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Read, Solve, Eat… Repeat! A Gastronaut Scavenger Hunt

If I were to create a hierarchy of things that make this Blue Collar Foodie smile wider than the Cheshire Cat on Molly, food would be damn near at the apex of this mountain of amazeballs and competition would not be too far behind.  Relax, my wife, my family, the Sunday Sippers, my furry babies, and all that other sappy crap are on that short list too, but this is a food blog and not the Hallmark Channel so how about we focus on the first two and try not to catch the feels.

We all know I love food, and shit you do too if you are reading this inane excuse to stare at food porn, but I feel I should explain my need, no my desire to compete.  I am a recovering jock and I go to meetings, in the form of playing all sorts of sports that is, about once a week for 10 months out of the year.  However, my sickness goes much deeper, I will debate a topic at a bar that I don’t even care about, shit, sometimes I will take the side of an argument that I oppose simply to see if I can win.  It is also not rare at all that a night of drinking ends in a push-up contest, race, or some cockamamie made up game.  During one particular relapse, I created a game called dreidel wars and battled my friends for hours, and I am quite ashamed about how intense our “game” got.  Let’s just say that Kat has banned D-Dub during the holiday season.

Normally my food obsession and my aspiration to compete have to take turns controlling my easily distracted frontal lobe.  That is until my favorite secret adventurous eating society, the Gastronauts, teamed up with the remarkable game designers at Interactive Escapes to create a no holds barred food focused Scavenger Hunt.

Gastronauts_LOGO

Yes, I understand that since I used a hyperlink to point you in the direction of the “Secret Adventurous Eating Society,” I am a member of, it means that this particular group is not as secret as I may have led you to believe.  However, it sounds so much cooler to be a member of a secret society, I mean I can place a link to the Freemasons here, it does not mean that they don’t control the world of finance, and I could link to Scientology as well.   I won’t because I ain’t trying to be on that list, that list gets you murked.  Those bitches be crazy.  Can’t you guys just let me have this one?  No?  Fine, I hate you internets, I truly do.

Now that you have crushed my dreams, I guess I can move on to discussing the epic scavenger hunt Kat, our friend Alex, and I participated in on Saturday November 5, 2016 in Jackson Heights, NY.  First off, I think I would do you guys a disservice to explain each and every aspect of this highly interactive adventure that was cooked up by the ingenious minds of the dynamic duo, that I have deemed the Gastro Game Gangstas A.K.A. Curtiss and Prescott.

Instead of walking you through the entire game and boring you with my furious verbosity I will simply summarize the plot of the game and then move onto the all-important food porn.  Yes, there was a plot, and it was both well thought out and executed.  This wasn’t one of those bullshit scavenger hunts where you have to find 10 items that were haphazardly placed throughout the city for no other reason but because the game master said so.

MeetUp

When we arrived at the arranged meeting place we were divided into teams and informed that we all had a rougher night than Hillary on November 8th.  Apparently, we all attended a bachelor party celebration and we not only lost our wallets but we lost our dignity as well.  The good news was the MTA found our wallets, however the bad news was we lost The Groom!!!  (Cue overly dramatic music and fake gasp!)

Team Ela!!!

Team Ela!!!

Our mission was to shake our hangover off, retrace our steps, and get the groom to his wedding.  Easy, peasy, Right?  Wrong!  Due to us drinking heavier than Bill Murray after the Cubbies spanked the Tribe in Game 7, we remember very little from the previous night, making this task slightly harder than one would expect.

Game On!!!

Game On!!!

We were instructed not to open our provided wallets until we entered the Subway and began our journey to Jackson Heights.  Moments later we found ourselves on a Subway Car feverishly searching our wallet for clues that needed to be solved, and there were quite a few.  The game was a foot and we were eager to destroy the competition, Highlander style!  THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!

We solved the first puzzle almost immediately which was a hint to access the provided twitter account that Prescott and Curtiss had created specifically for the game.  From there we made some educated guesses on what the other clues could potentially mean, studied the boundary map, inspected every crevasse of our wallet and scoured every scrap of paper for information.  By the time we arrived at our station the five of us, emerged as Team Ela, our new found identity and we raced to our first stop.

Team Ela Unite!

Team Ela Unite!

The clues that were given were designed so as they could not simply be googled, however throughout the game we used the internet quite a bit.  Maps to find our way around, IMDB, Twitter, and of course the google machine to assist whenever it was needed.  That was the magic of the game play and one of the reasons I loved this hunt so much.  I was extremely impressed on how Interactive Escapes was able to create challenging, yet attainable goals that were not completely ruined by the internets, if anything allowing the use of a Smart Phone only enhanced the game.

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor...

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor…

The mechanics of the game were pretty straightforward, solve a clue, go to that establishment, eat the dish that you are supposed to order, and Tweet a photo of your team eating the yumminess.  Since food is the source of miraculous healing, once the game masters saw this Tweet they would send you a “memory”, which would be used later to locate the final meeting spot.  The more puzzles you solved the more food you ate, and this was no ordinary food either.  We rocked dumplings, momos, brains, booze, and more!

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

The scavenger hunt itself would have been fun but the addition of the food added to the overall enjoyment immensely.  Not to mention, the level of competition was fierce and contagious.  As we ran up and down city blocks, hectically trying to solve the clues that were being tweeted to us via Direct Message, we filled our bellies with the amazing food that this specific neighborhood of Jackson Heights had to offer.

If these Momos are wrong, I don't want to be right!

If these Momos are wrong, I don’t want to be right!

As we stuffed our talking holes with these delightful morsels we followed the Twitter Feed and hoped that we would be victorious.  We fought hard and earned a respectable amount of points but due to a mistake on our part, waiting 25 minutes for the wrong Momo’s, early in the game, we failed to take the crown.  We did however come in third and were the only team to find the secret Easter Egg that Curtiss and Prescott had placed in the game grid.

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

I implore all of you that are reading this to bug, pester, annoy, and harass Curtiss and Prescott to set another one of these up, and soon!  Not only do I think this a must for any Foodie in the NYC Area, I really want to do this again, but this time I want to WIN!  Thanks for the heaping spoonful of Awesome Sauce Curtiss and Prescott, can’t wait until next time!

Of Course there was beer too!!!

Even theme specific beer made an appearance!

P.S. If you are into scavenger hunts but not into leaving the house, check out Interactive Escapes Free Online Scavenger Hunt.  Only one person has beaten it so far, but I am on my way!  Good Luck, it can be infuriating.

Chicken and Beer

Hat City Kitchen Fills Your Belly and Your Soul!

Back in the day, before I was The Blue Collar Foodie, while Michael Phelps was taking bong rips and Kanye was telling Taylor Swift that he was going to let her finish, I was driving across this crazy country of ours.  The year was 2009, Kat, her brother Benni, and I decided to jump in an SUV and drive from one ocean to the other, just ‘cause.  I got the zany idea to blog about our adventure and thus I was bitten by the blog bug, which in turn gave birth to the site you are reading now.  So, I guess Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and Kyle were wrong, it is not Canada that is to blame after all, it is California… and Kanye… Always blame Kayne!

Love and marriage, love and marriage It's an institute you can't disparage

Love and marriage, love and marriage
It’s an institute you can’t disparage

During our expedition westward we visited countless cities that contained locations that we never thought we would see with our own six eyeballs.  Some of them were the ordinary tourist traps, while others were happy accidents that were nothing short of spectacular.  One such surprise was in a little town called Chicago!  The windy city treated us right, gifting us with the fountain from the beginning sequence of Married with Children, a giant deep dish pizza from Giordano’s, a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and a true Chicago Blues experience at a spot recommended by one of the natives.

While we were having our nightcap at this local after-hours joint, enjoying the live music and mouthwatering food, I remember trying to figure out why New Jersey did not have a spot like this.  Sure, New Jersey has a few local bars that have live music, but there was something about the energy and the vibe of this place that was utterly authentic.

It has been seven years and I thought I would never experience a place as real and raw as this tiny Chicago club in good ol’ Jersey.  That is, until I was turned onto a little place called Hat City Kitchen, located at 459 Valley Street, in Orange, NJ.

Welcome to Hat City Kitchen

Welcome to Hat City Kitchen

***Before my custom built D-Bag filter catches all your angry hate mail, let me add this little caveat. I am well aware that we live across the river from the music and food mecca known as NYC. I venture there quite often.  However, as a card carrying New Jersian, you can’t tell me that crossing those bridges and tunnels all the damn time doesn’t get F-ing annoying after a while.  Sometimes, hitting up a local, and epic eatery in this armpit we call our home, is just what the foodie ordered.***

Enter Hat City Kitchen, an eclectic eatery with live music six nights a week, a fully stocked bar complete with craft beers, and food that is so damn good it will make you sing.  The first time we visited this relatively new spot we were not sure what to expect, but as always we drove to the Restaurant with an open mind and empty stomachs.

Not a bad seat in the house!

Not a bad seat in the house!

The exterior of Hat City Kitchen is extremely welcoming and has an almost old school Saloon feel to it, which immediately set the mood for what we were about to experience.  As we entered, we were instantaneously greeted by the welcoming hostess and sat down within seconds.  The band was still setting up and the dining area near the stage was almost full, yet the service was still impeccable.  Our drink orders were taken within minutes of our arrival by our extremely vibrant waitress and we were left to peruse the menu and soak in the ambience.

Hat City Kitchen is decorated with numerous paintings of famous musicians that would have played at a venue just like this, when venues like this actually still existed.  We played the fun game of guess the artist with each painting in the room while we carefully read the menu in order to choose just the right meals for our night. To be honest, after tasting what we chose, I am not sure if we would have been disappointed with any of the selections we were hemming and hawing about.

We decided to go with an order of the Hot Buttered Mushrooms to prime our appetites before diving head first into the entrees.   Kat decided to heed our helpful waitress’ advice and order from the specials menu, which will soon become the New Fall Menu at Hat City, and went with the Braised Short Ribs whereas I could not help but order the Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken.  Since our entrées came with a side dish each we chose to go with the Garlic Mashed Potatoes and The Collard Greens.

As we ordered our food, our first round of beers arrived and soon we were left to our own devices to enjoy the band that was about to begin their first set.  In no time I was transported back to that bar in Chicago, as the room transformed into a scene out of a movie.  That vibe that I had been longing for quite some time slowly creeped into the city of Orange that night, all thanks to Hat City Kitchen, and I loved every second of it.

MMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmushrooms

MMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmushrooms

Just when I thought this spot could not get any better, our first course arrived.  At first, when the dish arrived I was a little under whelmed.  As I am sure you can see from the photo, this crock full of mushrooms did not look like anything special.  Once again, I failed to mind my Grandmother’s wise words about never judging a book by its cover.  Upon tasting this bowl for amazing, I realized that the mushrooms were simply a vessel for the sauce that if sold at a grocery store could most definitely rock the label, Awesome Sauce.  This lemony, garlic concoction was not only on the mushrooms, but had absorbed into the mushrooms during cooking and created the perfect juicy bite.  I am not ashamed to say that I literally drank the sauce from the bowl.  Although the people sitting next to us seemed to be judging me as I sipped the ramekin like the Queen at high tea, pinky out and all, like the majestic honey badger, I didn’t give a shit.

As we finished our appetizer, we ordered another drink and once again allowed the band to make sweet, sweet, love to our ears.  Yup, I heard it as I typed it.  That was a weird, weird sentence. Sorry for that internets.  Anyhow, the entrees arrived and the sheer size of the dishes took us by surprise.  Both of our entrees were ginormous, and I am not going to lie, their girth combined with the aroma that was emanating from them made me one happy foodie.

Nothing is better than a giant plate of meat!

Nothing is better than a giant plate of meat!

We decided to dig into the Braised Short Ribs first.  The meat was fork fight tender, which is what I look for in a good Short Rib and cooked expertly.  Even though, the meat was phenomenal, once again the sauce stole the show.  Not to mention the fact that when I dipped the Garlic Mashed Potatoes in the gravy, I took a one way trip to flavor town!

Holy Hot Honey Batman!

Holy Hot Honey Batman!

We then, at first reluctantly, moved on to the Fried Chicken and Collard Greens.  At this point in the meal I was starting to see a pattern.  The food at Hat City Kitchen is not only top notch, but it is drizzled, slathered, or swimming in dressings, sauces, or pastes that are otherworldly.  So, when I saw a small container of what appeared to be honey sitting next to my chicken I could not help but dip my fork in it and give it a quick taste.  I was not wrong to do so.  This bold, fiery, mixture was none other than homemade hot honey and it was glorious all by itself, but when paired with the juicy, dare I say the forbidden foodie word, moist, fried chicken, it was straight up tastegasmic.  Look at that chicken people!  Okay, stop looking, you are drooling on your keyboard and your co-workers are starting to wonder about you.

No Bread Pudding For Me, Said No Sane Person Ever!

No Bread Pudding For Me, Said No Sane Person Ever!

Somehow we managed to eat all the food that was placed in front of us and just when we thought we could not fit one more bite of food in our mouths, the waitress came over and said the words that always seem to fix our stomach capacity issues, Homemade Bread Pudding.  Kat and I both locked eyes and lovingly, yet somewhat begrudgingly said “yes, please!,” in unison.  Do yourself a favor and order this sweet treat when you go to Hat City, it is a legitimate contender for best bread pudding I have ever stuffed in my craw!  This unique dessert tastes like bread pudding and creme brulee did it like they do on the discovery channel and had a baby.  Then of course, Hat City Kitchen, takes this wondrous hybrid and plates it with a sauce that is both decadent and divine.

The next time you are looking for a new place to eat, drink, and be merry I highly recommend you jump on the Parkway and head over to Hat City Kitchen.  From first dates to dinner with friends this spot can accommodate all.  I mean if you don’t like great food, lively music, and drinking beer then by all means sit at home in your recliner and watch PBS. However, if you still have a heartbeat and strive for something fun and exciting to do with your evenings, do yourself a favor and get your keister down to Hat City Kitchen, you won’t regret your decision.

Welcome Home!

Missy’s Main Street Cafe Is What New Jersey Breakfast Is All About!

I consider myself a nomadic gastronome, meaning that although I truly heart the Garden State, I will forever roam the planet in search of amazing regional fare. Not just by car either people, I have been known to base entire vacations around a particular type of food, that I could seriously have delivered to my house in 15 minutes, simply because the internets says it is better in some random state. I understand it is a sickness, but I hope they never find a cure, because my wife and I have had some amazing adventures bouncing to and fro from unheralded eateries, roadside stands, established restaurants, dive bars, and on one startling occasion a chance encounter with a gas station mini-mart that served us a hamburger that I still have wet dreams about. To paraphrase the proclaimers, I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles, to chow down at some random store.

With that said, during my gastronomic walkabouts I tend to catch a craving that can only be quenched by my beloved home state. New Jersey may smell like death and cheese and have more D-bags per capita than most states in the union, but there is one thing that we do right in Dirty Jersey, and that my friends, is Breakfast. I ain’t talking about the B.S. that the fly over states call breakfast either, with their Denny’s and their IHOPs. Denny’s might be America’s Diner but that is only because they don’t’ got what we got, and it ain’t corn. Jersey is peppered with classic Diners, mom and pop pancake shops, and eclectic Cafés that serves the type of breakfast that makes you want to take a nap shortly after finishing your 12th cup of coffee.

Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

When I return from an extended epicurean exploration, I long for a true New Jersey breakfast like musicians yearn for a time before American Idol. Recently, I went on a Ramen bender, which lasted longer than I would like to admit, and included three states. Full of broth, salt, and embarrassment, I reentered New Jersey with breakfast on my mind. A simple diner would not fix my sodium-laden, yet bourbon driven hangover. I knew I needed something special, and then it hit me. I felt the need, the need for Missy’s!

Missy’s Main Street Café is located at 181 E. Main Street in Rockaway, New Jersey. Missy’s is the type of place that once someone declares their intentions to go there, there is no discussion. Everyone just accepts they are going and finds themselves driving in a car dreaming about the glorious food that they are about to cram into their talking holes.

Trust me, the food is amazeballs, but we will get back to that. I feel like I must first discuss the ambiance and atmosphere of Missy’s Main Street Café to explain just how remarkable this place really is. When you enter this establishment you feel like you have gone back in time, and not in the holy crap dinosaurs, kind of way, but in the warm, fuzzy kind of way. Missy’s has a home town feel that chain restaurants try to imitate but simply can never duplicate, no matter how many pieces of fake local high school memorabilia they can nail to their walls.

The Wall of Fame

The Wall of Fame

The best part is, Missy’s exudes this charm, without seeming like they are trying to. From their smiling servers that never come off phony to the picture wall that portrays their regular customers, Missy’s simply is a home town café, which is why it feels like one. Not to mention that once a week they select a customer to create and name a special that will be featured at the restaurant.

Get it... Get it... Come On!

Get it… Get it… Come On!

First off, Missy’s Main Street Café’s Menu is chock full of word play, which I find hilarious. Veloci-Wrap-Tor! Get it! Get it! Come On… Screw you… that is funny. Stupid Internet… Anyway, if there is one thing I like better than a good pun it is food, and this joint has that too. On this occasion I decided to get the Doc’s PB&J French Toast with a side of Bacon, Kat went with a Western Omelette paired with home fries and our friend Rory went with a breakfast wrap from the specials menu. How about, Gansta Wrap… Still nothing… I hate you guys.

While we awaited for our food we soaked in the scenery, chatted with our waitress, people watched and even though Missy’s was bumping, we relaxed and enjoyed our Sunday Morning. Something about this quaint café just allows you to forget about the chaos that is happening all around you and ponder the most important things in life, like wondering how many strips of breathtaking bacon will Missy serve me today!

When our food arrived, my train of thought was derailed by the fantastic sight that was my meal. The plate that was placed in front of me exemplified why states like Minnesota can never beat New Jersey in a Breakfast brawl. Sorry, Minneapolis, but Rockaway just pulled out a shiv made out of French toast, peanut butter, and jelly and made Saint Paul an only child.

Holy Hot Damn!!!

Holy Hot Damn!!!

Look at that decadent pile of awesomeness and ask yourself why the hell you have never had this in your life. It was not as sweet as it looks, which was a surprise, but it was as tasty as it appears. The toast was toasty, the peanut was peanut buttery, and the jelly was straight up legit! All together these components teamed up to make a sandwich that was not only memorable but damn near orgasmic.

Egg-Cellent

Egg-Cellent

When Kat ordered her dish, I thought that it was kind of Katish, I mean with the menu this place is rockin’ an omelette is one of the last items I would choose. However, this was a serious omelette! It was a flawless combination of fluffy, flavorful, and scrumptious. Every bite was chock full of ingredients that were hand picked to not only be appealing but delivered an explosive appetizing experience with each and every forkful.

Wrap it up B!

Wrap it up B!

Rory went with a special, which is the usual method to my madness so I respected his gumption and he appeared to make the right decision. Although I did not get to try taste his meal, because it would have been weird to ask, it looked amazing and he seemed to like it a lot considering there was none left by the time our breakfast was over.

MMMMmmmmmmmm BACON!!!

MMMMmmmmmmmm BACON!!!

And then… Then there is the bacon. Bacon so perfectly crisp and delicious that one would think there is a farm behind Missy’s. Where this salty, fatty, yummy comes from may be a mystery but I assure you that it is magical. So magical that one might think these angelic strips of crazy come not from pigs but from the last blessing of unicorns that roam this wonderful planet.

Missy’s Main Street Café serves lunch as well, which I also thoroughly enjoy, but TBH it is their breakfast that keeps me coming back, time and time again. Not to mention that visiting this fancy as fuck greasy spoon is like eating at Grandma’s house. That is, if my Grandma knew how to cook like a boss and had a shit ton of bitchin’ tattoos.

That is some fine ass fish!

Yo! Sushi Schools The Blue Collar Foodie

As I get older there are more and more things that I miss from my youth.  Besides the fact that a hangover that used to last 2 hours, now lasts two days, and in the morning, my bones and my cereal sound like they are having a conversation as they both snap, crackle, and pop.  One such component of my youth that I never thought I would miss is oddly enough school.

I am now almost certain that time travel will not be invented during my life time, because as I just wrote that sentence, a 6 year old with a scraggly bowl cut and a 15 year old rocking JNCOs and a chain wallet didn’t just appear in a DeLorean and take turns kicking my shins.

It is not actually school that I miss, but the learning that accompanied it, because let’s be honest only like 42 people in the history of mankind actually liked high school when they were there.  This perpetual thirst for knowledge is very similar to my thirst for beer on a Thursday night, as in, it is very hard to quell.  Shut up, maybe you have a problem!

Since I still haven’t truly decided what I want to be when I “grow up”, I have yet to choose a Master’s program that I can truly torture my brain with, and so I seek education in unconventional places.  Not to mention, my current chosen path to knowledge is a hell of a lot cheaper than going to grad school.

This time around, my never ending quest for knowledge steered me in the direction of another thing I miss from my youth, The Mall!  That is right, I grew up in Northern New Jersey in the 1990’s, which means that I was a Mall Rat.  Not just any Mall Rat mind you, but a Garden State Plaza Mall Rat; GSP Represent!  Back in my day, the mall you called your home was important and any other rat from any other mall wasn’t even welcome in your hack circle.

01yosushi

Sorry, I veered off course there for a minute.  Anyway, back to my journey.  The interwebs informed me that at my former stomping ground, an eatery that I have written about once before, Yo! Sushi, was now offering a two-hour comprehensive Sushi School.  I was interested, I was intrigued, I was… concerned about the cost.  I subdued my excitement, while I clicked some links and skimmed some sites, all the while worrying that this class might be out of my price range.  Then I saw it.

Our work station for the night.

Our work station for the night.

How much is Yo! Sushi charging for this class you ask?  $30 for a single student and $49 for a pair of pupils.  This is not my first time dabbling in the dark arts of back alley cooking classes, so I know what some of them cost.  I once took a wine class in the city and even with a Groupon it cost me $45 bucks a person, and I left more sober than a 15 year old trying to buy booze with a fake ID that was made with MS Paint and an Ink Jet printer.  The how and why Yo! Sushi is pulling off this price point matters not, I only know they are, and I was in!

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Here is how this class works.  Each Sushi master in training is provided their own rolling mat, gloves, recipe cards and ingredients, and a YO! Sushi head chef will walk you through the process of creating all different types of Sushi.  The syllabus includes, making sushi rice; cutting fresh fish; and mastering the best techniques for rolling maki, mini iso and hand rolls.  As the late great Billy Mays used to say, “But wait there is more!” once all dishes are completed, students will leave with their rolls, along with a recipe book, a certificate, and a special discount voucher for their next visit.  Not to mention if you are as my wife lovingly puts it, a competitive jerk, after you learn your new skills you can put them to the test against the rest of the class by participating in the Yo! Sushi Rolling Challenge.  The winner gets a $10 gift card, a spot on the in-store leader board, a shout-out on the Yo! Sushi Instagram page, and best all BRAGGIN’ RIGHTS!

Go Fish!

Go Fish!

Sounds great, right?!  I am not going to lie, I was skeptical too.  Even more so when our Sushi Chef came out to the table and introduced himself to us.  His name was Stuart, and he was definitely not from Japan.  He was actually from Scotland as we learned once he began to speak to us.  However, after about three minutes into the class we realized it was not the nationality of the chef that mattered, but the passion that he brings to the cutting board.

Say hello to Stuart internets!

Stuart; Internets   …   Internets; Stuart

Stuart not only knew his stuff, but to use an often uttered 90’s colloquialism, he had the mad phat skills to pay the bills.  As he waxed poetic about the history of not only Yo! Sushi but Sushi in general, he demonstrated an array of knife skills that would make a samurai weep.  He went on to explain how to choose the fish you use, how to prepare it, and he also shared the secrets to the most important element of any great Sushi, the mystical rice.  Within the first 15 minutes of the course, Stuart’s extensive knowledge, skills, charisma, and overall teaching method had quelled my hesitation about the class, and I was excited to get my hands dirty.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein

As if Stuart read my mind, he began doling out the ingredients for our first roll. Stuart guided the class through each and every step of the process, making sure that our Sushi somewhat resembled the masterpieces that he was creating.  This was no easy task, because my hands were meant for catching footballs and carrying heavy things, not for Sushi making, but somehow he made it work.

Hands off my Sushi! Get it... Cause it is a Hand Roll... Come on, everyone appreciates a Dad Joke!

Hands off my Sushi! Get it… Cause it is a Hand Roll… Come on, everyone appreciates a good Dad Joke!

Each and every type of Sushi that we created not only came with instructions but also a brief history lesson or anecdote that made the class that much more enjoyable.  Throughout the class, you could tell Stuart was not using a script from a corporate Power Point, he was simply talking to us, while he was teaching us.  He even added some war stories from the Kitchen which are always fun to hear.

Rollin' with my Homies!

Rollin’ with my Homies!

As we were jumping from Sushi type to Sushi type, Stuart stressed that this class was not simply about learning how to make the Sushi that we were preparing today but gaining a skill set that will allows us to use our imagination in the kitchen.  After the completion of this course, you could follow the recipes on the cards that Yo! Sushi provides, or you can use any ingredients you can think of to make whatever concoction your heart desires.  Once you “perfect” the art of slicin’, dicin’, and rollin’, the world of Sushi is yours to explore.

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. … This is just the beginning! – Yoda

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. … This is just the beginning! – Yoda

As we made our last roll, Stuart collected all of our creations and began to cut them.    As he went through the cutting procedure for each style he described the theory behind each cut.  I am not going to lie, while he was doing this, I got a serious case of knife envy.  I don’t have crappy knives mind you, but compared to the hardware Stuart was wielding, I might as well be brandishing a shiv that I fashioned out of a toothbrush.

Now that is a doggie bag!

As promised, our extremely fresh and somewhat amateurishly made Sushi was cut, boxed, and ready to go at the end of the class, thanks to Yo! Sushi and Head Chef Stuart Foster.  As we prepared to leave, we discussed the implantation of this new found culinary skill.  Imagine instead of pigs in a blanket and pizza bagels decorating your dining room table at your next gathering, an assortment of freshly made Sushi.  The best part is, you don’t have to be a master Sushi Chef to pull this off, the effort alone is going to get you plastered on every Instagram, Facebook, and Snap Chat in the house.

That is some fine ass fish!

That is some fine ass fish!

When all was said and done, Kat and I left Yo! Sushi with head full of knowledge and a bag full of Sushi, ready to put our newly acquired skills to good use.  If you are a foodie who enjoys putzing around the kitchen, this is a great way to bolster your culinary aptitude, while not spending a gill and a fin.  Furthermore, if you have someone special in your life who shares your passion for all things palatable, you would be hard pressed to find a better date night that would offer more bang for your buck.

Restaurant-week-2016-summer

The Essential Epicurean Guide To Restaurant Week in NYC: Summer 2016 Edition

This is not a drill people, Restaurant Week is once again upon us! Despite what the haters and hipsters have to say, I, for one, am super excited to head over to the greatest city in the world and chow down on some epic eats! This year’s Restaurant “Week” runs from July 25, 2016 to August 19, 2016 (I know that is more than a week, DEAL WITH IT!) and will run you $29.00 for lunch and $42.00 for dinner. Here is a link to all the participating restaurants; NYCGO.

Restaurant-week-2016-summer

However, if picking a restaurant seems more daunting than hitting a Noah Syndergaard fastball, then keep reading. To make your life easier, I have compiled my essential epicurean guide to this event once again. This time, I embarked on a mission to steer clear of the ordinary haunts and attempted to find the spots that are slightly off the beaten path, gastronomically speaking.

These restaurants might scare people off on a regular Monday, due to their rather adventurous cuisine and, let’s be honest, New York City price tags. However, thanks to the beauty of Restaurant Week, we can give these eclectic establishments a whirl without the worry of buyer’s remorse. So, without further ado, let’s take a Gastronomic walkabout around the globe, simply by driving across a river. (The following list is in no particular order, so make sure to scroll to the end)

The Cecil

Cuisine: African

Restaurant: The Cecil

Address: 210 West 118th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue New York, NY 10026

Why You Should Go: The Cecil has basically created a culinary style that is unique to their establishment deemed Afro-Asian-American. Pair that awesome sauce with their chic décor and hip ambience and you have a recipe for a memorable night out.        

What You Should Order: Collar Green Salad, Fried Chicken Fried Rice, and Triple Chocolate Cake

TenderSteak

Cuisine: American New, Japanese Sushi

Restaurant: Tender Steak + Sushi

Address: 130 West 47th Street, NY 10036  

Why You Should Go: This unique and modern eatery flawlessly combines a traditional American Steakhouse with an authentic high end Sushi joint. Tender made my list because of its culinary range, offering everything from burgers to sushi. This restaurant is great for the group that just can’t decide on one type of cuisine.

What You Should Order: Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice, Tender Wagyu Burger, and Crème Brulee

Distilled NYC

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Distilled New York

Address: 211 W Broadway, New York, NY 10013

Why You Should Go: Distilled New York is a throwback to a near forgotten era where public houses, pubs, and bars were not just full of D-Bags looking to get drunk and laid. Back in the day, these establishments were home to impromptu town hall meetings and actual political discussions, based on informed opinions as opposed to what party you are affiliated with. Distilled is trying to harness that vibe and reinvent the old school Public House. Not to mention they have a standup beer menu and their food is pretty epic.

What You Should Order: Distilled Wings, Country Fried Duck and Waffle, Night Cap

Chefs Club

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Chef’s Club

Address: 275 Mulberry St. Manhattan, NY 10012

Why You Should Go: Brought to you by Food & Wine, this swanky restaurant boasts a collaborative menu from a rotating list of some of the world’s most renowned young Chefs. The Chef’s Club also offers eaters the unique experience of watching the drama of the kitchen unfold before their eyes thanks to their open kitchen, which is located in the center of the eatery.

What You Should Order: Calamari & Giardiniera Salad, Spicy Beef Ribs, and Chocolate Pretzel Whoopie Pie

Blenheim

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Blenheim

Address: 283 W. 12th St. New York, NY 10014

Why You Should Go: First and foremost this sexy eatery has just earned itself a Michelin Star, which should be reason enough to visit. However, that is only the tip of the romaine. Blenheim is redefining the term Farm to Table, by literally growing the food that appears on their impressive menu on their own farm, located in the Catskills. Plus, they are serving this amazingly fresh fare in a beautifully inviting atmosphere. Reservations are hard to come by, but try to score one of the outdoor tables which allow you to enjoy your dinner while participating in one of my favorite NYC past times, people watching.

What You Should Order: Poached Farm Egg, Roast Chicken, and Honey Semifreddo

smoke jazz club

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Smoke Jazz & Supper Club

Address: 2751 Broadway Manhattan, NY 10025

Why You Should Go: Smoke Jazz & Supper Club is one of NYC’s most distinguished Jazz Clubs and they just so happen to have a world renowned Chef playing her tunes in the Kitchen to boot. Let Smoke set the mood for your date night with their vintage décor, candlelit tables, soulful live jazz performances, and remarkable food. It is like the Barry White songs of restaurants, if you are picking up what I am putting down.

What You Should Order: Mousse of Foie Gras, Lobster Ravioli, S’mores Brownie

BurkeWillsNYC

Cuisine: Australian

Restaurant: Burke & Willis

Address: 226 W 79th St, New York, NY 10024

Why You Should Go: Visiting Australia has always been a dream of mine, alas the never ending plane ride has always scared me away. Thanks to Burke & Willis, I can now try traditional Southern Hemisphere food, without having to endure crying infants, stale air, and 3 inches of leg room for 21 hours twice in 2 weeks.  

What You Should Order: Kangaroo Ham (+$5.00), Australian Lamb Rack (+$10.00), Affogato

Resto_Logo

Cuisine: Belgian

Restaurant: Resto

Address: 111 East 29th Street New York, NY 10016

Why You Should Go: Resto’s attempt to replicate the quant bistros that are all over Paris and Brussels is spot on, and the food transports you to these foodie havens as well. Furthermore, Resto offers outdoor seating to add to the already wonderful dining experience.

What You Should Order: Country Ham, Chicken & Liege Waffles Bacon, Honey Panna Cotta

Vermillion

Cuisine: Eclectic

Restaurant: Vermillion

Address: 480 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017

Why You Should Go: Sticking with the theme of this article, Vermillion’s culinary exploration of the intersection of Indian and Latin-American cuisine is distinctive and playful. The Restaurant Week menu was not available at the time that I published this post, which usually keeps a restaurant off my list, but I am a sucker for Indian Cuisine and their regular menu looked straight up fantastic.

What You Should Order: Your guess is as good as mine…

 Noreetuh

Cuisine: Hawaiian

Restaurant: Noreetuh

Address: 128 First Avenue Manhattan, NY 10009

Why You Should Go: Why shouldn’t you go? Unless you have access to a private jet and unlimited money, I would imagine that you don’t eat traditional Hawaiian food very often. Noreetuh offers a small slice of paradise in this otherwise brick-faced world. Plus they have a decent craft beer list and an impressive wine selection to get you into that serious vacation mood.

What You Should Order: Noreetuh Salumi, Mentaiko Spaghetti, and King’s Hawaiian Bread Pudding

KHE YO

Cuisine: Laotian

Restaurant: Khe-Yo

Address: 157 Duane St. Manhattan, NY 10013

Why You Should Go: I pride myself on rocking every single style of food that I can literally and figuratively sink my teeth into, and I have yet to have Laotian food. So, to be honest, I am not exactly sure what I would order or if it will be at the level of some of the other spots on the list. However, I am damn sure, that it will be an experience and just a quick peek at their website will show you that although I can’t guarantee anything, I am betting on Khe-Yo punching me right in the taste buds.

What You Should Order: Maine Lobster Dumplings, Steamed Red Snapper in Banana Leaf, Vanilla Rice Pudding

 Pig and Khao

Cuisine: Malaysian

Restaurant: Pig And Khao

Address: 68 Clinton St. Manhattan, NY 10002

Why You Should Go: It is not a secret here on the internets that I love pork more than the internets loves videos of cats. I have a rule whenever I am searching for a restaurant or bar and it is quite simple; follow the pig. While it may have been the name of this eatery that drew me in, it was the pork centric menu that landed it on my exclusive list of where you should eat. Oh, Pig And Khao, you had me at Pork Jowls.

What You Should Order: Grilled Pork Jowl, Pork Belly Adobo, Baby Back Ribs, Turon

Russian Tea Room

Cuisine: Russian

Restaurant: The Russian Tea Room

Address: 150 W. 57th St. Manhattan, NY 10019

Why You Should Go: For 80 years, the Russian Tea Room and its ornate décor has been wining and dining NYC’s elite. Much like a baseball fan walking into Wrigley Field, a foodie can feel the culinary history oozing from this legendary eatery. Not to mention they have, arguably, the best Russian Food this side of the Atlantic.

What You Should Order:  Team Room Red Borscht, Boeuf à la Stroganoff, Cheesecake

Root and Bone

Cuisine: Southern Fare

Restaurant: Root & Bone

Address: 200 E. 3rd St. Manhattan, NY 10009

Why You Should Go: Southern food is not for everyone, I respect and acknowledge that. However, I assure you, Southern food is for me and that is why Root & Bone lands firmly on my short list of must visit eateries in NYC. Root & Bone combines high end comfort food, southern hospitality, and culinary expertise to form, IMHO, one of the best true eating experiences the city has to offer.

What You Should Order: Grandma Daisy’s Angel Biscuits, Braised Short Rib Meatloaf, and S’mores

socarrat paella bar

Cuisine: Spanish

Restaurant: Socarrat-Paella Bar

Address: 953 2nd Avenue New York, NY 10022 / 284 Mulberry Street New York, NY 10012 / 259 West 19th Street New York, NY 10011

Why You Should Go: What is not to like about Paella? The math is sound folks! Handfuls of amazingly seasoned seafood, meat, and vegetables + perfectly prepared rice + gigantic portions = Hot Damn. Socarrat-Paella Bar brings this amazing dish to Restaurant Week in style with several variations available.

What: Pulpo a la Plancha (Grilled Octopus), Paella de Arroz Negro (Seafood Paella with squid ink), and Churros Con Chocolate.

Adam would have never given up one of these ribs!  #SorryEve  #NoMoreHumans #MoreRibs4Adam

T-Pain Directs The Blue Collar Foodie To Kimchi Mama

If you are a true foodie, seeing a new and interesting restaurant open its doors in your neighborhood probably makes you about as happy as a trippin’ hippie at a Dead concert.  The other day I was driving home from work and took an unexpected detour to avoid a huge accident, thanks to my navigator T-Pain on Waze, and I passed a sign I did not recognize.  My foodie radar began to ping and the bleeps, sweeps, and the creeps directed me to further investigate this new eatery.  As I drove past I was able to catch the name of Fair Lawn’s newest establishment, Kimchi Mama, and I knew I would be eating there in the near future.

A few days later Kat and I were tired and hungry after a long hike in the Ramapo Mountains and we decided that we needed to eat something before we continued the rest of our day.  After a brief discussion it became apparent that Kimchi Mama would be the perfect restaurant to fill the void in our bellies and we were excited to give it whirl.

Welcome to Kimchi Mama

Welcome to Kimchi Mama

Parking is slightly rough because Kimchi Mama is located at 7-09 Fair Lawn Ave., Fair Lawn, NJ and there are several other businesses that are located on that stretch of the road.  However, since we had our pups in tow and it was stupid hot that day, Kat stayed in the car with them, so I could park in the Chase parking lot, across the street.

As I entered Kimchi Mama I noticed that there was no seating in this restaurant, so plan to take your meal home with you or drive a few blocks to the park and chow down alfresco style.  I was greeted immediately when I entered by, who I can only assume, is The Kimchi Mama, and she was very personable and welcoming.

Furthermore, she was extremely knowledgeable, considering there were a few things on the menu that I not only could not pronounce but I would have had to google the shit out of to find out if they were vegetable, animal, or mineral.  She was very good at recognizing that although I was adventurous, I needed some assistance throughout the ordering process, and she was patient to boot.

After speaking to her for a brief period of time, I contacted Kat and like a coach devising a plan during a timeout, we quickly mapped out our meal.  By the way, I want a white board with the outline of a belly on it so at a restaurant I can huddle up my friends and devise a true food play.   Patent Pending, don’t steal my ideas you jerks!

We decided to rock Dukbokki, Pork KimBap, and a Vegetable Pajeon Pancake for our appetizers and a large order of Dwaeji Galbi (Korean Spare Ribs) for our main meal.  Since it was our first time there we were unaware of the portion size and we had the hike hunger, so we decided to go big.  Don’t judge us!  Think of our gluttony as your research!

We knew we were ordering big, but we did not realize just how big.  The amount of food that was handed to me from THE Kimchi Mama was unexpected and extremely appreciated.  When we arrived home we began to unpack the two bags of food that were wafting a wonderful smell throughout my house.  I had to fight the urge to attack the first thing out of the bag with a fork with a determination that few have ever summoned.

Doo-Dads, Whazits, and Awesome Sauce!

Doo-Dads, Whazits, and Awesome Sauce!

Not only did we receive all the things we ordered but there were several small containers of pickled doo dads and spicy awesome sauce, scattered throughout the bag.  Not to mention the rice, Miso soup, and of course the Kimchi that also made an appearance.  Altogether, Kimchi Mama hooked us up with quite a spread for under 40 bucks, and that is how we like to Roll!

Pancakes... Pancakes...Pancakes! The Rockland Boulders fans know what I am talking about.

Pancakes… Pancakes…Pancakes! The Rockland Boulders fans know what I am talking about.

We decided to take the pancake for a test drive first.  If you like the Scallion Pancakes that are on the menu at your local Chinese Take-Out spot, you need to order this immediately.  The texture was a perfect combination of crunchy and chewy, and the heaps of vegetables contained in the pancake added a wonderful roasty and earthy flavor.  When paired with the sauce that we believed it should be dipped in, a dark soy-like liquid, all the flavors melded together to create an umami grenade of sheer delight.

Porky...Pork...Pork... I love Pork!!!

Porky…Pork…Pork… I love Pork!!!

Next up, in our marathon of eating was the Pork Kimbap.  Basically, this tasty treat is a pork sushi roll, but have no fear the pork was cooked.  As you can see from the picture above this dish was beautiful, what you can’t tell, is just how tasty this treat was.  Stupid future, get on that stuff, Edible 3-D Printing, make it happen.

Miso Hungry!

Miso Hungry!

As our bellies began to fill, we decided to clean our palates and take a breather from solid food before continuing this ambitious feast.  We slowly sipped our Miso Soup and discussed our battle plan to destroy the rest of the food that littered our table.  The soup was a wonderful intermezzo and was on par with most Miso that one could procure from a high-end Chinese Food Restaurant.

When in doubt...Try it out!!!

When in doubt…Try it out!!!

We moved on to the Dukbokki, and with limited knowledge on what we were about to eat, we deiced to forego the Googling and dive right in.  I fell in love at first bite!  On the menu this dish was described as Rice Cakes, Fish Cakes, and Onion stir fried in a sweet and spicy Korean pepper sauce.  This cup of amazing, was slightly fishy, slightly spicy, and when poured on top of the rice was all sorts of awesome.  Each forkful brought new flavors and interesting textures that made this dish my favorite thing we tried, thus far.

Adam would have never given up one of these ribs! #SorryEve #NoMoreHumans #MoreRibs4Adam

Adam would have never given up one of these ribs! #SorryEve #NoMoreHumans #MoreRibs4Adam

I had to put the stipulation of thus far in the paragraph above because we tried our main course directly after the Dukbokki, and holy hell I was impressed by these meaty bone-in tidbits of yummy.  By themselves they were tasty, but when wrapped in the provided lettuce and slathered in the sauce we were instructed to pair them with, they entered a whole new level of flavor country. A region of savory that I do not believe I had ever visited before.  It was as if Kat and I were Lewis and Clarke, and this dish was 100 miles west of the Mississippi River.  If you venture to Kimchi Mama, and you should, make this dish your first choice and I guarantee you will return.

The moral of this story is, when T-Pain tells you to make a left, you make a damn left, because you never know where the road may take you.  My detour directed me to Kimchi Mama and for the foreseeable future, I will be taking this detour quite frequently.  The service was wonderful, the food was amazing, and you can’t beat the price point.  “In a quarter of a mile, Amaze-balls!”

Since Kimchi Mama is relatively new and they have yet to set up a website I have included the menu below for your edification:

You're Welcome!

You’re Welcome!

netflixandgrilluse

Netflix and Grill

Summer is hurdling at us faster than hipsters flocking to a vintage flannel sale in Williamsburg, which means the time to prepare is nigh.  No longer can you get away with making a Lasagna, a Sunday Sauce, or a Chili for your friends when they visit.  The time for one pot meals is behind us and we are staring directly into the heart of the most epic and somewhat daunting cooking season there is.  That is right people, this is not a drill!  It is time to buy way to much food, invite a shit-ton of people over, drink heavily (But Responsibly…Stupid Lawyers!), light inappropriately large (But Manageable…I H8 Lawyers) fires in your suburban back yards, and grill, damn you, grill, until all of your guests tap out like the late great Kimbo Slice in rear naked choke.

For those of you that saw the title of this post and thought it was going to be about which movies are the best to watch while you Netflix and Chill, I apologize.  For those of you that don’t exactly know what Netflix and Chill means and just clicked the link above to find out, I am looking at you Mom, have no fear, there is no porn here.

This post is about the Top 5 titles on Netflix to Binge Watch prior to the start of summer to get your creative juices flowing and assist you in formulating a plan for each and every backyard get together that is in your future.  There will always be a place on my grill for burgers and dogs, but to supplement those staples, I like to go off-book and the following shows get me “in the mood”, so without further ado let’s Netflix and Grill!

5:  Chef (2014)  

ChefFilm

This feature length film is for everyone that hates documentary style movies and television shows.  I for one can watch a Chef wield a knife, talk about the perfect turnip, and pontificate about the need for 300 varieties of rice for hours on end, but I understand that those types of shows are not for everyone.  This 2014 Dramedy is about a prominent Chef that loses his job and decides to open a food truck to reclaim his culinary passion and spend some quality time with his son.  The cast is a recipe for awesomesauce as Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo add a cup of comedy, Sofia Vergara throws in a bunch of Tablespoons of Sexy, and Emjay Anthony steals the show with more than a pinch of epic acting.  After watching Chef, if you don’t know why you started cooking, hang up your tongs, turn off the gas, and get the fuck away from the grill.

4:  Cooked (2016)

Cooked Netflix

Quite the opposite of my first selection, Cooked is the epitome of Documentaries, but that is exactly why I freaking love it.  This four episode mini-series is based on Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, by the same name, and discusses how varying cooking techniques impacted mankind and transformed the world as we know it.  Each episode is named after one of the four basic elements of nature; Fire, Water, Air, and Earth to further drive home the deep connection between our evolution and the food of our ancestors, predecessors, and ourselves.   After watching the Fire episode, Episode 1, you will want to kick your Grill’s tires, let some fires, and sear something that was recently slaughtered, but if you are anything like me you will have to binge watch the rest of the episodes first.

3:  Good Eats (1999-2012)

Good Eats

The host of this oldie but goodie, Alton Brown, is a combination of Julia Child, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mr. Rogers, and Pee Wee Herman.  Good Eats, at times maybe funny, satirical, and nostalgic, but it is always informative and educational.  Whenever I am cooking something for the first time I turn to Mr. Brown, because he does not just give you a recipe like all the other Chef’s kicking around your cable box, he explains why and how the given ingredients in that recipe work.  Good Eats doesn’t focus on what you cook, it concentrates on teaching you how to cook, and that is why is the perfect show to watch before manning your meat maker.  As of right now the only episodes that are available on Netflix Streaming is a selection of 25 episodes called the Good Eats Collection, but that should be enough to give you some solid ideas for your future backyard Soirees.

2:  Mind of a Chef (2012-    )       

Mind of a Chef

Thanks to Executive Producer/Culinary Cowboy/Narrator Anthony Bourdain and PBS, Mind of a Chef entered our lives in 2012.  Wait…Wait…Wait… come back, PBS is so much more than Opera and Pledge Drives.  This revolutionary show feels as if the producers gave some of the most innovative Chefs in the world a camera crew, a kitchen, and a Black AMEX and said, “show us why you became a foodie.”  What came from this magnificent concept is a show that truly allows you enter the mindset of Chefs that are changing the very culture of cooking, one dish at a time.  You begin to identify with the Chefs that are showcased as well as see how their influences, hardships, cultural backgrounds, and relationships shaped them into the culinary juggernauts that they are today.  “Enter the Mind Of A Chef.”

1:  Chef’s Table (2015-    )  

  Chef's Table

If inspiration is what you are after, look no further than this gastronomic Netflix Original Series.  Each episode introduces you to one of the world’s most renowned Chefs and invites you into their unique culinary world.   The show includes an in-depth tour of the world’s best restaurants, stunning food porn; detailing the remarkable food these establishments serve, and of course a glimpse into the Chef’s inspiration, passion, and life experiences.  After watching this awe-inspiring documentary one cannot help but be motivated to create food that not only tastes good, but looks as beautiful as any piece of art hanging in the Louvre.  *Warning*  By watching this show, you will add several restaurants to your Dine Before Death list and none of them are inexpensive.

There you have it folks.  The Blue Collar Foodie’s Netflix and Grill list.  Now get to binge watching because a backyard barbecue without creativeness is as enjoyable as drinking a non-alcoholic beer on a Saturday Night while you Netflix and Chill sans partner.