Eat, Drink, and Be Merry At The Twisted Elm, All Before Noon!

Sometimes it is difficult to be a foodie and not lose some man points from time to time. I occasionally find myself choosing to attend a wine tasting instead of a bar crawl or missing out on a trip to the ball park due to a restaurant opening. Most of the time I try to blame Kat for these somewhat less than blue collar decisions in order to make sure that my man card is not revoked or suspended. With that said, there is one thing in the foodie culture that I feel gets a bad reputation for being pompous, pretentious, and damn near douche, and that is Brunch.

Shenanigans I say to every red blooded American male that scoffs at brunch as if it was high tea with a side of ballet. I have heard this argument far too many times from my blue collar brethren, and I can no longer sit in silence while the best meal of the week gets discriminated against by ill-informed scallywags that think a scone is that fancy thing on the wall that holds a light bulb.

Relax, The Blue Collar Foodie did not go soft, I am not going to have to change my website to www.thewhitecollarnancy.com. I am just trying to preach the Gospel of Brunch, as if I was Matthew, and Bacon was Jesus. That is right people, brunch equals bacon, and if you can’t get behind that type of algebra then we simply can no longer be friends. I am serious, I will wait, go to Facebook.com right now and unfriend me because if you hate swine, you can’t be a friend of mine!

If that simple equation does not change your mind about brunch, I would like to formally invite you to the advanced brunch symposium that The Twisted Elm, located at 435 River Drive in Elmwood Park, NJ, holds every Sunday from 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M where you will be schooled in Brunchology. Your first lesson is as follows; Twisted Brunch=Bacon + Booze! Solve for stop talking junk about brunch and get your arse to the Twisted Elm.

Twisted Elm MuffinsThat is right the Twisted Elm, this food critics’ favorite Gastro Pub is serving brunch and just like everything else I have ever eaten there, they did not disappoint. First off, just for walking in the door and choosing to allow the Twisted Elm to blow your taste buds out of the back of your skull, they will give you a complimentary brunch cocktail of your choice; a Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Bellini, or a Screwdriver. If a free drink is not enough to entice you to venture over to the Elm, they also will provide your table with a basket of assorted breakfast muffins complete with a berry butter that will make you want to slap your mother for serving you that bland salty stick of non-sense that you once thought was butter, but now will only refer to as “I damn well know it is not Berry Butter!”

Just in case you are not yet convinced that Brunch is as manly as eating a steak off the bone sans utensils while shooting a shotgun on a construction site from behind the wheel of a monster truck, let’s talk food! The Twisted Elm is not about to serve just any old fare to their Brunch clientele, much like the other food that is served at this establishment, they add their own twist. See what I did there? Twist… Twisted… Suffice it to say, this is not your grandma’s brunch menu. With dishes that inspire foodgasms like the Huevos Rancheros, Fried Chicken and Bacon Waffles, Irish Eggs Benedict, and Shrimp & Grits, The Twisted Elm is taking brunch to a whole new level, and I am all about it.

Twisted Elm DrinkOn my most recent visit to The Elm, Kat and I could not decide what we should get so we decided to order two items that piqued our interest, and we would share them. I decided that the Chicken and Bacon waffles needed to be in my belly, and Kat, being the pizza addict that she is, found the Sausage and Egg Brunch Pizza to be quite intriguing. While the rest of our group ordered, visions of Bacon Waffles danced in my head, and I was ecstatic. With our orders on their way, there was only one thing left to do, imbibe our brunch intoxicants and discuss our love for having an excuse to drink at 11:30 A.M. on a Sunday. Oh, and adjust our fantasy football rosters of course.

Twisted Elm Chicken and Bacon Waffles Soon our food was delivered to our table and as it arrived, I was happy that we had just got finished running the Elmwood Park Chamber of Commerce 2nd Annual 5K Run-Walk, because the first thing I noticed was that the portion sizes were amazing.   I am not talking slightly larger than I was expecting, I am talking, so big that Roseanne Barr and Chris Christie would have a hard time finishing these wonderfully indulgent plates of yumminess. Within seconds, I was no longer intimated by the magnitude of my meal, but rather I was captivated by the notion that I would get to eat every last bite of the food that was being placed in front of me, because it was at that moment that the tantalizing aroma of this deviousness made its way to my olfactory senses.

I fiercely fought the urge to rip into my food with the tenacity of a caveman before everyone’s plate was in front of them, and I had taken all the necessary photos. After a well fought battle, I was able to cut a piece of chicken, stab a small section of waffles, and dip both of these magical morsels into the Blueberry agave maple syrup that is served with this dish. That forkful of food is what Willis was talking about, why Ferris Bueller really took a day off, and the only thing in this Universe that Ron Burgundy loves more than Scotch. The combination of the crispy savory skin, the tremendously moist meat, the soft baconey waffle, and the sweet syrupy goodness made my knees buckle worse than Robert Griffin III this season when any defensive player gets within 5 feet of him.

Twisted Elm PizzaI was slightly depressed that I had made, what Kat declared as “a legally binding agreement that could potentially lead to divorce if broken” once she saw my meal. That is until I tasted her Brunch Pizza which apparently was made of anti-depressants and flavor grenades. I was worried that the eggs and sausage would not mix properly on top of a pizza crust, but my apprehension was pointless because this pie was a marriage made in foodie heaven. The fact that the sausage was breakfast style instead of Italian added the perfect amount of tanginess to subtleness of the eggs and cheese.   It also helped that this astounding pizza was cooked to precision in a brick oven causing the crust to be crispy and light.

Twisted Elm Eggs BenedictWhile Kat and I were demolishing our meals, our friends were busy inhaling theirs. They informed us that the Shrimp and Grits and The Irish Eggs Benedict were both worthy of a test next time around. Meanwhile, we all were very happy with our complementary cocktails that were expertly blended and, as always at the Elm, top notch.

Just to reiterate my point, brunch is not some mamby pamby meal that is only for old ladies and rich folk, at least not at the Twisted Elm that is. Their behemoth portions, fantastic cocktails, and foodie inspired dishes unite every Sunday to create the perfect pre-kickoff man date that you have been waiting for. Instead of losing a man point every time I go to Brunch, I postulate that every Sunday that you are not at the Twisted Elm for Brunch you lose 2 man points, starting now!

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Belly Up Roll

Bacon Fest 2013

If there was a town called Baconville, I would be the Mayor; if there was a Baconland, I would be the ambassador; and if there was a Bacon Church, I would be the fracking Pope O’Pork. What I am trying to say is that I like; no, love bacon, like the interwebs loves cats, the Kardashians love attention, and Jim Jones apparently loves Julius Caesar. It is this obsession for all things salty and cured that gave birth to my annual Bacon Fest Celebration, which Kat and I host for all of our friends who are swine inclined.

Jim Jones' Giant Julius Caesar Head!

Jim Jones’ Giant Julius Caesar Head!

Bacon Fest is one part food competition and two parts all out, bacon celebration. Each year we gather between 13 and 16 foodies who love to cook and ask them to let their imaginations run wild, the only rule is that the star of their dish must be Bacon! This once small gathering has been growing each and every year and this year. This year it became obvious that I could no longer host it at my house, so we decided to upgrade to a hall.

The Creed Of Bacon Fest

The Creed Of Bacon Fest

After calling around to several local halls for rent, we found that it was quite difficult to acquire a hall that would allow you to utilize their kitchen. That is until we stumbled upon the Ridgewood Elks Club, located at 111, North Maple Ave., in Ridgewood, NJ. The Ridgewood Elks club had everything our bacon soirée could possibly need, a large main room, tables, chairs, a deluxe industrial kitchen, and a very reasonable price tag. They also had a cash bar so our guests could wet their whistle in between courses, named the Jolly Cork.

Ridgewood Elks Club

The Ridgewood Elks Club

Once the hall was booked and the invites went out, my next challenge was to decide what I would concoct as my entry to this year’s contest. The competition for Bacon Fest has been increasing exponentially with each iteration. What began at first as a friendly rivalry has evolved into a passionate tournament that would make Tyler Durden proud.

I originally created an entry in my head that I was generally content with, but I knew I could do better. I racked my brain, spending damn-near every waking hour thinking about how I could improve my dish for what has become the Academy Awards of salty meat. That is until one fateful night when I got a little tipsy and passed out while visions of bacon fairies still danced in my head. I only slept for about an hour that night, because I was awoken from my restless slumber after tasting the most amazing baconey goodness that had ever crossed the threshold of my lips.

Counting Pigs Instead of Sheep!

Counting Pigs Instead of Sheep!

Still groggy and now all worked up on dream bacon, I grabbed my smart phone and began researching, like I had never researched before. My thumbs were moving a mile a minute, it was as if St. Anthony, the patron saint of bacon and the namesake of the Bacon Fest Cup, himself had possessed my fingers and they were doing his bidding. After an hour of zealous obsession, my bacon fantasy had come to fruition. I returned to my slumber counting pigs one by one that evening, knowing that I was well prepared for this year’s pork laden prizefight.

Me As The Bacon Pope!

Me As The Bacon Pope!

On the day of the event, each cook was issued a number designation and a time slot when they would present their dish to the judges. Each dish would be explained to the lucky people that were chosen at random and then judged based on Taste, Presentation, and Originality. As time ticked by the anticipation of the salty and savory war that was about to be waged on the culinary battlefield began to increase. Slowly but surely you could feel the tension in the kitchen as the cooks were doing their final preparations.

The following was the artery-clogging lineup that rocked Bacon Fest 2013, in the order that they were presented:

Sweet Potato And Bacon Lettuce Wrap

Sweet Potato And Bacon Lettuce Wrap with Yogurt Dill Sauce Presented by Stephanie Bates.

Sueyy-shi

Sueyy-shi: Loaded mashed potatoes wrapped in bacon, dressed with BBQ sauce, and bacon skillet spread. Presented by Dave Michaels and Allie Maurer.

Bacon Maple Popcorn

Bacon Maple Popcorn Presented by Jennifer Sellers

Apple-Bacon Empanada

Apple-Bacon Empanada with dried cherries, mascarpone, and Apple-Bacon Caramel Presented by Keith Shatsoff and Bryan Barnhart.

Bacon Cassoulet

Bacon Cassoulet: Medley of bacon, beans, and pancetta prepared in a traditional cassoulet in bacon cups. Presented by Tyler Hutchinson and Sara Toth

Bracon Bad:

Bracon Bad: Bacon Confit Brulee with Fring’s Blue. Presented by Tyler and Jessica Ochs.

The Heaven Hog

The Heaven Hog: Mozzarella, Spinach, and Bacon Pork Tenderloin. Presented by Timothy Hurwitz and Michael Pindilli.

Belly Up Roll

Belly Up Roll: Braised Pork Belly and Avocado Sushi Roll with a bacon maple chutney. Presented by Michael and Katherine Arp

Candy Bacon Chocolate Brownie

Candy Bacon Chocolate Brownie with Jameson Caramel Sauce topped with candy bacon. Presented by Kevin and Kimberly Feehan.

Dude Food Magic Bars

Dude Food Magic Bars: Dessert Bar with pretzels, potato chips, chocolate, peanut butter and Bacon Presented by Brian Massey and Kristen Dyak.

Bacon Mac and Cheese

Bacon Mac and Cheese with Spiced Bacon Twists presented by Chris Buro.

Pork Star Ice Cream Cake

Pork Star Ice Cream Cake Presented by Matthew Arp and Emily Holmgren.

Pancetta Meatballs

Pancetta Meatballs in Joan’s homemade sauce Presented by Joan Perreca.

Clearly even though this was a competition and there was a winner declared, the judges were the actual victors in this epicurean struggle because they got to eat the above mentioned food. Granted the cooks were also judges, so I guess we all won, but this ain’t some new age hippy dippie coed baseball league where there is no score kept, and everyone wins ribbons for participation. This is Bacon Wars!

The Cup of St. Anthony

The Cup of St. Anthony

The reason all the cooks wake up at 6:00 A.M. on the morning of Bacon Fest and shovel their own money into their dish, is to the have the honor of taking home the Cup of Saint Anthony! The Cup of St. Anthony is similar to Lord Stanley’s Cup, only it is better, because people actually care who wins this cup. (Hockey Burn!) Whoever takes first place in Bacon Fest is granted the righteous reward of placing their name on the cup and displaying it at their house for an entire year.

In this culinary death match that lasted 2 hours and featured more bacon than most regular folks eat in a year, only one dish reigned supreme. Alas, it was not my dish this year, although I did take third place, with the Pork Star Ice Cream Cake taking second, and all of the dishes bowed down to the Apple-Bacon Empanada which made most people let out a louder moan of satisfaction than they do in their own bedrooms.

Bacon Empanda Inside

The Winner Dissected!

While baconey goodness followed baconey goodness in this divine swine parade, our guests were placing money in the donation jars that were being passed around and tickets in the raffle prize baskets. All the proceeds of Bacon Fest 2013 were donated to Eleventh Hour Rescue, a local animal rescue agency, which saved our own dog from a kill shelter and delivered her to our hearts.

Tickets

Charity is fun!

All the raffle prizes were generously donated by some of the fantastic businesses that this Blue Collar Foodie frequents on a regular basis. I would like to take this time to give a shout out and some electronic love to these wonderful businesses that did not think twice to support this remarkable rescue agency through our event. These benevolent establishments and every single person that donated their hard earned money at our event have helped this rescue agency not only save the lives of animals but also connect them with their forever family.

Lilly Likes Bacon

Lilly Loves You For Supporting Eleventh Hour Rescue Almost As Much As She Loves Bacon!!!

These are not your standard, everyone be damned but me corporations; these are honest companies that are aware of their societal footprint and want to help their community. Please help me say thank you to these exceptional establishments by supporting them as they supported us.

Meatball Obsession: At Meatball Obsession®, it’s all about the meatball. That’s why we call it an obsession. We use the original, all-natural old-world Mancini family recipe and slow-cook it in pots. At Meatball Obsession we serve grandma’s beef, turkey and sausage meatballs in her Sunday Sauce. Our food is meant for people on the go so you can enjoy your meatballs in a cup with dipping bread or stuffed in a custom-made Italian pocket bread. We deliver too. – 1 Garden State Plaza, Paramus NJ 201-843-3888.

Twisted Elm: Twisted Elm is a gastropub in Northern NJ. We are a casual, pub-style restaurant with an award-winning chef in the kitchen and a fun, relaxed atmosphere at the bar. Our creative menu is prepared using the finest local and seasonal ingredients, and we proudly serve delicious, naturally-made wines. We have hand-tossed brick oven pizzas – even for our gluten-free guests! Bringing the craft beer scene to Bergen County, we offer a rotating selection of the finest American and imported brews. – 435 River Dr. Elmwood Park, NJ 07407 (201) 791-3705

Baconery: Two ingredients that make everything taste like heaven in your mouth. Apart, these ingredients represent a delicious cornucopia of different tastes, but together they create an explosive flavor that is seldom rivaled in the food world. Everyone has talked about it. People have dreamed about it. Most were afraid to put them together. It’s a secret, twisted fantasy that everyone hides their love for. And now it’s a reality. Available Online and at their Brick and Mortar location at 911 Columbus Avenue, New York, New York (104 & 105th)

J&D’s: We’re Justin and Dave, and this is our improbable bacon-flavored story. Who are we? We’re just two regular guys who love grilling and football on Sunday afternoons, eating until we can’t get off the couch and of course, the taste of great bacon. And it’s our dream to make everything taste like bacon. Whether you’re a regular griller or a gourmet chef, are counting calories or are a vegetarian who craves mouth-watering bacon taste without the bacon guilt, this is what you’ve been waiting for.

The Swiss Pork Store: It’s a throwback, a dinosaur, a trip to the old country. In the same location since 1950, time has moved forward only on the other side of the door. Even the customers will tell you how long they’ve been coming here to shop.

A local legend of the original owners is that one of the two men who opened the place in 1950 was German, the other was Swiss. They were concerned about anti-German sentiment just after WWII, so they named the shop the Swiss Pork Store, with a wink and a smile. 24-10 Fair Lawn Avenue, Fair Lawn, New Jersey 07410

Breaking Bad Bacon

For those of you who did get the Breaking Bad Reference.

Photo Credit and many thanks to Evan Bindelglass!

TC’s Little Taste of Saigon Teaches the Blue Collar Foodie a Valuable Life Lesson

Every day most of us drive down the same roads to and from our nine to fives, sipping coffee and listening to mind numbing talk radio, paying no attention to our surroundings. I try my damnedest to not fall into this monotonous trap by taking different routes at times to liven up my commute, but alas, after a certain number of years every path becomes mundane. This frequently welcomed autopilot mode, could cause the not so attentive urban foodie to miss out on some wonderful eateries that are often overlooked on the roads so frequently traveled.

I fell victim to this sad happenstance recently, and I feel that I should inform my readers that sometimes it is a good idea to act like man’s best friend and stick your head out the window from time to time. Perhaps even try not updating your 13 social media pages, while driving with your knee, and eating your fried green tomato, bacon, remoulade, and egg brioche sandwich while on the way to work. If I was not guilty of DWZ, Driving While Zombified, I would have noticed that there was an authentic Vietnamese Noodle House on my way to work. Furthermore, my foodie street cred would not have been worse off than Mike Myers’ career after The Love Guru, because I would not have had to be informed of this off the hook establishment by a Brooklyn Foodie. (Relax Brooklyn, I love you guys, but even you know that some of your comrades can be quite ostentatious and downright douchetastic!)

TC's Little Taste of Saigon

The restaurant that I am referring to is a quaint joint by the name of TC’s Little Taste of Saigon, located at 419 Goffle Rd. Ridgewood, NJ.   Don’t be distraught if you too drive past it each and every day without giving it a second thought, because this eatery is located within a house in a mostly residential neighborhood. I almost drove right past it, and I knew what I was looking for.

TC's Little Taste of Saigon Inside

When you enter TC’s you get the feeling that you are walking into a friend’s family member’s house for dinner, not a restaurant. Some people may be put off by this, but I was all sorts of excited. Visions of truly authentic Vietnamese food danced in my head, the type of food that one used to be able to get in the city before the hipsters took over and created fusion.   As we, Kat, Rory, and I entered this magical worm hole that dropped us off somewhere in the P.H., Pre-Hipster, era of the foodie scene, we were greeted by one of the proprietors and seated in the living room, errrrrr, dining room.

Once seated, we were offered our surprisingly hefty menus and empty glasses for our bottles of beer that we brought from home. With our glasses now full of high-end craft beer, our attention was focused on the task of choosing our food for the evening.

As stated above, the menu was much larger than one would expect from such an intimate restaurant, so the charge of picking our meals was one that was not as easy as we first suspected.   After doing some table side research on the googles, I found that all my fellow foodies were raving about the Rice Paper Spring Rolls, so we decided to give them a whirl for our appetizer. We each also ordered a Pho dish, a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs, and the protein of our liking. Since TC’s smelled more enticing than patchouli to a hippy, we added the Spicy Beef Stew to our smorgasbord of goodies.

Rice Paper Spring Rolls

A little more table side smart phone exploring yielded some very interesting information about TC’s. Apparently, this restaurant is run by two sisters that perform the job of waitress, hostess, chef, and general manager. This intel further added to the thought that we were dining at someone’s house, and the anticipation to try these assiduous siblings’ fare was perpetually building with every minute of small talk.

Just then our Rice Paper Spring Rolls arrived at our table. Without hesitation each of us removed a roll from the plate, dipped it in the house sauce, and took our first bite. Each of us chewed that bite for quite some time and said nothing to each other until we swallowed. The first words that came out of each of our mouths were the best compliments that any Jersey Foodie could possibly give, although I don’t remember the quotes exactly, I assure you that those phrases could not be uttered on network television. These spring rolls were the perfect combination of crisp and fresh, and when combined with the homemade sauce that was served with it, created a depth of flavor that sent my taste buds into traction.

TC's Pho

After we completed these tasty rolls of savory goodness, our main courses arrived, and they looked and smelled remarkable. The portion size was much larger than we anticipated, and all three of us began to ponder if we had ordered with our eyes instead of our stomachs, but the prices were so reasonable. The Pho even came with a side dish of fresh herbs and bean sprouts that was a great addition to these already beautifully presented meals. By fresh herbs, I mean literally garden fresh herbs that grow just outside the kitchen in flower pots that line the parking lot.

TC's Garden

Using the chop sticks that were provided, I scooped out a generous portion of my Seafood Pho and allowed it to cool down to an edible temperature. I then took my first bite of this Pho and fell in love all over again. The broth was delicate, yet flavorful, and had just the right amount of kick to compliment the noodles and fresh seafood. I am usually the type of person that will put sauce on just about anything that I am served, but this dish needed nothing, it was utterly perfect, and each bite only echoed that thought.

TCs Spicy Beef Stew

After forcing myself to stop eating the astounding Pho that TC’s had prepared for me, I took my first bite of the Spicy Beef Stew that we ordered to share. When we ordered it, we were warned that spicy actually means spicy at TC’s but decided to forgo this forewarning and embrace the zesty cultural food that is synonymous with Saigon.   We, being spice freaks, were not disappointed, however if you are not a spicy food connoisseur, I would suggest always heeding these types of warnings when eating at ethnic food spots.   Besides the invigorating heat that this dish provided, it had other subtle flavors that made their way through as well.

As our food consumption slowed down, we were struck with the sad realization that our adventure at TC’s was almost at its end. Even though we were completely satiated, we found ourselves continuing to eat our food, we even at one point made mention to how gluttonous we were being but then just kept on going. After all the bowls were clean, our waitress/souse chef/hostess came to our table and simply stated that we can stay as long as we would like because they enjoy the company.

Some people think that I am overly obsessed with food, but it is life lessons like this one that make my epicurean adventures worth it. TC’s Taste of Saigon is one of those truly extraordinary restaurants that unfortunately could blend into the background of your ordinary journey if you are not careful. Do yourself and all of your friends a favor and head out to TC’s, just let me know when you are going because their parking lot is kind of small.

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