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!

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 Eats His Way Through Bean Town

Every once in a blue moon the neurons in my brain fire just right, and I have a good, no, great, no, fantastic idea.  This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago when I found out I was going to Boston on a business trip.  I began searching the googles for the best foodie finds the city of Boston had to offer, and after about 45 minutes of dredging through one commercial advertising driven site after another, an idea popped into my head, one that was so damn prodigious that a freaking light bulb should have appeared over my head and shined brighter than Lil’ Jon’s grill.   This idea I am speaking so highly of was to forgo the internet search that is riddled with paid advertisers and subpar eateries and go to the heart of any great foodie scene, the blogosphere.  I aimed to contact the food bloggers of Boston that patrol the city night and day in search of the finest fare that THEIR city slings, and then take the time out to write poetic verses about these establishments so others will not be led astray by the likes of Bing and AOL.

With this thought in mind, I had only one problem, where the hell do I find a list of food bloggers from the Boston Area.  I once again fired up my internet browser, but this time I switched my search criteria around and was able to find that UrbanSpoon.com had just the list I was looking for.  Armed with the best of Boston Food Blogger List courtesy of UrbanSpoon, I began to contact the bloggers that seemed to match my style of epicurean adventuring.  I trusted the foodie community and the food bloggers of Boston would come through for me, and even though I did not know what to expect as far as return e-mails, I ended my research that faithful afternoon.  Shortly after sending the first message my inbox was inundated with responses from Boston’s finest foodies.  At that moment I knew just how Tim Tebow must have felt after being picked up by the New England Patriots, proud and excited to go to bean town.

Welcome To Boston

Welcome To Boston

The amazing food blogging community of Boston welcomed me with open arms and helped me compile a list of Boston’s Best, Blue Collar Foodie Approved, restaurants and watering holes. Considering I was in Boston for my actual nine to fiver, I was only able to hit up a few of the great suggestions these gracious gourmands had provided but the ones I did visit were absolutely amazing. Due to the tremendous out pour of assistance I received from the helpful blogging community of Boston, I will be doing this from now on, and I suggest you do the same. Not only will you be happy with the results, but I assure you it will make a food blogger smile when they receive your e-mail, so it is a win, win for everyone. Without further ado, buckle up gastronauts and prepare for the Blue Collar Foodie’s voyage to Boston’ belly!

Sweet Cheeks

Sweet Cheeks BBQ

The first stop on my gastro tour of Boston was a rather easy choice, as damn near every food blogger I spoke to, agreed this establishment was a must visit, and it was in walking distance of my hotel. This highly touted, often blogged about, and relatively new restaurant is none other than Sweet Cheeks BBQ in the Fenway area of Boston.  Now since it was the only BBQ joint I ventured to during my brief visit to Boston, I can’t proclaim that it is the best BBQ in the city, like most Bostonians, but I will say that anyone attempting to compete with this Texas style BBQ spot is in for quite a battle.

Sweet Cheeks Tray

Sweet Cheeks Tray

Sweet Cheeks’ offers all of the staples that you would expect a BBQ place to provide, such as Pulled Pork, Ribs, Chicken, and Brisket for the carnivore in you, and hot and cold sides featuring coleslaw, baked beans, mac and cheese, and collard greens. They also throw in some not so standard options for the adventurous foodies like yours truly, including their Berkshire Pork Belly, and Great Northern Short Rib. Furthermore, Sweet Cheeks allows you to create a combination tray of their offerings so you can create a custom metastatic mixture that is sure to please.

Sweet Cheeks BBQ Ribs

Sweet Cheeks BBQ Ribs

What further separates Sweet Cheeks from the BBQ spots that I have visited in the past, is their extensive and impressive craft beer list that adorns the back of their menu.  Even though I fancy myself to be somewhat of a novice cicerone, Sweet Cheeks offered more than just a few beers that not only have I never tried, but some that were not even on my radar.

Sweet Cheeks Biscuit With Honey Butter

Sweet Cheeks Biscuit With Honey Butter

After eating at Sweet Cheeks I fully understand why the foodie scene in Boston is all about this local eatery. The food was fantastic, and if you find yourself in Boston, you must at least go there for a cold craft beer, an overstuffed meat sandwich, and a biscuit with honey butter. If you do not, unfriend me on Facebook immediately before you return, because I will publically shame you until you cry. Although I highly recommend grabbing a fat cheeks tray and knocking down three of their righteously smoked meats paired with two sides like I did.

Citizen Public House

Citizen Public House

With happy bellies full to the brim with meaty goodness, my partner in crime and I decided to walk to our next destination, The Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar.  According to the locals that I spoke to the food here is really good, but what they are known for is their far-reaching whiskey menu that is a must see for travelers who enjoy a good stiff drink.  Since an entire pig was resting nicely in my gut and food was out of the question, I decided to take a gander at their spirit selection, and I was impressed.  After perusing the menu for a short period of time, I was overwhelmed by the enormous selection of Bourbons, Scotches, and Whiskeys that decorated the Citizen’s menu, so much so that I had to enlist the assistance of the bartender to aid me in this daunting task.

Hirsch Whiskey

Hirsch Whiskey

This was a fantastic decision, because the bartender was like a whiskey shaman from the isle of knowledge.  After speaking to him for about five minutes not only did I know what Whiskey I wanted to order, I felt as if I could write a Wikipedia article on whiskey and simply use him as the source.  The clientele was great as well, and as I sipped my Hirsch Small Batch Bourbon, I conversed about all things sports with a few delightful local Bostonians.  Sadly, as my glass ran dry, I had to call it a night, as I had to be responsible in the morning, so I walked back to my hotel in preparation of the morrow, so I could dream of the next Boston food adventure I would embark upon.

The Tip Tap Room

The Tip Tap Room

After a long day of work, I was extremely excited to hop on the T near my hotel and make my way to the Government Center stop, where my next eatery would be found.  The Tip Tap Room was recommended to me by a few of the food writers that I contacted and described as a place that was known for exotic meats and craft beer.  Friends, you had me at exotic meats, TWSS.  The moment I arrived at this eccentric eatery, located in the center of the bustling Government Center area of Boston, I knew I was going to enjoy my stay.  Their vast tap menu was proudly displayed on the wall and due to the beautiful weather the large front windows were open allowing the pleasant breeze of the fledgling evening to whisk its way throughout the dining area.

Antelope Meatloaf

Antelope Meatloaf

It took me seconds to realize what I wanted as my meal, Antelope Meatloaf, but as for the beer list that was a horse of a different color. I had some bad luck in the beginning, as I chose two beers that had literally just tapped seconds before the waiter had taken our order. Fortunately though, our server was well versed in the art of beer drinking and selected three small samples of beer that were similar to the ones that I had ordered so I could try them before I made my final selection. This small, yet greatly appreciated service elevated my appreciation for this trendy eatery immeasurably.

Beer

Beer

I would highly recommend that everyone hit up the Tip Tap Room while they are traipsing down the Freedom Trail or visiting Faneuil or Quincy Market, which are all very close. The food divine, the service was wonderful, and the location simply can’t be beat. Furthermore, where else can you eat succulent Antelope Meatloaf, while sipping on local craft beer in the city of Boston?

Regina Pizza

Regina Pizza

Another one of Boston’s restaurants that almost every foodie that wrote me back included on their list of must eats was the original Regina Pizza located in the North End of the city.  Being from the land of great pizza, the words best and pizza in the same sentence without being combined with the phrase, “other than in New Jersey,” is like uttering the phrase the Mets stink, without adding the caveat “because of their owners.”  With that said, I was not willing to ignore the endorsement of almost a dozen food writers because of my own New Jersey centric, pizza related hubris.

When we arrived, we soon found out that Regina Pizza is not a secret in Boston, as was evident in the fact that there was a line out the door to score a table in this famous pizzeria.  While waiting for our table, I researched the menu online and decided that I was going to partake in the most sought after pie Regina’s serves, The Giambotta, which consists of pepperoni, sausage, salami, mushrooms, peppers, onions, anchovies, and Mozzarella cheese.

The Giambotta

The Giambotta

Once seated which did not take too long, our order was in and a beer was in my hand in no time, thanks to the speedy service that is provided at Regina’s. Shortly after we ordered, our Regina’s masterpieces were delivered to our table, and I was ready to try what everyone was telling me was Boston’s best pizza. Now as I said, Pizza and Jersey are like Guns and Texas, Hockey and Canadians, or Lies and Politicians, so I know pizza, and Regina makes damn good pizza. Now I am not saying that Jersey pizza is not better in some places that I have been, but if I ever had to move to Boston, I could surely get my Pizza fix within the confines of this North End staple.

Mike's Pastry

Mike’s Pastry

If you read my blog regularly you know that I am infatuated with the cannoli like Courtney Love, well, loves her some crack cocaine.  So when multiple foodies tell me that Mike’s Pastry is the place to get a cannoli in what is basically Boston’s Little Italy, I had no other choice but to venture down the street from Regina’s and give one of them a try.  This decision was almost as good as the decision I made to marry my loving and supportive wife.   Mike’s offers a myriad of cannoli, filled with everything from the traditional cream to specialty cannoli such as peanut butter or pistachio.  To add to their appeal they also serve a wide array of other Italian indulgences that would make Kirstie Alley fall off the diet wagon once again.

I chose to treat myself to a Peanut Butter Cannoli topped with powdered sugar. Judging from the looks of this pastry shop and the fact that it was crowded at 9:00 PM on a Wednesday night, I assumed this decadent, overstuffed phenomenon was going to be good, but I was not ready for the shear awesomeness that this shell full of heaven was going to deliver. With reckless abandon for my shirt and pants, I could not stop eating this bliss wrapped in a flakey shell as powdered sugar rained down on my clothes like hell fire. Afterword, I not only looked like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan after a night at the Roxy, but I was just as happy as them as well.

Bleacher Bar

Bleacher Bar

There was only one thing left to do after treating ourselves to a wonderful evening in the North End of Boston, and that was, return to the Fenway area and drink a cold beer at the coolest bar in town. Once again my fellow foodies came through in the clutch and informed me of a place called Bleacher Bar that is located literally under the bleachers of Fenway. These Uber sports bar not only have a decent selection of draft beers, but they have something that no other bar in town can boast. This sport’s enthusiast’s mecca has an enormous window that overlooks Fenway Park on the field level. Not only do they have the greatest view of any bar in the city, check that, the country, they don’t charge a freaking cover! That is correct, you heard me right, NO COVER.

The Church Of Boston

The Church Of Boston

Considering that I am an Ordained Reverend with the Universal Life Church, when a few of my blogging cohorts suggested that I visit the Church of Boston for a pint and a meal I could not resist.  This chic Boston Eatery boasts a gourmet gastro pub menu combined with a notable selection of adult beverages.  Adding to the appeal of this epicurean sanctuary, The Church of Boston offers several choices of seating types for their patrons to enjoy, including booths, high top tables, and even couches for a relaxing place to rest your rump while imbibing a cold after work cocktail.  Boston’s holy bistro also has a separate room for live music where the area’s top local bands perform their unique hymns seven nights a week starting at 9 P.M.

Church's Noodle Bowl

Church’s Noodle Bowl

Church delivers a truly unique design premise with an accompanying relaxed ambiance that I have not yet to experience in any other bar that I have been to.  The stained glass windows that adorn one full wall of the bar are an additional luxury, which enhances the already chic interior of this amazing eatery.  To top it all off, their menu had so many delectable choices that it took me quite some time to decide what to have.  Furthermore, their drink selection is quite substantial and formidable in its own right.  When visiting Church, it would be a sin not to indulge in their specialty cocktails appropriately labeled the Four Horsemen and the Seven Deadly Sins.  If beer is what you’re after to pair with your amazing food, I suggest trying the always original and tasty Pretty Little Things Offering, which is basically whatever crazy concoction that four Massachusetts beer obsessed hop heads created that week.

El Pelon

El Pelon

 

After eating at the Church of Boston, we made our way to one of the last true Baseball Churches left standing, Fenway Park to catch a game and drink some beers.  After the game I was a little bit hungry and was in need of a midnight snack.  I checked my list of foodie approved eateries in the area and stumbled upon a place called El Pelon Taqueria.  Not only was this well-known Taqueria on our way back to the hotel, but honestly, nothing quenches a nighttime craving like a burrito.

El Guapo Burrito

El Guapo Burrito

After a quick look at the menu, I decided to go with El Guapo Burrito stuffed with pork, Mexican rice, black beans, fried plantains, Jack cheese, fire roasted Salsa, romaine lettuce and sour cream. Upon ordering this utterly tantalizing Burrito, the very cordial waitress simply uttered I hope you’re hungry. She was not kidding; the Burrito she handed me was so hefty that I could have done curls with it, and its girth would make Ron Jeremy blush. Not only was this burrito gy-freaking-normous it was bursting with such immense flavor that my taste buds decided to do the Mexican hat dance. This was the perfect ending to my culinary globetrot through Boston, and I went to bed that evening not only full but awestruck by the Boston Foodie Scene.

I have to thank all the wonderful foodies that helped steer the Gastro Express that I rode through Boston during the course of this week. Without them, my trip would have been filled with dirty water dogs and hot pockets. If you are ever thinking about going to Boston, I suggest visiting their blogs, liking them on Facebook, or following them on Twitter before you go so you too can get their expert advice on where to go in their magnificent city. The following is a list of their sites so you can find them:

A Boston Food Diary:  http://www.abostonfooddiary.com

Pig Trip:  http://www.pigtrip.net/

Blog and Tweet Boston:  https://twitter.com/BlogAndTweetBos

Peace, Love, and Food:  http://peaceloveandfood.com

Foodology (Actually from Vancouver but has visited Boston):  http://foodology.ca/

Hidden Boston:  http://hiddenboston.com/

The Economical Eater:  http://www.theeconomicaleater.com/

Chow Down Bean Town:  http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/blogs/chowdown/

Just Add Cheese:  http://www.justaddcheese.com/

 

The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Morris Tap & Grill for a Beer Paired With a Side Of Awesome

If there is one specific type of eatery that exemplifies the Blue Collar Foodie movement that I have been trying to showcase throughout my blogging career it would have to be the Gastro Pub. These establishments combine good old fashioned blue collar elements with a twist of foodie flair causing epicurean adventurers like myself to flock to them like Charlie Sheen to a dysfunctional twenty- something with daddy issues. Since this movement is catching like wild fire, it is hard to keep up with all the Gastro Pubs that are popping up faster than a New York Mets fan gives up on the season, but one specific Pub caught my interest a while back and I vowed to pay them a visit.   I am referring to none other than Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 Route 10 West in Randolph, NJ.

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill has been on my radar since they damn near slapped me sober with foodie brilliance at the Morris Town Beer Fest. Since that day I knew I needed to make the trek down to Randolph to try the full MTG experience.   So, Kat and I made plans to meet with another Gastro Centric couple, Mr. Jabre and Ms. Berners-Lee, who are from those parts and head over to Morris Tap & Grill for a fun-filled evening of tempting vittles and libations.

When we arrived at the Morris Tap & Grill, I was surprised to hear the harmonious hums of a live band jamming out in the bar area. Much to my delight the band was playing at the perfect level as to add to the ambience of the restaurant but still allow pleasant dinner conversation at a normal speaking tone. If you are anything like my past self you may have just shot the computer screen a derision-laden glare in response to that comment, and most likely thought of me as an old fuddy duddy who does not like his music loud anymore. I assure you, I still feel there is a time and place for loud music, but while I am trying to eat dinner is not one of them, so I was very happy that the Morris Tap & Grill were savvy enough to take that into consideration.

Upon reaching our table and meeting up with our fellow foodies, we were almost immediately welcomed by our server Katrina who offered us our Menu’s and whole hearted greeting, which was appreciated immensely. I seem to be able to tell a greeting that is laced with contrived emotions, but Katrina honestly seemed like she enjoyed her job and was happy to help us, which instantly set the mood for our dining experience.

My first mission when I visit a Gastropub is the challenging task of picking my first beer of the evening. If you have never been to a Gastropub, you may not have ever had this issue, but once you venture down the rabbit hole that is craft beers you will find that sometimes selecting a beer can be as hard as catching the white rabbit. So, if you are an over analytical beer fanatic like me and you find yourself staring at an extensive and impressive beer list the likes of the Morris Tap & Grills, this process could take several minutes and some arduous decision making, which may cause your wife and friends to stare at you with an ominous ire as their stomachs grumble. Fortunately, Morris Tap & Grill has once again thought of this problematic situation before you even walked in the door, and are nice enough to offer what is known as a flight of beers as the solution.   For anyone that has never had a flight of beer, it is quite simply, four small beers instead of one big beer, which allows you to taste multiple beers instead of only choosing one. With the knowledgeable assistance of Katrina, I was able to piece together my beer flight and our drink orders were on their way to the bar.

Morris Tap & Grill Beer Flight

With our first undertaking considered to be success we moved onto our next imperative task of the evening, our meals.   I am not sure what is more comprehensive and grandiose, the Morris Tap & Grill’s beer menu or there dinner menu, but one thing is for certain, they both can make a Blue Collar Foodie salivate like a German Shepard at Pavlov’s B&B. Since, I knew that I was attending Morris Tap & Grill and was already their friend on Facebook, I launched a pre-emptive attack on my ever-wavering entrée contemplation, and asked the MTG what they suggest I eat to fully experience their Chef’s culinary modus operandi. Much to my surprise, Chef Eric, himself wrote me back and suggested a few dishes that he felt a Blue Collar Foodie, such as me would enjoy.   Chef Eric recommended the following dishes; the Trio of bacon, the Pork Shank, any of the Burgers, particularly the Baconeater, the Southwest, or the BBQ, The Shrimp cannelloni, the Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, and finally the Avocado “Fillet.” If you follow this blog at all you know damn well which dish I chose! Chef Eric Sir you had me at Trio of Bacon. My beautiful wife, Kat spun the gastronomy roulette wheel and it landed on the Short Ribs, which she is drawn to like a teenager to a sparkling vampire. Mr. Jabre decided to stick to the Chef’s recommendations which was also highly indorsed by Katrina and went with Twisted Chicken Pot Pie where as his lovely lady also chose off the Chef Eric approved list and decided upon the BBQ burger. We also ordered a Spinach Artichoke Dip for the table to prime our stomachs for the meals that were forthcoming.

Morris Tap & Grill Spinach Artichoke Dip

With most of the decision making behind us, we were able to absorb the overall atmosphere of the Morris Tap & Grill. I felt quite at home within the rustic yet elegant confines of this eatery and as we lost ourselves in conversation our appetizer arrived at the table. The Spinach Artichoke dish that arrived on our table carried with it such a heavenly aroma that I was barely able to take a picture of it before everyone at our table was jockeying for position to dive into it. As I dipped my first chip into this diptastic concoction, I could tell the texture was just right. Firm enough to stay on the chip, but forgiving enough to not break this conveyance vessel. This potion was not only the right consistency but the flavor was spot-on as well, let’s just say that once it landed on our table, it was not long for this world. After polishing off the Spinach Dip, we ordered another round of drinks from Katrina, and shortly after their arrival the entrees made their appearance.

Morris Tap & Grill Bacon

The Trio of Bacon consisted of Mustard & Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin, Bacon Baked Beans, and Grilled Pork Belly. From the shear looks of this dish, I could tell right away that I had made the proper choice. I first tried the hearty Baked Beans which had a thick palatable sauce which smothered the copious amounts of bacon that were swimming with the beans. The beans packed quite a flavor punch, and I found myself eating bite after bite, before moving on to the Pork Loin, which was expertly cooked, causing the medallions to be not only delicious but tender as well. Lastly I picked up a piece of the Grilled Pork Belly with my fork and brought it to my mouth slowly with anticipation. You see, in the healthy world we live in now, eating Pork Belly is tantamount to calling the Queen of England a, well let’s just say a word that rhymes with punt and starts with a C, shall we. Yet these tasty morsels of piggy goodness are what my stomach’s wet dreams are made of, and I cannot thank Morris Tap & Grill enough for affording me the opportunity of savoring every last bite of these perfectly cooked cholesterol loaded pork gems.

Morris Tap & Grill Rib

Kat was generous enough to allow me a small taste of her short ribs so I could experience, in her words, all their beefy magnificence. After I tasted her dish, TWSS, I completely understood why she wanted me to try it. First off, the ribs were cooked in such a way that the meat literally fell apart, as Kat gently poked them with her fork. Furthermore, the meat was so tender and the sauce so tasty that I had to eat another piece of my pork belly to stop from distracting Kat, and stealing another piece off her plate.

Morris Tap and Grill Twisted Chicken

I was also afforded the opportunity to try Mr. Jabre’s Twisted Chicken Pot Pie and Ms. Berners-Lee’s Burger. The Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, consisted of all the standard ingredients of chicken pot pie, but instead of being in a pie crust, Chef Eric stuffs those ingredients inside the chicken itself. I find normal chicken pot pie to be rather hum-drum so this inventive twist was a welcomed changed. It also helped that it tasted better than any pot pie that has ever graced my well versed spoon. As for the burger, it was perfectly cooked and chock full of flavor.

I am not one for dessert right after my meal. I would much rather allow the flavors that I just assaulted my taste buds with to loiter a while, and I feel that dessert hinders this effect. With that said, while perusing the MTG menu one particular item caught my eye, and I felt that I would be doing every one of you a disservice if I did not at least try it. Morris Tap & Grill offers something that I have never heard of before, listed as beer cocktails on the menu. I was so intrigued by this concept I simply had to order one of them.   I opted for the one that utilized Left Hand’s Nitro Chocolate Stout as its base, and rolled the proverbial dice. This drink consisted of the Stout, Espresso Vodka, Godiva Vodka, and Chambord, topped off with a Chocolate Drizzle. When this creation hit my lips I was forced to rethink everything I ever claimed to know about beer and liquor, so much so that I had to memorize a new rhyme. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear, Beer before liquor you will never be sicker, Liquor in beer and Holy shit that’s good! Alright I am still working on the Rhyme, but you get my point, order one, you will thank me.

Morris Tap & Grill Beer

I, for one enjoy the almost ironic, albeit Alanis Morissette irony not actual irony, feeling of eating proper foodie fare in a pub like environment paired with a craft beer, instead of wine. This duality is the exact reason that I love Gastro Pubs! These wonderful establishments, Morris Tap &Grill included, embody the very essence of being a Blue Collar Foodie. Sometimes I wish I was not a foodie, my life would be easier if I could stuff my craw with bland mush and tasteless chops, but then I visit places like Morris Tap & Grill and with one forkful, edible enlightenment this notion is whisked away and replaced with yet another blissful epicurean memory.

Click to add a blog post for Morris Tap and Grill on Zomato

The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Morris Tap & Grill for a Beer Paired With a Side Of Awesome

If there is one specific type of eatery that exemplifies the Blue Collar Foodie movement that I have been trying to showcase throughout my blogging career it would have to be the Gastro Pub.  These establishments combine good old fashioned blue collar elements with a twist of foodie flair causing epicurean adventurers like myself to flock to them like Charlie Sheen to a dysfunctional twenty- something with daddy issues.  Since this movement is catching like wild fire, it is hard to keep up with all the Gastro Pubs that are popping up faster than a New York Mets fan gives up on the season, but one specific Pub caught my interest a while back and I vowed to pay them a visit.   I am referring to none other than Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 Route 10 West in Randolph, NJ.

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill has been on my radar since they damn near slapped me sober with foodie brilliance at the Morris Town Beer Fest.  Since that day I knew I needed to make the trek down to Randolph to try the full MTG experience.   So, Kat and I made plans to meet with another Gastro Centric couple, Brian and Kristen, who are from those parts and head over to Morris Tap & Grill for a fun-filled evening of tempting vittles and libations.

When we arrived at the Morris Tap & Grill, I was surprised to hear the harmonious hums of a live band jamming out in the bar area.  Much to my delight the band was playing at the perfect level as to add to the ambience of the restaurant but still allow pleasant dinner conversation at a normal speaking tone.  If you are anything like my past self you may have just shot the computer screen a derision-laden glare in response to that comment, and most likely thought of me as an old fuddy duddy who does not like his music loud anymore.  I assure you, I still feel there is a time and place for loud music, but while I am trying to eat dinner is not one of them, so I was very happy that the Morris Tap & Grill were savvy enough to take that into consideration.

Upon reaching our table and meeting up with our fellow foodies, we were almost immediately welcomed by our server Katrina who offered us our Menu’s and whole hearted greeting, which was appreciated immensely.  I seem to be able to tell a greeting that is laced with contrived emotions, but Katrina honestly seemed like she enjoyed her job and was happy to help us, which instantly set the mood for our dining experience.

Beer Flight

Beer Flight

My first mission when I visit a Gastropub is the challenging task of picking my first beer of the evening.  If you have never been to a Gastropub, you may not have ever had this issue, but once you venture down the rabbit hole that is craft beers you will find that sometimes selecting a beer can be as hard as catching the white rabbit.  So, if you are an over analytical beer fanatic like me and you find yourself staring at an extensive and impressive beer list the likes of the Morris Tap & Grills,  this process could take several minutes and some arduous decision making, which may cause your wife and friends to stare at you with an ominous ire as their stomachs grumble.  Fortunately, Morris Tap & Grill has once again thought of this problematic situation before you even walked in the door, and are nice enough to offer what is known as a flight of beers as the solution.   For anyone that has never had a flight of beer, it is quite simply, four small beers instead of one big beer, which allows you to taste multiple beers instead of only choosing one.  With the knowledgeable assistance of Katrina, I was able to piece together my beer flight and our drink orders were on their way to the bar.

With our first undertaking considered to be success we moved onto our next imperative task of the evening, our meals.   I am not sure what is more comprehensive and grandiose, the Morris Tap & Grill’s beer menu or there dinner menu, but one thing is for certain, they both can make a Blue Collar Foodie salivate like a German Shepard at Pavlov’s B&B.  Since, I knew that I was attending Morris Tap & Grill and was already their friend on Facebook, I launched a pre-emptive attack on my ever-wavering entrée contemplation, and asked the MTG what they suggest I eat to fully experience their Chef’s culinary modus operandi.  Much to my surprise, Chef Eric Levine, himself wrote me back and suggested a few dishes that he felt a Blue Collar Foodie, such as me would enjoy.   Chef Eric recommended the following dishes; the Trio of bacon, the Pork Shank, any of the Burgers, particularly the Baconeater, the Southwest, or the BBQ, The Shrimp cannelloni, the Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, and finally the Avocado “Fillet.”  If you follow this blog at all you know damn well which dish I chose!  Chef Eric Sir you had me at Trio of Bacon.  My beautiful wife, Kat spun the gastronomy roulette wheel and it landed on the Short Ribs, which she is drawn to like a teenager to a sparkling vampire. Brian decided to stick to the Chef’s recommendations which was also highly indorsed by Katrina and went with Twisted Chicken Pot Pie where as his lovely lady also chose off the Chef Eric approved list and decided upon the BBQ burger.  We also ordered a Spinach Artichoke Dip for the table to prime our stomachs for the meals that were forthcoming.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Spinach Artichoke Dip

With most of the decision making behind us, we were able to absorb the overall atmosphere of the Morris Tap & Grill.  I felt quite at home within the rustic yet elegant confines of this eatery and as we lost ourselves in conversation our appetizer arrived at the table.  The Spinach Artichoke dish that arrived on our table carried with it such a heavenly aroma that I was barely able to take a picture of it before everyone at our table was jockeying for position to dive into it.  As I dipped my first chip into this diptastic concoction, I could tell the texture was just right.  Firm enough to stay on the chip, but forgiving enough to not break this conveyance vessel.  This potion was not only the right consistency but the flavor was spot-on as well, let’s just say that once it landed on our table, it was not long for this world.  After polishing off the Spinach Dip, we ordered another round of drinks from Katrina, and shortly after their arrival the entrees made their appearance.

Trio of Bacon!

Trio of Bacon!

The Trio of Bacon consisted of Mustard & Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin, Bacon Baked Beans, and Grilled Pork Belly.  From the shear looks of this dish, I could tell right away that I had made the proper choice.  I first tried the hearty Baked Beans which had a thick palatable sauce which smothered the copious amounts of bacon that were swimming with the beans.  The beans packed quite a flavor punch, and I found myself eating bite after bite, before moving on to the Pork Loin, which was expertly cooked, causing the medallions to be not only delicious but tender as well.  Lastly I picked up a piece of the Grilled Pork Belly with my fork and brought it to my mouth slowly with anticipation.  You see, in the healthy world we live in now, eating Pork Belly is tantamount to calling the Queen of England a, well let’s just say a word that rhymes with punt and starts with a C, shall we.  Yet these tasty morsels of piggy goodness are what my stomach’s wet dreams are made of, and I cannot thank Morris Tap & Grill enough for affording me the opportunity of savoring every last bite of these perfectly cooked cholesterol loaded pork gems.

PORK BELLY

PORK BELLY

Kat was generous enough to allow me a small taste of her short ribs so I could experience, in her words, all their beefy magnificence.  After I tasted her dish, TWSS, I completely understood why she wanted me to try it.  First off, the ribs were cooked in such a way that the meat literally fell apart, as Kat gently poked them with her fork.  Furthermore, the meat was so tender and the sauce so tasty that I had to eat another piece of my pork belly to stop from distracting Kat, and stealing another piece off her plate.

Short Ribs

Short Ribs

I was also afforded the opportunity to try Brian’s Twisted Chicken Pot Pie and Kristen’s Burger.  The Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, consisted of all the standard ingredients of chicken pot pie, but instead of being in a pie crust, Chef Eric stuffs those ingredients inside the chicken itself.  I find normal chicken pot pie to be rather hum-drum so this inventive twist was a welcomed changed.  It also helped that it tasted better than any pot pie that has ever graced my well versed spoon.  As for the burger, it was perfectly cooked and chock full of flavor.

Twisted Chicken

Twisted Chicken

I am not one for dessert right after my meal.  I would much rather allow the flavors that I just assaulted my taste buds with to loiter a while, and I feel that dessert hinders this effect.  With that said, while perusing the MTG menu one particular item caught my eye, and I felt that I would be doing every one of you a disservice if I did not at least try it.  Morris Tap & Grill offers something that I have never heard of before, listed as beer cocktails on the menu.  I was so intrigued by this concept I simply had to order one of them.   I opted for the one that utilized Left Hand’s Nitro Chocolate Stout as its base, and rolled the proverbial dice. This drink consisted of the Stout, Espresso Vodka, Godiva Vodka, and Chambord, topped off with a Chocolate Drizzle. When this creation hit my lips I was forced to rethink everything I ever claimed to know about beer and liquor, so much so that I had to memorize a new rhyme.  Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear, Beer before liquor you will never be sicker, Liquor in beer and Holy shit that’s good!  Alright I am still working on the Rhyme, but you get my point, order one, you will thank me.

Chocolate Beer Concoction

Chocolate Beer Concoction

I, for one enjoy the almost ironic, albeit Alanis Morissette irony not actual irony, feeling of eating proper foodie fare in a pub like environment paired with a craft beer, instead of wine.  This duality is the exact reason that I love Gastro Pubs!  These wonderful establishments, Morris Tap &Grill included, embody the very essence of being a Blue Collar Foodie.  Sometimes I wish I was not a foodie, my life would be easier if I could stuff my craw with bland mush and tasteless chops, but then I visit places like Morris Tap & Grill and with one forkful, edible enlightenment this notion is whisked away and replaced with yet another blissful epicurean memory.

Morris Tap and Grill on Urbanspoon

The Blue Collar Foodie Visits The Twisted Elm Tavern

As a Blue Collar Foodie, my epicurean journey started with dive bars and unexpected foodie finds across this wonderful state of ours. The places that I frequented in the early days of this culinary adventure would make the typical fastidious foodie cringe with disgust. I however loved every minute of it! I still enjoy eating a gourmet meal off a paper plate in a wood paneled wonderland, while the glare of a 50 inch television broadcasting a sporting event illuminates the dark and dingy dining room, but my new true love is the Gastro Pub.

A Gastro Pub is quite simply a bar that serves high end food paired with craft beer and they have been sprouting up in the Garden State faster than reality shows that focus on drama fueled D-bags from the planet orange. My preferred Gastro Pub right now is none other than the Twisted Elm Tavern located at 435 River Drive in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. This relatively new eatery in Bergen County is the brain child of co-owners Jim Rogers and George Kantakis, and according to this foodie, they have struck gastronomic gold!

Twisted Elm Sign

The Twisted Elm Tavern offers its customers two distinct atmospheres to enjoy the imaginative creations of the Elm’s Head Chef Albert Scazafave. First and foremost is the “sit down,” experience, which I recommend for the Twisted Elm virgin, which is comparable to any high-end restaurant you will find in this area. The second way to appreciate the many offerings of the Twisted Elm is to belly up to the bar, where you can not only have a great conversation with one of the exceptionally sociable and educated bar-tenders, but order anything off the dinner menu as well.

The Twisted Elm’s décor is littered with artistic photographs of local historical sites that initiate countless conversations about native folklore, which is always entertaining for a townee like me.  The rustic yet refined approach to design that the Twisted Elm has chosen lends itself very well to the genre of Gastro Pub, and creates a home-like appeal with a fine dining flare.

Spicy Garlic Shrimp with Spanish Chorizo

Spicy Garlic Shrimp with Spanish Chorizo

Even though I have never been disappointed in any dish I have devoured at this spot, I do have some favorites that standout amongst the crowd. First off the bread and butter that are served will challenge your self-control, because between the enticing artisanal everything butter and the fresh baked bread, if you are not carful you will fill up before your meal begins. As For appetizers, I highly recommend The Spicy Garlic Shrimp($12), which combines garlic shrimp with Spanish chorizo in a mouthwatering sauce perfect for seafood lovers, or The East Meets West Ribs($12), which are covered in a sriracha barbecue sauce, that, I am not ashamed to say, have dreams about. As for the Main Course, I am a sucker for the Skillet Mac and Cheese with Lobster($15), which delivers a tremendous amount of Lobster flavor thanks to the gigantic pieces of lobster mixed into the cheese sauce that has a slight smoky flavor due to the loving addition of my favorite condiment, Bacon! That is right, you heard me, I said condiment, bacon makes everything taste better, and therefore it is the only meat that should be considered a condiment. The aforementioned Pork Shank ($24) also makes my list of culinary contenders on the Twisted Elm’s menu, due to a perfectly executed chasseur sauce that displays the Chef’s wide array of influences.

Smoked St. Louis Ribs with Sriracha BBQ sauce

Smoked St. Louis Ribs with Sriracha BBQ sauce

As you are eating the generous portions the Twisted Elm offers please keep in mind that not partaking in one of the daily dessert specials would be a foodie crime punishable by excommunication and a lifelong sentence of eating at McDonalds. The evil genius that constructs these decadently suggestive concoctions deserves the utmost praise, for these deserts leave me speechless each and every time I indulge in one of these masterpieces.

Twisted Elm Dessert

Since this is a foodie blog I have spent a substantial amount of time describing the Gastro facet of the Twisted Elm but I would be remiss if I did not inform you about the Pub side of this establishment. The Twisted Elm Tavern is not your ordinary local watering hole slinging Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser long necks; they offer a rotating craft beer selection that is handpicked by an unofficial Cicerone, a beer sommelier, which fluctuates with the seasons. The beer menu, which is listed on a large blackboard behind the bar, regularly features craft brewing legends such as Stone Brewing, Dog Fish Head, Rogue, and Flying Dog.

To add to the allure of the Elm’s libation selection they offer much more than just craft beer. The Elm consults a sommelier to choose the wine that they offered to their customers who prefer grapes over hops. Furthermore, much to my wife’s delight, they also serve artisanal Hard Cider by Crispin.   To top it all off, they of course offer a full bar complete with every kind of alcohol your heart desires, or you can allow one of the bartenders to whip you up a specialty cocktail designed by their own in-house mixologist.

Whether you are looking for a peaceful gourmet meal with friends or a place to watch the game and have a couple of craft brewed cold ones, The Twisted Elm has got you covered. As a parting piece of advice, I suggest that if you decide to go to the Twisted Elm Tavern, please leave your inhibitions and diet at home. The Twisted Elm experience is all about adventurous dishes and extraordinary beverages that all combine for a gastronomic expedition that calorie counting and hesitations will not support.

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The Blue Collar Foodie Goes On A Foodcation

When normal people go on Vacation, they spend hours, if not days, obsessing over which monuments to visit or which museum has the most, must see artwork, within its confines.  I however am not an ordinary person, I am a foodie through and through and my vacation planning begins with the googles and ends with a list of must have foodie finds for whatever foreign land I am venturing to.

In the past, I have ate my way through a road trip spanning across this beautiful country of ours sampling all the spectacular food that the fly over states have to offer.  Kat and I then went on an International foodcation to see what eats Europe had to offer, while stopping off at London, Paris, and Rome. No matter where Kat and I journey, as Snoop  Dogg once kind of said, “We got our mind on our food, and our food on our mind.”

This past week Kat and I were traipsing through LA LA land, over on the left coast, and I was not disappointed with the fantastic food that I found while I lived among the movie stars and crazy meth addled homeless people that seem to live next door to each other in good ole’ Los Angles. The following is my Top 5 Blue Collar Foodie finds in the L.A. area.

5.  Bar Kitchen 819 S. Flower Street, Downtown LA

“When in Rome” is the Cliché that should roll off every foodie’s tongue when foodcationing (Yes I just made that word up and by the way, it is Trademarked).  One should not go to Philadelphia and opt to eat a Cheese Steak without Cheez Whiz because they are on a diet, just like one should not go to the Musée du Louvre in Paris and opt not to see the Mona Lisa because the line is too long, it is decisions like these that make the rest of the world believe that Americans are uncouth, and this foodie will not allow that to happen on his watch.

With this thought in mind, I could not let my fellow East Coasters down, even if every frugal bone in my body was tingling like Spiderman’s spidey sense at Doctor Octopus’s New Years Eve Party, as I walked into the posh downtown eatery known as Bar Kitchen.  From the moment I walked into this establishment my hipstrometer, which of course is my scientific device that measures the approximate hipster level a restaurant gives off, was reading Michael Cera in a Starbucks with a Mac Book Pro, which is the highest reading I have ever seen before.

When in Rome I thought to myself as we were seated adjacent to the wall that was showing a looped, muted, black and white version of The Never Ending Story and offered a libation before our five course Chef’s Tasting began.  I ordered a Golden Road, Point the Way I.P.A, which is one of the few beers that is brewed and bottled in sunny Los Angeles, California.

With my first bite of the first course, a Quail salad with sweet potatoes and pomegranate seeds, I was ready to don an ascot, black glasses, and sing to Weezer while driving down Hollywood Boulevard in my Smart Car.  With every bite I was whisked away to a foodie paradise via Falcore the Luck Dragon, the creepy flying dog from The Never Ending Story, and I savored every second of it.

With a tiny bird and some greens in my belly, the courses hit the table like a flurry of punches from Mike Tyson, not the pigeon wrangling medicated Tyson either, the biting people’s ears off crazy Tyson.  The Mussels with Catalina beans and Tasso Ham were so rich and decadent they would make Bill Gates jealous, a Chicken Chorizo skewer topped with a lime aioli that tasted as if it was grilled on Jesus’s barbecue outside the pearly gates, and a Sock-Eye Salmon that was served with Fava beans and an Olive Compote that was so light and flaky that I mistook it for actress and damn near asked it for its autograph.

With the savory courses done, our Motley Crew sat back in our chairs like the hedonistic rulers of age old societies as we loosened our belts and discussed the fine food that graced our table in celebration of our friend Benni’s bachelor party and all agreed that this grub was in fact better than the obligatory stripper laced bachelor party that is the ordinary agenda for a party of this magnitude.   Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, a small glass of sherbet and cantaloupe arrived in front of each of us.  The chef at Bar kitchen is apparently smarter than the average bear, and knows no one in Los Angles can turn down Sherbet and Fruit no matter how stuffed they are.  This final course was simply divine and was the perfect ending to a tremendous meal.

When I entered this eatery I fell into the age old trap of judging a book by its cover and I was wrong to do so.  To add insult to my injury their price was half as much as one would expect to pay a New York Restaurant for a 5 course tasting meal, and I gladly ate the chef’s humble pie for only 35 bucks!  Well done Bar Kitchen, my compliments to the chef.

Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

4.  Bob’s Big Boy 4211 Riverside Dr. Burbank, CA

There are quite a few things that New Jersey is known for, some of them we are proud of and others, not so much. A true Jersey native will proudly boast about first game of baseball being played in Hoboken, cringe at any Snookie related nonsense, and give you directions to one of the 17 billion malls that are located in the Garden State.   Even though New Jersey is known for all of these things, the one thing that Jersey has that no New Jersian can truly live without, is the magical Diner.  In most of the other states that I have traveled to finding a Diner is quite a task, but not in our wonderful little armpit. I am pretty sure that every town has a law about having at least one diner, and if that diner closes your town risks being shunned and forced to become a part of Pennsylvania, and believe me, no one wants that.

Everyone enjoys having a small slice of home when they are on vacation, including Kat and I, so if we can have breakfast  at a diner when we are away  it makes the start of the day that much better. Enter Bob’s Big Boy, which is not just any old run of the mill diner, but a full service diner that has been feeding the residents of Burbank, California since 1949.  Whenever we are in the L.A. area Bob’s Big Boy is a must stop for at least one leisurely breakfast.

The door for Bob’s in Burbank is like a time portal that whisks you away back to the 1950’s when Diners were chock full of plump oversized booths  and smiling waitresses.  As you walk into this amazing historical landmark, you can feel the Americana oozing from every corner, from the plague that informs you where the Beatles ate to Bob Big Boy statue that is displayed within the dining area.   If there is one thing better than the décor, it is the deliciously comforting food.

At Bob’s you can, of course, get the normal diner fare, but in my opinion normal is just another way to say mundane.  If you decide to go visit Bob in Burbank I recommend getting the Big Boy Scramble which is described as scrambled eggs mixed with ham, bell pepper, onions and tomato, topped with cheddar cheese and is served with fresh hash brown potatoes, a side of salsa and toast, English muffin or biscuit if you are hungry yet want to appear healthy.  I for one, use the mantra go big or go home a lot when I am on vacation, so when I go to Bob’s I order the Deep Fried French Toast with bacon, eggs, and home fries.   That’s right I said DEEP FRIED FRENCH TOAST, try to read the rest of the article before booking a flight to Big Boy Land please.

Bob's Big Boy on Urbanspoon

3.  Food Trucks (Lardon’s Obituary)

The first time Kat and I wandered around the streets of California we had never partook in the offerings of mobile gastronomy purveyors, or food trucks in layman’s terms.  It was on this first adventure to Los Angles that Kat and I realized the folly of our ways.  While we were looking for expensive chic restaurants in preparation for our trip, we should have been scouring the interwebs for mobile eateries and then chasing them down California Highway Patrol style sans the goofy looking tan shorts and bad 80’s hair.

The food truck that converted us to the church of portable cuisine was none other than the delectably decadent Lardon.  This now extinct beast was the countries’ first and, as far as I know the only Bacon themed food truck.   Lardon was so popular due to its Baconey goodness that it was featured on numerous Television Shows including everyone’s favorite Ginger, Conan O’Brien.  Just reading Lardon’s menu literally added cholesterol to your system.  Some of the menu highlights were, The Bacone which consisted of three strips of exotic bacon, such as Duck or Wild Boar, Chicken Wings covered in bacon hot sauce, topped with hot sauce covered bacon served with a bacon blue cheese dipping sauce, and of course the BACO, a Taco Shell made entirely out of BACON!

I honestly could write a dozen sonnets in iambic pentameter about Lardon and their porky yumminess, but alas they are no more, so I will mourn in silence for our deceased friend.  In the meantime, let me explain how these trucks work for those of you who are not in the know.  The first step is to find a truck you are interested in trying before you arrive in L.A., which is easy enough thanks to the good ol’ googles.  If you are feeling lazier than usual, you can choose one from the Zagat’s Top 10 L.A. food truck list.

Once you have a truck in mind, for example the Grill ‘Em All truck, head over to their website and check out how you can follow them around town.  Most trucks use their Twitter and Facebook feeds to tell potential clients where their truck will be parked for breakfast, lunch, and diner.   Once you are following your food truck via your preferred method of social media, the rest is simple.  Check feed, find truck, and eat food.

The food truck scene in California is amazing because the weather year round is perfect for outdoor dining and standing in line.  Although the New York Metropolitan area is trying to catch up, there seems to be a lot more red tape on this coast that these small businesses have to cut through in order to open up shop.   With that said, these mobile business ventures do seem to disappear overnight never to be heard from again, so if you see one you like and you have the opportunity to eat there, do it while you can.

2. Smoke House  4420 W Lakeside Dr. Burbank, CA

While driving around the Burbank area, Kat and I drove past this unassuming eatery and noticed a neon sign that read, “fine food at a fair price.”  You would think that the sign read, “Free Bacon,” because the next day Kat and I were on our way to explore Smoke House with some friends and family that we were visiting with during our stay.

Me, being me could not resist doing a little research on the place before just walking in, so out the I-Phone came and onto the Googles I went.  I found out that the Smoke House is one of the oldest restaurants in Burbank, California and was opened in 1946.  Due to its location, near the Warner Brother’s Studio, it became a haven for celebrities in its hay day.  Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, and even James Dean could be found dining at the Smoke House on any given Friday night back in the day.   While now George Clooney and Andy Garcia are known to pop in from time to time, Clooney even named his production company after this place.  The more and more I read about this spot, the more and more I knew I needed to eat there.

The Smokehouse Restaurant is yet another time travel device tucked away in Burbank California.  As you walk in, the old Hollywood Lounge vibe is stronger than Charlie Sheen’s coffee after a weekend binge.   I almost expected to hear a traditional lounge singer crooning over a bad P.A. system and be assaulted by plumes of cigarette smoke from the patrons.   As we traveled to our table, the nostalgia level only increased, from the in booth telephone jacks, the artwork on the walls, this was in fact Hollywood the way I only wish I could experience it.

Not only was I excited just to have the opportunity to dine at this sweet establishment, when we looked at the menu is only got better.  We had apparently arrived at the Smoke House during their 66th Anniversary celebration and we were able to order off a special menu that shaved off about 7 dollars a plate.   My research insisted Kat and I try the Smoke House famous Prime Rib with a side order of “The World’s Best Garlic Bread,” and we are not ones to argue with the foodie community or the googles for that matter, so Prime Rib it was.

Not only did I feel like a pimp sitting in this restaurant, I felt like a King eating the food.  The Garlic Bread was bursting with flavor; the salad portion was larger than Christina Ricci’s five head; and the Prime Rib was simply amazing.  To top it all off, the wait staff was wonderful and treated us like we were one of the many celebrities that has placed their rump in their vintage comfy seats.

If you find yourself in Burbank, California and you don’t hit this remarkable establishment up, you sir have failed the foodie that lives inside of you.

Smoke House on Urbanspoon

1: IN AND OUT BURGER (212 locations in CA)

If you don’t know about In and Out Burger, then you need to fly to the West Coast immediately and put some of their crazy good burgers in your belly.  I know I have done articles about Gastro Burgers and sung their praises but there is something about the simplicity of a good old fashioned In And Out burger that makes my stomach smile.  You can ask Kat, when I enter a state that has an In and Out located within its borders (Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, or Utah) we are driving until In and Out is in my belly.

Before I get a hundred nasty grams from you guys, I should clarify that I am fully aware that it is just a burger and fries from yet another fast food restaurant.  But, because I can only have one every so often they become a forbidden fruit, a red button that you are told not to press, or a wrapped toy that you can’t play it, it gets to the point that I dream about them.

Not to mention the fact that In and Out has a super not so secret menu that you can order off of to procure items that are not listed on their very limited menu.  If you do intend to go to an In and Out during your travels you should definitely study this clandestine menu so you can experience the best  In and Out has to offer.   I love ordering off the secret menu because you feel as if you are a member of a fraternal order and only you and the cashier know the handshake.

I have a standard order when I go to In and Out for the first time in a long time.  I get myself a Double Double Animal Style with a side of Animal Style fries and wait in anticipation for them to call my number.  After ordering, I am like a child on Christmas morning waiting for their parents to wake up, I pace around the restaurant in anticipation getting the napkins and ketchup prepared so when my number is called all I have to do it sit and eat.

In and Out Burger has been pumping out fantastic burgers and fries since 1948 and the basic process has remained the same.    They don’t freeze, pre-package or over-process their beef patties.  They hand leaf their lettuce so each piece is inspected before landing on your burger.  Their fries are individually cut at the store that you walk into, so they are the freshest they can be.  The best way to put it is that In and Out Burger just make things the old-fashioned way, and that is why their food tastes so good.

I, by no means claim to have a working knowledge of the California Foodie Scene and I am sure a California native could throw out the name of ten places that are bigger and better than the five restaurants I mentioned above, but then they have missed the point of this article completely.  This post is merely designed to explain that a vacation can be turned into a foodcation with a little research and an open mind.   Next time you venture out of your area don’t just visit the monuments and museums, explore the local culture one forkful at a time.

The Blue Collar Foodie Visits a True Foodie Underdog

There are very few things that go so well together in this world that when one is not combined with the other it should be considered blasphemy.  Some examples of these culinary matches made in heaven are Peanut Butter and Jelly, Pasta with Tomato Sauce, a bucket of popcorn while watching a movie, and, of course, Beer, Wings, and Football.  As the football season hurdles at us faster than a running back dashing down the side line, one must start to think where they will be on Sunday and Monday Nights.

Sunday’s at my house during football season are quite special; Kat and I invite a plethora of friends other for craft beer, slow-cooked food, and of course football.  Football Sundays are an all-day event at our house and can be rather exhausting, so when Monday night football comes around we choose to go out on the town to watch the game.

Just because we choose to go out does not mean we abandon our golden rule of football, which clearly states it must be enjoyed with good friends, good food, and cold beers (Hard Cider in Kat’s case).  This standard football mantra brings me to a small bar in Haledon, NJ damn near every Monday to not only watch the game but also to devour some of the area’s best wings.  This magnificent establishment is called The Underdog Bar & Grill and it is located at 4 Church St., Haledon NJ  07508.

Now, for all the foodies that are reading this and thinking to themselves, The Blue Collar Foodie has finally lost it, wings at a bar are the farthest thing away from foodie cuisine that he has ever reviewed.  To those people that think that way, I must implore you to never throw your nose up in the air at any food, remember in the 18th century Bacon was the food of paupers and now the Bacon Foodie movement is stronger than ever.  I believe that anything edible can be gastronomy when prepared properly.

Furthermore, I am sure that there are another contingent of my readers that instantly thought of their favorite wingery when I mentioned the words, best and wings in the same sentence.  I can hear your chants of hatred bouncing around my skull as you think of new and exciting ways to torture me for my sacrilegious comments.   To these fanatical foodies, I first commend your passion for food, for I too love my local eateries, hell I devote hours of my days writing and reviewing them, so I understand your urge to defend your local beloved restaurants.  But, I ask “can you ever have too many spots that serve fantastic food? “ Even if your wings, in your mind are the best of the best, should you close your mouth and mind to what other wings that may be as equally delectable.  I appeal to your foodie nature, and propose that you join me in trying what I believe to be some of the finest wings in the state.

One of the main reasons Kat and I venture to The Underdog Bar & Grill as opposed to any of the number of sports bars in the Fair Lawn area to watch Monday Night Football, is we love variety.  Sure I have been to places that make excellent hot wings but sometimes I am not in the mood for the humdrum standards of mild, medium, or hot.  Sometimes I want the selection that The Underdog offers; such as Hot, Medium, Mild, BBQ, Thai Chili, Hot Garlic, Fire Ranch, Drunken (Jack Daniels Honey Bourbon with BBQ sauce), Teriyaki, and Texas Thai.  It is diversity like this that keeps Kat and I driving up 208 North to find a bar stool at The Underdog each and every week.   These robust tastes cover the large meaty chicken wings from top to bottom, creating a whirlwind of flavor which will leave your taste buds dancing.

Furthermore, I would not be the Blue Collar Foodie if I was not always looking for great value in combination with phenomenal food.  Have no fear my fellow foodies, The Underdog Bar & Grill offers a fantastic deal every Monday, which is Buy 1 Get 1 wings.  That is right you heard me!  If you venture to The Underdog on Mondays you will not only get to try one amazing flavor of these extraordinary wings for $6.95 but you will get another style for free.   Not to mention, the Underdog offers a fully stocked bar with well-trained bar tenders that will whip you up whatever adult beverage happens to be your fancy.

If all this talk about their succulent and flavorful wings were not enough to get your butt off your couch and onto one of the Underdog’s bar stools to watch the Monday Night Game, they also offer a full menu of classic bar treats as well as some off the wall concoctions.  They serve the standard bar fare such as Mozzarella Sticks, Chicken Fingers, French Fries, and Nachos, but also throw in some appetizers that are not usually found on normal bar menus such as breaded fried artichoke hearts, Thai shrimp, and Chicken Teriyaki Potstickers.  As for entrees, The UL offers spectacular hamburgers with a myriad of toppings, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches, Salads, and Pub Rolls which are unique versions of sushi roll like snacks stuffed with a variety of yumminess.

If football is not your cup of tea, or pint of beer in this case, The Underdog also has outstanding specials on almost every other night of the week as well.   Tuesdays at the Dog features $1 dollar tacos hard or soft and drink specials to boot, Wednesdays you can get $2 Buds, and Thursday offers $1 mugs and $1 hot dogs.

On top of great food and affordable drinks The Underdog has a surplus of Televisions that are always tuned to the best that the sports world has to offer and a digital jukebox that is constantly playing some of the best music from 1960’s to the current day.  The Underdog also offers a pool table as well as three dart boards if bar sports is what you are looking for.  As if that were not enough, they added an outdoor patio area that allows you to drink your beer and smoke your cigarettes at the same time, which as an ex-smoker I can truly appreciate.

With all that said, if you decide to visit The Underdog Bar & Grill you should remember this establishment is a bar first and a restaurant second.   This means that it could be loud and it might be crowded when you arrive.  This is not the type of place to bring your grandmother and your kids, this is the type of place that you enter knowing full well a profound conversation about theoretical physics will not be able to be had, but if cheap drinks and noteworthy blue collar food is what you’re after, a trip to The Underdog Bar & Grill will satisfy your needs.

Underdog Lounge on Urbanspoon