“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” There is a solid chance that we have all heard this idiom at one point in our lives. As impressionable adolescents, wayward teenagers, or “struggling” college students, some “wise” old kook uttered this to us, in hopes of mending a wound that would eventually heal itself. This phrase rattles inside all of our heads, like the lub-dubbing of the old man’s heart that tells a tale, every time we compromise on a life goal. Gradually making us all believe that by not achieving this unrealistic and naïve goal, we somehow failed the main objective of this choose-your-own-adventure book we call life.
I happen to believe that this supposed failure is simply not the case, and this common expression is dead wrong. I feel that once you make something you love your job, you will begin the slow painful descent towards loathing something you once got great joy from. If you happen to have an influential role in a young person’s life, I implore you to throw out clichéd and quixotic advice such as this and stick to achievable goals based on real life experiences.
In place of this wide-eyed expectation, I tend to follow the rule of; working to live, as opposed to living to work. I love to eat and I love to write, however I also love my freedom and integrity. This is why I thoroughly enjoy being a freelance food blogger as opposed to being a professional food writer. I have no deadlines, I have no allegiances, and most importantly, like Bernie Sanders, I can’t be bought! My 9-5 affords me the opportunity to do what I love, and that is the reason I will never cease to adore it. Furthermore, I have created a virtual foodie militia via various social networks that recommend eateries all over the East Coast that they believe will make my epicurean soul smile.Recently, I was bombarded with messages from copious amounts of gastronomes singing the praises of the recently christened Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar located at 90 Washington St. in Bloomfield, NJ. I can’t visit all the establishments that are recommended by my culinary constituents, however, when a whisper turns into a clamor, which builds into a roar, effectively shouting a restaurants name from the top of the internets, I take notice. Since the webernets was all abuzz about Essex Junction, I decided to make a reservation for Kat and I, as to not risk a longer wait to see what all the hubbub was about. Good thing we did too because when we arrived at 7:30 P.M. on a Thursday, it was jumping. We walked in and skipped ahead of the line, due to our forethought, and were seated in the dining room.
Before we even had menus in our hands, Essex Junction was racking up brownie points left and right. First off the décor is… Listen, I could google some asinine decorating style like, modern industrial shabby chic, that in turn you will have to google to decipher its meaning, or I could tell how awesome it was in seven simple words. It was like dining in Gotham City! That is right, I felt like I was Bruce Wayne eating dinner with some reporter/Model that I will eventually hook up with just before she gets kidnapped and her life is threatened for the rest of the movie. Come to think of it, dating Bruce Wayne is about as safe as Tindering in Detroit, I wouldn’t recommend either of those adventures ladies… Just saying.Adding to the ambience of the urban design scheme, we noticed a large movie screen on a wall in the dining room that was playing Bettlejuice! That is right, YOU HEARD ME… BEETLEJUICE! We were so intrigued by this concept that Kat and I actually sat on the same side of the table, so we could watch a bit of the movie while we perused the menu. Don’t judge us! You would do the same thing! It was freaking Beetle…, better not say it three times, just in case.
Our first mission was to choose a drink to quench our thirst while we decided what to dine upon. This was not an easy task, considering Essex Junction offers 15 draft lines full of rotating Craft Beers, a variety of beer and wine bottles, and their selection of Local Legend Cocktails. We were in a beer mood, as it was Thirsty Thursday, so I chose a Boulevard Tank 7, and Kat went with a Dogfish 90 Minute. However, next time we visit, we will have to dive into the Local Legends, because not only are these inventive cocktails created with New Jersey Celebrities such as, Kevin Smith, Queen Latifah, and Steven Colbert, in mind, but 50% of the proceeds go towards the Bloomfield School System. (As long as you hashtag the restaurant and @ The Celebrity via twitter after taking a selfie with it.)
As stated above, this hobby, turned part-time job has transformed into an obsession, so when Kat and I take a new restaurant for a test drive, we do more than just kick the tires. In other words, we order a crap ton of food in order to get an accurate representation of the Chef’s repertoire and then we try to eat it all before the gluttonous guilt sets in. This occasion was no exception to our rule.
We ordered four small plates to start; Sweet and Spicy Wings, Smoked Pork Belly, Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese, and Fried Brussels Sprouts. Being the hedonistic mongrels that we are, we then ordered two large plates; the Bone-in Rib Eye and the Pork Chop. Excited about the feast that was about to rain down on our table like dollar bills falling from MC Chris’s fat stacks, we sat back and sipped our hoppy goodness while we awaited the boom.The first plate to make an appearance was the Smoked Pork Belly served with Pickled Vegetables and Candied Bacon. I am not going to lie, this dish was getting a gold star no matter what in my book because the crazy bastards at Essex Junction essentially decided to put bacon on bacon, and that my friends is the type of decadence that I love to reward. Furthermore, the dish was perfectly balanced and full of depth thanks to the sweet candied bacon, salty pork belly, and vinegary vegetables all playing off each other. Not to mention the juxtaposition of the soft belly and the crunchy bacon created a stupendously unique mouthfeel. As we were just getting over the recent demise of our Pork Belly dish, Mr. and Ms. Sweet and Spicy wings arrived to offer their condolences. These saucy behemoths were cooked to flawlessly and had the perfect meat to fat ratio. Not to mention, that when paired with the blue cheese sauce these pub food Privates were promoted to Sergeants at Arms…errrr…Wings. You get my point! Next on the food train was the Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese served with a Béchamel sauce. I will reiterate, I am all about decadent food pornography and this dish gets is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner in the food world. No! Not because it has balls, you sick SOB, get your mind out of the gutter. The luscious Béchamel sauce combined with the rich savory awesomeness of the duck meatball makes this dish a scrumptious win. On a side note, they use my favorite noodle in this dish, Bucatini, which marries Ziti and Spaghetti to form the most flawless sauce carrying implement known to man. Last but most certainly not least, the Fried Brussels Sprouts in Sweet Soy, Sriracha, served with Shallots, and Garlic arrived. Kat and I were nervous about ordering these, not because we buy into the horrific PR nightmare that Brussels have suffered through over the years, but because we envisioned an over-battered ball of Brussely sadness. WE WERE WRONG! This was by far our favorite small plate of the night. These delectable, lightly fried, crack-like morsels of amazeballs were chock full of Umami goodness. The ingenious process of first pan frying and then baking them in a small crock with the Sweet Soy and Sriracha concoction created an exceptional texture and flavor tag-team duo that could whoop The Legion Of Doom’s ass. Do yourself a favor and dig all the way to the bottom of the crock when you order this. There is where you will find the brown bits, that are covered in this damn-near mythical sauce that conveys such supernatural flavor that one can only assume that Chef Justin Caldwell must have created it with the happy tears of Unicorns.
While we were waiting for our main course, our server Mike stopped by to inquire about a second round of drinks in preparation of our impeding meal. Mike not only remembered what we had ordered (+1 point), but offered a few suggestions that would pair nicely with our entrees (+1,000,000 points). This is commendable in a restaurant that is well established, but in a new spot like Essex Junction, this is extraordinarily impressive. His suggestions were spot on too, so we ordered a second round.As my Bone-in Rib Eye was approaching, I noticed just how lovely it looked sporting a duck egg like a yarmulke whilst sitting next to a basket of Parmesan Frites. My first impression was that this steak was large enough to justify the price point. I then cut into the flesh and realized that it was not just properly cooked, but it was cooked with the precision of a master. A flawless sear on the outside and a deep pink core on this inside. Finally, I dipped a slice of this mega steak into the bordelaise sauce, and transported to my mouth, and it was love at first chew. My apparent fullness from the previous courses melted away as this delightful meat treat melted in my mouth. (TWSS) After seeing my dish, I thought the bar for beauty was set fairly high, but Kat’s Pork Chop served with Spicy Jicama Slaw, Brussels Sprouts, and topped with a Vermont Lardon drizzle sank my meat ship. Her dish looked as if they stuck a Chef’s hat on Zombie Claude Monet and forced him to create food art. Not only did her dish look amazing, it tasted just as good. The slaw added a crunch and a kick that danced well with the sweet Vermont sauce that was drizzled over the scrumptious pork, while the lardons kicked this dish into 5th gear.
If my ferocious verbosity paired with the filthy food porn you just were witness to does not make you visit Essex Junction post haste, I don’t really know what I can say in these final words that will convince you. Every detail of this establishment was not only taken into consideration but tediously worked on so it looks and runs like a shiny new machine. The hostess greeted us with a smile, the wait staff took excellent care of us, and Chef Justin Caldwell delivered dish after dish of phenomenal food that not only looked fantastic but tasted even better. In the restaurant world this trifecta is like meeting a down to earth Supermodel that cooks gourmet meals and does keg stands. If you don’t want to feel like Batman, while imbibing a craft beer and watching a freaking classic movie, then maybe you should stay home. Then again maybe you should get your head examined, because Essex Junction was all kinds of epic!