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I was recently told a story (by my mom of all people) involving a young lady, Olive Garden, leftovers, and an STD. I don’t want to get into specifics because this particular story is rather grotesque, but I’ll let you use your imagination. After doing some Internet research, I determined that there’s a high likelihood of this story being an urban myth, but it got me thinking – why would anyone in Bergen County dine at the Olive Garden when we’re surrounded by so many authentic Italian restaurants?

I personally have always been a skeptic of the Olive Garden. I dined at the Ramsey location when it first opened and was very underwhelmed by my meal. I had the Sampler Italiano for my appetizer, and everything on that platter tasted like (and had the texture of) recently defrosted freezer food. For my entrée I had crab-stuffed ravioli, and while the menu said the ravioli was stuffed with lump crabmeat, it tasted exactly like crabmeat from a can. Needless to say, I haven’t dined at the Olive Garden since my unfortunate gastronomical experience that evening several summers ago.

If you find yourself in the mood for eggplant rollatini or veal bolognese, here are some of Bergen County’s real Italian restaurants:

  • Aldo’s in Wyckoff
  • Radicchio, La Piazza, and Marcellos in Ridgewood
  • Baci Italian Grill and The Mountain House in Westwood
  • Solaia and Café Italiano in Englewood
  • Paisano’s in Rutherford
  • Sorrento in East Rutherford

…and the list goes on. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop in your car and drive the 20 miles to Little Italy in New York, where you can enjoy some of the best and most authentic Italian cuisine on the East Coast!

So the next time you’re craving Italian, avoid the unlimited wilted salad, greasy breadsticks, and substandard entrees by patronizing one of Bergen County’s wonderful genuine Italian restaurants. Let’s leave those mediocre Olive Garden meals to the folks in the Midwest.

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I found a taste of Greece, Italy, Turkey, and Israel in a little store-front restaurant in Ridgewood. Located on North Broad Street across from the railroad tracks, Mediterraneo embodies the true essence of – you guessed it – Mediterranean cuisine. I went there for dinner a few weeks ago with some close friends and the food was fresh and delicious, the ambience was vibrant, and the service was excellent.

The restaurant is very small…almost cramped (which would be my only complaint). There’s also patio seating in the front, but we opted for a table inside because you never know when a stray thunderstorm will roll through during the summer months. We did make a reservation, which I highly suggest. Our reservation was for 8:30 on a Saturday night, and the restaurant stayed packed until 10:30. So if you show up and put your name on the waiting list, you may not be eating until very late.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a smiling hostess and seated promptly. Like most of the restaurants in Ridgewood, Mediterraneo is a BYOB. It wouldn’t be a Mediterranean meal without a glass (or two or three) of red wine. Our bottle was opened before we could ask, which probably wasn’t a good idea because we were drinking and chatting away, barely paying attention to the menu. But our waitress was very patient, checking up on us every ten minutes or so to see if we were ready to order.

Thirty minutes later, we finally got to the menu, which has a large selection of salads and tapas as well as main-courses. We ordered a few tapas items and a salad to share amongst the table. First came out a hummus and tzatziki platter served with unlimited fresh, warm pita. The hummus was so tasty and the tzatziki was refreshingly cool and perfectly infused with garlic and dill.

While we were leisurely eating our first course of tapas, the salad was brought out. It consisted of incredibly fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese, and crispy romaine lettuce, all tossed in a flavorful vinaigrette. The portion was huge, and between the three of us, there was still some left over. Shortly after the salad was served, our third item came out – warmed Greek cheese. My friends and I are cheese fanatics, so this was the highlight of our meal. The cheese was goat based, but simpler in flavor and thicker in consistency. It was drizzled in honey and served in wedges. Needless to say, the cheese was demolished in under five minutes. And what meal would be complete without dessert? So we shared a vanilla-infused crème brulée topped with a caramel drizzle. That, too, was demolished ever so quickly.

After our fresh and tasty meal, we continued chatting while finishing our second bottle of wine. The waitress was very kind and didn’t bring us our check until we requested it. When I go out to eat, especially with friends, I try to forget about the prices and focus on enjoying good food that I didn’t cook. So I was absolutely floored when the bill was under $50 for the three of us. But after realizing what we had ordered, it made sense. I was just pleased to leave the restaurant with a full wallet after having eaten a delicious and memorable meal with great friends.

So the next time you’re craving fresh Mediterranean food, I highly recommend Mediterraneo. Be sure to make a reservation, and be prepared for a simply delicious meal.

Here is Mediterraneo’s contact information:

23 N Broad St
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
(201) 447-0022

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I love to shop, and Bergen County is a great place to drop a buck or two. Here is my current list of the top five shopping destinations in The BC. I’m sure I will issue a new list in the future, seeing as our malls and towns are forever changing, but these are the top five hot spots of the moment:

1. City Place, Edgewater

This outdoor promenade of shops and restaurants is the perfect place to visit on a warm summer day. Situated along the Hudson River, you’ll enjoy the New York City backdrop as well as the cool breezes off the water. There’s something for everyone here including Anthropology, Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic, Pier 1 Imports, and several other specialty shops and boutiques. And if you get hungry, try one of City Place’s five dining options including Panera Bread and Bergen County’s well known Baumgart’s Cafe.

2. Garden State Plaza, Paramus

As New Jersey’s largest shopping mall, Garden State Plaza is filled with almost 300 stores, specialty shops, and boutiques. It houses five department stores: Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and J.C. Penney. There’s upscale shopping with boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors. If you’re looking to buy basics, check out J.Crew or Express or Abercrombie & Fitch. If you want something funky, peek into H&M or the brand new Kira Plastinina boutique. For bath and beauty products, visit Sephora or Aveda or C.O. Bigelow. And if you get hungry, choose from one of the mall’s 45 dining options. My personal favorites are California Pizza Kitchen, Grand Luxe Cafe, and Legal Sea Foods. And if you still have energy to spare after a long day of shopping, check out what’s playing at the brand new 16-screen AMC Theatre.

Garden State Plaza is a perfect rainy day adventure. Just don’t be surprised if you have trouble finding a good parking spot.

3. Miracle Mile, Ridgewood

With its beautiful tree-lined streets and its mix of tudor and classic colonial architectural styles, Ridgewood is truly the “Pleasantville” of Bergen County. The center of Ridgewood, situated along East Ridgewood Avenue between Broad Street and Maple Avenue, has been deemed the Miracle Mile…and it’s easy to understand why. This main drag is filled with a wide variety of boutiques and specialty shops. Women’s wear designer Yansi Fugel has her flagship store here. Across the street is Shoe Inn, which carries a great selection of moderate to expensive women’s shoes. And if you didn’t get your shoe fix from Shoe Inn, check out Just Our Shoes around the corner on North Walnut, with Bergen County’s premier selection of Mephistos.

If you’re shopping for your kitchen, bath, or home, stop in to the innovative and luxurious Waterworks or the more traditional Pierre Deux. Are you in the market for hand-crafted wood furniture? Checkout the Pompanoosuc Mills showroom, which anchors the Miracle Mile at the bottom of the hill (in the old Sealfons building). If you’re looking for basic apparel, there’s GAP, GAP Kids, Lucky Jeans, and Ann Taylor. Feeling crafty? Stop by the Bazaar Star Beadery where you can pick out your own beads and make your own necklace or bracelet. If you’re after the real bling, there are several jewelry stores lining the main drag including Paris Jewelers and Lenore Jewelers.

And if you build up an appetite while journeying through all of these great shops, there’s a huge selection of dining options, perhaps one of Ridgewood’s more well-known attributes. For a delicious light meal of Greek and Italian classics, try Mediterraneo on North Broad Street. Wild Ginger on Chestnut Street serves up some of the county’s best sushi. Winberie’s on Oak Street is perfect for American classics. If you’re craving caffeine, visit the Ridgewood Coffee Company, a town staple. There’s also a Starbucks for those who can’t part with their Caramel Macchiatos.

Ridgewood is ideal for a spring or autumn day, and a good parking spot isn’t too hard to find. Just be sure to bring a lot of quarters for the meter.

4. The Shops at Riverside, Hackensack

Located on Route 4 west, The Shops at Riverside is The BC’s swankiest shopping destination. Anchored by a large Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, the mall houses over 80 high-end boutiques and shops including Burberry, Hugo Boss, Salvatore Ferragamo, Hermes, Barneys Co-Op, and Tiffany & Co. But don’t worry…there are also more affordable options like GAP, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Ann Taylor, and Chicos. If you’re buying for your tots, the mall has several specialty children’s wear stores including Janie and Jack, La Petite Gaminerie, and Hanna Andersson. And did I forget to mention the huge two-floor Pottery Barn?

If you get hungry, you’re definitely in the right place. The mall has seven (soon to be eight) delicious sit-down restaurants to choose from. Stop by The Cheesecake Factory for their infamous huge-portioned meals, and try to save room for the cheesecake. Just be prepared to wait a while for a table. P.F. Chang’s serves up Chinese classics with a modern twist. If you’re in the mood for Italian, I highly recommend Maggiano’s. In fact, I highly recommend every restaurant at The Shops at Riverside. And if you do have to wait for a table, give your cell phone number to the hostess and continue your shopping adventures until your table is ready.

5. Tice’s Corner, Woodcliff Lake

Chances are you didn’t even know this shopping center existed. Located off Garden State Parkway exit 171 in Woodcliff Lake, Tice’s Corner has become a shopping hot spot for northern Bergen County residents. The open strip mall sits on the former site of Tice Farm and is home to such stores as Anthropology, J.Crew, Pottery Barn, Express, Talbots, and The Apple Store. There’s also a Panera Bread, which gets very busy around lunchtime.

Tice’s Corner is a great alternative to traveling down to one of the larger malls in Paramus. You can leisurely stroll from store to store or get in and get out as quickly as you’d like. It’s a perfect destination for a beautiful sunny day, and parking is very rarely a problem. Just beware during the holiday season…you’ll need a lot of patience dealing with the aggressive soccer moms and their monstrous SUVs.

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