menu had everything from simple bar food to fancy steaks.  Since I had been dieting all week, I went straight for the sliders with fries.  My only complaint was that they came with ketchup on them, which I hate.  No restaurant should just put the condiments on for you.  I was able to scrape it off, and I’m sure I ended up saving some calories on the bread, but still.  Jared had the Falafel burger, which was delicious.  Our friends had Fish and Chips, as well as a fabulous looking steak in a wonderful sauce that was on the specials menu.  One of our friends that joined us is a chef with extensive culinary training, so I was hoping the food would be up to par.  She thought everything was very delicious, with the exception of something the waiter referred to as “mushy peas.”  Not sure why anyone would order those, but avoid them as a side.  🙂

Recently I’ve been let down by the dessert choices in the restaurants we’ve been to.  Egan & Sons did me proud with their Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is absolutely my most favorite dessert.  While it certainly didn’t compare to the time I had it in London, it was still a very authentic replica, all warm and spongy and doused in caramel.  The NY Cheesecake our friends shared was very creamy and huge, a dessert I don’t even think I could have tackled.  Maybe it bordered on being too sweet, but apparently still delicious.

The overall atmosphere and experience at Egan & Sons really won me over.  While I came in expecting something a bit more like what we frequented in Ireland with sticky floors and rowdy college kids, the dining room made the experience very upscale without taking out the fun.  Egan & Sons food and beer selection certainly makes us wish we lived within walking distance, as I could see this quickly becoming a favorite!

My rating:  8/10

Egan & Sons
118 Walnut Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
973-744-1413
http://www.egannsons.com/

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