Holy Hell, Habit Burger, May Be Habit Forming

I am what some people might label a food snob. Although, we prefer to be called Foodies, Epicureans, and Gastronauts, I have accepted that there are individuals that see my chosen perspective on food to be mildly pretentious. To be honest, I am sure those D-bags in Fedoras, fashion glasses, and tight jeans would rather not be called hipsters, but if the ironically worn croc fits…

As with any personality quirk that some people perceive to be annoying, once you accept it and embrace it as part of how you are, it seems to grow exponentially; hence the unequivocally maddening progression of the selfie.

My growing love affair with the foodie realm has an unfortunate price though, and that price is my increasing abhorrence for the gastronomically challenged grub that is served at almost every chain restaurant in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I know what you are thinking, “Mr. Blue Collar Foodie that does not seem like a problem at all.” It may not seem like an issue at first glance, but there are two reasons being on this epicurean soap box which is teetering on the fence of smugness is not the best place to be.

The first issue is most of your friends enjoy restaurants such as The Olive Garden, T.G.I.Fridays, Chili’s, and all the other flair wearing, slop slinging, chains that litter the highways, and therefore you tend to alienate yourself from the group by shunning these establishments. Secondly, no one likes a hypocrite, and I don’t care how much of a foodie you claim to be on your website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page, every single one of us have a weakness. It may be a Big Mac, a Whopper, a Crunchwrap Supreme, or a 7-11 Taquito, but every now and again that craving hits and until it is satisfied, that Duck Confit Cannoli tastes bland and ordinary.

My edible Achilles Heel comes in the form of an infamous fast food hamburger so gastronomically filthy that by merely writing this sentence I could be thrown out of the League of Extraordinary Eaters for life. (That club does not exist, but it does now! Hit me up to Join!)

To paraphrase A Clockwork Orange , “And the thing that always flashes into my gulliver is that I’d like to have one, right down there on the floor, the old In-N-Out, real savage.” That is right; my foodie transgression is none other than an Animal Style Double-Double from In-N-Out Burger. Unfortunately, not only is In-N-Out a chain restaurant and dining there could get me black balled from every farm-to-table this side of Pennsylvania, the closest In-N-Out is in freaking Texas! So even if I decided to give in when the hankering hits, I am shit out of luck, and my only recourse is to visit one of the many east coast clones that fail to compare to MY PRECIOUS!!!  That is until NOW!

Welcome to Habit Burger

Welcome to Habit Burger

The Habit Burger Grill, another California based burger chain, just fell from the heavens and landed smack dab in my hometown! The address for this new burger joint is 3101 Promenade Blvd. in Fair Lawn, NJ 07410. When it first arrived, I have to admit it; I believed it to be just another trend following fast food chain serving sub-par, salty meat pucks to the masses one stale bun at a time. I honestly did not give them a second thought.   That is until the buzz began. Slowly but surely like the well-deserved hatred for Ray Rice that swept over America, a phrase was being uttered in Bergen County. A phrase that once bounced off my ear drums, made this uninformed Habit Hater enter the newly constructed burger spot and literally eat my words.

What was the phrase you ask? It was very simple but insanely incendiary, “Habit may very well be better than In-N-Out.” This sentence echoed in my head, rattled around like a bouncy ball in an elevator before snuggly resting in my frontal lobe. I pass by The Habit Burger Grill twice each day, and every time I drove past this utterance reverberated once again. Until one night I made the executive decision that Kat and I would visit The Habit for dinner.

Eventhough quite a few people with appetites that I trust were talking up Habit, I still had my reservations. In my eyes, comparing a burger to my Double-Double is like comparing a common man to Jesus Christ, or a comedian to Robin Williams, you don’t do these things lightly. However, as Kat and I entered The Habit Burger Grill, the wafting smell began to seduce us. It did not smell of grease and fat. There was actually a scent of grilling meat that permeated the air. Furthermore, the set up of the restaurant had a familiar Californian feel, with an open kitchen and simplistic yet diverse menu hovering above the cashiers.

I felt it was somewhat busy for a Monday night, but that will happen when a new restaurant comes to town. Even though the line was decently long, the staff handeled it with ease and kept us moving at a brisk pace. When it was our turn to order, Kat and I decided to try what The Habit Burger Grill was most famous for, their Char Burgers. Our thought was basically if we like their original creation then we will have an excuse to come back and try their other offerings such as the BBQ Bacon Char Burger, Teriyaki Char Burger, Veggie Burger, or Fresh Albacore Tuna Sandwhich.

The fixins'

The fixins’

I ordered a Double Char Burger with a side of Onion Rings whereas Kat decided to go a little smaller. She ordered the single Char Burger with the Californian flair of avacado and a side of Tempura Green Beans. You heard that right, Fresh Cut Green Beans, lightly battered and flash fried at a Fast Food Burger Joint. While waiting for our food to be made fresh to order, we grabbed a table, filled up our drinks, and visted the Fixins bar. The Habit offers various hot peppers and numerous different dipping sauces that we helped ourselves to while we awaited our meals.

Double Char Burger

Double Char Burger

When our buzzer, well, buzzed, we approached the counter and gathered our food. It was the moment of truth for The Habit Burger Grill in this foodies’ eyes. I quickly snapped a bunch of photos to utilize for this post and then without hesitation grabbed my Double Char and chowed down. My friends, it was love at first bite. In my head, the act of chewing on this sandwhich played out like a cheesey romance movie, where the couple runs in slow motion towards each other for their first embrace. The Mayonnaise, pickle, and carmelized onions joined forces with the melty cheese and expertly prepared burger patty to create a burger that was equal, if not better than the crack-cocaine that is my In-N-Out Double Double.

Onion Rings

Onion Rings

After almost demolishing my entire Double Char before even trying the sides we ordered, I was able to gain control of myself and put the burger down for a moment. My first stop was the capital city of Onlandia, the Onion Rings. They were battered and fried quite well and came with a ranch dipping sauce that paired nicely. The best part of these fried wonders were the onions that were choosen to be used. I believe it was a sweet onion, it may have been a Vidalia, but whatever it was, it was chock full of yummy goodness.

Fried Green Beans

Fried Green Beans

As per usual, my lovely wife was extremely generous and allowed me to sample her Tempura Green Beans.   Not only are these a healthier option than the sterotypical fries and onion rings that usually accompany a fast food burger, they were extremely flavorful as well. Furthermore, they only got better when dipped into the the Ranch sauce that I mentioned earlier.

Once our meal was resting ever so nicely in our bellies awaiting its eventual digestion, Kat and I began to discuss how The Habit Burger Grill faired. We both enjoyed the hell out of the Burgers and appreciated the variety of sides that could be ordered to compliment it. The fixins bar is always a plus, because you can, as the Defecting Monarch Of Burgers says, Have it your way. We also respected the history behind The Habit, which started out as a small endeavor by two brothers with big dreams.

Single Char Burger

Single Char Burger

When everything was said and done, we left The Habit Burger Grill happy and full. As for the burger and how it compares to my clandestine long distance love affair with the Double-Double. I give the Char Burger the highest praise I can bestow on a fast food burger, it is different than yet equal to my beloved In-N-Out, and I assure you, there is not enough Michelin Stars in this world that will ever bypass that endorsement.   RESPECT THE BURGER INDEED!

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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.