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’s Top 5 Foodie Gifts under $30

Top 5 Foodie Gifts

‘Tis the season of yule tide cheer fueled by Spiked Eggnog, lighting the menorah, hopefully this one, and decorating your house and Christmas tree like a Griswold, in an attempt to be the first house to be seen from outer space. Unfortunately this time of year also signifies the dreaded anxiety disorder that is caused by the commercialization of the holiday season, known as giftphobia. The symptoms of this common ailment include procrastination, stagnation, agitation and overall aggravation.

Lucky for you, I am here to help!  If you have a foodie in your life that you need to purchase a gift for this year for Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa, have no fear, the Blue Collar Foodie is here.  The following in no particular order are my Top 5 Foodie Gifts under $30 bucks for this holiday season!

#5:Cast Iron Skillet

Cast Iron Pan

Cast Iron Pan

Most of you are thinking, “A pan? Really? That is about as exciting as a lecture on the French Revolution taught by a one armed mime,” which by the way is equal to monotone in the speaking world. I would have agreed with you five years ago, that is until I received this supernatural gift from a foodie friend of mine and it changed my culinary prowess.

This remarkable cast iron cooking device, which has been used for hundreds of years, is not just a pan, but it is a paradigm shifting scientific instrument that will forever change the way your friend cooks protein. Instead of frying a steak leaving it oily and tasteless or cooking it on a sheet pan leaving it dried and stringy, now your friend will be cooking their steak using the same method as countless high end steak houses. This pan is so important it was the star of Season 1 Episode 1 of Alton Brown’s show Good Eats. You can ask Kat, it cooks the steaks to a perfect succulent medium every time with a seared outer layer that locks in the flavor.

Steak Cooked In Cast Iron

Steak Cooked In Cast Iron

One thing to remember though is that not only is cast iron different from all other pots and pans in the way it cooks; it is also different in how it is maintained. It is not hard to take care of cast iron but I suggest forwarding the following links to your friend as part of his/her present, to ensure his/her new pan lasts for generations.

First and foremost the cast iron pan must be seasoned before using it, most companies state that the pan is pre-seasoned, but I don’t cook on anything until I wash it and once you wash it you have ruined the seasoning. Secondly, the pan has a specific cooking method that is somewhat counter intuitive and downright incredible. Finally, the pan is not cleaned with soap but salt, which most people would never think of. If your friend follows these steps he/she will be cooking steaks and chops using this method for years to come, and I bet you get a few tasty steaks out of the deal as well.

#4:Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen

Gear for your kitchen

Doc Brown’s Book

If you have read this blog before you know damn well that I am all about Dr. Alton Brown, and yes I did just give him an Honorary doctorate because if Mike, “I eat ears” Tyson has one, Mr. Brown should have one too! For my younger readers, the gift I just mentioned above is a book, I know you have only probably seen them in a book museum, or library, as us old folks call them, but back in the day these archaic artifacts made of paper and ink were given as presents all the time.

I understand that cookbooks are antiquated and generally useless since any and all recipes your friend could potentially want/need are easily found on the Googles. This book, however, is not full of boring old recipes but of inspiring foodie science. Alton Brown discusses not only what gear you should have in your kitchen, but in true Alton Brown fashion, why you should have these items. There is also an entire section of the book devoted to getting rid of needless kitchen items, which is great for us that have a rather small kitchen.

Kitchen Clutter

Kitchen Clutter

I recommend this book for the gadget oriented foodie who buys every new cooking device that hits the market. It is difficult to buy something for this type of person because you never know what they have hiding in their drawers and cupboards. Dr. Brown explains every aspect of cooking in detail in this well written book complete with hundreds of illustrations, that, if I could, I would go back in time at 88mph and would read it much sooner than I did.  (If you got that joke you are reading the right blog.)

#3:Digital In-Oven Thermometer

Digital Cooking Thermometer

Digital Cooking Thermometer

If you have ever served under cooked meals, by accident of course, to any of your houseguests, you will fully understand the necessity of this kitchen gadget. This thermometer is literally the gift that keeps on giving every time you insert the probe into any type of meat. (That’s what she said.)

Armed with this device your now well-equipped foodie friend will be able to follow the mantra of late night infomercial lore, set it and forget it!  Once the probe is inserted into the protein, this magical little object will allow you to keep your oven closed while your meal is cooked to the perfect temperature every time, leaving you free to cook the rest of your meal and drink a beer or two with your guests.

Cooked Steak

This Steak Is Done Man

Although the standalone Meat Thermometer is an great addition to any kitchen, if you really want to spoil your foodie friend, get him/her a Thermometer with a remote receiver that allows the chef to roam around the house while being able to check the temperature of his/her concoction which is wirelessly transmitted throughout the house to the remote device.  This is the one that I have, and I now I could never live without it.

#2:Cookie Cooling Rack

Cooling Racks for Bacon

Cooling Racks for Bacon

Wait! Wait! Wait! Come back, at least let me explain. I know that a cooling rack for cookies does not sound like it would make anyone sing out Fa La La La La, but what if I told you it was not cookies at all, but it was for bacon!  Not only is it for bacon, but it is for crispy, perfectly cooked, uncurled, porkgasm inducing strips of yummy delicious salty goodness, unlike any other bacon he/she has ever cooked before.

This gift like others in this list, and of course the Transformers, is more than meets the eye. You are not only buying your foodie friend a cooling rack, you are buying them the gift of properly cooked bacon. Once you see the method to this madness you will join the oven cooked bacon cult and most likely purchase yourself a drying cooling rack immediately. Watch this video that explains the cooking method and you will realize that this gift is a necessity for anyone who believes that swine is simply divine.

Bacon Cooked Properly

Mmmmmmmm. BACON!

Since the racks are only $10, might I suggest going to your local butcher shop or pork store and procuring (see what I did there) a pound of bacon to accompany this thoughtful foodie gift. Then make sure you invite yourself over for brunch one day and sample the perfectly cooked bacon that was all because of your gift. Remember friends don’t let friends improperly cook bacon.

#1:Belkin Kitchen Stand and Wand

Belkin Kitchen Stand

Belkin Kitchen Stand

If your foodie friend happens to be a bit of a geek like me, a gift that combines their affinity towards technology and their love for all things food couldn’t be more perfect. Enter, the Belkin Kitchen Stand and Wand for Tablets. This kitchen gadget allows the tech savvy foodie to utilize their tablet/iPad in the kitchen without smearing salmonella all over the screen.  This simple device is designed to hold your friend’s recipe wielding tablet upright so he/she can read it while he/she works in the kitchen, without pausing every 12 seconds to wash up. Furthermore the wand, which in the muggle world is called a stylus, is washable so it can be handled with their gooey hands without spreading mad cow disease to their entire family, thus causing the Zombie Apocalypse that we all know is coming.

This gift is not only on my Christmas list but I will be giving a few to my foodie friends this year as well.  As of right now my tablet stand is named Kat and the stylus she uses is the same finger that is usually pointed in my direction after I bellow from across the house to get her to assist me in the kitchen.

BONUS: Whiskey Stones

Whiskey Stones

Whiskey Stones

After a long day in the kitchen fighting with the aforementioned gadgets and gizmos, it is always nice to sit down after a long meal with my remote control and a glass of Single Malt Scotch. I don’t think I am alone in thinking this, so if you can’t decide what to buy your foodie friend or he/she has everything that is listed above, I suggest a package of whiskey stones and nice scotch glass.

These stones are usually hand crafted out of 100% soap stone and are designed to slightly cool your adult beverage to below room temperature to allow the flavors to open up in the glass.  Ice tends to water down good Scotch and a watered down good Scotch is bad! If your foodie friend seems to be a connoisseur of fine Whiskey, Scotch, or Bourbon then this may be just the right present for him/her.  If your friend drinks Georgia Moon Corn Whisky Moonshine from the Jar, I don’t think they will appreciate these.

Moonshine

Granny approved moonshine

If you followed the links that I provided for each item you may have recognized a common thread, Amazon.com. Although, once upon a time, I was a Mall Rat, I cannot stand the malls during the holiday season. As Kat would say, “It makes me want to punch babies.” Kat and I either shop on Amazon.com to take advantage of their super cool free shipping, which all the items above are eligible for by the way, or we shop locally.  However you decide to shop, I hope this little gift giving guide helped make your holiday season a little easier.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my subscribers, readers, followers, and Facebook friends for stopping by and reading my blog. I enjoy writing this article immensely and every time I see a comment or a new Facebook like it makes me smile. I want to truly wish you and your family all a happy and safe holiday season and may all your foodie dreams come true.

Happy Holidays from Dog

Happy Holidays from Dog and I

The Blue Collar Foodie Laments about the Impending Demise of Backyard Barbecues

As the end of summer draws near and the seemingly endless supply of weekend barbecue invites slowly dissipates on my Facebook page, I can’t not help but shed a hickory flavored tear.  The enticing sound, amazing smell, and astonishing taste of searing meats, which were marinated for two days in homemade sauces, cooked to perfection with flawless grill marks is enough to cause a foodgasm, and the sheer thought that soon these events will  soon disappear is enough to make this foodie blue with sadness.

Just as I was contemplating going to Costco and buying a Fred Flintstone sized rack of ribs and going into a Barbecue induced Hibernation for the cold, soul less, barbecue-lacking months that lie ahead, I received an E-mail from LivingSocial.com, an online company that delievers local deals to your inbox.  Like a warm beacon of hope this E-mail shined through the impending gloomy darkness, and invited me to try a barbecue spot called Bourbon BBQ, located at 529 Goffle Rd., Wyckoff, N.J. 07481.  Living Social had come through in the clutch and delivered not only a new Barbecue joint to test out but a half off coupon for something called the Garbage Plate, which appeared to be a barbecue sampler for two.

Upon further research I found that the Garbage Plate was in fact made for two and consisted of bourbon ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, Texas smoked sausage, coleslaw, smokehouse beans, collard greens and corn bread.  I immediately purchased this living social coupon and scheduled a date with Kat for the first available day in our calendar to try this alluring dish offered by Bourbon BBQ.  Their website also informed me that Bourbon BBQ is a BYOB establishment, which always makes this foodie smile, and I noticed that you can make reservations on their site as well.

As we entered Bourbon BBQ, the first thing I noticed was the tantalizing smell wafting about.  I could tell right off the bat that this was not a B.S. BBQ joint due to the smell of smoke lingering in the air.  Kat and I approached the counter and spoke to the hostess who allowed us to choose any table that was available.  We made our way to a table that was empty and sat down with my beer and Kat’s cider in tow.

Before our rumps could warm the seats we had just taken, our waiter appeared in front us and handed us our menus.  We explained that we had the Living Social Garbage Plate coupon and took our drink orders at this time as well.  Our waiter then left the table, and returned quickly with a bottle opener and some glasses for our adult beverages.  The prompt service was highly appreciated because we arrived to dinner close to 8 P.M. and were famished.

As Kat and I discussed our hectic days over a few sips of our cocktails, we eagerly awaited our meal.  Which we did not have to wait long for, and that made both of our bellies smile.  What exited the kitchen and landed on our table was a colossal pile of barbecue, and it was love at first sight.  In addition to the food itself, the server also delivered a caddie full of homemade barbecue sauces, which he described in detail to us one by one, and a roll of paper towels.   More so, before the server left he explained the Garbage Plate to us, pointing our each item of the plate, which for a first timer at Bourbon was extremely helpful.

I consider myself a sauce aficionado, so when the server explained each sauce and informed us that they were all homemade, I paid attention like a physicist listens when Stephen Hawking talks about black holes.  With that said I feel obligated to not only name these sauces but also give you my first impression of them as well, the following is the list:

  1. Kansas City:  Bourbon’s take on a Kansas City style sweet Barbecue Sauce.  This sauce was fantastic for a sweet Barbecue sauce which I tend to shy away from most of the time.   I recommend this sauce on the Pulled Pork.
  2. Carolina:  Bourbon’s vinegar based Barbecue sauce which I found simply divine.  This sauce complimented everything I put it on, instead of overwhelming the flavor of the meat.  Great on the Brisket.
  3. Delta:  This sauce blew mine and Kat’s mind.  A great combination of a spicy yet sweet Barbecue Sauce with an almost three dimensional flavor.  Our favorite sauce by far and we ate it on everything.
  4. XXX:  This is Bourbon’s spiciest sauce offered.  Although we enjoyed this sauce, we found that the Delta had a deeper flavor with just a little less spice.  I recommend this sauce on the Pulled Pork for a spicy twist.

Although the offering of specialty craft Barbecue Sauces, which you can purchase online or in house,  is all well and good, let’s face it, one goes to a Barbecue Restaurant for the meat not the sauce.  I would be remiss if I did not discuss the Garbage Plate Sampler in detail and tell my loyal audience all about Bourbon’s actual Barbecue.

Kat and I attacked this monumental mound of mouthwatering meat as if we were at war with the plate, and employed the “divide and conquer “strategy.  We started with the Pulled Pork, and shoveled a healthy helping onto our plates.  We first tried these delectable slivers of swine sans Barbecue Sauce and at that moment we knew the rest of the meal was going to be utterly remarkable.  The meat was so tender, chewing it felt like overkill, all I needed to do was let it linger in my mouth for a few seconds as it dissolved on my tongue.   Then we decided to splash on a few drops of the different types of Barbecue Sauce and the pulled pork, in the immortal words of John Candy in Spaceballs, went to plaid.  All the sauces transformed this meat into something else, something almost entirely different but equally as tasty.

Next up was the Brisket which was piled high enough to be a meal of its own.  Kat and I once again divided the portion and dug in first without sauce and then with.  This may have been the best brisket Kat and I have ever had, and that is saying something since I like Brisket like Rex Ryan from the New York Jets likes feet.  The meat was tender and succulent with just the perfect pink around the outside to remind you that it lived in a smoker for quite some time.  Once again the sauces that were offered only added complexity to the already impeccable taste.

The Texas smoked sausage reminded me of the smoked Kielbasa that I make at home.  Except for Bourbon BBQ is able to get the skin to the perfect amount of crispness that I just can’t seem to achieve.  I was unsure just which barbecue sauce to match up with these crisp morsels of smokey goodness, so I ate them naked.

The piece de resistance of all Barbecue plates and really how I ultimately judge barbecue chefs is the ever important ribs.  These behemoths were not your run of the mill miniscule baby pork ribs either, these ribs looked like they came for hogasaurus.   Bourbon’s ribs are the type of ribs that make most men feel inadequate if you know what I mean, and that is just the way I like it.  At first bite I noticed that the meat did not need much help in separating from the bone, which is a great testament to the chef with ribs this size.  I was a little underwhelmed by the flavor of the ribs during my initial bite but then I added a small amount of barbecue sauce and the rib came alive like Frankenstein’s Monster.  It appeared that Bourbon’s Ribs were only cooked with a dry rub so as to allow the customer to choose the type of sauce they want to add at the time of consumption.  The sauce complemented the rib meat effortlessly and I found myself leaving not a speck of meat left hanging on the bone.

As for the sides, the Baked Beans actually have what appeared to be pulled pork in them, which made them even better than I expected.  The Cole Slaw seemed fresh and did not have that store bought chemical taste to it that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  The Collard Greens tasted fantastic, as they were not too vinegary, which tends to happen in the north.   The corn bread was exactly as I like it, sweet enough to be a side, but not sweet enough to be dessert.  Kat on the other hand was hoping for dessert corn bread, but she was pleased with the other sides.

Not only was the food marvelous but during our dinner our server came over several times to check on us, which is always under appreciated.  Furthermore, throughout our time at this restaurant who I believed to be the General Manager walked around to every table, including our own, to speak to the customers.  One by one he approached every table and made sure that everything was cooked to their liking and just made some small talk.  Kat and I love small businesses and this added special touch made us feel like Bourbon BBQ truly cared about us, as individuals and not as just another customer.

Bourbon BBQ’s menu is quite extensive and if our first visit is any indication of how all the other items are going to taste, I can see this foodie squandering many an hour at this establishment.  Kat and I both felt that Bourbon’s amazing sampler dish can compete with any and all Barbecue joints that we have frequented in our decade together.   This combined with the fact that they are right next door in Wyckoff and their prices are truly affordable, very well may have placed them number one on our BBQ list.  So when the snow begins to fall and you place your cover on your grill for the last time this season, make sure to stop by Bourbon BBQ when you get the hankering for some good old fashioned BBQ.

 

Judgment:

Overall:                                4 out of 5

Taste:                                   5 out of 5

Presentation:                      3 out of 5

Value:                                   4 out of 5

Bourbon BBQ Hickory Smokehouse on Urbanspoon