Restaurant Review #181: House of Chong (Middletown, NJ)

My friend Roy read my review of Temple from last week and called me up saying I needed some good Chinese food in me. I obliged, and my mom and I joined him and his wife Joanne and daughter Katie the other day. They are ardent fans of House of Chong, which has been in business since 1969. Joanne promised me a nostalgic experience of a place that has gone virtually unchanged in nearly 50 years. She was right—it reminded me of Ruby Palace, or of other Chinese restaurants I frequented when I was a child in the 90’s. They were dated then, and even more so now. But that is one thing I appreciate: the good, old-fashioned Americanized Chinese experience. Not every place can pull it off, though. There is a fine line between nostalgic and falling apart. Little Szechuan succeeded in my book, as does Sunny Palace. Meanwhile Crown Palace is just a cry for help. Where would House of Chong fall?

“They are the same waiters”, Joanne said, “Probably when I first ate here as a kid in the 70’s.” That aspect was apparent. Not one of the servers had not hit their senior years. “They seemed old even when I was a child”. This wasn’t a bad thing, as it simply added to the experience. The ancient uniformed servers were quite attentive. Standing by at the ready to refill a glass of water or bring over the food as it was finished in the kitchen. We started out with some umbrella cocktails. I usually avoid these like the plague, but could not resist it here. Roy and I each had a Zombie, while Joanne went with a Singapore Sling. I enjoyed my drink, though I would probably go with a Tsing Tao next time.

It had probably been over a decade since I went to a Chinese restaurant with the Column A/Column B option. We decided to do the family style for four, while Katie ordered a Hunan noodle dish for herself. For $15.50 a person, this was quite a deal. It came with soup, an egg roll, choice of rice, a massive entrée, and choice of dessert. I enjoyed my wonton soup—it was not too salty and the wontons were decent, though a bit rubbery. My egg roll was fried perfectly and not greasy at all. For entrees, there was a veritable feast present: shrimp and garlic sauce, shrimp and lobster sauce, chicken egg foo young, and chicken and broccoli. The platters covered the table. Two additional silver platters then came out, which were hefty portions of white and pork fried rice.

I must say the food was excellent. I did not know what to expect. My friends love this place, but my mom’s only visit here was in the early 90’s, and she said the food was greasy. Another friend of mine was here last year and said, in his words, it was “disgusting”. Quite a mix: love or hate. We either got them on a good night or they changed something. This was as delicious a meal such a restaurant could churn out. There were over a dozen shrimp in the two seafood dishes. The garlic sauce was on the sweet side and vegetables were plentiful. The lobster sauce too was bursting with flavor. The chicken and broccoli was a massive heap and looked appetizing. I tried a little bit of the Egg Foo Young and I believe it may be the best rendition I have ever had. This was probably due to an incredibly rich brown sauce poured over it.

Egg Foo Young used to be a mainstay of mine until I was skeeved out a few years ago. I don’t remember where it was, but the patties were literally dripping in oil and the gravy actually started to separate into a bizarre-looking science experiment. I had not eaten it since. I gave it a try tonight and thought it was wonderful.

Some of House of Chong’s a la carte entrees can be a bit pricey, but for the family dinner, you cannot go wrong. There is even another option for $26 that includes a Pu Pu Platter to share and a house cocktail per person. Not bad at all. I couldn’t imagine ordering that because we had enough food as it was. I left stuffed. Overall, this is not fine cuisine but it was tasty and got the job done. The atmosphere was nice, though I know some would disagree and think it was too outdated. The bar is fully stocked but probably does not get many people sitting at it. The drink menu was extensive.

Sit-down Chinese restaurants in my area of Monmouth County are few and far-between. Ones that have a bar are pretty much extinct. Since I swore off Crown Palace and Sunny Palace is a bit far, I am glad I was introduced to House of Chong. This was a very enjoyable experience, both with food and company. I would definitely come back and want to try some of their other dishes. They will get a 4 out of 5 stars rating from me.

House of Chong is located at 500 NJ-35 in Middletown, NJ.



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