517 Station Avenue
Haddon Heights, NJ
On an quaint little street in an adorable old town sits the charming little cafe called Elements. Simple is probably the best way to describe the restaurant. Two rows of tables, seating at each table for four people, simply decorated, and simply wonderful!
Elements is a tapas style restaurant. Our first experience with tapas style dining was at Cafe Tutu Tango when we lived in Orlando. This was one of our favorite restaurants for a number of reasons, including the eclectic decor, the occasionally available psychic, the varied local art on the walls, and the incredibly diverse cuisine. A table full of people could order everything from pizza to potstickers; soup to sashimi. The best part was that each dish was a small plate – an appetizer sized portion of the dish – so that you could order three or four different things for each person at the table and everyone got to try a wide variety of food from all cultures. We LOVED that about the place, and it was like finding the pearl in the oyster to find this style of dining right in our own backyard at Elements Cafe!
Jim and I tried one Thursday night to get there for dinner, but Jim doesn’t get in until 8:15, and their last seating is at 8:45. On our first attempt, heavy traffic foiled the plan, but we got lucky tonight. Jim’s plane was early, he got off the plane quickly, and his lead foot got us to the restaurant at 8:30. We were the only ones there, and I worried that they might have already closed, but the hostess/waitress was very welcoming, and offered us our choice of tables. We took her suggestion of a cozy little table next to all the other cozy little tables, and we settled in. She quickly brought menus, and after getting Jim’s many glasses of water and my unsweetened iced tea, she told us about the specials for the evening. We asked about some of her favorites on the menu, and she was quick to point out which dishes she was particularly fond of. Keeping her suggestions in mind, we browsed the menu and chose a few of her recommendations and a few that were especially appealing to us.
We started off with the pulled pork potstickers, which the guy at the jewelry store next to the restaurant raved about while we were getting Jim’s watch resized last week; and at the waitress’ suggestion, the sweet potato and asiago cheese ravioli. The ravioli – pan fried – were stuffed with a light blend of the potato and cheese, slightly crisp on the outside, with a delicate sauce to balance out the dish. I had worried that the potato and cheese mixture would be heavy, as sweet potatoes can sometimes be, but this was far from heavy. There were three nice sized ravioli on the plate for $7, and Jim and I each had one and split the third.
The potstickers were also pan fried, loaded with a deliciously flavored and oh so tender pulled pork, and the three very generously sized potstickers rested on a very tasty barbecue sauce. I managed to eat one, trimming off the outside edges, which were a little too crisp for my altered stomach to handle, and that was plenty for me. I’m sure there was too much sugar in the sauce, but I avoided using the potsticker to soak up too much of the barbecue sauce, thereby avoiding a dumping incident in the middle of the restaurant.
We were advised before ordering that they were out of the chicken soup featured on the menu, so I asked if the soup sampler – listed as a trio of soups – was still available, assuming they would just double up on one of the other soups. The featured soups this evening were a creamy mushroom and a cream of broccoli, and the trio was available with the seafood bisque rounding out the sampler. I am not a fan of broccoli soup in any manner, but I did take a small taste for the sake of inquiring minds. The thing that always bothers me about broccoli soup is the overwhelming smell and taste of broccoli – and I like broccoli! For some reason, however, for my palate, pureeing it just doesn’t work. Having said that, this soup was actually rather delicate in flavor. The stinky smell of broccoli didn’t dominate the soup, so I didn’t have to hold my nose to taste it, and while it did still taste like broccoli, it wasn’t the really strong flavor I’ve experienced in other cream of broccoli soups. I was done after one spoon full, but certainly this was not a soup that I was repulsed by.
As for the other two soups – well, I could have eaten GALLONS! If I could eat bread, I would have been sopping up the remnants from the sides of the bowl to get every last drop of the mushroom and seafood soups. The mushroom soup, creamy and perfectly seasoned, rivaled my favorite mushroom soup of all times, served at Hugo’s in Kennett Square, PA (mushroom capital of the world); but the seafood bisque was the star of the show! For me, a lot of bisques are too heavy since my surgery. Not so this one. It was creamy and light and delicious, and I could have easily skipped everything else I ordered for a huge bowl of this soup. Jim and I nearly came to blows over the last few drops of the mushroom soup, but I scooped up the remaining seafood bisque without guilt, seeing as how he ate the majority portion of the broccoli soup. My mouth is watering over it as I type! The trio of soups was $8, and the portions of each soup were about the size of an espresso cup.
If you’ve been reading my restaurant reviews with any regularity, you know I’m on a scallop kick. An excellent source of protein and easy for gastric bypass patients to eat, scallops are nearly the perfect food for our altered systems. Three large pan seared scallops were presented on a citrusy flavored sauce, with a tasty little garnish of cabbage and green stuff (yeah, okay, so I’m not a gourmet). I could have licked the plate clean of the sauce, and the scallops were gorgeous, perfectly cooked, seared and delicious. I ate two of the three scallops, leaving just one for Jim, but we had chosen a second main course of stuffed lamb, which he seemed to have no problem polishing off. The lamb was cooked to the medium I requested, and this was really a nice portion for the $11 price tag. Served over a bed of greens which were AWESOME, the lamb had great flavors, but after eating one piece of the four on the plate, I realized my stomach was not going to allow me to eat any more. Another nice sauce accompanied the lamb, but the greens got most of the attention – buttery, flavorful, and delicious.
We browsed the dessert menu, and were tempted by the balsamic swirl ice cream, but I can’t indulge in sugar without dire consequences, so we passed on dessert, opting instead for an order of the short rib pierogies to go. I’ll have to let you know tomorrow how they were, because the kids for whom they were intended were all asleep by the time we got home!
My first wrap up comment would be to tell you that this is the IDEAL restaurant for someone who has had gastric bypass surgery. The tapas sized dishes allow even someone with limited stomach capacity to sample a few different things and enjoy the variety. Someone who is not gastrically altered can still have a filling meal here, but after gastric bypass surgery, this is a place you can come to and not worry about over eating.
Elements Cafe provides a wonderful alternative to places like Cheesecake Factory, where the emphasis seems to be on overloading your plate with mediocre food at a reasonable price so you’ll walk out of there stuffed to the point of discomfort but feeling like you’ve had a great meal because you still have a doggie bag and change in your pocket. At Elements Cafe, you will have just the right amount of deliciously prepared food to feel satisfied, but definitely with a plan to come back for more.
Reservations are suggested, and I would imagine on weekend evenings, this place must fill up. They serve lunch as well, and on a beautiful spring day, they are in the perfect location to grab a bite to eat, then window shop along Station Avenue. I phoned before we went to check on the dress code and was told that as long as I had clothes on, I was appropriately dressed. I imagine no one would be made to feel uncomfortable there, whether you go in jeans or a suit and tie – and on this particular night, Jim was in a suit and tie, and I wore jeans.
I cannot recommend enough this delightful restaurant. I know we will be going back, and with a little luck, I can convince Eilis that this might be the perfect spot for her First Holy Communion luncheon!