Happy Birthday! Love, Prune Restaurant

To some people food is just merely for survival.  A means to an end, that allows them to continue doing the things they love to do.  These are the people that can’t wait for science to create meal pills that will make eating as easy as taking vitamins in the morning.  I am not one of those people.  I literally work my 9-5 to be able to seek out fare that makes my endorphins hum like a finely tuned American V-8.

This blog usually focuses on establishments that serve inspiring food at reasonable prices. However, sometimes I am forced to leave my wallet’s comfort zone, on special occasions, in order to experience food that is transcendent.  Food that one usually only gets to see on Netflix Documentaries accompanied by orchestra music and top notch cinematography.  I am talking about that Anthony Bourdain kind of “ish” that makes your mouth water all the way from T.V. land.

My friend Alex and I share a birthday, and since my wife, Kat, and his girl, Steph, recognize our epicurean affliction, we were gifted a birthday meal of our choosing.  Alex and I discussed, debated, pondered, and deliberated over the course of a few days before we came to a conclusion.  I wonder if our ladies knew that this decision potentially could have ended not only our friendship but our corresponding relationships.

This was not an easy task, we live moments away from the greatest food city in the world.  Nevertheless, once we determined where we were going to celebrate our birthday we both knew it was the obvious and inevitable end of our dining dilemma.  Our selection was none other than the award winning, highly acclaimed, Prune Restaurant, located at 54 E 1st St # 1, New York, NY 10003.

You may have seen Chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s intimate neighborhood spot on PBS’s Mind of the Chef recently.  That is right, PBS isn’t just about Puppets, Reading Rainbows, and Happy Trees; they have wonderful food porn too.  In fact, before food was cool, I watched the OG foodies on Public Broadcasting.  I am pretty sure they are solely responsible for my love of all things food, so in reality this blog is PBS’s fault, not mine.  On the real though, support PBS and don’t support any politician that does not!  #YanCanCook #JuliaChilds #TheBudgetGourmet #SeasameStreetForLife

Sorry about that tangent…Now back to your regularly scheduled program!

First thing is first, when you are about to rock a super sweet meal that dreams are made of, one cannot, and should not assume there will be last minute availability at said eatery.  Plan ahead people, this is a special occasion and should be treated as one.  You would not just roll up to a wedding without RSVPin’, and unless you are a baller like Trevor Noah or Noah Syndergaard you are going to have to call ahead.  Luckily for us, Steph was on point and made sure we had a table.

Another thing to keep in mind if you are visiting Prune, is the dining space is well…small.  If I was a real estate agent I would call it quaint, charming, or cozy but I ain’t, so I won’t.  I am not knocking the dining hall either, it is part of Prune’s appeal.  Just know that if you want a table call early and plan accordingly.  We were luckily enough to score the semi-private dining area in the basement which allowed us to stretch our legs out a little bit and take pictures of all our dishes without upsetting the restaurant’s atmosphere.  Rumor has it that Prune’s staff is not a big fan of food photography.  #SorryNotSorry

The last thing to know before we begin the food porn parade is that Prune’s menu is always evolving, morphing, and changing like most highly sought after establishments.  Unless you go twice in one week you will probably never see the same menu and that my friends is a good thing.

Say Cheese!

After being seated we ordered a few cocktails and sat with our menus for a little while, contemplating what epic eats we should order.  We discussed each of our decisions as if this was our last meal on earth and weighed our options before coming up with a plan for the meal that I believe most gastronomic architects would have been proud of.

I Heart Oysters! Wellfleets to be specific.

Oysters have a special place in my heart.  I think it has to do with it seeing the adults, the patriarchs to be exact, eating them when I was younger.  As a child, I thought they were atrocious, but the elders in my tribe seemed to love them.  Enjoying them was a goal that I aspired to achieve when I first began running the cultural marathon that I embarked on when I became a foodie.  For many years now I have enjoyed Oysters and when they are good, there is something spiritual that lights up inside me.  These Oysters were perfectly brackish and decadently delicate.  They were the perfect start to our meal and foreshadowed the enlightened dishes that were to follow.

Everything is better when it is fried!

Since Kat would rather lick a subway hand rail on a Saturday morning than eat an Oyster, she chose to order Fried Green Beans as her appetizer.  The batter these lovely fried beans were coated in was light and crispy.  They had a very Tempuraish texture, and when dipped in the accompanying sauce they were very pleasing.

As Luke Cage would say, “Sweet Christmas!”

The moment we saw the Sweetbreads on the menu, there was not a discussion of whether we getting them, there was only a conversation about how many orders we should procure.  For those of you that are new to the foodie scene, Sweetbreads are pancreas or thymus from either calves or lambs.

I don’t know what the Chef’s at Prune did to these Sweetbreads but they should do it to every Sweetbread on the planet forever until the end of time.  I have had some good Sweets in the past but they all pale in comparison to this dish.  Other offal, including other sweetbreads, which I eaten has a heavy irony taste that is off putting but these tantalizing titbits of terrific were nothing short of amazing.  The combination of the crispy exterior and tender, almost buttery meat, created the perfect bite with each forkful.

The only thing better than butter is Meat Butter!

If you have not had the opportunity to eat the Marrow out of a Bone smeared on crusty bread, the above picture probably does nothing for you.  If you have used marrow like butter and savored the opulent decadence that this dish delivers, you probably feel like a 12 year old again that can’t walk to the Chalkboard.  I care not that this dish raised my cholesterol and perhaps stole a day of my life from me, it can have it.  To be honest, I would have given it two more, so I feel like I got a deal.

There was a fungus among us!

In a futile attempt to feign being healthy we ordered a dish of mushrooms to round out our appetizer course.  I was happy to find that these beautiful fungi were swimming in a delicious sauce thus slightly negating their healthiness and adding to their robust flavor.

With the appetizers merely a memory and another drink ordered we awaited our entrees and discussed politics, world-travel, sports, and physics.  A belly full of awe inspiring food and Prune’s ambience mixed with an adequate amount of social lubricant made us all into philosophers.  While the Chef’s inside the kitchen were toiling away creating our entrees we continued conversing.

I almost Shanked Alex for this Lamb!

I am not going to lie, the photo above was Alex’s choice, and it gave me the biggest base of food envy I have had in quite some time.  Ladies and Gentleman, that right there is a Shank of Lamb.  Not just any Lamb Shank, either.  A fall off the bone, tender, flavorful, lovingly prepared Lamb Shank that I did not order!  However, Alex was kind enough to allow me to sample this supple lamb swimming in a bright and intense gravy.  It only made me hate him more!

Just like Grandma used to make, only different.

Kat went with the Chicken Stew and as the smell of her dish wafted over the table I immediately thought of my Grandmother’s Matzoh Ball soup.  Our olfactory senses are something of a mystery but I know for sure that they tend to be the strongest link for me to happy memories, and the fact that this dish brought me back to my childhood and one of my favorite soups of all times, made it clear that I was going to love this dish.  I was not wrong, because as I tasted this liquid gold I fell in love.

Luckily Steph was not shellfish and allowed to taste this bowl of yummy. See what I did there! #DadJokes

Steph decided on the Seafood Stew and it was not only beautiful but scrumptious as well.  The delicate morsels of seafood were bathed in a tangy broth that combined to create one fantastic bite after another.  I was lucky enough to get a few mouthfuls of this amazing dish as well and it was difficult to decipher which piece of fresh seafood I liked the best.

Here fishy fishy fishy!

Even though the lamb shank that Alex ordered was my favorite dish that was ordered and my jealousy almost consumed me.  I was happy that I ordered the whole fish.  It was expertly prepared and seasoned and left me wondering how other restaurants can mess up such a simple, yet fantastic dish.  The fish itself was flaky and flavorful and the sauce was liquid perfection.  I thoroughly enjoy this style of preparation and was ecstatic to see that Prune does it right.

I would eat a lot more veggies if they all tasted like this!

In another attempt to appear as if we were eating healthy we ordered a side of greens for the table.  Once again the vegetables were smothered in a mouthwatering au jus of awesome sauce and I found myself not being able to stop consuming them.

Normally I am a not a dessert person at restaurants.  Don’t get it twisted I thoroughly enjoy sweets of all makes and models, however, I like them hours after I eat a large savory meal.  With that said, I simply could not pass up two of Prune’s desserts because they were not your typical after meal cakes or pastries.

I love cheese more than most people love their wives.

We ordered an aged cheese that was just south of funky enough to make you question every bite of cheese you have ever eaten.  Plus they paired it with a sweet honey drizzle that cut the funk enough to call it a dessert. We also ordered a salt crusted baked pear that was served with a walnut glaze that was utterly fantastic.  The salty tartness of the pear dancing with the nutty glaze lead to a superb end to out opulent meal.

Prune is the type of restaurants that make a foodie’s dream a reality.  Each dish they prepare is well thought out, artfully plated, and extraordinarily delicious.  There is a reason they were showcased on a television show that celebrates the unadulterated love of food and culinary imagination.  I highly recommend that every foodie that reads this blog starts saving money right now to visit this illustrious eatery.  There are good meals, there are great meals, and then there are meals that are spiritually enlightening. Prune serves the latter with a side of epicurean delight.

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How to Win Valentine’s Day! The North Jersey Edition

Before I begin this post, I feel like a disclaimer is in order.  I am tired of receiving hate mail that uses phrases that would make Tyrion Lannister blush.  I am fully aware that the name of my blog is The Blue Collar Foodie and normally I attempt to stay in the great food at a great price wheel house.  However, there are a few exceptions.  One of these exceptions is Valentine’s Day.

Most people would not guess it, but I am a hopeless romantic.  I literally, love…love.  The whimsy, the intensity, the nervousness…Oh hell, the whole damn idea of it.  Therefore, even though I am cognizant that Valentine’s Day is a B.S. Hallmark, made-up Holiday; I thoroughly enjoy going all out and trying to wow my wonderful wife each and every year.

What does this entail you ask?  Ladies and Gentleman I present to you The Blue Collar Foodie’s Guide to winning Valentine’s Day!

valentines-day-craftsStep 1:  Send Flowers to Your Loved One’s Workplace:  I know they are expensive and I know they will die in a week, but suck it up Buttercup, today is not the day to think that way.  Every other day of the year, I am all about Shoprite Tulips and Gas Station Roses, but that just won’t do on V-Day.  When you get flowers delivered, you are sending a message and that message is clear and concise.  Dear Loved One. you are worth the forethought and the expense of these dying, colorful capsules of allergy laden dust.

Step 2:  Get a gift:  I know what you are thinking.  I just spent $60 bucks on flowers, I thought that was the gift.  Wrong!  I am not saying you have to go out and get your Bae a diamond necklace or anything; I mean unless that is how you roll, then by all means you do you Baller.  I am simply saying that a small thoughtful gift with a personal touch will be appreciated and truly show you care.  I feel like these should not have to be said, but since I know my audience all too well.  NO SEX COUPONS!  Get your ass to Etsy and do some searching for a great inexpensive gift.

Step 3:  Put Pen to Paper:  I know we are not all William Shakespeare or Robert Frost but for heaven’s sake do not give your significant other a Valentine’s Day card with the stock message and some X’s and O’s.  To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, if you write it, they will come! See what I did there… I assure you, even if you write the worst poem ever, the fact that you tried will be enough to set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Step 4:  Where you eat counts:  I know I don’t have to explain this to most of you, considering you clicked this link because you were promised restaurant suggestions for Valentine’s Day.  Where you eat and what you eat will go along way to set the mood.  For Kat and I, it is the single most important decision and also the single greatest contributor to our quarrels.  So, on this day in particular after spending so much time and effort in attempting to create the perfect day for my wife, choosing our eatery is a taxing task that I do not take lightly.

As I mentioned above today is not the day to hem and haw about prices, and lord help you if you whip out a Groupon.  Valentine’s Day is all about the ambience and charm of an establishment.  The story behind the restaurant can aid in the allure almost as much as the food.  Not to mention, it is the perfect excuse to drop some money on a wonderful meal that you don’t often get to experience.  So without further ado, I present The Blue Collar Foodie’s top 12 North Jersey Restaurants for Valentine’s Day:

Ninety Acres

Ninety Acres:  2 Main Street Peapack & Gladstone, NJ 07977

You have heard of farm to table, well Ninety Acres is quite literally a table at the farm.  This palatial establishment is located on the Natirar Estate which has spent the last 100 years being a private residence, a convalescent home for women, and even the vacation home of a Moroccan King.  In true farm to table form the menu is always evolving with the seasons, but have no fear, you will never be disappointed.   The food served here is equally as beautiful as the grounds of the estate.

The Deal:  Exclusive Offering of Special four-course Prex Fixe menu with options for each course: $125 per person, $175 with wine pairings.

Photo by Cathy Miller

Photo by Cathy Miller

Café Matisse:  167 Park Avenue, Rutherford, NJ 07070

This intimate and always impressive eatery is located in a historic decommissioned horse and buggy fire house in the heart of Rutherford, NJ.  Their garden has been called enchanting in the spring and summer, but their interior dining experience is almost equally as charming.  The menu at Café Matisse is stacked with stunning dishes that have depth of flavor that is rarely seen outside of the most esteemed New York Eateries.

The Deal:  Three Course (2 savory/1 dessert) – $75 per person, Four Course (3 savory/1 dessert) – $95 per person, or Five Course (4 savory/1 dessert)- $115 per person, plus tax and gratuities.

Note:  Café Matisse is BYOB

Batello

Battello:  502 Washington Boulevard, Jersey City, NJ 07310

If fine dining with a remarkable view is what gets your motor running, Battello is the place for you.  This epic eatery serves inspired fare with a side of a majestic view of the New York City Skyline.  ( The Best Skyline in the World)   The dining area is often described as luxurious and lofty, and exudes romance.  The food is almost as breathtaking as the view!

The Deal:  A Three-course prix-fixe menu, offered at $85 per person complemented by an optional wine pairing at $25 per person ($50 for reserve)

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen

Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen:  110 South Street Morristown NJ 07960

This well-regarded establishment is located in the lavish Vail Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey.  The dining space itself is exquisite and makes you feel like royalty from the moment you walk in.  The fine dining area which radiates luxury and class, is a must for this special occasion.  Jockey Hollow is a haven for couples that truly love food and want to experience dining in a relaxed yet sophisticated environment.

The Deal:  Four-course prix fixe experience where guests select three savory courses and finish with one sweet course for $81 or a six-course, seasonal $108 chef’s tasting menu for the entire table for $108.

Restaurant Lorena's

Restaurant Lorena’s:  168 Maplewood Avenue Maplewood, NJ 07040

Restaurant Lorena’s is considered by many in the foodie world as the best kept secret of the North Jersey culinary scene.  Over the past ten years this quaint eatery has quietly amassed quite a few awards for their awe-inspiring dishes.  The menu is heavily influenced by French Cuisine and the Chef’s attention to detail shines in every dish.  If you and your beau are looking for an intimate and romantic night out, this very well may be your spot.

The Deal:  Three course Prix Fixe for $150.00 per person, Oysters included

Note:  Restaurant Lorena’s is BYOB

pearl-front

Pearl Restaurant:   17 S Broad St. Ridgewood, New Jersey

For those of you that have Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams but are on a budget, this wonderfully romantic local establishment is perfect for you and your sweetheart.  Don’t let the amazingly affordable price tag fool you either, Pearl offers magnificent cuisine made with the finest meats, fish, and vegetables that are selected daily.  Pearl is the best value on this list by far, as their fare is comparable to establishments where I have paid triple the price.

The Deal:  Three Course Prix Fixe Menu for only $ 26.95 per person

Note:  Pearl Restaurant is BYOB

Scalini Fedeli

Scalini Fedeli:  63 Main St, Chatham, NJ 07928

Since we are in New Jersey and it is safe to say that at least 70% of my following is probably Italian, I would be remiss to not include my absolute favorite Italian Restaurant.  Not only is the food spectacular and each dish painstakingly prepared as if it was a piece of art, this astonishing establishment is located in a refurbished 260 year old farmhouse.  The moment you walk into Scalini Fedeli you feel at home, and the service is impeccable.  I seriously love this place and I am sure you will too!  Come hungry!

The Deal:  Three Course Prix Fixe Menu $59

cafe panache

Café Panache:  130 E. Main St. Ramsey, NJ 07446

This sophisticated eatery is located in the center of downtown Ramsey, New Jersey and has been a staple of fine dining in Northern New Jersey for over 30 years.  The Chef focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients that become the star of each dish.  Café Panache is a great place for the couple that has everything in common, except the type of cuisine they love, due to their wonderfully eclectic menu.  You don’t exist in the restaurant world for 30 years unless you are doing something exceptional and that is exactly what Cafe Panache is doing.

The Deal:  Ala Cart ordering

common lot

Common Lot:  27 Main St, Millburn, NJ 07041

Common Lot’s website sums up their establishment too perfectly to paraphrase, “The surroundings are elegant but unpretentious; comfortable but handsome — an expression of our personalities and our commitment to the dining experience.”  At Common Lot they have truly created a relaxed eating environment that allows us commoners to enjoy fine dining without feeling as if we are out of place.  Not to mention their plates are full of internationally influenced cuisine that are both creative and bursting with flavor.  Common Lot is for the couple that enjoys the finer things in food, but buys their clothes off the rack.

The Deal:  Four-Course Meal for $90 a person

Frog and The Peach

The Frog and The Peach:  29 Dennis Street New Brunswick, NJ 08901

This restaurant occupies an old industrial building, circa 1876, and the historical splendor of this establishment glimmers in every room.  The Frog and The Peach offers several areas to dine in and each exhibits their own charm and uniqueness.  Their menu offers American Cuisine with a refined flare created with only the best locally sourced ingredients.

The Deal:  A special prix fixe menu for the annual Feast of Love Three Courses $85

laurel and sage

Laurel and Sage:  33 Walnut St. Montclair, NJ, 07042

The Chef at Laurel and Sage has had quite a few gigs in restaurants during his illustrious career.  These restaurants specialized in Farm to Table, Asian, Mediterranean, and American fare to name a few.  His experience is on display at this delightful neighborhood restaurant, in each dish that he creates in his kitchen.  You never know what you might find at this eclectic eatery and that is why I love it.  Couples that can never decide where they want to eat will do well at Laurel and Sage.

 

The Deal:  4-course menu with options for $65 per person

Saddle River Inn

Saddle River Inn:  2 Barnstable Court Saddle River, NJ 07458

Before fine dining was hip, hell before hipsters existed, The Saddle River Inn was churning out some of the best food North Jersey had to offer.  Since 1981 this rustic, yet romantic establishment has been located on the William Packard Estate along the Saddle River.  Although the original owners of this long established eatery have recently called it quits, the new owners seem to have hit the ground running and are still creating wonderful French dishes.

The Deal:  Chef’s Season Tasting Menu described as a culinary journey including height of the season ingredients.  Four course $80, Five Course $90, and 6 Course $100

 

 

Yo! Sushi Schools The Blue Collar Foodie

As I get older there are more and more things that I miss from my youth.  Besides the fact that a hangover that used to last 2 hours, now lasts two days, and in the morning, my bones and my cereal sound like they are having a conversation as they both snap, crackle, and pop.  One such component of my youth that I never thought I would miss is oddly enough school.

I am now almost certain that time travel will not be invented during my life time, because as I just wrote that sentence, a 6 year old with a scraggly bowl cut and a 15 year old rocking JNCOs and a chain wallet didn’t just appear in a DeLorean and take turns kicking my shins.

It is not actually school that I miss, but the learning that accompanied it, because let’s be honest only like 42 people in the history of mankind actually liked high school when they were there.  This perpetual thirst for knowledge is very similar to my thirst for beer on a Thursday night, as in, it is very hard to quell.  Shut up, maybe you have a problem!

Since I still haven’t truly decided what I want to be when I “grow up”, I have yet to choose a Master’s program that I can truly torture my brain with, and so I seek education in unconventional places.  Not to mention, my current chosen path to knowledge is a hell of a lot cheaper than going to grad school.

This time around, my never ending quest for knowledge steered me in the direction of another thing I miss from my youth, The Mall!  That is right, I grew up in Northern New Jersey in the 1990’s, which means that I was a Mall Rat.  Not just any Mall Rat mind you, but a Garden State Plaza Mall Rat; GSP Represent!  Back in my day, the mall you called your home was important and any other rat from any other mall wasn’t even welcome in your hack circle.

01yosushi

Sorry, I veered off course there for a minute.  Anyway, back to my journey.  The interwebs informed me that at my former stomping ground, an eatery that I have written about once before, Yo! Sushi, was now offering a two-hour comprehensive Sushi School.  I was interested, I was intrigued, I was… concerned about the cost.  I subdued my excitement, while I clicked some links and skimmed some sites, all the while worrying that this class might be out of my price range.  Then I saw it.

Our work station for the night.

Our work station for the night.

How much is Yo! Sushi charging for this class you ask?  $30 for a single student and $49 for a pair of pupils.  This is not my first time dabbling in the dark arts of back alley cooking classes, so I know what some of them cost.  I once took a wine class in the city and even with a Groupon it cost me $45 bucks a person, and I left more sober than a 15 year old trying to buy booze with a fake ID that was made with MS Paint and an Ink Jet printer.  The how and why Yo! Sushi is pulling off this price point matters not, I only know they are, and I was in!

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Here is how this class works.  Each Sushi master in training is provided their own rolling mat, gloves, recipe cards and ingredients, and a YO! Sushi head chef will walk you through the process of creating all different types of Sushi.  The syllabus includes, making sushi rice; cutting fresh fish; and mastering the best techniques for rolling maki, mini iso and hand rolls.  As the late great Billy Mays used to say, “But wait there is more!” once all dishes are completed, students will leave with their rolls, along with a recipe book, a certificate, and a special discount voucher for their next visit.  Not to mention if you are as my wife lovingly puts it, a competitive jerk, after you learn your new skills you can put them to the test against the rest of the class by participating in the Yo! Sushi Rolling Challenge.  The winner gets a $10 gift card, a spot on the in-store leader board, a shout-out on the Yo! Sushi Instagram page, and best all BRAGGIN’ RIGHTS!

Go Fish!

Go Fish!

Sounds great, right?!  I am not going to lie, I was skeptical too.  Even more so when our Sushi Chef came out to the table and introduced himself to us.  His name was Stuart, and he was definitely not from Japan.  He was actually from Scotland as we learned once he began to speak to us.  However, after about three minutes into the class we realized it was not the nationality of the chef that mattered, but the passion that he brings to the cutting board.

Say hello to Stuart internets!

Stuart; Internets   …   Internets; Stuart

Stuart not only knew his stuff, but to use an often uttered 90’s colloquialism, he had the mad phat skills to pay the bills.  As he waxed poetic about the history of not only Yo! Sushi but Sushi in general, he demonstrated an array of knife skills that would make a samurai weep.  He went on to explain how to choose the fish you use, how to prepare it, and he also shared the secrets to the most important element of any great Sushi, the mystical rice.  Within the first 15 minutes of the course, Stuart’s extensive knowledge, skills, charisma, and overall teaching method had quelled my hesitation about the class, and I was excited to get my hands dirty.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein

As if Stuart read my mind, he began doling out the ingredients for our first roll. Stuart guided the class through each and every step of the process, making sure that our Sushi somewhat resembled the masterpieces that he was creating.  This was no easy task, because my hands were meant for catching footballs and carrying heavy things, not for Sushi making, but somehow he made it work.

Hands off my Sushi! Get it... Cause it is a Hand Roll... Come on, everyone appreciates a Dad Joke!

Hands off my Sushi! Get it… Cause it is a Hand Roll… Come on, everyone appreciates a good Dad Joke!

Each and every type of Sushi that we created not only came with instructions but also a brief history lesson or anecdote that made the class that much more enjoyable.  Throughout the class, you could tell Stuart was not using a script from a corporate Power Point, he was simply talking to us, while he was teaching us.  He even added some war stories from the Kitchen which are always fun to hear.

Rollin' with my Homies!

Rollin’ with my Homies!

As we were jumping from Sushi type to Sushi type, Stuart stressed that this class was not simply about learning how to make the Sushi that we were preparing today but gaining a skill set that will allows us to use our imagination in the kitchen.  After the completion of this course, you could follow the recipes on the cards that Yo! Sushi provides, or you can use any ingredients you can think of to make whatever concoction your heart desires.  Once you “perfect” the art of slicin’, dicin’, and rollin’, the world of Sushi is yours to explore.

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. … This is just the beginning! – Yoda

Much to learn you still have…my old padawan. … This is just the beginning! – Yoda

As we made our last roll, Stuart collected all of our creations and began to cut them.    As he went through the cutting procedure for each style he described the theory behind each cut.  I am not going to lie, while he was doing this, I got a serious case of knife envy.  I don’t have crappy knives mind you, but compared to the hardware Stuart was wielding, I might as well be brandishing a shiv that I fashioned out of a toothbrush.

Now that is a doggie bag!

As promised, our extremely fresh and somewhat amateurishly made Sushi was cut, boxed, and ready to go at the end of the class, thanks to Yo! Sushi and Head Chef Stuart Foster.  As we prepared to leave, we discussed the implantation of this new found culinary skill.  Imagine instead of pigs in a blanket and pizza bagels decorating your dining room table at your next gathering, an assortment of freshly made Sushi.  The best part is, you don’t have to be a master Sushi Chef to pull this off, the effort alone is going to get you plastered on every Instagram, Facebook, and Snap Chat in the house.

That is some fine ass fish!

That is some fine ass fish!

When all was said and done, Kat and I left Yo! Sushi with head full of knowledge and a bag full of Sushi, ready to put our newly acquired skills to good use.  If you are a foodie who enjoys putzing around the kitchen, this is a great way to bolster your culinary aptitude, while not spending a gill and a fin.  Furthermore, if you have someone special in your life who shares your passion for all things palatable, you would be hard pressed to find a better date night that would offer more bang for your buck.

Netflix and Grill

Summer is hurdling at us faster than hipsters flocking to a vintage flannel sale in Williamsburg, which means the time to prepare is nigh.  No longer can you get away with making a Lasagna, a Sunday Sauce, or a Chili for your friends when they visit.  The time for one pot meals is behind us and we are staring directly into the heart of the most epic and somewhat daunting cooking season there is.  That is right people, this is not a drill!  It is time to buy way to much food, invite a shit-ton of people over, drink heavily (But Responsibly…Stupid Lawyers!), light inappropriately large (But Manageable…I H8 Lawyers) fires in your suburban back yards, and grill, damn you, grill, until all of your guests tap out like the late great Kimbo Slice in rear naked choke.

For those of you that saw the title of this post and thought it was going to be about which movies are the best to watch while you Netflix and Chill, I apologize.  For those of you that don’t exactly know what Netflix and Chill means and just clicked the link above to find out, I am looking at you Mom, have no fear, there is no porn here.

This post is about the Top 5 titles on Netflix to Binge Watch prior to the start of summer to get your creative juices flowing and assist you in formulating a plan for each and every backyard get together that is in your future.  There will always be a place on my grill for burgers and dogs, but to supplement those staples, I like to go off-book and the following shows get me “in the mood”, so without further ado let’s Netflix and Grill!

5:  Chef (2014)  

ChefFilm

This feature length film is for everyone that hates documentary style movies and television shows.  I for one can watch a Chef wield a knife, talk about the perfect turnip, and pontificate about the need for 300 varieties of rice for hours on end, but I understand that those types of shows are not for everyone.  This 2014 Dramedy is about a prominent Chef that loses his job and decides to open a food truck to reclaim his culinary passion and spend some quality time with his son.  The cast is a recipe for awesomesauce as Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo add a cup of comedy, Sofia Vergara throws in a bunch of Tablespoons of Sexy, and Emjay Anthony steals the show with more than a pinch of epic acting.  After watching Chef, if you don’t know why you started cooking, hang up your tongs, turn off the gas, and get the fuck away from the grill.

4:  Cooked (2016)

Cooked Netflix

Quite the opposite of my first selection, Cooked is the epitome of Documentaries, but that is exactly why I freaking love it.  This four episode mini-series is based on Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, by the same name, and discusses how varying cooking techniques impacted mankind and transformed the world as we know it.  Each episode is named after one of the four basic elements of nature; Fire, Water, Air, and Earth to further drive home the deep connection between our evolution and the food of our ancestors, predecessors, and ourselves.   After watching the Fire episode, Episode 1, you will want to kick your Grill’s tires, let some fires, and sear something that was recently slaughtered, but if you are anything like me you will have to binge watch the rest of the episodes first.

3:  Good Eats (1999-2012)

Good Eats

The host of this oldie but goodie, Alton Brown, is a combination of Julia Child, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mr. Rogers, and Pee Wee Herman.  Good Eats, at times maybe funny, satirical, and nostalgic, but it is always informative and educational.  Whenever I am cooking something for the first time I turn to Mr. Brown, because he does not just give you a recipe like all the other Chef’s kicking around your cable box, he explains why and how the given ingredients in that recipe work.  Good Eats doesn’t focus on what you cook, it concentrates on teaching you how to cook, and that is why is the perfect show to watch before manning your meat maker.  As of right now the only episodes that are available on Netflix Streaming is a selection of 25 episodes called the Good Eats Collection, but that should be enough to give you some solid ideas for your future backyard Soirees.

2:  Mind of a Chef (2012-    )       

Mind of a Chef

Thanks to Executive Producer/Culinary Cowboy/Narrator Anthony Bourdain and PBS, Mind of a Chef entered our lives in 2012.  Wait…Wait…Wait… come back, PBS is so much more than Opera and Pledge Drives.  This revolutionary show feels as if the producers gave some of the most innovative Chefs in the world a camera crew, a kitchen, and a Black AMEX and said, “show us why you became a foodie.”  What came from this magnificent concept is a show that truly allows you enter the mindset of Chefs that are changing the very culture of cooking, one dish at a time.  You begin to identify with the Chefs that are showcased as well as see how their influences, hardships, cultural backgrounds, and relationships shaped them into the culinary juggernauts that they are today.  “Enter the Mind Of A Chef.”

1:  Chef’s Table (2015-    )  

  Chef's Table

If inspiration is what you are after, look no further than this gastronomic Netflix Original Series.  Each episode introduces you to one of the world’s most renowned Chefs and invites you into their unique culinary world.   The show includes an in-depth tour of the world’s best restaurants, stunning food porn; detailing the remarkable food these establishments serve, and of course a glimpse into the Chef’s inspiration, passion, and life experiences.  After watching this awe-inspiring documentary one cannot help but be motivated to create food that not only tastes good, but looks as beautiful as any piece of art hanging in the Louvre.  *Warning*  By watching this show, you will add several restaurants to your Dine Before Death list and none of them are inexpensive.

There you have it folks.  The Blue Collar Foodie’s Netflix and Grill list.  Now get to binge watching because a backyard barbecue without creativeness is as enjoyable as drinking a non-alcoholic beer on a Saturday Night while you Netflix and Chill sans partner.

Momofuku Noodle Bar: This Ain’t Your College Ramen

If you are a foodie, and I would imagine you are, you most likely have heard of the acclaimed PBS show The Mind of a Chef.  If you have yet to watch this Foodographic program, you should immediately jump onto your hipster cable network, use whatever Netflix account you “borrow,” and commence what will become a serious binge watching session.  This is not a Netflix and Chill show either, you are going to want to pay attention to it, so hands off, Handsy McPerv Pants, and watch, as you enter the Mind of a Chef.

Don't sue me PBS, I am giving you free advertising!

Don’t sue me PBS, I am giving you free advertising!

The first season of this unique epicurean show follows, Chef David Chang, an American restaurateur, author, and promising television personality as he gallivants around the globe talking to other awe-inspiring Chefs about what goes on in their both food centric and eccentric minds.  Chef Chang is known to most of us, as the brilliant mind behind the Momofuku Restaurant Group. (No I did not just call you a lover of someone else’s mother, that is an entirely different combination of the letters M and F.)  After watching the complete first season of The Mind of a Chef, in a matter of few short days, I was craving Chef Chang’s ramen more than Lebron James yearns to be loved.

Luckily for me, I don’t live in one of the fly over states, sorry-not-sorry Kansas, so an epic plan was set in motion.  The New York Mets happened to be in town last Friday, battling the Milwaukee Brewers and it was Free Shirt Friday to boot.  So Kat, Alex, Steph, and I decided to not only visit Citi Field and root-root-root for the home team, but to hit up the Momofuku Noodle Bar afterwards for some late night Ramen with an added nightcap.

For those of you who care, The Mets won 3 to 2, thanks to a brilliant performance by Steven Matz and a clutch home run by Michael Conforto.  If you want to know more about this game, check out uber Mets Fan Jim Breuer’s recap below.  Seriously people, watch it, like it, and subscribe to it, he is terrific.

Sorry for the tangent, but I like Mets a lot, like almost as much as I like food and beer, and that my friends is saying something.  Where was I, Oh yes!!! Momofuku!  The Noodle Bar which opened its doors in 2004, was the first of now, many restaurants that make up the Momofuku Restaurant Group.  For those of you that are keeping score, that is well before the recent ramen rage, making Chef David Chang the Ice-T or, Schoolly D for those of you in the know, of the NYC Ramen scene.  You know, minus the illegal activity and mad fat beats, he is straight up OG… errrrrrrrr… OC…

In NYC a brown paper bag is like a condom.  You use it for your protection!  Photo Borrowed from http://infinitelegroom.com

In NYC a brown paper bag is like a condom. You use it for your protection! Photo Borrowed from http://infinitelegroom.com

Before we arrived at Momofuku, located at 171 1st Avenue, between 10th and 11th Street, New York, NY 10003, we stopped at a local bodega to grab a few pre-dinner IPAs because the wait for this awesome eatery can sometimes reach a sobering 1 hour mark.  With our road sodas in hand, in paper bags of course, we are not animals, we approached this utopian Ramen Shangri-La and amongst the bustling noise of noodle slurping, kitchen clanging, and customers Instagramming, we placed our names in the queue.  Luckily for our bellies the wait was only 30 minutes, which conversely was unlucky for our livers, which now had to process our, damn near 8 percent, IPAs much quicker than we anticipated.

As we sipped from our discreet vessels of hops, barley, yeast and water we perused the menu that the hostess was kind enough to provide when we checked in.  Just when our bottles were empty and our bladders were full, our names were called and we took a seat at one of the shared wooden tables in the dining area.

We were greeted by our server, with a smile and menus.  Three of us ordered another round of beers and one of us, the responsible one, ordered a Coke because she was driving.  (Thanks by the way, because I was celebrating the Mets win and Ramen, so I was going to be in no condition to drive.)  Next, we ordered our meal for the evening, and even though the menu is small, it was not an easy choice. In the end, we decided on the Beef Tartare and the Chicken Meatball Buns as appetizers, and 4 bowls of Ramen with a kicker of Kimchi for our entrees.

While we nursed our beers and conversed the anticipation of finally eating at a Chef Chang establishment slowly built.  We were like a hot water heater on Mythbusters, the pressure was building with each and every minute.  Fortunately, even though the place was crowded, the service was actually quite quick and our appetizers arrived in no time at all.

Meet the MEAT!

Meet the MEAT!

The first dish to make an appearance at our table was the Beef Tartare.  For those of you that are not extremely well versed in the language of cookery, the word Tartare is usually synonymous with raw, and this was no exception.  This particular dish featured finely diced high-quality raw beef, seasoned with brown butter and herbs, served with rice crackers.  Alex and I are huge fans of Beef Tartare, which means that we are also pretty tough critics when it comes to eating it, but IMHO this dish was the real the deal.  The beef was not overly salted, the texture was spot on, and the brown butter added just the right amount of nutty notes to the meat, without overpowering its rather delicate flavor that the raw form tends to have.  Furthermore, when we added the tangy SSam sauce, which is placed on every table in the restaurant, this dish went from a 9 to a damn near 10.

That Ssam-I-Am, That Ssam-I-Am, I do indeed like that Ssam-I-Am

That Ssam-I-Am, That Ssam-I-Am, I do indeed like that Ssam-I-Am

While we were polishing off the Tartare, the Chicken Meatball Buns arrived.  ***I failed to take a picture of this dish because I was in awe of the Tartare.  Sue me! No wait don’t sue me, this is America, and you would probably win.  The bun was the star of this dish because it was the perfect consistency and did not fall apart, as we split them in half.  As a supporting cast the Chicken Meatball and the Paprika Mayo did just fine, no Oscar nominations, but a solid performance  which elevated the leading role.  The meatball itself was moist, which was nice, considering Chicken dries out if you look at it the wrong way.  (Suck it moist haters! I find this word descriptive and I like using it.  I find your hatred of this word to be offensive and linguistically racist!)

The moment of truth was almost here.  A bowl of Chef David Chang’s Ramen was on the horizon and I could not wait to dive into it like Scrooge McDuck into a building full of gold coins.  Every bowl that exited the kitchen distracted me from our ongoing conversation.  I was like a freaking gold fish!  As I followed the wait staff around the dining room with my eyes, one waitress scooped up two bowls of brothy goodness and headed directly for our table.  I was giddy, I was happy, I was excited, I was scared.  What if I didn’t like it?  Would I be exiled from the foodie community for not loving Chef Chang’s bowl of accolades and awards?

The Holy Grail Of Ramen!

Behold!  The Holy Grail Of Ramen!

The moment my Ramen hit the table all my anxiety disappeared like the Matt Harvey fans in 2016. (Don’t worry Matt, I still got your back!  To hell with those fair weather fans!)   For those non-baseball fans, they melted away like Frosty the Snowman, in the very-very short and ill-conceived film, Frosty Takes Hawaii.   Just look at the gorgeous composition of that souptacular bowl of temptation.  This bowl of Ramen could be the cover girl for the little known adult-themed food fetish magazine, known as Penthouse Forum:  The Slutty Kitchen Edition.

I was in love at first slurp with this brilliant bowl of amazeballs. The broth was extremely flavorful with a hearty dose of pork, the slow poached egg was done to perfection, and the noodles…don’t even get me started on the noodles.  I tried each element of this dish separately before going in for the kill and mixing it all together like a savage.  I am not sure if that is proper Ramen etiquette but it felt like the right thing to do.  The sum of all this dish’s parts coming together was tantamount to the combination of the five astronaut’s ships that created Voltron: Defender of the Universe.  Just when I thought this meal could not get much better, I added a few dashes of the SSam sauce to the party and I was in Ramen Nirvana.

Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!  Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!   Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!   Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!

Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!

Since Kat is awesome or because I gave her the sad puppy dog face, or perhaps a combination of those things, she let me give her meal a whirl.  She and Steph decided on the Hozon Ramen Bowl, which incorporated Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions.  I was extremely surprised when I tasted the broth of the Hozon Ramen.  It was not just the same broth that was ladled into my bowl, it was completely different, but equally as complex.  Furthermore, as you can see from the picture above, it was also a stunning dish that was plated…errrrrr bowled, flawlessly.

Suck It Dunkin' Donuts!!! Just kidding I love you.  Please don't take my coffee away!

Suck It Dunkin’ Donuts!!! Just kidding, I love you. Please don’t take my coffee away!

Even though we were well-satiated, to say it lightly, we felt obligated to try at least one dessert to share while we were at Momofuku.  This was a necessity because the desserts at Momofuku are provided by the always impressive Christina Tosi, the founder of Milk.  We ordered the Birthday Cake Truffles because we were told they would be easier to split and to be honest how could those not be fantastic.  These little Munchkin looking bastards make Dunkin’ Donut’s Munchkins taste like cardboard covered in sawdust.  They were the perfect ending to our Momofuku experience!

In summation, get your arse to The Momofuku Noodle Bar immediately!  No check that, faster than immediately!  Go steal THE friggin’ DeLorean right now from Doc Brown and go yesterday.  Don’t wait for a special occasion, make Momofuku THE special occasion and then hang out in the city until you can’t hang no more.  Believe me this restaurant is worth the astronomical bridge and tunnel fares and the Kal-if-fee that will ensue while you attempt to find parking.

Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar Is Turning Heads, in Bloomfield and Beyond

“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”    There is a solid chance that we have all heard this idiom at one point in our lives.  As impressionable adolescents, wayward teenagers, or “struggling” college students, some “wise” old kook uttered this to us, in hopes of mending a wound that would eventually heal itself.   This phrase rattles inside all of our heads, like the lub-dubbing of the old man’s heart that tells a tale, every time we compromise on a life goal.  Gradually making us all believe that by not achieving this unrealistic and naïve goal, we somehow failed the main objective of this choose-your-own-adventure book we call life.

I happen to believe that this supposed failure is simply not the case, and this common expression is dead wrong.  I feel that once you make something you love your job, you will begin the slow painful descent towards loathing something you once got great joy from.  If you happen to have an influential role in a young person’s life, I implore you to throw out clichéd and quixotic advice such as this and stick to achievable goals based on real life experiences.

In place of this wide-eyed expectation, I tend to follow the rule of; working to live, as opposed to living to work.  I love to eat and I love to write, however I also love my freedom and integrity.  This is why I thoroughly enjoy being a freelance food blogger as opposed to being a professional food writer.  I have no deadlines, I have no allegiances, and most importantly, like Bernie Sanders, I can’t be bought!  My 9-5 affords me the opportunity to do what I love, and that is the reason I will never cease to adore it.  Furthermore, I have created a virtual foodie militia via various social networks that recommend eateries all over the East Coast that they believe will make my epicurean soul smile.

The anticipation was killing me!

The anticipation was killing me!

Recently, I was bombarded with messages from copious amounts of gastronomes singing the praises of the recently christened Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar located at 90 Washington St. in Bloomfield, NJ.  I can’t visit all the establishments that are recommended by my culinary constituents, however, when a whisper turns into a clamor, which builds into a roar, effectively shouting a restaurants name from the top of the internets, I take notice.

Welcome to Essex Junction.

Welcome to Essex Junction.

Since the webernets was all abuzz about Essex Junction, I decided to make a reservation for Kat and I, as to not risk a longer wait to see what all the hubbub was about.  Good thing we did too because when we arrived at 7:30 P.M. on a Thursday, it was jumping.  We walked in and skipped ahead of the line, due to our forethought, and were seated in the dining room.

Before we even had menus in our hands, Essex Junction was racking up brownie points left and right.  First off the décor is… Listen, I could google some asinine decorating style like, modern industrial shabby chic, that in turn you will have to google to decipher its meaning, or I could tell how awesome it was in seven simple words.  It was like dining in Gotham City! That is right, I felt like I was Bruce Wayne eating dinner with some reporter/Model that I will eventually hook up with just before she gets kidnapped and her life is threatened for the rest of the movie.  Come to think of it, dating Bruce Wayne is about as safe as Tindering in Detroit, I wouldn’t recommend either of those adventures ladies… Just saying.

Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!

Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!

Adding to the ambience of the urban design scheme, we noticed a large movie screen on a wall in the dining room that was playing Bettlejuice!  That is right, YOU HEARD ME… BEETLEJUICE!  We were so intrigued by this concept that Kat and I actually sat on the same side of the table, so we could watch a bit of the movie while we perused the menu.  Don’t judge us!  You would do the same thing!  It was freaking Beetle…, better not say it three times, just in case.

Our first mission was to choose a drink to quench our thirst while we decided what to dine upon.  This was not an easy task, considering Essex Junction offers 15 draft lines full of rotating Craft Beers, a variety of beer and wine bottles, and their selection of Local Legend Cocktails.  We were in a beer mood, as it was Thirsty Thursday, so I chose a Boulevard Tank 7, and Kat went with a Dogfish 90 Minute.  However, next time we visit, we will have to dive into the Local Legends, because not only are these inventive cocktails created with New Jersey Celebrities such as,  Kevin Smith, Queen Latifah, and Steven Colbert, in mind, but 50% of the proceeds go towards the Bloomfield School System.  (As long as you hashtag the restaurant and @ The Celebrity via twitter after taking a selfie with it.)

As stated above, this hobby, turned part-time job has transformed into an obsession, so when Kat and I take a new restaurant for a test drive, we do more than just kick the tires.  In other words, we order a crap ton of food in order to get an accurate representation of the Chef’s repertoire and then we try to eat it all before the gluttonous guilt sets in.  This occasion was no exception to our rule.

We ordered four small plates to start; Sweet and Spicy Wings, Smoked Pork Belly, Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese, and Fried Brussels Sprouts.  Being the hedonistic mongrels that we are, we then ordered two large plates; the Bone-in Rib Eye and the Pork Chop.  Excited about the feast that was about to rain down on our table like dollar bills falling from MC Chris’s fat stacks, we sat back and sipped our hoppy goodness while we awaited the boom.

BACON ON BACON!!!!

BACON ON BACON!!!!

The first plate to make an appearance was the Smoked Pork Belly served with Pickled Vegetables and Candied Bacon.  I am not going to lie, this dish was getting a gold star no matter what in my book because the crazy bastards at Essex Junction essentially decided to put bacon on bacon, and that my friends is the type of decadence that I love to reward.  Furthermore, the dish was perfectly balanced and full of depth thanks to the sweet candied bacon, salty pork belly, and vinegary vegetables all playing off each other.  Not to mention the juxtaposition of the soft belly and the crunchy bacon created a stupendously unique mouthfeel.

I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?

I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?

As we were just getting over the recent demise of our Pork Belly dish, Mr. and Ms. Sweet and Spicy wings arrived to offer their condolences.  These saucy behemoths were cooked to flawlessly and had the perfect meat to fat ratio.  Not to mention, that when paired with the blue cheese sauce these pub food Privates were promoted to Sergeants at Arms…errrr…Wings.  You get my point!

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh

Next on the food train was the Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese served with a Béchamel sauce.  I will reiterate, I am all about decadent food pornography and this dish gets is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner in the food world.  No!  Not because it has balls, you sick SOB, get your mind out of the gutter.  The luscious Béchamel sauce combined with the rich savory awesomeness of the duck meatball makes this dish a scrumptious win.  On a side note, they use my favorite noodle in this dish, Bucatini, which marries Ziti and Spaghetti to form the most flawless sauce carrying implement known to man.

To paraphrase Rick James, "Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! "

To paraphrase Rick James, “Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! “

Last but most certainly not least, the Fried Brussels Sprouts in Sweet Soy, Sriracha, served with Shallots, and Garlic arrived.  Kat and I were nervous about ordering these, not because we buy into the horrific PR nightmare that Brussels have suffered through over the years, but because we envisioned an over-battered ball of Brussely sadness.  WE WERE WRONG!  This was by far our favorite small plate of the night.  These delectable, lightly fried, crack-like morsels of amazeballs were chock full of Umami goodness.  The ingenious process of first pan frying and then baking them in a small crock with the Sweet Soy and Sriracha concoction created an exceptional texture and flavor tag-team duo that could whoop The Legion Of Doom’s ass.  Do yourself a favor and dig all the way to the bottom of the crock when you order this.  There is where you will find the brown bits, that are covered in this damn-near mythical sauce that conveys such supernatural flavor that one can only assume that Chef Justin Caldwell must have created it with the happy tears of Unicorns.

While we were waiting for our main course, our server Mike stopped by to inquire about a second round of drinks in preparation of our impeding meal.  Mike not only remembered what we had ordered (+1 point), but offered a few suggestions that would pair nicely with our entrees (+1,000,000 points).  This is commendable in a restaurant that is well established, but in a new spot like Essex Junction, this is extraordinarily impressive.  His suggestions were spot on too, so we ordered a second round.

Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!

Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!

As my Bone-in Rib Eye was approaching, I noticed just how lovely it looked sporting a duck egg like a yarmulke whilst sitting next to a basket of Parmesan Frites.  My first impression was that this steak was large enough to justify the price point.  I then cut into the flesh and realized that it was not just properly cooked, but it was cooked with the precision of a master.  A flawless sear on the outside and a deep pink core on this inside.  Finally, I dipped a slice of this mega steak into the bordelaise sauce, and transported to my mouth, and it was love at first chew.  My apparent fullness from the previous courses melted away as this delightful meat treat melted in my mouth.  (TWSS)

This little piggy went to my belly!

This little piggy went to my belly!

After seeing my dish, I thought the bar for beauty was set fairly high, but Kat’s Pork Chop served with Spicy Jicama Slaw, Brussels Sprouts, and topped with a Vermont Lardon drizzle sank my meat ship.  Her dish looked as if they stuck a Chef’s hat on Zombie Claude Monet and forced him to create food art.  Not only did her dish look amazing, it tasted just as good.  The slaw added a crunch and a kick that danced well with the sweet Vermont sauce that was drizzled over the scrumptious pork, while the lardons kicked this dish into 5th gear.

If my ferocious verbosity paired with the filthy food porn you just were witness to does not make you visit Essex Junction post haste, I don’t really know what I can say in these final words that will convince you.  Every detail of this establishment was not only taken into consideration but tediously worked on so it looks and runs like a shiny new machine.  The hostess greeted us with a smile, the wait staff took excellent care of us, and Chef Justin Caldwell delivered dish after dish of phenomenal food that not only looked fantastic but tasted even better.  In the restaurant world this trifecta is like meeting a down to earth Supermodel that cooks gourmet meals and does keg stands.  If you don’t want to feel like Batman, while imbibing a craft beer and watching a freaking classic movie, then maybe you should stay home.  Then again maybe you should get your head examined, because Essex Junction was all kinds of epic!

 

Brigantine Seafood: New Location, Same Amount Of Awesome!

Ask any gallivanting gastronome to recommend a spot to eat in his or her neighborhood and you will find yourself in an hour long culinary conference discussing the innumerable options that are available.  You will be inundated with countless suggestions including, but not limited to, several steak slingers, a handful of hamburger hawkers, the rare ramen retailers, a surplus of sushi sellers, and a plethora of peddlers of Parisian fare. Foodies are as passionate about their local eateries as that guy, from work, that corners you near the water cooler to talk about his 16 fantasy football leagues, just a little less annoying.

During these delectable debates, a true fanatical foodie will often offer several recommendations for each type of fare that is discussed.  However, there is one category of restaurant that an epicurean usually only has one suggestion for because a truly superb one is extremely rare.  This unicorn of the gastronomic galaxy is none other than the five-star seafood joint, and this foodie’s recommendation is the ever impressive Brigantine Seafood, now located at 312 Lafayette Avenue in Hawthorne, NJ.

Brigantine Seafood

The relationship between a food lover and his or her Seafood Restaurant is a special bond that is about as stable as Gary Busey on a week-long bender teeming with crack-cocaine and hookers.  Seafood, in general, is one of the hardest foods to consistently deliver to a customer base at a high quality, for a good price, because of its delicate flavor and perishability.  These factors create a unique and daunting task for a Chef attempting to be creative in the kitchen without tossing all of his/her profits in the dumpster.  Furthermore, it only takes one or two disappointing dishes to spook the feral foodie causing him or her to seek out a new fish monger.

There are several reasons that Brigantine Seafood and I are still BFF’s after several years.  First off, the Owner and Chef, Alfred Ianniello, is as enthusiastic about the fish that he serves to his customers as his customers are about eating it.  Chef Al proves this zeal each and every day by traveling to the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, where he personally selects only the finest seafood.  Secondly, Chef Al does not skimp on the portions that are served at his restaurant, like some other spots that I have visited, and as you know, I can eat, so I appreciate this fact immensely.  Lastly, Brigantine Seafood has never scorned me, meaning that every time I eat there I not only leave satiated but satisfied as well.

Fish is a dish best served cold!

Click the picture to see my last review on this epic eatery!

If you read my blog regularly you are probably having a slight case of Déjà vu.  Relax, you are not crazy. I did in fact write a review on Brigantine Seafood once before, but they recently moved to a new, much larger, location in Hawthorne and I thought they could use the love of the interwebs.  The new digs are beautiful and add a wonderful touch of elegance that goes hand in hand with the fantastic food that is served at this eatery.  Plus, as stated above, I freaking love their food, so any excuse to visit Chef Al, is a win in my book.  Now, without further ado, I present to you the amazing food porn of Brigantine Seafood.

BYOB!!! Hooray!!!

BYOB!!! Hooray!!!

Since I am a fan of social outings that include booze, food, and friends, Kat and I invited our foodie friends Alex and Steph to join us for our most recent trip to Brigantine.  With us, we brought an eight pack of assorted craft beers, because Brigantine Seafood not only provides some of the best Seafood in the Tri-state area, they are also BYOB!  FTW!

Each time I go to Brigantine Seafood, I never know what I am going to eat, except of course for an order of Oysters, which are always out of this world.  I am sure the regular items on the menu are all great, however, a true Brigantine junkie knows it is all about the specials, and since Chef Al picks out the seafood daily, you just never know what you are going to get until the waitress rattles them off.  Brace yourselves too, because there are a crap load of specials, and each one sounds better than the last.

House of Carbs!

House of Carbs!

Other than the requisite oysters, we ordered the Grilled Octopus with White Bean Salad and a Mixed Green Salad with Crispy Fried Goat Cheese for our appetizers, while we pondered our main course.  While discussing the most important decision of the evening we helped ourselves to some of fresh baked bread, olive oil, and opened our first beer.

Kat is not a fan of seafood, and at some Seafood Restaurants that could pose a problem, luckily Brigantine is not a one trick pony, and creates a few dishes for those who suffer from ichthyophobia. On this occasion, she chose the Pasta Primavera in a Vodka Sauce, but she wanted me to stress that her favorite dish is the Chicken Scarpariello, which she adores.  However, we were told by Chef Al, that he is adding aged steaks to the menu shortly and that might give that Chicken dish a solid run for its money.  Alex decided to go with the scallop dish, and Steph and I are suckers for whole fish, so we both decided on the Whole Bronzino.

if you don't order Oysters when you visit Brigantine Seafood we can no longer be friends.

If you don’t order Oysters when you visit Brigantine Seafood we can no longer be friends.

The oysters hit the table first and we were ecstatic.  As always they were scrumptious and ever so fresh.  The subtle, yet complex flavor of the oyster combined with the vinegar and horseradish sauces create a flavor that is both unique and memorable.  If you have yet to try raw oysters, I highly recommend ordering a sixer of these slippery wonders of the sea when you visit Brigantine.  You will not be disappointed!

I love Octopus, but not quite as much as those Manga weirdos.

I love Octopus, but not quite as much as those Manga weirdos.

While we were demolishing the Oyster plate, our Grilled Octopus was delivered, and it looked and smelled magnificent.  Most chefs will tell you that Octopus is a tough dish to prepare.  The fragile flavor of the meat is unassertive, creating an extremely fine margin of error when seasoning the dish.  Furthermore, under cooked octopus has a distinct rubbery texture, whereas if it is overcooked it will be dry and tasteless.  Due to these reasons, I only order Octopus at restaurants where I trust the Chef and his supply.  Luckily for us and now for you, this ain’t Chef Al’s first tentacle filled rodeo and this dish was stupendous!  The shy flesh of the octopus was the star of the dish, without being bland and it was grilled to perfection giving it the perfect mouthfeel.

Sorry Bessy, Goat Cheese is the number one salad cheese!

Sorry Bessy, Goat Cheese is the number one salad cheese!

As stated above, Kat is not a seafood fan, like the rest of us normal people, so while we were eating our treasures from the sea, she was partaking in this beautiful bed of greens paired with a warm, crispy, and creamy goat cheese croquette.  Even though I always order too much food when we visit Brigantine, Kat loves me, so she shares her exquisite croquette with me.  She is well aware that the map to my heart not only runs through my stomach but spends the weekend there.

Hello friends, meet these life altering scallops.

Hello friends, meet these life altering scallops.

After we finished our appetizers and the table was cleared our entrees began to arrive. Much like the many octopi dishes I have had in the past, Scallop dishes are always a gamble.  UNLESS you are at Brigantine, where Chef Al makes you wonder if you have ever actually eaten a scallop in your long and food filled life.  Alex allowed me to sample these delightful treats, and they so soft and buttery that I had food envy for a minute or two, as I savored this bite of brilliance.  Not to mention that when they were paired with the provided sauce I damn near mugged Alex for his remaining morsels of amazeballs.

If you are a vegitarian or vegan stop reading this caption it will only offend you.... You have been warned... I LOVE EATING AN ENTIRE ORGANISM!

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan stop reading this caption! It will only offend you…. You have been warned… I LOVE EATING AN ENTIRE ORGANISM!

My affliction of food envy was cured in a matters of moments when I took another bite of my meal.  There is something about the presentation and ritual of  eating a whole fish, I absolutely love.  It also helped that the fish itself was delicious.  I have had Bronzino that is overly salted and seasoned which ruins the gentle flavor of this European delicacy.  This fish however was seasoned expertly and cooked properly creating a balanced and flavorful dish without stomping on the fish’s widely celebrated flavor.

Hasta La Pasta. Get In My Belly!

Hasta La Pasta. Get In My Belly!

As far as Kat’s dish; sans fish, it was a solid pasta.  The sauce was on point, which is of course the back bone to any pasta dish, and the pasta itself was cooked as it should be, Al dente.  The addition of the fresh zucchini and mushrooms that were sharing space with the pasta added to the overall success of this dish.  I believe this would be the perfect option for a vegetarian if they were to find themselves as your dinner guests at Brigantine.

However you say it doesn't matter as long as you eat it!

It is okay to say no to drugs and war, but it is a travesty when you say no to pie!

This time around we decided not to get dessert because we were extremely full from our gluttonous meal, however if you are a dessert person do not miss out on their daily dessert specials.  Ask your server and she will discuss the mouthwatering options that were made fresh that day.

As a bonus, since Brigantine moved into a space that is double if not triple the size of their old spot, Chef Al now has room to host events.  This new venture allows you to eat all the amazing seafood that Brigantine offers, while celebrating that upcoming baby shower, bridal shower, birthday, or engagement party.  It is okay, I won’t tell the person who you are celebrating that you are happier to be eating at Brigantine, than to be celebrating their special day.  It will be our little secret.

I can’t stress enough that Brigantine is an amazing eatery and holds a special place in the center of my foodie heart.  I implore you all to give this magical seafood haven a whirl, and remember to bring your appetites because you will not leave hungry.  One last tip before you take your trip to Brigantine Seafood’s new location312 Lafayette Avenue, Hawthorne, NJ, to visit Chef Al and sample his outstanding creations.  Make sure to make a reservation, because nothing is worse than having to smell all the awesome, while you are waiting on the sidelines for a table.

 

Brigantine Seafood Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato