The Blue Collar Foodie Goes Round For Round With The Duke at Charlie Blood’s

Occasionally the fact that I have a food blog comes up in conversations and when it does I typically get mixed reviews, pun intended.   Some people respond to this statement as if I just told them that I kick dogs for fun, while others reply as if I had told them I write for the New Yorker.  Although, I tend to enjoy the latter as opposed to the former reaction, by far my favorite response is also the most common; “That is, (Insert Favorable Adjective Here), you should really check out, (Insert Restaurant’s Name Here).”

This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago while I was at my local watering hole, The Twisted Elm, and ran into a few old friends.  One of them was unaware that I write this blog and as soon as I mentioned it she instantly began throwing names of restaurants out faster than I could digest them.  As I fervently tapped on my phone with my giant clumsy thumbs, trying to capture all the potential Blue Collar eateries that were being hurled in my direction, one seemed to stand out amongst the crowd, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Not only was the name appealing but the way she described this joint lead me to believe that it was right up my alley.  She may or may not have used the phrase Dive Bar a few times.

Charlie Bloods

Charlie Blood’s Restaurant

The following night Kat, our friend Rory, and I embarked on our culinary quest to Charlie Blood’s, which is located at 147 Frederick St., in Garfield, NJ.  As we pulled up to what I assumed was the front of the building, more on this later, I could feel the blue collar vibe emanating from this establishment.   The yellow brick of the building illuminated by the welcoming glow of the neon beer sign in the window attracted Rory and I like a tween to sparkly vampires.

Upon entering Charlie Blood’s Restaurant we were whisked away to a wondrous world of wood paneling and draught beer, that I lovingly call DiveBaria.  This extraordinary land is a lot like Narnia from the acclaimed novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except that the Wardrobe is a bar, the Lion is food, and instead of a witch there is beer.  Come to think of it, there are really not any similarities between these places, except of course, they are both magical.  Once inside, we grabbed a table adjacent to the bar, ordered a round of drinks, and asked for a few menus.

Inside Charlie Bloods

Inside Charlie Blood’s

While we swigged our first round, we discussed the menu and conversed about the astonishing selection of food that this seemingly unimposing tavern has to offer.   Even though Charlie Blood’s offers a wide variety of Italian American fare, my mind was made up the second I picked up the menu and saw “The Duke’s” face staring back at me.  The Duke is Charlie Blood’s Famous 24oz Ribeye Steak and I felt obligated to my readers to conquer it, especially since it was only $17.95.  Kat opted to attempt to keep her girlish figure, which this blog does not help at all, and ordered the 12oz steak for $11.95, while Rory went with the Seafood platter, which is described as Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, and Baked Clams for $14.95.  To add to the affordability of this spot, all of our meals came with a house salad and fries as well.

After the hardest part of the evening was over and our food ordered, we took our beverages in hand and drank in all that this restaurant has to offer.  The walls of Charlie Blood’s restaurant are covered from floor to ceiling with local sports memorabilia and hometown heroes.   I am not talking about the kind of crap that is draped all over the walls at your local Applebee’s, that was clearly professionally framed and placed there by a decorator either, I am talking about  the genuine article.  A large poster of this establishment’s namesake, Charlie “Blood” Benanti, hangs in the bar alongside this memorabilia.

Charlie Blood's Logo

Charlie Blood’s Logo

According to the Googles, “Charlie gained his nickname “Charlie Blood” at a young age from his reputation as a street tough fighter during his school days. He began professional boxing at the age of 16 to aid his family in the pre-depression years. Many of his fights were held in Garfield, Jersey City, and Paterson.  He gained the New Jersey Lightweight crown in 1928. With a winning record of 65-5, he retired in 1931. In 1940, Charlie took over a tavern in Garfield from his father-in-law and is now owned and run by his son Sal Benanti, and his family.”

Our salads arrived and I have to say I was impressed by the portion size.  That is not to say that the salads were over sized but they were not overtly petite either.  To paraphrase a famous blond girl who broke into a bears house, it was not too big or too small, but just the right size.  The actual contents of the salad appeared to be fresh and as far as a dinner salad goes, it did its job flawlessly.

The Duke

Charlie Blood’s Famous 24 oz. Ribeye Steak

With my appetite intact and properly primed, I was ready to go round for round with The Duke.  As this 24oz beast of a steak came to our table the theme song from Rocky was playing in my head.  I have never met a steak I could not finish and I was determined to make sure that the Duke was not the first.  So far Charlie Blood’s Restaurant was not disappointing this blue collar foodie, but as the first forkful of steak was slowly approaching my craw, I knew that the moment of truth was upon us.  For, a cheap bill is not the only requirement for a restaurant to be Blue Collar Foodie approved.   But alas Charlie Blood’s Restaurant did not dissatisfy, it was love at first bite.

The Duke

The Duke’s Close-Up

This colossal slab of cow was perfectly cooked, medium rare, and seasoned just enough to enhance the natural flavor of the meat.  This was one of the best steaks I have had in a long time, and I could not believe that I was having it at a place like Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Kat and Rory seemed to be enjoying their meals too, considering the conversation that we were having when the food arrived had not only stopped but was only a distant memory.  As I finished my steak, I found myself sopping up the juices with my French fries so I would not waste any of the deliciousness.

Seafood Melody

Seafood Melody

All in all, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant is the perfect two punch combination, it is affordable and the food is terrific.  This is yet another establishment that makes you hear your wise mother’s voice urging you not to judge a book by its cover, in that motherly tone that we all love to hate.  These hyper local Blue Collar foodie havens are difficult to find and get harder and harder as the years drag on.  There is something extremely comforting about Charlie Blood’s, a Cheers’esque’ quality, that is sadly endangered nowadays.

There are a few notes about Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I wish I knew before we visited that I will now share with you.  This blue collar foodie find, much like many others, only takes cash.  They do have an ATM on site, but if you want to save the fees stop at the bank before you head over.  Furthermore, if you are not into eating at the bar, I have been told that there is a full service restaurant side to Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I will be checking out on our next visit.  The entrance to the restaurant is apparently around the corner from the door we used to get in.

Judgment:

Overall:                          4 out of 5

Taste:                             4 out of 5

Presentation:                3 out of 5

Value:                             5 out of 5

Charlie Bloods on Urbanspoon

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The Blue Collar Foodie Cooks With Science

As the Holiday season is approaching faster than Frosty melts in Al Gore’s very unpopular remake entitled Frosty’s Inconvenient Truth, everyone tends to overlook one of the greatest holidays of the year.  Everyone that is, except for the foodie community.  I don’t understand what is not to love about a holiday that is all about giving thanks for what you have, eating food until you feel like Jabba the Hutt, and then taking a nap while watching football.  Forget about Christmas and Chanukah people, Thanksgiving is where it is at!

Now that we have determined that Thanksgiving makes those other winter holidays feel like Daniel Baldwin at a family reunion, we are ready to celebrate, so put away your yule tide cheer for just a few more days and let’s talk Turkey!

Thanksgiving is a time for foodies everywhere to roll up their sleeves and prove to the world that they are not in need of an intervention because they watch Food Network every spare second of everyday.  Thanksgiving is a holiday tailor made for all of us that are just the right amount of food crazy.  This food-centric day gives all of us the opportunity to showcase our culinary skills to our beloved family and friends.

If you are anything like me, before you even acquired a kitchen and a dining room of your own, you hatched a James Bond-esque strategy to seize Thanksgiving from your kin, once grandma relinquished control.  This is not an easy task mind you; annexing a holiday is pretty much like licking your elbow, damn near impossible. (Go ahead and try to lick your elbow, I won’t judge. Can’t do it right? I know it is weird; you are so close but yet so far away.  Never mind that now, keep reading.)  But now as the victors of the great Thanksgiving conflict of 2010, Kat and I have won the right to host Thanksgiving and the traditions we create this year may be blogged about by our children someday, so we better bring the pain. The only question was how.

Right about now, you may be asking yourself, “Self, what the hell do I care about this crazy man’s Thanksgiving, I have my own Turkey anxiety to worry about?”   That is a very good question, and if you don’t want to learn how to cook with science and make every single person at your Thanksgiving table this year yearn for your turkey like Govenor Chris Christie and I crave bacon, then close this window and head over to RachaelRay.com and read all about her turkey.

Oh look who decided to stick around and keep reading.  Was it because this crazy foodie mentioned the possibility of cooking with science?  Good, because that is what this blog post is all about.  That’s right the Blue Collar Foodie is going to school you on cooking with straight up, Bill Nye approved science and cause all your relatives to doubt every other turkey cooking method they hold true to their heart.

Back in the 50’s Grandma baked her bird, then when Dad took over Thanksgiving in the 80’s the fowl was put to flame on the grill, and even Cousin Jebediah jumped into the mix circa 2000’s with a fry daddy and a truckload of oil, but if I was going to keep Thanksgiving at our place I had to come up with something huge.  Enter the Char-Broil Big Easy Oil-Less Turkey Fryer and the age of infrared cooked Turkey!

Anyone who has ever dreamt of deep frying a turkey but can’t shake the constant nagging reminder of the 100’s of You Tube videos that are forwarded to your many E-mail accounts this time of year depicting horrific Thanksgiving accidents when dealing with Frying, this baby is for you.  The Big Easy Oil less Fryer is the perfect compromise for the dare devil foodie that is willing to throw caution to the wind and his practical wife that is contemplating the best route to the emergency room during the Thanksgiving parade. This Bunsen burner on steroids can cook up to a 16 pounder in 8-10 minutes a pound and leaves your bird with crispy skin and moist, succulent meat.   Not to mention that you will get to post on Facebook the amazing picture of your Turkey, with the caption, “Cooked With Science,” and if you’re a foodie nerd like me, it does not get much cooler than that.  For my fellow science nerds here is an image that explains the science of infrared cooking.

As the late, great, Billy Mays use to say, “But wait there’s more.”  For all the traditionalists, who are about to comment on this article shunning this remarkable invention, put your blackberry away and relax.  Not only can you still brine your turkey just like you always do but you can also add a dry rub or inject a marinade as well.  Not to mention the fact that your oven is free to cook all your side dishes without the encumbrance of a giant feathered friend taking up 75% of it. 

Still not convinced, just look at the pictures of the nine pound chicken I cooked the other day, in 90 minutes I might add.  Let me explain it to you this way, you can keep cooking your turkey in the oven until someone in your family buys a Big Easy and starts cooking with science, thus commandeering your holiday!

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Collar Foodie Goes On A Foodcation

When normal people go on Vacation, they spend hours, if not days, obsessing over which monuments to visit or which museum has the most, must see artwork, within its confines.  I however am not an ordinary person, I am a foodie through and through and my vacation planning begins with the googles and ends with a list of must have foodie finds for whatever foreign land I am venturing to.

In the past, I have ate my way through a road trip spanning across this beautiful country of ours sampling all the spectacular food that the fly over states have to offer.  Kat and I then went on an International foodcation to see what eats Europe had to offer, while stopping off at London, Paris, and Rome. No matter where Kat and I journey, as Snoop  Dogg once kind of said, “We got our mind on our food, and our food on our mind.”

This past week Kat and I were traipsing through LA LA land, over on the left coast, and I was not disappointed with the fantastic food that I found while I lived among the movie stars and crazy meth addled homeless people that seem to live next door to each other in good ole’ Los Angles. The following is my Top 5 Blue Collar Foodie finds in the L.A. area.

5.  Bar Kitchen 819 S. Flower Street, Downtown LA

“When in Rome” is the Cliché that should roll off every foodie’s tongue when foodcationing (Yes I just made that word up and by the way, it is Trademarked).  One should not go to Philadelphia and opt to eat a Cheese Steak without Cheez Whiz because they are on a diet, just like one should not go to the Musée du Louvre in Paris and opt not to see the Mona Lisa because the line is too long, it is decisions like these that make the rest of the world believe that Americans are uncouth, and this foodie will not allow that to happen on his watch.

With this thought in mind, I could not let my fellow East Coasters down, even if every frugal bone in my body was tingling like Spiderman’s spidey sense at Doctor Octopus’s New Years Eve Party, as I walked into the posh downtown eatery known as Bar Kitchen.  From the moment I walked into this establishment my hipstrometer, which of course is my scientific device that measures the approximate hipster level a restaurant gives off, was reading Michael Cera in a Starbucks with a Mac Book Pro, which is the highest reading I have ever seen before.

When in Rome I thought to myself as we were seated adjacent to the wall that was showing a looped, muted, black and white version of The Never Ending Story and offered a libation before our five course Chef’s Tasting began.  I ordered a Golden Road, Point the Way I.P.A, which is one of the few beers that is brewed and bottled in sunny Los Angeles, California.

With my first bite of the first course, a Quail salad with sweet potatoes and pomegranate seeds, I was ready to don an ascot, black glasses, and sing to Weezer while driving down Hollywood Boulevard in my Smart Car.  With every bite I was whisked away to a foodie paradise via Falcore the Luck Dragon, the creepy flying dog from The Never Ending Story, and I savored every second of it.

With a tiny bird and some greens in my belly, the courses hit the table like a flurry of punches from Mike Tyson, not the pigeon wrangling medicated Tyson either, the biting people’s ears off crazy Tyson.  The Mussels with Catalina beans and Tasso Ham were so rich and decadent they would make Bill Gates jealous, a Chicken Chorizo skewer topped with a lime aioli that tasted as if it was grilled on Jesus’s barbecue outside the pearly gates, and a Sock-Eye Salmon that was served with Fava beans and an Olive Compote that was so light and flaky that I mistook it for actress and damn near asked it for its autograph.

With the savory courses done, our Motley Crew sat back in our chairs like the hedonistic rulers of age old societies as we loosened our belts and discussed the fine food that graced our table in celebration of our friend Benni’s bachelor party and all agreed that this grub was in fact better than the obligatory stripper laced bachelor party that is the ordinary agenda for a party of this magnitude.   Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, a small glass of sherbet and cantaloupe arrived in front of each of us.  The chef at Bar kitchen is apparently smarter than the average bear, and knows no one in Los Angles can turn down Sherbet and Fruit no matter how stuffed they are.  This final course was simply divine and was the perfect ending to a tremendous meal.

When I entered this eatery I fell into the age old trap of judging a book by its cover and I was wrong to do so.  To add insult to my injury their price was half as much as one would expect to pay a New York Restaurant for a 5 course tasting meal, and I gladly ate the chef’s humble pie for only 35 bucks!  Well done Bar Kitchen, my compliments to the chef.

Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

4.  Bob’s Big Boy 4211 Riverside Dr. Burbank, CA

There are quite a few things that New Jersey is known for, some of them we are proud of and others, not so much. A true Jersey native will proudly boast about first game of baseball being played in Hoboken, cringe at any Snookie related nonsense, and give you directions to one of the 17 billion malls that are located in the Garden State.   Even though New Jersey is known for all of these things, the one thing that Jersey has that no New Jersian can truly live without, is the magical Diner.  In most of the other states that I have traveled to finding a Diner is quite a task, but not in our wonderful little armpit. I am pretty sure that every town has a law about having at least one diner, and if that diner closes your town risks being shunned and forced to become a part of Pennsylvania, and believe me, no one wants that.

Everyone enjoys having a small slice of home when they are on vacation, including Kat and I, so if we can have breakfast  at a diner when we are away  it makes the start of the day that much better. Enter Bob’s Big Boy, which is not just any old run of the mill diner, but a full service diner that has been feeding the residents of Burbank, California since 1949.  Whenever we are in the L.A. area Bob’s Big Boy is a must stop for at least one leisurely breakfast.

The door for Bob’s in Burbank is like a time portal that whisks you away back to the 1950’s when Diners were chock full of plump oversized booths  and smiling waitresses.  As you walk into this amazing historical landmark, you can feel the Americana oozing from every corner, from the plague that informs you where the Beatles ate to Bob Big Boy statue that is displayed within the dining area.   If there is one thing better than the décor, it is the deliciously comforting food.

At Bob’s you can, of course, get the normal diner fare, but in my opinion normal is just another way to say mundane.  If you decide to go visit Bob in Burbank I recommend getting the Big Boy Scramble which is described as scrambled eggs mixed with ham, bell pepper, onions and tomato, topped with cheddar cheese and is served with fresh hash brown potatoes, a side of salsa and toast, English muffin or biscuit if you are hungry yet want to appear healthy.  I for one, use the mantra go big or go home a lot when I am on vacation, so when I go to Bob’s I order the Deep Fried French Toast with bacon, eggs, and home fries.   That’s right I said DEEP FRIED FRENCH TOAST, try to read the rest of the article before booking a flight to Big Boy Land please.

Bob's Big Boy on Urbanspoon

3.  Food Trucks (Lardon’s Obituary)

The first time Kat and I wandered around the streets of California we had never partook in the offerings of mobile gastronomy purveyors, or food trucks in layman’s terms.  It was on this first adventure to Los Angles that Kat and I realized the folly of our ways.  While we were looking for expensive chic restaurants in preparation for our trip, we should have been scouring the interwebs for mobile eateries and then chasing them down California Highway Patrol style sans the goofy looking tan shorts and bad 80’s hair.

The food truck that converted us to the church of portable cuisine was none other than the delectably decadent Lardon.  This now extinct beast was the countries’ first and, as far as I know the only Bacon themed food truck.   Lardon was so popular due to its Baconey goodness that it was featured on numerous Television Shows including everyone’s favorite Ginger, Conan O’Brien.  Just reading Lardon’s menu literally added cholesterol to your system.  Some of the menu highlights were, The Bacone which consisted of three strips of exotic bacon, such as Duck or Wild Boar, Chicken Wings covered in bacon hot sauce, topped with hot sauce covered bacon served with a bacon blue cheese dipping sauce, and of course the BACO, a Taco Shell made entirely out of BACON!

I honestly could write a dozen sonnets in iambic pentameter about Lardon and their porky yumminess, but alas they are no more, so I will mourn in silence for our deceased friend.  In the meantime, let me explain how these trucks work for those of you who are not in the know.  The first step is to find a truck you are interested in trying before you arrive in L.A., which is easy enough thanks to the good ol’ googles.  If you are feeling lazier than usual, you can choose one from the Zagat’s Top 10 L.A. food truck list.

Once you have a truck in mind, for example the Grill ‘Em All truck, head over to their website and check out how you can follow them around town.  Most trucks use their Twitter and Facebook feeds to tell potential clients where their truck will be parked for breakfast, lunch, and diner.   Once you are following your food truck via your preferred method of social media, the rest is simple.  Check feed, find truck, and eat food.

The food truck scene in California is amazing because the weather year round is perfect for outdoor dining and standing in line.  Although the New York Metropolitan area is trying to catch up, there seems to be a lot more red tape on this coast that these small businesses have to cut through in order to open up shop.   With that said, these mobile business ventures do seem to disappear overnight never to be heard from again, so if you see one you like and you have the opportunity to eat there, do it while you can.

2. Smoke House  4420 W Lakeside Dr. Burbank, CA

While driving around the Burbank area, Kat and I drove past this unassuming eatery and noticed a neon sign that read, “fine food at a fair price.”  You would think that the sign read, “Free Bacon,” because the next day Kat and I were on our way to explore Smoke House with some friends and family that we were visiting with during our stay.

Me, being me could not resist doing a little research on the place before just walking in, so out the I-Phone came and onto the Googles I went.  I found out that the Smoke House is one of the oldest restaurants in Burbank, California and was opened in 1946.  Due to its location, near the Warner Brother’s Studio, it became a haven for celebrities in its hay day.  Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, and even James Dean could be found dining at the Smoke House on any given Friday night back in the day.   While now George Clooney and Andy Garcia are known to pop in from time to time, Clooney even named his production company after this place.  The more and more I read about this spot, the more and more I knew I needed to eat there.

The Smokehouse Restaurant is yet another time travel device tucked away in Burbank California.  As you walk in, the old Hollywood Lounge vibe is stronger than Charlie Sheen’s coffee after a weekend binge.   I almost expected to hear a traditional lounge singer crooning over a bad P.A. system and be assaulted by plumes of cigarette smoke from the patrons.   As we traveled to our table, the nostalgia level only increased, from the in booth telephone jacks, the artwork on the walls, this was in fact Hollywood the way I only wish I could experience it.

Not only was I excited just to have the opportunity to dine at this sweet establishment, when we looked at the menu is only got better.  We had apparently arrived at the Smoke House during their 66th Anniversary celebration and we were able to order off a special menu that shaved off about 7 dollars a plate.   My research insisted Kat and I try the Smoke House famous Prime Rib with a side order of “The World’s Best Garlic Bread,” and we are not ones to argue with the foodie community or the googles for that matter, so Prime Rib it was.

Not only did I feel like a pimp sitting in this restaurant, I felt like a King eating the food.  The Garlic Bread was bursting with flavor; the salad portion was larger than Christina Ricci’s five head; and the Prime Rib was simply amazing.  To top it all off, the wait staff was wonderful and treated us like we were one of the many celebrities that has placed their rump in their vintage comfy seats.

If you find yourself in Burbank, California and you don’t hit this remarkable establishment up, you sir have failed the foodie that lives inside of you.

Smoke House on Urbanspoon

1: IN AND OUT BURGER (212 locations in CA)

If you don’t know about In and Out Burger, then you need to fly to the West Coast immediately and put some of their crazy good burgers in your belly.  I know I have done articles about Gastro Burgers and sung their praises but there is something about the simplicity of a good old fashioned In And Out burger that makes my stomach smile.  You can ask Kat, when I enter a state that has an In and Out located within its borders (Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, or Utah) we are driving until In and Out is in my belly.

Before I get a hundred nasty grams from you guys, I should clarify that I am fully aware that it is just a burger and fries from yet another fast food restaurant.  But, because I can only have one every so often they become a forbidden fruit, a red button that you are told not to press, or a wrapped toy that you can’t play it, it gets to the point that I dream about them.

Not to mention the fact that In and Out has a super not so secret menu that you can order off of to procure items that are not listed on their very limited menu.  If you do intend to go to an In and Out during your travels you should definitely study this clandestine menu so you can experience the best  In and Out has to offer.   I love ordering off the secret menu because you feel as if you are a member of a fraternal order and only you and the cashier know the handshake.

I have a standard order when I go to In and Out for the first time in a long time.  I get myself a Double Double Animal Style with a side of Animal Style fries and wait in anticipation for them to call my number.  After ordering, I am like a child on Christmas morning waiting for their parents to wake up, I pace around the restaurant in anticipation getting the napkins and ketchup prepared so when my number is called all I have to do it sit and eat.

In and Out Burger has been pumping out fantastic burgers and fries since 1948 and the basic process has remained the same.    They don’t freeze, pre-package or over-process their beef patties.  They hand leaf their lettuce so each piece is inspected before landing on your burger.  Their fries are individually cut at the store that you walk into, so they are the freshest they can be.  The best way to put it is that In and Out Burger just make things the old-fashioned way, and that is why their food tastes so good.

I, by no means claim to have a working knowledge of the California Foodie Scene and I am sure a California native could throw out the name of ten places that are bigger and better than the five restaurants I mentioned above, but then they have missed the point of this article completely.  This post is merely designed to explain that a vacation can be turned into a foodcation with a little research and an open mind.   Next time you venture out of your area don’t just visit the monuments and museums, explore the local culture one forkful at a time.