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High Street Grill
64 High Street
Mount Holly, Burlington County, New Jersey
(609) 265-9199

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
November 13, 2006

Maybe dreams really do come true -- at least for John & Nancy McDevitt, who always entertained an intense desire to open a restaurant. And when they crossed the threshold of the 150-year-old building with its original brick interior and bi-level seating -- the former home of the long-running C.J. Muffins and several other short-lived occupants -- it was love at first sight.

Like its predecessors, the High Street Grill is a convivial gathering place for locals and out-of-towners alike, especially when the strains of blues and jazz waft gently from the attractive piano bar. But there the similarity ends. The establishment always had a spiffy feel about it; but now, under the watchful eye of Nancy McDevitt, who presides over the front of the house, the environs sparkle with style and panache. And John McDevitt's seasonally-inspired eclectic cuisine is head-and-shoulders above anything to come out of the kitchen in quite some time.

Two recent visits proved to be the best of both worlds. On our first sojourn, we sampled a special prix fixe dinner ($60.00 per person, plus tax & gratuity) in honor of the establishment's 2nd anniversary. Since a choice of two menus was offered, my wife and I had a chance to mix and match and indulge in a deliciously diverse sampling of the chef's gastronomic treasures.

Rather than "amusing the mouth," the amuse-bouche nearly overwhelmed it. Consisting of a mini crab cake topped with micro greens and sun-dried tomato bruschetta, the presentation, given the four course to follow, was entirely too copious in my book -- though undeniably delicious.

The soup course was also more than ample. The gazpacho was rife with chunks of smoked tomato, cucumber and corn, and gently nudged by just enough spice to invigorate rather than incinerate. The shellfish bisque, on the other hand, was infused with lobster, shrimp and crab, and exhibited a fabulously funky shellfish flavor softened by a hint of truffle oil.

Portion-wise (and taste-wise) the next course was right on the money. The seared foie gras was absolutely silken of countenance and garnished with a perfectly grilled sliced peach half. The real razzle-dazzle, however, was delivered by a superlative blueberry/port wine glaze. But even better were the skewers of shrimp and scallop. The single crustacean was appropriately crunchy, the bivalve succulent and meaty, and both were set on a seabed of pad Thai noodles and finished with an incredibly enticing red Thai curry.

The main course offered diners a choice of sumptuous game or Alaskan seafood mixed grills. The former headlined rack of venison, ostrich filet, and baby quail arranged around an epicenter of luscious mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The latter featured perfectly prepared salmon and halibut filets reclining on a pillow of asparagus spears and white corn/tomato salsa. The crowning touch (literally) was a huge, tender-as-butter king crab leg.

Desserts? A decadent molten chocolate cake and homey Jersey peach and blueberry cobbler. Divergent denouements, to be sure, but both were right on the mark.

I must confess, I generally find special occasion prix fixe menus somewhat disappointing. High Street Grill's 2nd anniversary bash, however, proved to be a delicious exception to the rule and an immensely satisfying dining experience.

And à la carte fare is even more impressive. You may, for example, take the exotic route with starters like "Firecracker Shrimp" with black bean/avocado salsa and perky pineapple/chipotle glaze ($8.50), or the "Mediterranean Sampler," an intriguing combo of hummus, baba ghanouj, and muhammara (a Syrian red pepper and walnut dip) garnished with feta, mixed olives, and flatbreads ($8.95).

On the other hand, even what would be considered more traditional appetizers also have their significant rewards. The baby spinach salad ($5.25) is perfectly proportioned and comes embellished with kalamata olives, chunks of sheep's milk feta, a colorful and tasty collection of pickled red onions and arrives dressed in a zippy Pommery vinaigrette that gently coats the leaves rather than inundating them.

The grilled roasted vegetables ($8.50) also have a great deal to recommend them. An artistic array of pencil point asparagus, fennel, and red pepper & eggplant strips are accompanied by yin and yang ramekins of bleu cheese fondue and smoked tomato coulis. The former, delightfully rich and creamy; the latter, sparklingly acidic.

Among the entrées, the "Jersey Shore Crab Cakes" ($23.00) are pure delight. Three golden brown cakes are set atop a pillow of sweet corn sauté and grilled asparagus spears, then drizzled with a marvelous lemon/mustard aîoli. A classic presentation.

And the same may be said for the Moroccan-spiced duck ($21.95). Tender medium rare slices are arranged around the periphery of the plate; residing at the centrum, a warm Israeli couscous salad -- awash with dried cherries, cranberries, and apricots -- and an array of sautéed spinach. The pièce de résistance, however, is a superlative port wine duck jus, which succeeds in drawing the divergent constituents together into a seamless gastronomic gestalt.

Another can't miss selection is the shrimp and scallop skewers ($24.00), which was noted above as part of the 2nd anniversary prix fixe. This is a larger version, of course, and, given the superb quality, an absolute steal at the price. Both the crustaceans and bivalves are prepared to perfection, the Asian vegetable sauté and pad Thai noodles wonderfully complementary, and the red Thai curry sauce a superlative finishing touch.

Desserts ($6.00), all homemade, continue Mr. McDevitt's excellent work. Try the down-home delicious blueberry crisp or, perhaps, the superbly textured warm apple raisin cinnamon cake partnered with a dollop of fresh cinnamon whipped cream.

The wine list is compact, but selections match up well with the cuisine. By the glass, try the light and straightforward Cavit Pinot Grigio ($6.00) or the surprisingly supple Sunrise Pinot Noir ($7.00). For something a bit more substantial, tie into the always reliable King Estate Pinot Gris ($27.00).

Kudos to John and Nancy McDevitt. The High Street Grill is a real gem... and highly recommended.

Cuisine: Eclectic
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.; Tavern Menu: 11:30 a.m. - close
Credit Cards: MC, V, Discover
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Street and municipal parking areas
Alcohol: License
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.highstreetgrill.net

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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