Marie Peterson and Joan Branella have created a Somers Point café where the food is not just good, but good for you.
Despite being one of the nation’s fastest-growing dining categories, our southern New Jersey region possesses few restaurants fully dedicated to healthful fare.
While that “healthful” term may appear broad or vague, there is nothing to be misunderstood about Somers Point’s Heavenly Health Café.
As owner Marie Peterson makes clear, “I believe that our bodies are to be preserved.” Peterson — a healthcare professional employed as a medical assistant, and a devout Christian — has developed an integrated message of holistic living and eagerly applied it at this new venture.
Located at the triangular intersection of Ocean Heights Avenue and Bethel Road, Peterson has owned the property for more than 15 years, having previously run it as Chubby’s Restaurant. Her return, however, is clearly marked with powerful, portentous omens of success. Most of all, joining her this time is sibling Joan Branella, serving as chef.
Branella and Peterson grew up together on Georgia Avenue in Atlantic City’s famed Ducktown district. Their father, also in healthcare, was a pharmacist for many years. Joan rhapsodizes on her family’s Italian traditions, saying, “We didn’t eat anything out of a can, and everybody ate the same way.”
These days, she runs her first professional kitchen — ensconced in a wide, subterranean space below the dining area — with the same philosophy.
“Everything is made here,” says Joan.
Together, the sisters seem to radiate a sort of magical symmetry that bodes well for the future. Raven-haired and energetic, Marie evinces the sort of customer-service traits that endear patrons to establishments. Watching her interact with diners during an early morning interview, we witnessed a rare level of professionalism.
“I’ve been in this industry before, and I know you can lose people before you get them,” she says.
Their food has been painstakingly sourced — the chicken has no hormones or antibiotics, the eggs are free-range, the turkey is used for bacon and sausage, and no red meats are served. All produce comes from respected Northfield purveyor B.F. Mazzeo, the bread from Atlantic City’s nearly century-old bakery Formica Brothers, the flour is unbleached, jellies and jams contain no high fructose corn syrup, only real maple syrup — an amber liquid that is one of nature’s most sublime ingredients — and all diners reap the rewards of such a careful selection process.
The beauty of the maple syrup was evidenced in a simple, magnificent roasted apple we sampled. A luscious Granny Smith had been slowly cooked until rendered soft, laced with maple syrup and a crunchy, sticky layer of walnuts — sweet, seasonal fare that also just happens to be quite good for you.
On the subject of seasonality, Joan specifically mentions her made-from-scratch soups as being a source of particular satisfaction. On this day it was a roasted red pepper, but a few others she’ll be serving include lentil, chicken pastina, Italian wedding, butternut squash, and kale with white beans.
Currently open six days weekly from 8am-4pm, the sisters plan to expand and offer dinner starting in spring. The facility, already having been booked for several private parties, is a high-ceilinged, pleasantly lit room with a capacity for about 50. A petite lunch counter and wide, expansive deli cases line the food-prep side. Walls and furniture, bathed in shades of eggshell and hunter green, create a mood of gentle calmness.
Longport, New Jersey is anything but the typical Jersey shore community. Tucked into the southwestern corner of Absecon Island, barely one-and-a-half miles square, this narrow spit of land still manages to encompass some of the most valuable real estate on the East Coast. The borough even possesses a quirky, storm-related geography; its initial 10 blocks disappeared during a winter gale in 1916. So, it should really come as no surprise that Longport’s signature eatery – in fact, its only year-round food operation – is just as far from ordinary. Ozzie’s, at 2401 Atlantic Ave., has been in business “as we know it” since 1952, according to owner/operator Likie Nika. Founded in 1948 as a small neighborhood market, it was expanded four years later by the Lenzsch family to include a luncheonette. In keeping with that theme, Nika, who has owned the sparkling retro-style restaurant for 12 years, is no standard-issue proprietor either. Born in Greece, she served as an aide to Democratic representative Mendel Davis of her home state, South Carolina, from 1975 through ’79. Married 33 years, she and husband George met during that D.C. era, when he was similarly employed in the office of...
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