The Cloverleaf Tavern: Come For The Beer, Fall In Love With The Food

The Cloverleaf

Most Blue Collar Foodies would rather have a cool refreshing craft beer paired with their meal rather than a hoity-toity glass of wine. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for wine, and I do enjoy a goblet of grapes every now and again, but my heart belongs to the hops and barley that can be found in every mug, pint, or stein of carbonated class in a glass. There are only a few spots in the North Jersey area that stimulate craft beer enthusiasts better than a pill of Viagra at the Bunny Ranch, and there are even fewer that not only have a remarkable beer menu, but also a food menu that is worthy of praise. It is my goal as The Blue Collar Foodie to find these institutions of higher inebriation and shout their accolades from high atop my soap-box, known as the interwebs.

Welcome To The Clover

Welcome To The Clover

One such location is The Cloverleaf Tavern, located at 395 Bloomfield Ave., in Caldwell, NJ. Considering that The Cloverleaf Tavern has been continuously operating for over 75 years, this extraordinary establishment should not be a secret to any craft beer connoisseur that rests his or her rump within the Tri-State area. What these pint professors may not realize, and neither did I at first, is that The Cloverleaf Tavern, or The Clover, as it is known by the regulars, not only offers an awe-inspiring beer menu, but also serves up some serious eats as well.

First off, I feel that in order to properly discuss The Clover’s true appeal I will need to approach their exuberance for craft beer and their epicurean prowess separately. This way I can guarantee I will devote enough verbiage to each of these astonishing contributions that the Clover is making to the foodie community on a daily basis.

Mmmm Beer

Mmmmmmmmmm Beer

The Clover doesn’t just serve craft beer; they embrace the very notion of its very existence and attempt to house as much variety as they can possibly fit within their beer centric structure. Their ever changing beer menu reads like the phone book of Hop City, USA and is constantly updated via their website. The Clover is one of the first beer lists that I peruse as soon as the interwebs get all twitterpated about a specialty beer that has a limited release, because odds are not only will they have it but they will be throwing an event in its honor.

Lots of Beer!

Lots of Beer!

Furthermore, they have a free to join program known as the Masters of Beer Appreciation, MBA that now has over 1550 Alumni whose names adorn the walls on plagues that are updated with each new graduating class. This beer aficionado’s dream come true, escorts the participant in a veritable world tour of some of the best brews that can be procured on a regular basis by the Clover. To add to the charm of this intoxicating self-guided tour, after you earn 15 and 30 credits, you receive a $15 clover gift card. After you earn 45 credits your name will be added to the wall as an M.B.A. graduate and you will be entitled to a 20oz pour instead of the standard 16oz pour the common folk receive. There are also accolades for completing multiple MBA programs, like receiving your Doctorate, but don’t get ahead of yourself sparky, one degree at a time.

Masters of Beer Appreciation

You know you want it!

As for the Cloverleaf’s culinary prowess, I have to say I was initially surprised with the caliber of food that I was served the first time I ordered one of their insanely good burgers. Not to say that pubs serving decent food are unheard of but, the food that the Clover is offering to its patron is not just good, it is “shiv your best friend for looking at the last bite of your food” good. I am not just talking about the burgers either; I have thoroughly explored their menu and have not been able to find one thing on it that was not excellent. On top of their regular tasty menu, the Clover offers a weekly specials menu that allows even the regulars to indulge in something different.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Pulled, straight from the heavens, Pork Sandwich

On my most recent visit to the Cloverleaf, I was in the mood for some good old fashioned American Barbecue, and since it was lunchtime, I decided to go with the Pulled Pork Sandwich served with homemade coleslaw, a pickle, and I opted to swap the fried for their jaw-dropping beer battered Onion Rings all for $10.99. One of the best things about The Clover is that even though they serve prodigious food and astounding beers they consistently keep their meals affordable for us Blue Collar folks that still want great tasting grub.

Onion Rings

Crispity Crunchity

When it arrived, the smell was utterly divine, and the pulled pork was blended with a BBQ sauce that was unearthly. Each bite of this sandwich sent shock waves of flavor from my mouth to my stomach, which in turn sent hate mail to my brain for only ordering one. After forcing myself to put down a sandwich that could only be described by using a made up word such as, amazeballs, I tasted one of the Onion Rings that were recommended by our awesome waiter, whose name I can’t remember because I am a horrible person, and I was in love… With the Onion Rings, not my waiter, I don’t think Kat would have been amused if it was the other way around. To add to these crispy and tangy fried rings of yummy, I dipped one into the Maker’s Mark Gourmet Sauce that the Clover places on each and every table, and I thought I had died and went to Texas, which as everyone knows is what BBQ heaven is called.

Maker's Mark Gourmet Sauce

Saucey Sauce Sauce

The moral of this article is that if you like food and/or beer and have not entered the hallowed walls of The Cloverleaf Tavern then you should be removed from the foodie guild immediately. Luckily, as a card carrying member of both the Clover and the Foodie Guild of America, or the FGA, which I just made up and am imposing an instant trademark on, I have talked both organizations into an amnesty program. They both agree that if you take it upon yourself to get your ass to the Cloverleaf before the summer is over; you will still be allowed to be a member of the FGA. Seriously though, all it will take is one visit to the Cloverleaf Tavern, and you will be sending angry emoticons to all of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, for not alerting you to this food and beer sanctuary earlier.

Cloverleaf Tavern on Urbanspoon

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