First, a confession: I love seafood. At least, I love fresh seafood. Be it Sashimi, Tartare, Ceviche, steamed, broiled or fried, I love fresh seafood. The genius of Dockside Market & Grill is that this is the freshest of seafood, and they serve it perfectly presented (the raw), perfectly spiced (the Latin dishes), and perfectly prepared (the steamed/broiled and fried).
I sat down with the owner (local guy- Jeff Stern) and the chef (Chilean native- Luz Alderete) to explore the secret to their success and passion.
Q: For me Jeff, the hardest thing to understand is how such a small place can provide not only the freshest of seafood but also the variety you always seem to have available and on display. How do you do it?
A: Well, your question almost answers itself, the key is display. We are a great seafood restaurant, and we are small (46 seats) but what makes it work is that we are also a fish market. Our stock is available not only to our kitchen for Luz to work her magic, but also for sale to take home by our customers. This keeps our inventory constantly turning, and so, constantly fresh. We buy everyday, and we only buy that day's freshest fish. Even our stews, chowders and stocks are made with only the freshest fish, seasonings and supported by seasonally available produce. This was the concept from the beginning and is our mantra every day.
Q: How did this concept emerge, had you done seafood before?
A: I hadn’t done seafood previously, at least as the central focus, but since my first job as a busboy, though college and years in the industry, my focus has been fresh and healthy. I have always focused on active people seeking healthy dining alternatives. Probably that’s as much my personal preference, more than a marketing focus. I’m a runner, a cyclist, a part-time Spinning instructor and generally a fitness enthusiast. Healthy, fresh food supports those life-style choices.
Q: How else does this mantra, Fresh and Healthy, play out at Dockside?
A: Well don’t get us wrong, Dockside is not only for fresh fish zealots. We love our occasional indulgences, our richer sauces and even desserts. But our core focus is “Pura Vida”, a good life. That’s a broad mandate. We serve dishes that are probably 60-65% gluten free. Probably 40-50% of our dishes can be prepared in a Vegetarian format. We want to be a place sophisticated enough for the “Gourmand” but also with appeal for all, even children. We agonized over our children’s menu. We wanted not only healthy dishes, but with taste, color and flavor for the most discriminating and demanding children.
Q:How did those goals crystallize?
A: A large part of that was serendipitous. Serendipity in that while I was thinking this concept through, I met Luz. Luz is Chilean by birth and upbringing, but really a citizen of the world and a student of all. She is probably the most broadly educated and a true “Renaissance” woman, I know. We met. We started talking, and I guess, being Chilean, fresh fish is in her DNA. That said, her cuisine is for flavor, not heat. She never seems to confuse “spice” with perspiration. Her cooking is passionate, creative and comforting. Sharing my thinking with Luz, bouncing it all through my wife who is also my partner, the concept took shape, and here we are.
Q: Entering your second year of business, how is the concept playing out?
A: We are in a funny location. The space is perfectly sized for the concept of a restaurant and market, but the restrictions on signage and that we are in the middle of Flemington Center (between Lowes and Walmart) sometimes makes it an adventure to find us. Over the past six months, we have introduced a series of specials. Every Tuesday is “Latin Night” where Luz can run wild and showcase specials focusing on dishes from her childhood and Chilean traditions. Wednesdays are “Salmon Madness”. There Luz will prepare special appetizers and Salmon entrees for all those seeking a “Omega-3 fix.” Thursdays are for Lobster. Lobster Bisque, Lobster rolls, appetizers and entrees all featuring Lobster. That’s a fun and popular weekly event. What we are offering is a new concept, a focus on fresh and healthy for all but maybe mostly for those living or aspiring to an active life. Its still an adventure for all of us.
~Phil Moran, Wine Impresario
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What a difference a year can make. August 2018 through July 2019 was the second rainiest 12 month stretch in the recorded history of New Jersey weather. These records stretch back into the late 19th century, which gives context just to how wet that is. It's not easy growing wine grapes when it rains every other day from August through the end of harvest. As we slogged through a wet May and June, we were making preparations to endure another difficult season. A torrential thunderstorm on July 11th dropped over three inches of rain on most of our vineyards. Todd Wuerker, winemaker at Hawk Haven Vineyard said to me on the phone "it has to stop, it always evens out" and I scoffed at that idea. The weather today doesn't know what happened the day, week, or month before.
Todd was right! An atmospheric switch flipped in mid-July, and high pressure dominated the mid-Atlantic for the rest of the season. There were isolated thunderstorms to dodge through the rest of summer, and Unionville fared particularly well in this stretch. Over the 10 weeks of harvest, less than three inches of rain fell across our vineyards. We went from a historically wet stretch to historically dry, and it came just in the nick of time.
Today, we are picking the first grapes for what is Unionville's 27th harvest. Two years after the first grapes were picked and fermented, they were sold in the newly-opened tasting room- 25 years ago. Although I've been thinking about this moment for about a year, we've started our anniversary celebration and I'm still struggling to put it all in context.
In the past few years I've learned so much that could be shared with you now. I've spent hours at the township building, reading through letters written back and forth between parties involved in the winery's founding in the early 1990's. I've walked the vineyards, pausing with each "King of the Vineyard" as Conor calls them- the craggy, gnarly vines nearly as old as me. I've stared at the black and white photos in the hallway of the 1858 Farmhouse of the family and workers who tended to this property many decades ago.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I know that is cliché to say, but it truly is a great time at Unionville. We’ve got all of our reds pressed and in barrel. Cooler, stainless-steel fermentations are finishing up in tank, I’m finally able to breathe a little easier, and wake up a little later. With the holidays upon us, the wine making team has a lot on the mind, but one thing standing out is the blending, bottling, and release of Vat #23 – the latest rendition of our opulent Port wine.
Port has a storied history at Unionville – the fortified delight has been made at the winery since its first vintage in 1993, Before we delve into that, we have to talk a little about how Port is made and the different styles in which it can be presented. Port, named for its origin country, Portugal, is typically a sweet or medium-dry red wine, fortified with distilled grape spirit, then cellared and bottled at different times and in different ways to present specific stylizations. The two most recognizable presentations of Port wine are Ruby and Tawny Ports. Ruby styles are young wines usually aged for only a couple of years (or less). They’re released early to showcase juicy acidity and fruity characteristics of young wine with fuller mouthfeel and complexity
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