The Blue Collar Foodie Dines at Seasons 52 in Edison, NJ

I am not usually one to venture to chain restaurants. I am more of a mom and pop shop kind of foodie that enjoys the individuality and personality that usually goes hand-in-hand with these types of small town eateries. With that said, I am not one to discriminate. I feel that every establishment no matter how vast their empire has stretched has a story to tell, and I don’t think that their success on a national level should automatically condemn them to an existence chock full of foodie condemnation.   I am the type of person that is willing to go into any and all new situations with an open mind and open stomach, and this is exactly what I did when I was invited to the soft opening of Seasons 52 located near the Menlo Park Mall, at 217 Lafayette Avenue, Edison, NJ.

Seasons 52 Glass

Some people eat to survive; I eat for entertainment and therefore I have no issues traveling to stimulate my taste buds with something new and exciting that I cannot get in my neck of the woods. In college, I routinely would jump in my car and travel two hours to eat at Denny’s or Wawa, sure it helped that my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, lived down there in might as well be Alabama, New Jersey, but the food was always the mission and seeing her was a fantastic bonus. For some, driving to Edison from Bergen County after an arduous day of work seems daunting, but for me, it is what gets me through the day. I am always planning my next meal, and the thought of this next culinary adventure keeps me going.

This particular culinary adventure consisted of joining other food writers for a wine pairing extravaganza at the Seasons 52 Chef’s Table. Being that I am the Blue Collar Foodie and not the Burgundy Bourgeoisie Bon Vivant , I don’t have too much experience with being wined and dined at the Chef’s table, but I was pretty sure it was going to be a night to remember.

Before I discuss the food portion of the night and make all of you drool uncontrollably like a bunch of Pavlovian dogs at a performance of Carol of The Bells, I would like to discuss the atmosphere at Seasons 52. When we arrived at Seasons 52, it was a cold, icy, and blustery evening, so the complimentary valet parking was greatly appreciated. Furthermore, the heated walkway to the restaurant leading to that waiting area that was adorned with a regal gas fed fireplace created the perfect warming sensation that allowed us to forget about the unforgiving weather and begin to ruminate about our upcoming meal.

Being that this was a soft opening meal that was designed to show off not only the talents of the Chef, but the restaurant as a whole, we were met by a Seasons 52 representative and given a tour of the establishment. I have to say that I was quite impressed by what Seasons 52 had going on. We were shown several private dining areas that could be used for catered events such as baby showers or birthday parties, but also lend themselves to professional lunch or dinner spaces complete with presentation paraphernalia.

Furthermore, as we walked around the restaurant and entered the bar, I noticed an actual sentient keyboardist located behind the bar that was eloquently playing the music that was being piped into the entire restaurant. Before even entering the area that would serve us our Seasons 52 approved home base for the evening, I began to realize that Seasons 52 is not your average chain restaurant, and I had a sneaking suspicion I would not be eating Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers, Extreme Fajitas.

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

After are brief jaunt around the restaurant, we were escorted into the room that houses the Chef’s Table, which overlooks the kitchen area. The décor matched the entire restaurant and which was to be soothing, yet still modern and sophisticated. The piece de resistance of the room was the mural created entirely of spices that are used by the chefs at Seasons 52. Not only did this food art look amazing but the aromatics that wafted from it added to the lovely ambience of this secluded foodie play ground that was the setting for our evening.

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

After a brief introduction and some small talk, our first course arrived at the table.  Seasons 52’s first offering was a terrific twosome of flatbreads that were expertly cooked. The flatbreads that we were served were described as Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken featuring fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, and arugula and a Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese featuring cremini mushrooms, spinach, and caramelized onions.

Both flatbreads had just the right amount of crunch to give them the proper structural integrity but not that prison shanking crunch that we have all experienced after eating a spoonful of the Captain that was not sufficiently drowned in milk. The flavor was surprisingly delicate, with precisely the amount of spice as to not overpower the dish but to add a harmonious balance in each bite. To add to this course, the wine that accompanied it was spot on. The sweetness of the grapes paired well with the hint of heat, while the wine itself was not overbearing as to wash away the welcomed tingle.

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

With our palates alive and bustling with the flavor of the Flatbreads that served as the first course of this lovely foodie event, we all moved onto our second course. This second offering was an Amuse Bouche that paired fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish. This portion of the meal was a wonderful palate cleanser, while still having enough flavor to be memorable in its own right.

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

Next up was a Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino that shared a cedar plank and to be honest the spot light, with a Lemongrass Grilled Sea Scallop. Both of these wonderfully prepared sea dwelling morsels of tastiness were served to us with a side of yellow beets, asparagus, and carrots. In my opinion, and since I am writing this thing it is the only one that matters, #onlyslightlyjerky, this dish took best in show honors. The combination of the beautiful presentation, intoxicating aroma, and simply divine taste made this contribution to our meal the clear cut winner of this Seasons 52 food orgy.

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and Gorgonzola

As our stomachs began to fill, we were delighted to see the next dish was a salad course. We are not talking your average pizza place salad, full of left over toppings they could not sell yesterday. I am talking about a gourmet salad that combined Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola sprinkled with a sherry walnut vinaigrette. I will give you a second to go re read that sentence so you can take in all the awesomeness that is contained within this salad. The fresh and earthy spinach paired flawlessly with the pungent gorgonzola cheese, while the walnuts and the pears added texture while dancing with the vinaigrette as if it was choreographed by the likes of Jerome Robbins.   (Just so you all know, until today I had no idea who Jerome Robbins was. That is why you got to love the internets, making uninformed people look smart since 1969!)

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

After we all devoured the salad course, we then were brought a strikingly prepared Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli topped with harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, and a roasted onion jus. The brightness of this dish could not be fully captured by my point and shoot camera, but I assure you it was damn near radiating off the plate, just beckoning to be eaten. I, of course, obliged and found myself in wandering the plains of flavor country with each bite.

Being that everyone at this table was some type of foodie in one way, shape, or form, none of us wanted to throw in the towel before completing this lavish meal. We have trained for this you see, we are not sprinters, we are marathon runners that have hit countless walls in the past, so we bore down and welcomed the next course with open mouths.

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

This dish united a grilled Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail to form a foodie take on the age- old classic surf and turf. To enhance this already spectacular plate, the chef decided to team this juggernaut of a dish up with Brussels Sprouts and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes.   I am the type of person that saves the best bite for last, this was the type of meal that I had a hard time trying to figure out which bite to save. As I was eating, I felt the pressure of the decision weighing on me, much like when you say you are ready to order at a restaurant but you are not, and everyone is ordering, and your turn is coming but you can’t concentrate because everything that everyone else is ordering sounds so good. The waitress is coming ever so close to asking you that faithful question, “and you sir?,” yet you still have no idea. Want to know what I did, I cheated! I took a little piece of each scrumptious segment of this meal and made it all my last bite. To quote a very wise man I once knew, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying!”

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, our server Jason, who I will get back to, brought us a collection of Seasons 52’s award winning Mini Indulgences. You may not know this but dessert is my crack rock. I have a sweet tooth that would make most children cringe, so when this flight of awesome sauce hit the table I could barely contain myself. Each description of these sugary shot glasses of amazeballs made me yearn to eat every last one of them and leave none for the rest of my group. I was able to contain myself and calm the beast within just enough to only gobble down two of them and retain some of my dignity.   They were worth every single stinking calorie they contained times two! Yea, that is how good they were, trust me, I am an addict!

This Chef’s Table tasting is not only for food writers and bloggers; you too can experience this foodtastic event by contacting the Seasons 52 group dining liaison and booking this table. Now, sadly you will not have the pleasure of being captivated by the outstanding narration and delightful yarn spinning of the talented Jason from Georgia. Jason was our server during this gourmand gallivants, and he not only explained each dish but also described the wine for the pairings while adding amusing anecdotes along the way. You may be able to embark on one of these journeys with Jason, but you can take this trip with a server that was trained by him.

Cheers

Cheers

If you can’t get to Seasons 52 for the Chef’s tasting most of the items that I mentioned in this post can also be found on their regular dinner or lunch menu. I highly recommend taking a drive down to Edison, NJ and check out what all chain restaurants should be doing!

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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