By JIM WILLIS
Couch potatoes around The Green: put on your cleanest pair of dressy sweats and your going-out slippers, for it is time to worship and rejoice at the newest alter of salty meats and fried foods.
Cravin Haven, a lunch and dinner sandwich restaurant, has opened in the Acme Shopping Center on River Road in Fair Haven. PieHole stopped in to have a look at the renovated space and talk comfort food and cheesesteaks.
Opened last week by three Fair Haven families, the restaurant is the creation Anthony Mazzucca, formerly the chef at Val’s Tavern in Rumson; his brother, Michael Mazzucca; and friend Matt Jones. All three grew up in the Rumson/Fair Haven area. Jones’ wife, Elaine, will manage the restaurant, while Anthony Mazzucca handles the kitchen.
The location in the Acme Shopping Center has housed a string of restaurants, most recently the short-lived J Rooster’s, which opened in May, 2012.
“It’s a graveyard where breakfast and lunch places go to die,” says Fair Haven resident Morgan Fahey.
Anthony Mazzucca says the space became available in July. “We knew the location, and we always thought that this is a place that should and could do very well.”
Suzanne Mazzucca, Michael’s wife, is a business partner, and tells PieHole that while the space has changed hands few times, it never got the updates it needed.
“Everything looked run-down, and we wanted to change the space up altogether,” she says. “We also replaced all of the kitchen equipment.”
The menu is Anthony’s creation, and it’s clearly inspired by the Rutgers Grease Trucks and their Fat Sandwiches.
To wit, the sandwich referred to as The Bucket: a cheese steak with pork roll, bacon, macaroni & cheese bites, french fries and chili topped with cole slaw and melted cheese.
Or an entry that Mazzucca takes special pride in, the NJ VS. PA a cheesesteak topped with pork roll, fried eggs, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, then finished off with gravy and melted cheese.
“It’s like the Jersey Shore versus South Philly,” says Mazzucca.
Mazzucca is in the kitchen again after a seven-year hiatus as a stay-at-home dad to six young boys, ages six through 13.
“I had been managing the kitchen at Val’s for eight years,” says Mazzucca. Then, his wife’s job started requiring that she travel frequently during the week.
“My schedule at Val’s and her travel schedule meant we were always scrambling for babysitters. So we said, look, I’m going to stay home while you’re doing this.”
Now with his youngest son in first grade, he says, “September, 2013 was my goal, my youngest in school full day. I could finally start to think about relaunching my work.”
There’s not a salad to be found on the menu, and the only concession to the wheat grass and tofu set is a sandwich called the MPM, a veggie burger named for Mazzucca’s vegetarian son, Michael Peter.
PieHole was joined by neighbor Brian McCourt. We tried a couple of sandwiches: a basic cheesesteak and the Loco Steak (a cheesesteak with bacon, onion rings, fries and hot peppers, topped with BBQ sauce and melted Pepper Jack cheese).
We appreciated the thought that went into the different bread choices for the two sandwiches. The basic cheesesteak was served on a narrow sub roll that didn’t dwarf the steak with bread. On the other hand, the Loco came on a wider roll that Mazzucca refers to as a “Cuban Baguette.”
“I had to find a bread that was going to hold up to the rigors of what we want to put in there,” he says. “They’re loaded up with more wet and hot items. But we didn’t want it to be a really hard, tough, crusty bread either.”
In the end, Mazzucca found a brioche with a small hint of egg flavor, a soft yet chewy texture and available in different sizes for the various sandwiches.
Cravin Haven will be open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and offers take-out and eat-in service.