Taco Santo Cricket Chips

One Small Bite for Me, One Giant Leap for My Foodie Street Cred

I am not the type of person who believes in fate. You see, I feel that the rudimentary idea of fate makes people lackadaisical and unmotivated. If I thought that no matter how hard I pushed myself I would end up in the same place in the end, I probably would not burn the candle at both ends and wake up each and every morning physically and mentally sore, ready and willing to fight the day once again. I prefer the word consequence to that of fate, kismet, or destiny. The term, consequence, has a negative connotation for many, but for me it merely means the reward or punishment for an action that you committed, thus taking back the ownership and responsibility for one’s daily decisions.

Sure, sometimes you must take accountability for the monumental fuck up that occurred seconds after you put your big boy pants on and made a choice, but conversely you also get to claim your achievements, with a big fat smile and a specific finger held high toward everyone who doubted you. This feeling of accomplishment is why I battle through each day and strive to be the best at everything I do, even if sometimes I fall flat on my face.

I am sorry for the philosophical tangent, have no fear, I did not change my blog to The Blue Collar Buddha, although… (The Blue Collar Buddha is now a registered trademark of the Blue Collar Foodie, and other such legal mumbo jumbo so no one can steal my slightly catchy and pretty damn silly idea.) As I was saying before I went on a tangent from apologizing about my tangent, this theoretical debate about destiny and consequence is one that I think about a lot. I want to be the logical, scientific, type that never, not once falls down the rabbit hole, that is believing in fate, however sometimes I can’t help but think, “Was this supposed to happen?”

I had one of these occasions back in February when I was writing an article for this very blog about a restaurant that I had visited. I love words, as you can see from my verbose posts, but I mean, I love words like Tebow adores Jesus. (Yea that was a Tebow reference, it is a throwback joke, if it is good enough for your Facebook feed on Thursdays, it is good enough for my blog, deal with it!) I ain’t talking about just the same mundane words that anyone can spew forth from their talking hole either, I want, no I crave, a diversity of linguistic linguine. Unfortunately, I spell like a baboon clutching a crayon, so I am constantly searching the googles for the proper spelling of words that I mangle so much, even the fine folks in the spelling department at Microsoft can’t decipher what the hell word I just typed. The word I was forced to hurl into the Googles on this particular day was Gastronaut, and the results that I got were foodie life altering.

Gastronauts_LOGO

I stumbled upon a website for an adventure eating club known as The Gastronauts, and they just happen to convene in the greatest city on the planet, NYC! I immediately abandoned my writing task and scoured their webpage to learn more about this group. What I found made me instantly get a food-on that lasted long enough that if it was produced by taking a small blue pill, I would have had to go to the hospital.

The Gastronauts is an eating club that was founded by Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker back in 2006 when they organized a small get together in Chinatown. Their vision was to allow people to gather at one location and enjoy the outlandish and authentic food that New York City has to offer.   We are not talking about disgusting food either, but rather somewhat eccentric food that is out of the normal American Cuisine comfort zone.

Curtiss and Ben’s small gatherings rapidly began to develop into something that was bigger than they expected. Soon enough they found themselves inundated with press requests and applications to join their now growing club of adventure eaters.   Today, The Gastronauts boast more than 1,300 members and are the largest club of this kind in the world.

The moment I followed the link to the Gastronauts site I knew I had a new goal in my foodie life, and that was to become a member of THE GASTRONAUTS! Lucky for me there was an application link on the homepage. Since this is a slightly exclusive club, their application process is not as easy as getting a Facebook page, one must put actual thought into applying to be a Gastronaut.

I put my writing hat back on and clicked and clacked at the keys like a chicken hopped up on Vitamin C and Cocaine. When I finished my application, I read it and reread it, edited it and reedited it. I wanted to make sure that it was perfect. I did not want to be rejected!

I was rejected… Within minutes of hitting the send button, I received a prewritten robotic message that stated that The Gastronauts exceeded their maximum limit of foodie rocketeers and were not accepting new members at this time. This news saddened me deeply, sadder than all these dogs in this video.

My sorrow however was only short lived, because several days later I received a follow-up email from the ‘Nauts. This time, the message contained wonderful news. Apparently, they reviewed my application, and I was accepted into the foodie cult of my dreams! Furthermore, there was an upcoming dinner in late February that I could attend thanks to my new status in the Gastronauts!   I have to say, I think I might have squeaked a little bit like these sloths when I read the news.

With my new credentials in hand, errrr, phone, I did what every 30 something year old American would do, I immediately posted about my triumph on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. I not only posted this foodtastic news to boast, although it was my primary reason, I also posted this to see if there was any interest from my friends in joining me on my first Gastronautic adventure.

You would be surprised how hard it is to find people that want to volunteer for an adventure dinner at an undisclosed location, that costs somewhere between $65.00 and $75.00 without seeing a menu, knowing that the food could potentially make them rethink the possibility of becoming vegan.   Fortunately, I have at least one friend that did not lose his testicles in the war, and he was on board with only a few questions asked. As soon as he agreed to accompany me to this experience, I bought two tickets before he could change his mind.

Taco Santo

Taco Santo here we come!

A few days before my first Gastronaut event, I received an email which contained the location, time, and price of this affair.  I have to admit, the clandestine, somewhat secret agent like aspect of this dining club only adds to their allure. The menu for this epicurean escapade was also attached to this email and it looked nothing short of Epic.

Menu line

A Dinner at Taco Santo

Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje
Homemade tortillas and chips
Mashed avocados topped with roasted crickets and guaje seeds

Stewed cow stomach menudo

Tacos Surtidos:
Goat head
Cow tongue
Pig skin
Assorted organ meats

And lots and lots of:
Micheladas
Pitchers of Beer
Flight of Five Mezcals

 Menu line

On the day of the event my comrade and I embarked on our train ride from New Jersey to Brooklyn with a few road sodas in hand in preparation of the drinking and eating that was soon to commence. We traversed the rivers that separate New Jersey and Brooklyn like Lewis and Clark and arrived at Taco Santo, located at 669 Union St, Brooklyn, NY with plenty of time to spare.

Skull Lights

Skull Light, Skull Bright, First Skull I Have Seen Tonight!

As we entered the venue, I noticed the decor immediately, shortly followed by the astonishing smell that was wafting throughout the quaint eatery. The Gastronauts had procured the entire restaurant for this event so we were asked for our credentials, again I was happy to show them off, and shortly after we were seated, the evening began.

Micheladas

Micheladas, making bad beer taste wonderful since the 1940’s!

Right off the bat I could tell I was going to enjoy myself being a Gastronaut, considering the first item that came to the table was a Micheladas, which is basically a beer mixed with lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, and peppers and was served in a chili-salt-rimmed glass. My friends, there comes a time and a place that everyone must admit when they are wrong, and for me, that time was the moment I drank my first sip of this Micheladas. I always thought that beer was perfect, a diamond encrusted golden flower that simply was the pinnacle of excellence. The spice and delicious flavor of the concoction that rested in the bottom of my glass when mixed with beer that I normally stay away from because it is bland woke my taste buds up and delivered the perfect pre-meal slap in the face that one needs just before they eat a feast. This delightfully spicy, effervescent cocktail, was the perfect beginning to the food orgy that was about to go down!

Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje

Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje

Since this is a dining club and our table was full of food loving strangers, I took this opportunity, while we imbibed our Micheladas, to begin conversing with our table mates.   While we were waxing poetically about foodie related topics ranging from the food we have eaten to the food we were about to, the staff was busy in the kitchen preparing our first course. Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje, which roughly translates into homemade chips, with mashed avocados topped with roasted crickets and guaje seeds, or really roughly translates into a whole big pile of awesome topped with some tasty bugs!

Taco Santo Cricket Chips

Rabbit Season! Duck Season! Rabbit Season! Bug Season?

Not only was the guacamole prepared expertly and had the perfect texture, the roasted crickets brought this already remarkable green goo to a whole other level of amaze-balls. The crunch that these bouncy bugs added harmonized nicely with the homemade chips and led to one delicious bite after another.

Mezcal

All spirits distilled from the agave plant are Mezcal, which are made in seven states throughout Mexico. Tequila, the most popular variation of Mezcal, can only be distilled from Weber blue agave.

After our table devoured the bowl of Guacamole, I guess that the fine staff at Taco Santo along with The Gastronaut administration were under the assumption that we may have become to sober while eating the delightfully fried chips, and once again went to the well to add more social lubricant to the party. This time however, they were not messing around! They dropped an inhibition destroying bomb, in the form of a Flight of Five Mezcals.

Mezcal Flight

Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon, goodnight light and the red balloon, goodnight bears, goodnight chairs, goodnight kittens, goodnight mittens,
goodnight clocks and goodnight socks, goodnight little house and goodnight mouse,
goodnight comb and goodnight brush, goodnight nobody, goodnight mush, and goodnight to the old lady whispering “hush”,goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.

Now, Tequila and I get along about as well as me and Mezcal, which is to say that we like each other about as much as Itchy loves Scratchy, but you know what they say, when in Rome…errr… Mexico … err… Brooklyn. Even though I am not usually a huge fan of these intoxicating spirits, the flight went down somewhat smoothly, and I could tell this was not Jose Cuervo I was drinking.

Tripe Soup

This Menudo is so much better than the boy band from the 70’s!

Next up in the procession was Stewed Cow Stomach Menudo, A.K.A. Tripe Soup. Most people shy away from tripe because, well they know what it is and where it came from, but to that I say, Lobster! If you only ate things that looked and sounded appetizing, your meals would consist of the same 7 ingredients over and over again. I finished every last drop of this wonderfully aromatic meat gum stew, and I am proud to say that I would do it again.

TACOS!!!!!

TACOS!!!!!

After we polished off the tripe, it was time for the Main event, the moment all of us foodies were waiting for, the TACOS!!! By this time, I have to admit, my judgment may have been slightly impaired by the flight of Mezcal, but according to my notes, “Holy Hot Damn, these bitches were straight up fanfuckingtastic.”

Another Taco Santo Taco

These Tacos bring all the Gringos to Brooklyn
And they’re like, it’s better than ours!

The Goat Head surprised me and was not only chock full of flavor but amazingly tender. However, the fact that I loved the Cow Tongue Taco was no shock at all, considering my heritage, and the fact that I feel everything tastes better when wrapped in a shell. Furthermore, each and every one of these pouches of tacoey goodness acted as a canvas to the variety of sauces Taco Santo provided, and of course, I had to try them all.

What is a Taco without some color!

What is a Taco without some color!

Just when I thought that the caliber of this meal could not get any higher, Taco Santo took me to a place that only Cheech, Chong, Shaggy, and Scooby have ever been before. I rode to this whole new level of foodie enlightenment on rocket ship while holding a Pig Skin Taco in each hand thanks to my new foodie family The Gastronauts.

Pig Skin Taco

Holy UnKosher Taco Batman!

While all of us at our table began to hit the food wall that eaters and runners know all too well, we began to slow down our masticating and began to talk to each other once more. While we were discussing the finer points of the foodie culture and finishing up our cocktails, the last plate of Tacos arrived, and I was not about to let them go to waste. A few of us, “took one for the team,” and consumed the last few Tacos which were just as good as the first.

MORE TACOS!!!!

I really could not get enough of these things!

Even though I don’t believe in fate, destiny, or kismet, I do believe I was meant to be in that room surrounded by foodies just like me, all looking to not only taste food but to experience it. Groups like The Gastronauts and visionaries like Curtiss and Ben make events like this possible and should be applauded. I highly recommend putting in your application to become a Gastronaut, and if you know me personally, let me know when you want to go, as this will most definitely not be the last event I attend! If you do plan to attend a Gastronaut event you will need to know the ‘nauts golden rule, you have to at least try to try everything they serve you. I hope to see you all in the foodie stratosphere soon!

Thanks for the great time Taco Santo!

Thanks for the great time Taco Santo!

 

Taco Santo on Urbanspoon

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The Blue Collar Foodie Celebrates the Happiest Hour at Rare The Steak House

There are 24 hours in each day and a few of these hours get special titles. Some of these designations symbolize the good times while others denote the bad. For example no one likes “Rush Hour”, except for of course Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Then there is the “Witching Hour”, which I tend to use to indicate the time of night when the bars are closing and all the drunks are out on the road. And the term “afterhours” used to be fun and exciting until I got old and now the mere thought of an after hour’s club makes me want to punch my 19 year self in the face.

However, some of these distinctive hours of the day are better than bad, they are good! One of these wonderful 60 minute blocks of awesome sauce is the Lunch Hour. Tell me you don’t walk into the office on a daily basis, open up the first email out of the 100 or so that have somehow found their way into your inbox, even though you were the last one to leave the office yesterday and the first one in that morning, and begin to calculate how many seconds until the holiest of hours during your eight hour shift.

Lunch hour may be the king during the day, but let’s be honest; anything that breaks up the monotony of your work day would reign supreme.   On the other hand, there is only one period of time that millions of Americans embrace every day to wash away the contempt and disdain that their normal daily activities produce within them. This magical interval allows us to rinse the hate from within us one pleasing pint at a time and is appropriately entitled Happy Hour!

Rare The Steak House

Happy Hour is a fairytale like time that combines the ending of the work day, cheap beer, and foodie friendly appetizers all rolled up into one enchanted time frame. And, since every fairytale needs a castle, I present to you, Rare The Steak House, located at 440 Main Street, in Little Falls, NJ 07424 and their epic Happy Hour specials.

Rare is actually pretty well known for their impressive dinner menu, featuring some unbelievable cuts of meat that are wet aged for at least four weeks before being grilled to perfection and delivered to your table. They pair these remarkable slabs of yumminess with an extensive wine list, and gourmet sides such as Rare Fries Tossed with Truffle Oil and Parmesan Dust. Just one look at their menu will clue you in that Rare The Steak House knows what they are doing when it comes down to supper, but the question is, does this knowledge and execution transfer to the very the different world of entertaining the Happy Hour crowd?

The Answer to this question is very simply, YES! I know I am usually exceedingly verbose, but if something acts like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you make Duck a l’Orange, not hasenpfeffer.

Welcome to Rare

Welcome to Rare

Rare has a great setup for Happy Hour because as you walk into the establishment the bar and the dining room are separated fairly well. Nothing is worse than lifting a shot of bourbon to the sky with your co-workers while Jim from accounting wishes an S.T.D. onto your boss, only to realize that the Smith family is celebrating Grammy’s 95th birthday at the table next to you, and she chose that phrase to be the one thing she hears that night. Furthermore, Rare’s in-house music is not loud enough for you to have to scream over it, but not soft enough so you can hear Bill from Human Resources chewing his food like a cow eating a bag full of big league chew.

Happy Hour is not just about shots, beers, and wrong decisions, it is also about food. Rare has you covered here too! On our trip there, we sampled some of the offerings that grace the Happy Hour Menu at Rare. Kat and I were reasonably hungry after a long, hard day at work, so we decided to order four things off the menu and split them between the two of us. For our first round of food, we ordered the Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings paired with a Roquefort Dip and the In House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze. We of course added two specially priced beers to our order as well, because…well…Happy Hour!

Since we were ordering the Spicy Hot Wings, we ordered two beers that I thought would pair well with that dish. I suggested a Stella Artois for Kat, and I went with the Radeberger Pilsner. Both of these beers are light and crisp which are perfect to pair with the spicy wings in order to cut through the heat and remove some of the spice from the palate.

Rare Bruschetta

Rare Bruschetta

With a beer in hand and a few sips in our bellies, we were offered a plate of complimentary bruschetta and bread while we waited for our appetizers to arrive. The bruschetta was light and flavorful which meant it was an impeccable amuse-bouche to prime our appetites for the food that was being prepared in the kitchen as we watched Sports Center on the large flat screen Televisions that adorn the walls of the bar.

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Shortly after we polished off the tasty bruschetta, the food we ordered arrived at the table. The moment the wings landed in front of me, I was drawn to them like a sunset to the ocean. In my mind, Chicken Wings are the quintessential Happy Hour appetizer. The primal aspect of eating meat off the bone while your fingers get stained with the sauce of the G-ds combined with the anxiety that at any time a juicy morsel might fall from the sky, destroying your shirt and tie, creates an air of freedom because you know you could never eat these spicy gifts from the heavens in the confines of your own personal hell.

Rare’s wings did not disappoint either. They had some actual kick to them unlike many other so called “hot” wings that you find at other establishments throughout the Garden State. For some reason New Jersey seems to the home to bland wing instead of the hot wing. When paired with the slight sweetness of the maple glaze and dipped into the fire extinguishing Roquefort dip which further amplified the sweet maple flavor, these wings sang a song of wingy goodness.

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

Next up for Kat and I was the In House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze. First off, I would like to state that I should recuse myself from judging this dish, considering that I love bacon more than most people love their pets. Relax people, I love my pets more than most people love their wives, and I love my wife more than most people love themselves, so please do not send me hate mail about that comment.

For me, there is just something special about bacon, and cured pork belly gets lumped into the category of salty, cured, strips of awesomeness so therefore I, of course, thought this dish was magnificent. The real test of Rare’s Pork Belly however was to see if they could bring Kat, who secretly doesn’t think bacon is all that wonderful, to the smoky dark side. Although she won’t be buying an “I love Bacon T-shirt,” anytime soon, she did admit that she liked this dish, which is quite an accomplishment for what amounted to a really thick slice of bacon. If you do order this slab of gooey greatness, do yourself a favor and eat it from the inside out in order to save the slightly burnt crispy ends for the last two bites.

With these items eaten, Kat and I once again set our eyes on the Happy Hour Menu to choose our next victims. We decided on the Steak Sandwich with Hot Peppers and Onions and the Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw.   Since we were ordering roasted and grilled meats for this course, Kat and I decided to order some heavier beers to stand up to the robust flavors that Steak and Short Ribs bring to the table. Kat ordered a Guinness whereas I ordered the Sam Adams Winter Ale.

Our very responsive and helpful waitress brought our drinks back almost immediately and Kat and I began to discuss the finer points of our day while waiting for the food to arrive. The atmosphere at Rare lends itself to being open and being able to converse freely. The décor is not overly pretentious, but not divey and dirty either, much like Goldilocks found the Baby Bear’s digs in the acclaimed fable, Rare is just right.

Cheesesteak Sliders

Cheesesteak Sliders

When this round of food hit the table my selection of which dish to attack first was much more difficult. They both looked and smelled spectacular, so it was a hard decision, but in the end, Kat’s South Jersey-ness came out and we dove into the steak sandwich first. Not only was the steak expertly seasoned, but it was tender enough to eat it like a sandwich without pulling all the meat out with each and every bite.  Furthermore, the fries were crispy on the outside and warm and mushy on the inside, exactly how a fry should be. At $6.00, this dish was by far the best bargain on the menu considering the generous portion size of both the sandwich and the French fries.

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

After demolishing the steak sandwich, we turned our attention to the Short Rib Sliders. These two juicy patties come with Cole Slaw that was neatly packaged in a cucumber slice. This attention to detail and plate appearance separates Rare from the Hooters of the world, that prepare each plate with about as much love as Michael Vick has for dogs. Not only was the plate pretty, but the Sliders were pretty freaking amazing themselves. The patties were smothered in a delicious tangy sauce that complimented the meat flawlessly. Not to mention, the buns were obviously fresh and high quality.

If you have ever been to Rare The Steak House, you know it is not your average Happy Hour establishment, but that is what makes it great. You are not going to have to deal with a bunch of 21 year old knuckleheads acting a fool doing body shots of Fireball. Furthermore, you get gourmet food at a superb price, everything on their Happy Hour menu is $6 bucks or less! To top it off, the atmosphere is sophisticated yet amicable, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. This Blue Collar Foodie highly suggests you give Rare a shot at being your Happy Hour headquarters!

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