If you have eaten even one New Jersey-grown peach this summer, you know that they are preternaturally tasty this year. They were blessed with ideal growing conditions, especially that unusually early heat we experienced in April, followed by plentiful spring rains. Although our state is better known for other summer crops such as tomatoes and corn, it actually ranks fourth in the nation in peach production, and in a good year can even come in third. Which may explain why there is, even in these tight times, an official entity devoted to this fruit. Among other things, the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council organizes peach parties at markets, peach festivals at restaurants, and maintains its own website, www.jerseypeach.com, which includes facts, health information, and recipes.
One restaurant that makes a point of playing up local peaches each summer is Brothers Moon in Hopewell. Currently chef/owner Will Mooney is featuring two peachy keen salads — one a bread and heirloom tomato salad with local cheese, local peaches, and pickled fennel seed vinaigrette, and another of baby spinach, grilled peaches, walnuts, and Stilton in vanilla-lavender dressing. In addition, an entree of Griggstown poussin with creamed corn and tomato and green bean hash is accented with peach chutney. There’s often peach buckle for dessert, and Mooney is planning to add a dish of grilled halloumi cheese and grilled peaches.
August may officially be Jersey Fresh Peach Month, but later varieties of the fuzzy beauties will continue to ripen well into September. Which is why the Route 1 area’s major homage to peaches — the frog a la peche Festival of Peaches — is currently underway at New Brunswick’s Frog and the Peach restaurant, where it will continue throughout most of the month. Every year executive chef Bruce Lefebvre creates a unique dinner menu that features locally grown peaches in each of five courses. In 2006 he even presented a version of it at the James Beard House in New York City.
Currently the restaurant sources its peaches through Mikey Azzara’s Zone 7 delivery service, which carries those of Terhune Orchards, Oak Grove Plantation in Hunterdon County, and Manoff Market Gardens in New Hope.
Commendably, the Frog and the Peach has been able to hold the line on the price of the dinner while still incorporating some pretty luxe ingredients: the $59 tab is only $1 more than it was four years ago. Those who opt to pair it with five carefully-chosen wines will pay a total of $105, which happens to be $3 less than four years ago. And couples who choose to dine there on Friday nights can finagle an even better deal: the menu with wines, for two, is $150. (Taxes and gratuity are extra in all cases.)
This year’s dinner opens with chilled spiced peach soup with basil cream, accompanied by prosecco. Next comes peach “carpaccio” with crispy duck confit, prosecco vinaigrette, and spiced almonds. This dish is one of chef Lefebvre’s personal favorites. “I came up with it as a kind of homage to Harry’s Bar in Venice, which is credited with having created both carpaccio and the Bellini. Here the carpaccio is peach and the prosecco is in the dressing,” he writes in an E-mail. This course is paired with a Vouvray.
Marinated tuna follows, accompanied by farro, feta, and a grilled peach with Greek yogurt and, if desired, an Oregon pinot noir. For the cheese course that follows, Lefebvre looks no further than Long Valley’s Valley Shepherd creamery. Their Perlitta is a cow’s- and sheep’s-milk blend similar to an aged Gouda. “It’s sharp with a little crunch from the amino acid crystals that form with aging,” Lefebvre explains. Alongside it diners can expect peach butter and a sesame cracker. This course can be accompanied by a 2005 cabernet franc from Argentina.
The finale is another of the chef’s personal favorites: honey roasted peaches with almond cream, candied thyme, and salted shortbread. All these flavors are played up beautifully with an Austrian beerenauslese riesling.
Anyone familiar with the now-classic comedy routine by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore will instantly get the joke behind the names of both the restaurant and the festival. That sketch, which so far has accumulated over 60,000 hits on YouTube, centers on an interview with the supposed owner of a disastrous English restaurant that serves only two dishes: frog a la peche and peche a la frog.
You have to give kudos to Betsy Alger, who owns the Frog and the Peach with her husband, Jim Black, for not only naming the restaurant after that sketch, but also for making the most of it with the annual festival. I have to admit, though, that I’m grateful they stop short of actually serving the eponymous specialties.
Brothers Moon, 7 West Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-333-1330. www.brothersmoon.com.
Frog and the Peach, 29 Dennis Street, New Brunswick, 732-864-3216. www.frogandpeach.com.