Starting Lineup

by Liz Hunter | Mar 10, 2022
Starting Lineup

The traditional dining out experience is one thing we’re definitely glad to see back to normal. While we were happy to do our part to support local establishments with curbside and delivery orders that we enjoyed at our home, nothing can replace the ambiance of going out to eat. (Goodbye dishes!) As we settle into our seats and take the first sip of our drink, we’re asked the question we’ve been waiting for: “Would you like to start off with any appetizers?” The answer is always “yes.” To ensure you’re never stumped, we’ve done a fair amount of homework and can say with confidence that these 25 starters will make any meal a hit with the table.

Poke Tostados at Mexican Food Factory in Marlton

South of the border meets the Far East in this cultural blend that features the traditionally Asian ingredients of Ahi tuna, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil, and the Mexican staples of jalapeños, onion, avocado, cabbage and chipotle crema.

Shrimp Montesi at Luna Rossa Biagio Lamberti in Washington Township

This dish with sweet rock shrimp, black olives, cannellini beans, escarole and garlic served in a white wine sauce and topped with shaved Parmesan is completely satisfying yet light enough to leave room for dinner.

Octopus at Estia Taverna in Marlton

With a menu highlighting the delicacies of Greek cuisine, Estia presents its charcoal-grilled, sushi-grade Mediterranean octopus on a bed of fava puree with pickled red onion, peppers and capers. The added touch of squeezed lemon brings every flavor into balance.

Warm Crab Cheesecake at Toscana in Cherry Hill

Cheesecake isn’t just for dessert at this locale whose menu is an intersection of traditional and trending Italian fare, showcased here in this savory cake of jumbo lump crab, shrimp, cheeses, roasted pepper coulis and cucumber fresco.

Shrimp Pancetta at Giumarello’s in Westmont

In our book, everything’s better with bacon and the proof is in this plate where butterflied shrimp are stuffed with horseradish, wrapped in bacon and served sitting in a pool of creamy Dijon sauce.

Hamachi Ceviche at Hearthside in Collingswood

When we have the good fortune of scoring a reservation at this contemporary BYOB we sample as much as possible, including inventive crudos like this one with thinly sliced hamachi (a type of yellowtail) with orange, avocado, crispy potato chips and fresh cilantro.

Tuna Tower at Wanda BYOB in Haddonfield  

If we had a “too-pretty-to-eat” category, this one would top the list. Stacked with colorful layers of sushi-grade tuna, wasabi tobiko, avocado and crème fraiche, this tower looks just as good as it tastes.

Nueske’s Cherrywood Smoked Bacon with Tomato Jam at The Capital Grille in Cherry Hill

The Nueske name is recognized as a pioneer of smoked meats, a quality that already sets this appetizer apart, but it’s the artful execution of crispy skin that gives way to a melt-in-your-mouth bite, mellowed out by the sweet tomato jam and pickled shallots, that truly does the name justice.

Masala Crab Cakes at Indiya in Collingswood

For a flavor experience that is more Mumbai than Maryland, these lump crab cakes feature the punchy masala spices of cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and coriander with fennel and a chili balsamic, served with a cooling tomato chutney.

Maplebrook Farms Burrata at The ChopHouse in Gibbsboro

Before biting into your prime steak, warm up your palate with what is possibly the creamiest cheese you’ve ever tasted. Sourced from Vermont, this hand-stretched burrata comes with roasted squash, heirloom grape tomatoes, a watercress-pepita pesto and crostini.

Parisian Gnocchi at Two Fish in Medford Lakes

Chef Mike Stollenwerk has a knack for letting ingredients speak for themselves, and his technique shines in this dish of pillowy homemade gnocchi with rich chunks of lobster, shiitake, espelette pepper and fresh herbs in a lobster broth.

Honey Cider Bacon Brussels Sprouts at Redstone American Grill in Marlton

Even children would be hard-pressed to turn down this veggie-centric app thanks to the perfectly crispy Brussels tossed with honey, smoked bacon and served with a sriracha aioli.

Seared Pork Belly at Fleming’s in Marlton

There’s no sense in holding back on the indulgences at Fleming’s so it’s only right to begin with this deliciously fatty and tender seared pork belly, nestled atop creamy goat cheese grits and drizzled with a fig demi-glace, for a preview of the meal to come.

Birra Fries at LaScala’s Birra in Pennsauken

Boasting scenic views, this spot along the Cooper River is a go-to for artisan pies and international beers, but no visit is complete without an order of these addicting fries seasoned with Old Bay and smothered in cheese sauce, bacon and chopped long hots.

Baked Brie at Zinc Café in Medford

Zinc is known for elevating even the simplest of ingredients, including the baked brie wrapped in puff pastry with honey and toasted almonds on top. Paired with apple slices for dipping, this is one appetizer that could pull double duty as a dessert.

Chicken Meatballs at Farm & Fisherman in Cherry Hill

Local and sustainable food is the linchpin of this establishment, serving its creative spins on tavern cuisine, with pleasant surprises such as these chicken meatballs, seasoned with ginger, garlic and Korean barbecue sauce, topped with sesame seeds and scallions.

Buffalo BBQ Cauliflower at Kitchen 519 in Glendora

Although we’re not quite ready to go vegetarian 24/7, we don’t miss the meat in these bite-sized pieces of tempura-fried cauliflower, served Buffalo style with blue cheese crumbles and pickled onion over a celery salad.

Prosciutto Wrapped Dates at Valente’s Cucina in Haddonfield

This former market for Italian specialties is now a full-fledged dining experience with a menu meant to be shared. Don’t miss the stuffed dates with goat cheese, bacon and pistachio, wrapped in prosciutto and topped with a golden raisin salsa in a balsamic reduction.

Burrata Ravioli at Cinder Bar in Clarksboro and Gloucester Township

Ravioli take center stage as the light pasta pockets come filled with soft burrata cheese. The addition of the roasted butternut squash puree, gorgonzola crema and pesto make this small plate disappear all too quickly.

Roasted Mushroom Toast at Harvest Seasonal Grill in Moorestown

This one’s for all the funghi-lovers out there: It begins with a base of marbled rye roast and spread with a white bean-cashew crema, then finished with the pièce de résistance: chunks of chopped mushrooms and charred cippolini onions.

Duck Egg Rolls at Braddock’s Tavern in Medford

Inside its Colonial-era home-turned-restaurant, Braddock’s is drawing from French, Asian and new American inspiration with these crispy wonton-wrapped rolls filled with duck confit, cabbage, peppers and shiitake mushrooms with a mango-mustard dipping sauce and kimchi pickles.

Fungo Ripieno at Sapori in Collingswood

This super-sized take on stuffed mushrooms swaps the smaller cremini typically found on menus for the portobello, layering them with goat cheese, black truffle and toasted almonds. Once they come out of the oven, they are drizzled with a dash of balsamic before hitting the table.

Sausage and Figs at Allora in Marlton

This comforting classic blends sweet Italian sausage, savory balsamic glaze, rich figs and creamy burrata cheese into a dish reminiscent of any Italian grandmother’s kitchen.

Lobster and Potato Beignets at Blueplate in Mullica Hill  

The charm of this farm-to-table eatery is reflected throughout its menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options, like this inventive creation that combines lobster, potato and chives into a fluffy fried beignet, served with an Old Bay tomato aioli.

Brisket Stuffed Potato Skins at Chuck Lager America’s Tavern in Barrington

Everyone at your table can agree on this starter, which raises the bar on toppings, replacing the usual bacon crumbles with smoky barbecue brisket, and finishes them with cheddar cheese sauce and pickled jalapeños for a fiery kick.

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 18, Issue 11 (February 2022)

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Author: Liz Hunter


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