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Dining out in Morris County and beyond

Local resident creates restaurant guide

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July 20th, 2016

Recall your favorite meal. One where the ambience, the service, the company, and the food all came together to create an unforgettable dining experience. Where were you? Who were you with? What did you eat? What made it so remarkable?

Henry Utzinger recalls his all-time favorite meal with no hesitation.

“My favorite meal of my lifetime is an easy question to answer. And it’s very odd,” says the restaurant buff who created Utzinger for U, a guide to restaurants surrounding Cedar Crest, the Erickson Living community in Pompton Plains, N.J., where he lives. 

Snake, anyone?

His most memorable meal? A traditional snake dinner in Guangzhou, China.

First, “I had to pick out my own snake—which was still alive—in the basement,” he describes. 

With his hosts dressed in traditional Cantonese garb, they drank snake blood mixed with grain alcohol, “which was good for your health,” Henry adds.

Then they drank bile from the gall bladder, also mixed with grain alcohol.

“The blood I didn’t like, but interestingly enough, the bile from the gall bladder mixed with the grain alcohol actually had a pleasant taste,” he says.

They also ate pickled snake skin and grilled snake.

Is your stomach turning yet?

Henry’s wasn’t. He says that growing up in wartime Europe, he learned to try anything. “My father was very adventurous, and at that time you ate whatever you could find. If something came to the table, I tried it. I might never eat it again, but I would try it,” he says.

Would he eat snake again? Absolutely.

“The snake dinner was actually quite good. The only problem with snake is they have very fine bones, even finer than fish, so you have to be very careful. It’s a little difficult to eat, but it’s very tasty,” he says.

Where to eat locally

Throughout his lifetime, Henry traveled extensively for his career and time in the service, and he enjoyed sampling restaurants along the way. “I like good food. I’ve always had an interest in eating at good restaurants that are reasonably priced,” he says. 

Having lived in Wayne for 16 years, Henry became acquainted with most of the restaurants in the area. When he moved to Cedar Crest in September 2015 and participated in the Making New Friends Committee, he shared his interest with his new neighbors. 

That’s when the group leader, Dorothy McMahon, asked him to create a guide to local restaurants.

“We didn’t have a discriminating list about restaurants in the area,” Dorothy says.

Launched in April, the inaugural guide features 33 local restaurants sorted by distance from Cedar Crest. Each listing includes the restaurant’s name, address, phone number, distance from Cedar Crest, price range, and food quality star rating.

“Information is from personal experience, input from friends, Yelp reviews and Internet research,” Henry notes. “There are obviously differences in people’s tastes, and variations in quality as well as service must be expected. Consistent quality can be expected at the top restaurants, but you pay for it.”

Henry didn’t include any restaurants below a two-star quality rating, and only one, Chef’s Table in Franklin Lakes, received a five-star rating.

He plans to update the guide every two to three months based on feedback from neighbors. He has already decided to change the rating for Rosemary and Sage in Riverdale, from four stars to five, and he’ll be adding another restaurant suggested by a neighbor to the next version.

“I think it’s a worthwhile thing to have for the people who live here. Also, if visitors come and want to take their parents out, it’s good to have a resource,” he says of the guide. “I get nothing but fun out of doing it.”

Dining out at home

While Henry enjoys eating out frequently, he says the on-site restaurants at Cedar Crest are convenient, healthy, and offer quality cuisine. 

“The portions they give you are just right, and they give you healthy options. The food is good. No question about it,” he says.

He dines most Tuesdays with a group of about ten former neighbors from his previous community in Wayne—Pines Lake. And at least twice a month, a larger group from Pines Lake dines together in one of Cedar Crest’s private dining rooms.

“Some people who live here call Cedar Crest ‘Pines Lake North’ because there are at least 20 people here from Pines Lake,” he says. In fact, that’s one of the reasons he decided to move to Cedar Crest. 

When he’s not at a restaurant—either at Cedar Crest or locally—he has dinner with a men’s group. They rotate hosting in their Cedar Crest apartment homes, as each apartment has as full-sized kitchen and most have open floor plans ideal for entertaining.

Because he dines out frequently, Henry uses the flexible 20-meal plan. He can host outside guests to meals and roll over unused meals to the next month. Other residents who dine at Cedar Crest more often have the choice of a monthly meal plan, which provides one meal a day for every day of the month.

Henry also participates in a memoir-writing group, Elderhostel courses, trips to the local IMAX for simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, and movies shown in Cedar Crest’s on-campus theater. He goes to the fitness center most mornings and to the pool quite often. 

“I like Cedar Crest for all the activities we have here,” Henry says. “There is more to do than you could ever take part in.” 

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