A Foodie Approved Date Night!

Every once in a while this Blue Collar Foodie decides to attempt to impress his Blue Collar Wifey with a date night de jour. For most people this entails a dinner and night out on the town, but for Kat and I, who run around like Usain Bolt on amphetamines every day, this involves eating at a new restaurant and pulling up some couch with our mammals. No that is not a euphemism, I literally mean sitting on the couch with my lovely wife and our furry children and watching whatever programs are scattered across our DVR. I know this sounds dull and perhaps even slightly unromantic, but I assure you that if you looked at the anarchy that is our calendar, which resembles a Jackson Pollock painting most of the time, you would agree that a relaxing evening would be utter bliss.

As a food writer I tend to turn towards the internets quite often to locate local restaurants that I should be eating at, and I suggest you do the same. As I was planning our date night, I came across a restaurant called Pearl Restaurant,which is located at 17 South Broad Street in Ridgewood, NJ. After reading some of the reviews that were scattered across the great plains of the interwebs, I made the executive decision to have our date night at Pearl Restaurant.

Pearl Restaurant Since Pearl is designed to be an intimate setting that is perfect for the couple experience, I recommend making a reservation before your arrival. Not only will you be guaranteed a table, but it will appear classier to your partner who you are trying to charm. When making said reservation keep in mind that Pearl Restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, and if you are a people watcher like me, the streets of Ridgewood are absolutely perfect for this voyeuristic hobby. Since we had a reservation, even on a busy Friday night, Kat and I were seated within minutes of our arrival in the dining area.

The interior of Pearl is simply enchanting and should make any female foodie swoon, making you look like a prodigious partner. The muted lighting is soft and pleasing as is the modern yet subtle music that is played throughout the restaurant. Furthermore the addition of a small candle on every table adds to the already romantic composition of this eatery.

Within seconds of our rumps resting in the seats, we were cordially received by our waiter who furnished us with the menu of today’s fare. One of the reasons that Pearl Restaurant was extremely appealing to me was the fact that their menu changes daily, based on the availability of the highest quality meats and fish that were found at the market earlier that morning.   Additionally, Pearl does not have a freezer or a microwave on the premises, so everything that you will be served at this epicurean honey hole is fresh and cooked to order.

By the way to add to the appeal of Pearl, it is a BYOB establishment which always makes this frugal foodie happier than TMZ when a rapper gets arrested. With our bottle of white uncorked, poured, and placed in a bucket by the once again extremely helpful wait staff, we turned our focus on tackling the serious menu that was placed in front of us. With the precision of a Bill Belichick defense, get used to a myriad of football references in the coming months I am not only a foodie but a hardcore sports fan, we sorted through the menu and found what we considered to be the perfect dishes to embody the philosophy of Pearl.

I decided on the Goffle Farm Raised Crispy Pearl Duckling that was served with an Orange- Lavender Honey Gastrique, with a side of Seasonal Vegetables and Starch Du Jour. My delightful dining companion went with the Goffle Farm Raised Hen that was also paired with Seasonal Vegetables and Starch Du Jour.   Considering that we are both trying to remain someone healthy while still participating in as many gastronomic adventures as our wallets will allow, we also ordered a Pearl House Salad to accompany our enticing entrees.

Pearl BreadKat and I sipped our wine and caught up on each other’s recent undertakings, accomplishments, and tribulations while enjoying the ambiance of Pearl. While pontificating and politicking fresh warm bread was brought to our table that was joined by a bowl of high end olive oil and a mysterious orange paste. Since both Kat and I are intrigued by new and uncommon foods, we of course immediately halted our conversation and almost in unison, with the grace of an Olympic synchronized swimming team, broke a piece off of the bread and dipped it directly into this cream of curiosity. Our lack of food related anxiety paid off, as this hummus like concoction made our taste buds sing louder than this demonic six year old on America’s got talent. The texture was somewhat velvety and the flavor was not overpowering which made it the perfect accomplice for the flakey warm bread that was served. We later asked our waiter what this magical mixture was and we were informed that it is basically a white bean hummus.

Pearl Restaurant Salad After annihilating the bread and most of the dip, our house salads arrived. I was tremendously impressed with not only the size of this salver of greens but also the quality of the produce. Normally when you order a house salad at an elegant restaurant it is smaller than Kate Hudson’s waistband and overdressed more than Elton John circa 1977. This just was not the case when it came to Pearl’s salad. The light vinaigrette allowed the fresh and crisp garden greens to show off their delightful flavor creating a perfect introduction to the amazing meal that we were about to partake in.

Pearl Chicken With our appetites properly teased, we were appropriately prepared for our main dishes. Without delay, they were delivered to our table and both dishes were visually stunning. It was obvious that whoever plated these meals was painstakingly attentive to every iota of eatable that graced our plates. On top of the fact that the food in front of us looked as if it should grace the cover of Bon Appetit magazine, the aroma that was wafting off our plates was damn near intoxicating. I almost had to go fifty shades of grey all up on Kat in order to restrain her from attacking her meal like a honey badger attacks a snake before I could get the sufficient amount of pictures.

Pearl Chicken 2With the photographs taken, it was time to taste the artwork that was sitting in front of me. I slowly cut into my duck with the meticulousness of a surgeon and lifted the first bite of my duck towards my mouth. The instant this savory, crispy, citrusy, deliciousness I fully understood why Elmer Fudd relentlessly hunted Daffy. The skin of the duck was expertly cooked to a crunchy perfection while the flesh of the duck was moist yet surprisingly not greasy at all. To add to the overall excellence of this dish, the orange lavender gastrique brought this flawlessly prepared poultry to a whole other level of divinity. I have had quite a bit of duck in my day, being that it is my favorite fowl dish, and this was by far the best I have eaten in my foodie career. I had to force myself to stop eating the duck and at least try the vegetables and mashed potato that accompanied my delightful duck, and I was happy I did. The green beans were exquisitely cooked with just the right texture and the potatoes were bursting with flavor.

Perfect Bite of DuckKat being the wonderful wife that she is, cut a piece of her hen dipped it into the sauce that accompanied it, and fed me the forkful. I am never prepared for the difference between store bought poultry and farm bought poultry, and this was no exception. As I masticated, it means chewing people get your mind out of the gutter, on this heavenly chicken, I pondered why any restaurant would purchase frozen food when locally sourced farm raised fare is available literally one town over. I then realized that the answer is simple, some people just don’t have the same passion for food as the proprietor of restaurants like Pearl.

Pearl Chocolate MousseOne of the notations about Pearl that I read on the internet was that most of their desserts are prepared table side. I always enjoy a little showmanship when out to eat, so Kat and I decided to throw caution to the wind, break our diets and order something sweet to finish off our already pleasant night. After careful consideration, because dessert ordering is not to be taken lightly, we decided on the Chocolate Mousse with a Peanut Butter and Graham Cracker Crumble, topped with a raspberry marshmallow fluff that was toasted table side with a torch. Yes it was as good as it sounds, in fact, I would venture to say that it was better than it sounds! This is the type of dessert that could cause you to fall off the diet wagon and descend deep into the self-loathing hate spiral that is diet failure, but it was well worth the risk.

The Pearl Restaurant was as advertised, a restaurant that is unique as a Pearl. Their quixotic ambiance, exceptionally helpful and gracious wait staff, and their remarkable food make this establishment one of Bergen Counties must try eateries. I strongly suggest that the next time you are trying to dazzle your significant other, you allow Pearl in Ridgewood to assist you in making your night a memorable and scrumptious evening.

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One Visit To Empanada Mania Will Make You An Empanada Maniac!

Living as a foodie is very similar to walking through life as a perpetually pregnant lady, we are always hungry, we constantly have cravings for strange food at all hours of the night, and unless our desires are met we are not fun to be around. Living as a foodie’s significant other is in turn comparable to being the partner of an expecting mother when these oddly specific and damn near impossible requests come out of left field. So, this past weekend when Kat did not get any empanadas at a certain Food Truck Mash-Up, I sensed the storm approaching and devised a proactive plan to conquer the impending category 5 foodie tornado that was about to rain fire and brimstone upon my house.

My strategy was simple and sound. I figured the googles knows everything, except for what the hell Korri Sabatini’s freaking infuriating forehead tattoo means, so I consulted my favorite online resource to find Bergen County’s best Empanada’s.   Upon researching this topic I found that most people whom answered this question on Yahoo answers or other forums designed to help wandering internet souls such as myself, enjoyed rubbing in the fact that the best place to get Empanadas in Bergen County was at their grandmother’s house.   Well smart asses, my Abuela does not specialize in Empanada’s she specializes in Matzo Ball Soup, so your answer does me no damn good and deserves the thumbs down rating I gave it. After I sorted through all the responses that were trying to make me visit their elderly family members in order to satisfy Kat’s craving for a fried stuffed pocket of awesome, I stumbled upon Empanada Mania, located at 62 S Washington Avenue,   Bergenfield, New Jersey, 07621.

Empanda Mania

The interwebs informed me that Empanada Mania was voted Best New Restaurant in 2013 by 201 Magazine and almost every review that I read stated that they were serving the best Empanadas in the county as well. Trusting my fellow Bergenites and internet gastronauts, I informed Kat that her craving would be quenched thanks to Empanada Mania. Since I was in disaster mode, I was unable to sense that I too, caught the empanada bug when we were turned away from the food truck with empty stomachs, and I soon realized that if the Empanadas at Empanada Mania did not meet or exceed our expectations, the ride home would be akin to traveling with two pregnant women, ready to pop, on a 100 degree day, with no air conditioning. Needless to say no one wants that at all.

When we arrived at Empanada Mania we were greeted as soon as we walked in the door with a smile and a genuine welcome from the owner’s father. This family orientated business approach honestly makes my soul smile, and it helped even more that this gentleman was kind, helpful, and made us chuckle on numerous occasions while we were at this establishment.   This kind of service and mindset is what is missing from all the chain restaurants that are unfortunately pushing the mom and pop shops out with every flavorless catchy named appetizer that is sold.

Empanada Mania Menu

Empanada Mania has a rotating menu of at least six empanadas a day, which in turn creates a daily menu that is ever changing. On the day that we decided to give Emapanda Mania a whirl, they were offering the following varieties Beef, Buffalo Chicken, Pizza, Chicken Quesadilla, Spinach and Feta, Two Cheese, and Cheese Burger.  Kat and I were trying to be conservative, and since we were only eating lunch, we ordered five of the seven that were on the menu. We decided to order a beef for the traditionalist is us, a buffalo chicken to kick it up a notch, a Pizza because if not Kat’s father would disown her, a Chicken Quesadilla because I am a cheeseaholic, and a Spinach and Feta in a vain attempt to healthy.

After ordering, we once again began to speak with the front house manager of Empanada Mania and soon enough the proprietor of the shop, Mr. Galo Grijalva, came out to greet us. He introduced himself, and we spoke for a few minutes about the business and his future plans to climb aboard the food truck band wagon and use his mobile munchie maker as a promotion device and a as a way to give back to the County. After mere minutes of speaking to him, I could tell right away that this man was truly passionate about not only his Empanadas but his business as well, which only got me more excited about the food that I was about to chew on.

Empanda Mania Platter

When the food arrived at our table, Kat and I were so elated that our Empanada feast was about to begin that we could barely contain ourselves, none the less wait for these fresh fried morsels to cool down, but alas we are smarter than your average Hot Pocket eater.   I took the first deep fried purse of holding out of the basket and divided it into two pieces thus allowing the heat to escape quicker and permitting us to see what type of empanada we were about to ingest.

Spinach Empanada

Our first victim was the Spinach and Feta Empanada, and as I was cutting it, I already knew that it was going to be remarkable. The crust was the perfect consistency as I could feel the flawless crunch and flakiness under my knife as I pressed down firmly. After I broke through the outer layer, my plastic cutlery flew through the moist savory filling faster than A-Rod can deny any and all allegations of wrong doing.   Our first bite instantly converted us to Empanada Maniacs, and there was no turning back. The Spinach was seasoned expertly and the ratio of feta to greens was spot on.

Buffalo Chicken Empanada

Next up was the Buffalo Chicken Empanada. As soon as I saw this inventive and whimsical item on the menu, I knew I had to try it. I was very pleased that it was among the empanadas that we chose to sample.   The expressive flavor of the filling combined excellently with the crunchy texture of the shell to create a wonderful marriage in my mouth.

Pizza Empanada

The Pizza filled empanada was next on the chopping block, and we were not disappointed yet again. The quality of the cheese as well as the quantity was not unnoticed by this foodie.   The addition of just the right amount of marinara sauce only added to the charm of this vegetarian friendly empanada.

Chicken Empanada

The Chicken Quesadilla empanada fell just as its brethren did; one fantastic bite at a time. As Kat and I finished off this fanciful fowl, we were saddened that we only had one more of these miraculous pleasure stuffed indulgences left to consume.

Forkin' Empanada

Fortunately Kat and I saved what was in our opinion the best for last, the straight up, traditional Beef Empanada. I was surprised that I, an aficionado of all things strange and odd in the culinary world, would find myself choosing the seemingly “boring” beef empanada as the winner of our little taste test, but this deep fried mighty meat package was anything but boring. The seasoning was impeccable and created a fresh and crisp palatableness that was simply insurmountable.

As we looked down at our empty basket, the realization sank in that we were all out of these amazing delicacies, but then a smile come over my face. This Joker-esque smirk was followed by me returning to the counter and ordering two more Empanadas before even discussing it with Kat. We ordered one more beef, because it was that kind of good, and I also ordered a Cheese Burger. The Beef was saved for last because we were well aware of its foodgasmic powers. As we ate the Cheese Burger Empanada, I began to comprehend that it was not just one of their Empanadas that are noteworthy, but it is all of them. Every last empanada that we ate on our first of many outings to this eatery was simply divine. They all have their merits, and I could literally eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next month and still come back for more.

Empanada Mania Sauce

Empanada Mania also offers a homemade hot sauce to pair with their tasty treats. The house manager informed us that he came up with the recipe for this phenomenal sauce while he was still in his mother’s belly, and I believe it.   This prodigious sauce was the ideal companion to the already sublime taste of these Empanadas. As Kat and I ate each of them, we tried them without sauce first, which caused us to swoon, but after adding some of the sauce we fell in love. Since this sauce is homemade it may be somewhat spicy for the average consumer, so it is recommended that you taste the sauce first before slathering it on.

Empanada Mania Closeup

If reading this article about the outstanding things Empanada Mania is doing with fried dough does not make you wish that you could beam down to Bergenfield immediately and try their culinary delights, than maybe this will. Galo, The Empanada Master, recently added a new addition to his cooking staff, Ms. Emma Scher from Ridgewood, N.J., who recently competed on the Teen episode of the Food Network Show, Chopped. Mr. Grijalva has agreed to show Ms. Scher the business end of working in a restaurant, in order to give back to the community that has helped him realize his dream. During our visit to Empanada Mania, we had the pleasure to meet Emma, and after our short conversation, Kat and I could see she is destined for greatness in the epicurean world.

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The Blue Collar Foodie’s Top 5 Spots to Celebrate National IPA Day

IPA DAY

Are you the type of guy that buys your wife a half a dozen wilted red roses from the gas station around the corner from your house while fervently calling all the restaurants in town to get a reservation on your anniversary day?  The kind of Santa that pays no attention to the calendar until December 24th and all your loved ones end up with dollar store dog toys and gift cards from Walgreens as presents.  If so, when you signed onto Facebook this morning and found out that today was National IPA day, you most likely panicked and began to scour the interwebs for a place to celebrate this most hallowed day.  Have no fear my procrastinating hop heads, The Blue Collar Foodie here.  The following is the Top 5 Blue Collar Foodie approved craft beer bars to wet your whistle on this hop filled holiday!

Andys Corner

Andy’s Corner

5:  Andy’s Corner:  If you are looking for a low key neighborhood bar that serves nothing but the best beer this world has to offer, look no further than Andy’s corner.  Not only is their draft menu constantly rotating, they have refrigerators full of bottled hoptastic perfection that is sure to please.  Furthermore, the proprietor, George, is the type of bartender that has long since gone the way of the dinosaur, beepers, and Blockbusters.  He not only is personable and friendly, he has more beer knowledge in his pinky toe than most pompous cicerones have in their entire bulbous craniums, yet is humble unlike those D-bags.  Although there is no true IPA Day event at Andy’s tonight, I assure you, if you go see George he will point you in the direction of some beers that are just perfect for the evening’s festivities.

Andy’s Corner Bar:  A World of Beer, Just a Corner Away
257 Queen Anne Road
Bogota, NJ 07603
(201) 342-9887

The Shepard & The Knucklehead

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead

4: The Shepherd & The Knucklehead:  A long time ago when I was just a naïve college student shot gunning PBRs, I thought nothing about the quality of beer and food that I ingested.  That is of course until this Knucklehead met the Shepherd.  If I had to pin point the moment that I realized that I had an affinity for craft beer which in turn gave birth to my passion for all things gastronomic, I would have to say that it was the moment that The Shepherd & The Knucklehead became my Cheers.  Although I am not there as much as I would like to be anymore, the years I spent at this now even more epic craft beer bar shaped and honed my palate in a way that I could never have envisioned.  The Shepherd & The Knucklehead now features 90 taps and serves classic and creative pub food to boot.  Much like Andy’s Corner there is no IPA Day event scheduled for this evening but I can attest that at the Shep it is IPA day, every day!

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead: Where we celebrate the Duality in Man
529 Belmont Avenue
Haledon, New Jersey 07508
(973) 942-8666 *after 4:00 PM*

The Twisted Elm

The Twisted Elm

3:  The Twisted Elm Tavern:   This North Jersey Gastropub exploded onto both the foodie scene and the beer scene in 2011 and has not looked back since.  The Twisted Elm features an ever changing remarkable beer menu that will satisfy even the most refined beer aficionado’s palate.  However, the Twisted Elm doesn’t just have beer; they combine their impressive craft beer list with foodie fare that is prepared by an award winning chef and an outstanding staff that makes you feel as if you are one of the family.  This truthfully is my favorite bar in North Jersey and a spot-on representation of what a Gastropub should be.  There may not be an IPA event scheduled for tonight but never the less The Twisted Elm Tavern makes the list because there is no place I would rather be on a Thursday night.

The Twisted Elm:  A New Jersey Gastropub
435 River Drive
Elmwood Park, NJ, 07407
201-791-3705

Cloverleaf Tavern

Cloverleaf Tavern

2:  The Cloverleaf Tavern:  When it comes to craft beer bars there are only a few bars in North Jersey that are on the level of The Cloverleaf Tavern.  Not only do they have one of the most notable beer lists in the state, their food is stupid good.  They also love to celebrate beer centric holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and of course National IPA Day.  Tonight the Cloverleaf is celebrating by having an IPA showdown of East Vs. Midwest by offering Kane Head High and Founder All-Day IPA drafts for only $3.50.  To add to the appeal of this event, if either of those brews don’t make you more excited than Bill Clinton snorting Viagra at the Bunny Ranch, they are also damn near giving Dogfish 90 minute away for $4.50.  If you are looking to pair some of the best IPAs in the land with foodie fare that is off the hook, look no further than The Cloverleaf Tavern tonight.               

The Cloverleaf Tavern: Where Good Friends Meet
395 Bloomfield Ave.
Caldwell, NJ 07006
973-226-9812

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill

1:  Morris Tap and Grill:  Where is The Blue Collar Foodie going to celebrate the most sacred American beer holiday of the year you ask?  I have to admit it was a very difficult decision, but after careful consideration the Morris Tap and Grill was the clear winner.  Their beer list for tonight has an average Ratebeer rating of 96.91 and is the most serious IPA selection that I have ever seen compiled under one roof.  With selections from Stone, Kane, Carton, Elysian, Founders, and Dogfish Head to name a few, my biggest problem is going to be that I am going to want to try them all.  On top of their incredible beer list, Chef Eric Levine, a freaking Chopped Champion by the way, will be on hand to create his awe inspiring, drool invoking, culinary creations as usual.  Morris Tap and Grill may be somewhat of a drive for this foodie, but every mile is worth it, and I am super excited to spending my IPA day with the cast and crew of this praise worthy establishment!           

Morris Tap and Grill:  The MTG
500 Route 10 West
Randolph, NJ
973-891-1776

Whether or not you decide to take one of my suggestions and venture to these spectacular craft beer bars to celebrate IPA Day 2013 is up to you.  I do however ask that all of you drink responsibly tonight or ask one of your hoighty-toighty wine drinking friends to be a designated driver.  Have fun and Hoppy Holidays to one and all from The Blue Collar Foodie!