Cafe owners collect awards

WANTAGE. Kori Brown’s cheesecake has won a blue ribbon for the past three years at the New Jersey State Fair-Sussex County Farm and Horse Show.

| 05 Feb 2024 | 05:28

Up the Creek Café in Wantage is known for its award-winning cheesecakes.

The small Italian restaurant on Route 23 is a short distance from High Point State Park.

It was opened in December 2020 by Daren Valente and Kori Brown, a couple who had worked many years in various kitchens.

“During the pandemic when life was kind of upside down and uncertain, we came upon this little spot very close to our home in Wantage and we were looking in the windows and it just seemed like it was the perfect location for what we had in mind,” said Brown.

The business was named for a small creek that runs through the property. “The creek runs underneath the deck of the restaurant; we have tables outside that you can eat at,” she said.

3 blue ribbons

The cafe’s cheesecakes have won a blue ribbon for the past three years at the New Jersey State Fair-Sussex County Farm and Horse Show in Augusta.

“I won my first blue ribbon for cheesecake in the summer of ‘21. That was just for the plain cheesecake, and I have won every year for the plain cheesecakes since then.” said Brown.

This cheesecake uses a recipe that is lighter than New York-style cheesecake.

“I did a lot of research. I played with a lot of different recipes. I decided what I did and didn’t like about a lot of standard cheesecakes. And I did what I could to change those things,” she said.

Michael Montague is a fan of her cheesecake. “I told Kori that I’m not a fan of cheesecake but had to try it after seeing all the hoopla. I ask her what makes hers the best of the best?” he said. “She said it’s lighter and airier than a traditional New York-style cheesecake.

“With much anticipation, I took a bite and smiled from ear to ear. It was absolutely delicious!”

Brown keeps her baking simple. “The plain is my tried and true recipe and whenever I do any flavors, I try not to make too many changes to the basic recipe.”

Up the Creek Café also serves pizza, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches along with other options. “We have a full menu. We do lunch and dinner every day that we’re open. My husband is the savory man. He is the guy in the kitchen,” said Brown.

Daren Valente has won Best Chef in the New Jersey Herald’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Being next to High Point State Park, the restaurant sees a variety of customers. “Being open on the weekends, that opens us up to all the people who are coming up to visit, whether it be those of us who live here year-round or we get a lot of tourists who are from out of the area also,” said Brown.

Montague said, “I love that besides the great food, they also have basic grocery needs for the hiker who may have forgot some bare essentials.”

Brown understands the difficulty of not just running the café but accomplishing any dream. “I always encourage anybody who has a dream to follow it, but I am also very quick to let people know the amount of time and hard work that goes into even pursuing your passions. It really does have to be your passion.

“You have to want to do it, even when you don’t want to do it.”

She said having supportive people like family helps.