By SUSAN ERICSON
Before so many take-out joints started popping up all around the greater Green, there was Little Szechuan Restaurant on the corner of Prospect Avenue and Church Street in Little Silver.
It was the only place to find sit-down Chinese food back in the day, and that day goes all the way back to 1981. Today, there’s still a good chance that you will run into neighbors you haven’t seen in a while when you visit for lunch or dinner. It is part of the charm and civility of this neighborhood eatery.
It’s about the little things, the details, that give us a feeling of being coddled: the comfortable booths forming the perimeter of the restaurant and the round tables that can accommodate a large family or group of friends; the stainless steel pot of hot black tea that automatically shows up on your table with those handle-less cups; and the best bowl of crunchy noodles served with duck sauce and hot mustard.
The menu is pretty typical of what you would expect to find at a Chinese restaurant, with a mixture of Cantonese, Mandarin, and the hotter Szechuan province dishes. The kitchen tends to lean toward a more tame heat palate, so if you like your food spicy, you should tell your waiter. This is a family restaurant and caters to young children as well as those with diet specifications.
Moo Shu pork, served with plum sauce and four little pancakes to wrap the filling in, is popular here. Rolled up and eaten with your hands like a taco or an unsauced burrito, it is full of cabbage, mushrooms and slivers of tender pork.
Always obliging, the waiter didn’t bat an eye when we asked for a dish that was not on the menu. In the mood for something salty, we wanted a black bean sauce dish, but instead of the traditional shrimp in this recipe, we had a yen for chicken. The delicate flavor of the chicken played so happily with the crispy bits of onion and the pungent black bean sauce that we kept stabbing our chopsticks into the dish again and again until there was nothing left on the plate.
Of course, the expected fortune cookies arrived with our bill, but accompanied by an orange sliced into wedges like a Mom would do for her children, leaving us feeling the way you might after a Sunday dinner at home. Familiar, full, and comfortable.