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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
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
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?
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!
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!
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.
“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!
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.
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!
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!!!!
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?
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
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! “
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!
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.
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 location, 312 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.
Once a year, in the backwoods of Sussex County, an invite-only Pig Roast occurs that is so fucking epic it is known throughout the State as “The Pig Roast.” This soiree is an underground four-day foodie fiasco that includes bands, pot luck style dining, drinks of all kinds, a gigantic Pig roasted on a spit, and experimental food preparation.
I have had the distinct and greatly appreciated privilege to attend this event for the past two years. This year, however, my connection to the gathering wanted to prepare something special for the party and asked me if I wanted to assist him in this endeavor. Attending this affair is one thing, but cooking, on a large scale, is a whole other level of crazy. You see, some of the best and most eclectic amateur and professional chefs in the area ascend the mountains of New Jersey to concoct dishes that are not only tremendously appetizing but also prepared in exotic and daunting techniques, so when my cohort dropped the bomb that we might cook, I was wondering what the hell he was smoking.
With a smile on his face, he asked me bluntly, “What do you know about Hangi?”
Thinking my friend was in trouble, I immediately asked him if he smelled burnt toast. He retorted that he was not having a stroke, and that Hangi was the New Zealand method of cooking in an Earth Oven.
I was intrigued, fascinated, damn near titillated about this unique cooking method, and I immediately signed onto the google machine to find out more. Sure as shit, Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Māori (Indigenous New Zealanders) method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a damn hole in the ground.
From that moment on, we began to hash this plan out over the course of the next month. It seemed like every time we had a pint in our hands the conversation would switch to Hangi. We read articles, watched Youtube clips, scoured the internets, and even asked Reddit for help in the form of a post on R/NewZealand. It appears the old adage, “the best ideas are imagined in the minds of the sober, but it takes some lubrication to implement them,” is correct.
What started as half a joke, had now consumed us. We were going to put down a Hangi at The Pig Roast, and we were going to do it fucking right!
Listen closely as this is as close as I get to a disclaimer. I am a fucking American, so this is in no way a definitive guide to Hangi. Furthermore, if any of you try this at home, please use common sense considering not only are you playing with fire, but you are playing with fire, next to a hole full of 1200 degree bricks! With that said, I hope this illustrated guide will give you a general idea of what cooking with an Earth Oven is all about. A huge thanks to the many Reddit users that assisted me in this endeavor, especially MurrayMcScurrilous.
The following is a list of the materials you will need for this endeavor, and I will explain each one in detail so you don’t fuck shit up! Pay attention, some of the details will make the difference between meat that gives you an orgasm and meat that gives you an organism. Don’t worry after the list of shit you need, I will explain how the whole thing comes to together.
Meat: There are a few things to consider here. How much meat you will need will of course depend on how many freeloading friends you have invited to your shindig, and whether or not they eat like birds or Joey Chestnut sitting outside a Nathans.
Another very important element is the type of meat that you choose to bury in your pit of awesome sauce. We did two Pork Shoulders, two Beef Rump Roasts, and two Whole Chickens. Honestly, you can throw what the fuck you want in the hole, but I would stick to boneless meats that contain a lot of collagen.
*Note (Even though we tried the Chicken, and it wasn’t half bad, it was not the best and was slightly under cooked, requiring us to cook it further on a grill. Since the whole idea of you reading this fucking thing is to learn from our stupidity, do yourself a favor and replace the chicken with Boneless Lamb, you and your guests will be happier.)
Vegetables: To be honest, no one walked past our table that night and said, “Oh shit look at those vegetables” or “Dude, I want to dip my balls in those carrots.” However, it is tradition in New Zealand to cook vegetables with the meat when putting down a Hangi, so if you want to experience the whole shebang, you should use the likes of potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Stay away from anything that would disintegrate in say a stew or a chili.
Cabbage: This is used in place of the traditional banana leaves because it is what we can find in the states. You will use it to wrap the meat and to line the baskets so buy enough to do both jobs. Shit, buy some extra fucking cabbage it is $0.59 cents a pound, you cheap fuck.
Aluminum Foil: My Comrade and I had delusions of grandeur of rocking the Hangi ol’ school until we talked to some real life Kiwis. They told us that we would be dumber than a sheep in heat, if we did not use Aluminum Foil to wrap our meat rather than the traditional plant leaves and mutton cloth. Neither of us were 100% sure on the meaning of this insult, but we understood the context clues in the sentence enough to know that we would be wrapping all of our food in this food science wunderkind and so should you.
Baskets: Considering if you are reading this you are from the States, you will most likely have the same issues as we had in acquiring Hangi Baskets. Apparently in New Zealand, you can run to the corner store and buy these fucking integral apparatuses, but here in America, you will have to be industrious and build your own. These baskets will have to hold all the meat and vegetables and will have to withstand a tremendous amount of heat so don’t skimp. We fashioned ours out of Chafing Dish Frames and NON-GALVANIZED Chicken Wire.
*Note (Notice the CAPITAL LETTERS IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE. For all of you that are internet disabled, that means I was yelling those fucking words. Galvanized metal will make people sick, and you don’t want to kill any of your friends, so don’t be a douche and buy the right chicken wire.)
Hole/Pit/Earth Oven: Most people think the first step to laying a Hangi is crafting the hole that will act as your Earth Oven. HEY YOU! STOP! COME BACK HERE! Damn A.D.D. generation. Don’t just grab a shovel and rip up your Wives’ begonias… that right there is how divorces happen. In this case, much like penises, SIZE MATTERS!
Your Hangi hole size should be directly proportionate to the size of your baskets, the amount of food you are making, and the size of your stones. The larger the Ho’ the harder it will be to heat it. According to my extremely helpful New Zealand Hangi brethren, a solid hole should be deep enough to fit the Hangi Paraphernalia listed above, as wide as the bottom of the baskets and slightly flair out to the sides, similar to a wok.
Location: The pit should be on flat ground for the safety of both the meat and yourselves. Remember, you are going to be maneuvering/running around it carrying scolding hot bricks and eventually reaching into it to retrieve heavy stuff. Pay attention to the wind in the area of your pit too, rain is tolerable, but wind is the enemy of your Hangi.
Shovel: I suggest at least three of these bitches, unless you want to do all the heavy lifting yourself. You will need this ever important tool for digging the hole, carrying the stones, burying the meat, and unearthing your buried meat treasure.
Fire Bricks: THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! You will be heating these sons of a bitches to well over 1000 degrees, and if you do not pick the right stones, they will explode sending white hot shards of stone in every direction if you don’t want a money shot full of lava, pay the fuck attention!
One is supposed to lay down a Hangi using volcanic rocks and in New Zealand finding these is like finding a douche at the Jersey Shore. Unfortunately, we have douches a plenty, but we lack volcanic rocks. Once again we had to improvise. We decided to use fireplace bricks which are designed to endure a massive amount of heat without making us all look like JPP’s mangled hand stump.
Fire: I am not talking about a tiny little city fire either! I am talking about a ragin’, big ol’, country fire. This fire will have to fit all of your stones and burn for about 3-5 hours.
Wood: You are going to need more wood than Ron Jeremy on a four day binge of snorting Cialis and Viagra so act like a Boy Scout, and Be Fucking Prepared!
Burlap: You can find spools of this material at Walmart or Home Depot. It is used to separate the layers of the Hangi and to add moisture to the mix.
Cheese Cloth: Enough to cover each of your baskets.
Bucket: You will need at least one bucket to soak the burlap sheets in which will allow the burlap not to burn and add extra moisture to the process.
Garden Hose: This is optional, but you will need to moisten the Hangi hole one way or another, and a source of water is never a bad thing to have handy when you are playing with fire.
Seasoning: Since you found this page, you have no doubt been bouncing around the interwebs in search of guidance on how to season the meat that you are about to bury in the earth. I was surprised to find that most websites simply don’t talk about this element of the process. However, upon speaking to many people that have participated in Hangi before I soon found out why. New Zealand has some weird ass herbs and spices that you or I have never fucking heard of. For example, Piko Piko, Piri Piri, Kawa Kawa, and Horopito.
Furthermore, we found that most Hangi meat is simply seasoned with a little bit of canola oil, salt and pepper. We decided to add a little ‘Merica into this bitch, and concoct seasoning rubs for each of our meats that we felt would not only taste fantastic but give a slight nod to the Maori people by adding as many fresh herbs and spices we could get our hand on.
Marinades: We toiled and labored over the keyboard to find the perfect marinades for our meat, only to find out that wet marinades are horrible for Hangi, which makes sense since we are essentially cooking with steam. However, not to be deterred, we decided to use injectable marinades instead, which we did the night before, and let the juices sink into the lovely meat overnight while chillin’ out maxin’ and relaxin’ in the fridge.
Friends: In New Zealand they are called Mates, in America we call them friends, and you are going to need a lot of them. Putting a Hangi down is a social\team event from start to finish, and believe me, the more the merrier!
Foreman: Most likely if you are reading this, you have already assumed this role, but this is a must for a successful Hangi. This does not give you the license to be a dick, but as I will explain the last step, putting down a Hangi is intense and time sensitive. Decisions will have to be made that will affect the outcome of the food, and these decisions should not be questioned because those questions will eat away precious seconds.
Seats: What are you going to do? Stand up for 12 hours?
Beer: Every single guide I read and person I talked to clearly stated that beer in some quantity or style was an absolute must when you are laying down a Hangi. Be responsible though, you are playing with insanely hot shit and the fate of the food lies solely on your shoulders.
Gloves: Holy Fuck the fire pit gets hot, and you are going to need some gloves. Not gardening gloves either you wanker. Get yourself some diesel BBQ gloves or even better Fireman gloves!
Sauce: I love sauce like Ron Burgundy loves Scotch, so I put sauce on EVERYTHING. If you are looking for a traditional sauce, I will include an amazing recipe at the very end of this tutorial; however, you can use any sauce that you think will taste good with the meat you selected.
Wheel Barrel: This will hold the dirt that you remove from the ground, so you can dump that shit back in the hole when the time comes. Remember time is of the essence, so this will come in handy later.
Mesquite or Hickory Wood Chunks: These pieces of wood will be added to the whole after the bricks to add a bit of good ol’ fashioned smoke flavor.
The Meetup: Wake up really fucking early and meet up with your Hangi Homies. Make sure you have all your gear, a box of Joe, a cooler full of solid craft beer, and set up your seats.
The Fire: This ain’t Naked and Afraid, and the fire needs to be hotter than Ronda Rousey and bigger than Chris Christie so use as many fire starters as you need. To paraphrase Jim Morrison, come on baby light your fire.
Can You Dig It: While a few of your mates tend the fire, grab a few others and start digging. By now I hope you have already scoped out the location of the pit and planned the dimensions, so this should be as simple as scooping the dirt out of the ground and into the wheel barrel.
Burn Those Bricks: Strategically place your bricks or stones into your now hopefully roaring fire. Your friends always said that all those years of playing Tetris instead of banging chicks and getting drunk were a waste of time, but now is your chance to show off your skills. BE CAREFUL!!! Use gloves and tools if necessary to stack the bricks in the fire. Now that your bricks have been placed in the hell fire you created, drink some beers, and take a breather. You need to get the bricks stupid hot, so they will sit in the fire for between 4 to 6 hours depending on the stones and the size of your fire. Just remember to tend the fire and make sure your bricks don’t fall out.
Basket Weaving 101: Now that your hole is all holey and your bricks are on the barbi, it is time to turn your attention to your meat holders. If you found something that will work without any tweaking, more power to you, but if you need to build the DIY version, now is the time. All you have to do is wrap the chicken wire around the Chafing Dish trays and connect the two of them by folding the end of the wire over the frame. *NOTE* You might want to use gloves during this step too, Chicken Wire is sharper than your douchey cats nails, and you will poke yourself a lot.
Peel Out: When you have about an hour left of cooking time on your bricks, you should start peeling and cutting your veggies. Before you start peeling them though, remove your meat from the fridge and place it to the side. Peel everything and cut the vegetables into large chunks, not too small so they fall apart, but small enough to allow them to cook. I know that is pretty fucking vague but stop your whining, I told you this shit ain’t scientific, you are cooking in a hole for fucks sake.
Rub Your Meat: Unwrap your meat and rub it down like a 16 year old that just found porn hub. Make sure to cover every square inch of your fleshy dead animal.
Wrap it up: Pretend you are about to score with a Las Vegas hooker and triple bag your meat and Veggies. Wrap it first in your cabbage leaves and then in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Don’t be a fucktard and use some bull shit off brand aluminum foil either! Remember the foil will protect your food from the pile of earth you will throw on it in about 15 minutes so don’t be cheap!
Soak Your Sacks and Wood: Throw your large burlap cuts, your cheese cloth, and your wood chunks into a big pot of water and let them soak for approximately one beer.
Meat and Veggie Jenga: Place your meat on the bottom of the baskets and the veggies on top. Make sure that everything is stable because you will have to maneuverer these bitches in the hole and then out again.
Final Preparation: This shit is about to get real and now is the time to go over your plan one more time with your team and bring everything over to your Hangi hole. This is your last chance to make everything just right before you take the first stone out of the fire and the clock starts ticking, so don’t fuck shit up.
GO TEAM GO: Time is of the essence!
Use a hose or a bucket to wet the hole slightly. Don’t make a puddle, you are not making soup, just add enough to dampen the dirt.
Transfer all the bricks into the pit faster than an eight ball disappears during a bachelor party. Use your shovel and your gloves because those stones are going to be hot as fuck, and don’t just throw them in all willy-nilly either, you are going to need a flat surface to place your baskets on.
Throw the chunks of wood on top and around your stones.
Put the baskets on top.
Place the Cheese Cloth on top of the baskets.
Throw some dirt on the sides of the pit to protect your stones from touching the layer of burlap that will go on top.
Place a layer of wet burlap on top of the baskets. Don’t let the burlap touch the stones or it will burn and ruin the flavor of your Hangi.
Add some more dirt to the pit and fill it up about half way.
Add the second layer of burlap.
Pile the dirt into the hole and seal it up tight. The rule here is, NO STEAM CAN ESCAPE! Keep adding dirt until you no longer see any steam wafting from your Hangi Pit.
Place the last burlap sheet on top of the hole and exchange several high fives.
Mind the Gap: Now that your food is in the pit, the craziness is over. Stay close though because as your food cooks you may need to tend to the Hangi Hole. As the magic happens, the dirt in the hole may shift, and some steam may try to escape. If this happens, immediately cover that spot with more dirt.
Low and Slow: As I stated earlier, I am just a stupid American, and I have only done this once so as far as cooking time goes, your guess is as good as mine. I let mine cook for about five hours, and it came out awesome, I checked each cut with a thermometer, and I suggest you do the same. Best case scenario, everything comes out epic. Worst case scenario, you have to throw your Hangi in the oven for a few to complete the cooking, but at least everyone will be alive at the end of this experience.
Make the Sauce: If you are making the sauce I mentioned earlier, and you fucking should because it is pretty damn amazing, now is the time. Follow the directions and improvise as you see fit.
Dig up Your Buried Treasure: The nice thing about the burlap cuts is that you can slowly lift them out of your hole to remove layers of the dirt that you threw on top of your baskets. Be careful stabbing your shovels into the ground as you don’t want to hit your meat. Ruin your Hangi at this stage would be a catastrophe. Once you hit pay dirt, use your gloves to remove the baskets from the hole and bring them to your carving station.
The Moment Of Truth: Unwrap your first cut of meat and stab that bitch with a thermometer. If you are rocking a Hangi I assume you are not a novice chef, so make sure your meat is cooked to a safe temp and then start carving. Carve and plate all the meat and the vegetables.
Sit your ass down to a true New Zealand Maori FEAST!!! You are fucking welcome!
Our Hangi Slideshow
Our Hangi Video
The Maori Sauce Recipe
2 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Onion
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Chili Sauce
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 ½ Teaspoons Garlic Powder
½ Teaspoon White Pepper
¼ Cup Pineapple Juice
1 Small Bay Leaf
¾ Cup honey
1 Cup Tomato Sauce
½ Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 ½ Teaspoon Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon BBQ Spice
1 ½ Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1 Tablespoon White Vinegar
Sauté onion in vegetable oil until golden brown. Combine with remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Makes three cups.
As a Blue Collar Foodie always looking for a bargain there are certain types of food that my normal restaurant rotation lacks. There are some varieties of food that you just don’t trust from a value menu or a street cart. For example, an Ozzie Dog, which is a hot dog in a potato roll, topped with cheez whiz, beef chili, hot sauce, and potato sticks, which you can score outside Yankee Stadium is acceptable coming from a cart from 1975 that has been sitting in the sun all day. However, I would not feel the same level of comfort about ordering and consuming a Fillet of Fugu with a side of Sushi from Mr. Ozzie and his sun soaked wagon.
There is a level where frugality becomes stupidity and by saving a few bucks you end up wasting a day or two in the restroom or even worse the hospital. So pay attention to the words that are coming out of my mouth young BCF Padawans. At 3:00 A.M. there is no gas station that serves, “Epic Salmon,” no matter what Doug says and that Sword Fish Steak at that deli in the village for a “buck 99”, is as safe as sharing a toothbrush with the Hobo that lives outside that very same bodega. However, there are places in our area that will serve you fantastic seafood dishes, for a moderate price, at a decent hour. Brigantine Seafood Eatery & Market , located at 112 Lincoln Avenue in Hawthorne, NJ, is one of these establishments and I highly recommend paying them a visit.
Quality Seafood at a fair price is not something you should take for granted in this area. Sure if you live in Maryland it is easier to get crabs than it is when you lived in your college residence hall, and as for Maine, I have had a $5.00 lobster from Shoprite that would make most New York Lobsters hang their tails in shame. So how does Brigantine do it you ask? Every morning, the owner and Chef Alfred Ianniello travels to the famous Fulton Fish Market located in The Bronx and personally selects the finest seafood for his customers. These customers include some of the top restaurants in the Bergen/Passaic county region and odds are if you have enjoyed a seafood dish in one of these counties you have already seen what Chef Ianniello can deliver to your table.
Brigantine offers a standard menu that can be found online that is chock full of flavorful and inventive dishes, but if you ask me, and you did because you are literally reading the words that my brain is spewing forth, the specials are worth both the price tag and the time and energy it will take to listen and comprehend all their awesomeness. When you decide to visit this seafood Shangri-La you will thank me that you asked the wonderfully helpful wait staff what the specials of the evening are.
Before I begin describing the astonishing meal Kat and I shared with a fellow foodie couple a few weeks back, I feel like I should place a disclaimer here. If you are looking for a romantic modern seafood boutique this is not the place for you. Brigantine Seafood resembles a Diner like establishment from years past, which I find to be immensely charming and adds to the je ne sais quoi that is teeming off of Brigantine like steam from a large bowl of Clam Chowder. Furthermore, I will guarantee that the seafood being served by this local gem is twice as good as the hipster dipped mussel balls being served in your bougie fish lounge.
Since this was not our first rodeo at this eatery, we knew the drill. We stopped off at a liquor store on the way and grabbed some cold beers and a bottle of wine, since like all of the Blue Collar Foodie’s top joints, Brigantine is BYOB. When we arrived we parked in the parking lot in the rear of the restaurant and walked in the back door (TWSS). Chef Alfred was on hand to welcome us to his restaurant and as always the staff was all smiles and ready to assist us. We had a reservation so we were seated within minutes and our menus were in our hands shortly thereafter.
As I stated above you can order off the menu but the real reason to visit Brigantine is to allow the Kitchen to punch you in the belly with flavor and innovation by haphazardly picking a special that sounds intriguing. This is exactly what I did and I was not disappointed.
Fish is a dish best served cold!
As an appetizer we ordered the seafood tower because Brigantine boasts a plethora of Oysters from various coasts and countries, and the Tower is a great way to sample a few of these salty treats. In addition to the oysters this fortress of shellfish included shrimp, clams, and a Lobster Tail. If you are looking for an economical appetizer this one may not be for you, as the price point is rather high at $30.00, but if you are treating yourself, as we were, this is the only way to go. Each item was fresh, delicious, and unique. In other words, these are not wedding buffet oysters and clams, these are the real deal and if you are a connoisseur they are a must!
You would have to be a Master Baiter to catch a Bass this big!
Shortly after we destroyed the seafood tower, our meals arrived at the table. After a rather lengthy deliberation and compelling the uber patient waitress to read me the specials three times, Kevin and I decided on the Sea Bass paired with Mussels and Clams in a marinara sauce. The portion size was incredible and the piece of fish was larger than any Sea Bass I have had the pleasure to eat in recent memory. However, the most impressive element in this dish was the marriage of flavor between the shellfish, the Bass, and the sauce. Each bite delivered a depth of flavor that is unfortunately rare for fish dishes in this area, because, to be honest, fish in the hands of a poorly trained chef tends to be boring and lack any culinary panache. To the contrary, this dish had panache coming out of it gills, and I loved every last bite of it!
The Arctic char is closely related to both salmon and lake trout, and has many characteristics of both.
Our friend Kim decided to try the Breaded Arctic Char served with Capers and a Citrus Gastrique. I am not going to lie; when this dish hit the table I had a slight case of food envy. The presentation of this dish was absolutely beautiful due to the breading being cooked to perfection, which created a deep brown hue across the filet in perfect contrast with the white plate and green garnish. Furthermore, the aroma of this dish wafted across the table and assaulted my olfactory senses with all its awesome sauce, begging the ever important question, “Did I order the right dish?”
No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!
Before I write this next sentence I ask that you please do not flame, troll, or otherwise harass Kat for the following gastronomic flaw. With that said, I will forward all hate mail directly to her inbox until she realizes the folly of her ways. Here goes nothing; Kat does not like seafood. Relax…I know… But to be fair I knew of this defect when I married her and if I can get over it, you guys should be willing to except her as well.
The reason I bring this foodie fail up is not to convert my lovely wife into a born again Pescetarian, but to explain just how remarkably accommodating Brigantine Seafood actually is. Even though a chicken dish was not on the menu that evening, Chef Alfred hooked Kat up with his famous, yet clandestine, Chicken Scarpariello. Kat craves this dish and thoroughly enjoys each and every morsel that is chock full of pieces of chicken combined with mushrooms and herbs swimming in a luscious white wine sauce.
And the award for best supporting role in a serious dinner goes to…
In addition to the generous portion size of our meals we were also provided with a side of rice and seasonal vegetables for the table. I appreciated that these sides were not overly seasoned and flamboyant as to take away from the main dish that is the star of the show. Like a good supporting actor in a movie, these side dishes lifted the star to another level while preforming admirably on their own.
After we plowed through our entrées one yummy forkful at a time we were asked about dessert. Now, by no means did we need dessert, as we were all pretty fat, but we decided that we should treat ourselves to the homemade desserts that Brigantine’s Culinary Team creates daily.
Now wonder all the damn Amish return to village after Rumspringa!
Kat ordered the apple pie which was baked Amish Style, which includes Sour Cream. We had never heard of this type of pie before but after tasting this slice of ecstasy, we will sure be on the lookout for this method again. The sour cream increases the creaminess of the filling and calms the cloying sweetness that plagues most commercial apple pies.
However you say it doesn’t matter as long as you eat it!
Weather you pronounce this fantastic pie like the true North Easterner you are and call it “Pee-can” or you embrace the southerner in you and rock the proper pronunciation “pee-KAHN,” there is one thing we can all agree on… HOLY HELL THIS PIE IS GOOD!!! I love Pecan Pie from a box that came from a factory so when I can get homemade Pecan Pie from a spot like this, you bet your sweet nuts I am going to order it! Furthermore, no you cannot have a piece. It is mine! You get your own damn pie!!! P.S., if you go to Brigantine and this is on the menu that night, and you fail to order it, you also fail at life.
Cheese + Cake = Happiness
Kevin landed on the Cheesecake as he spun the wheel of indecision in his brain. He was not upset either, as the Cheesecake was fluffy, smooth, and deliciously decadent. The addition of the strawberry drizzle added a delightful dash of attractiveness to the already handsome dish.
Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!
The final dessert that was ordered was the Cannoli. I know the secret to a slamming cannoli because I grew up in North Jersey, which contrary to popular belief is the real Little Italy. Apparently, Brigantine’s culinary team also knows this secret and so their cannoli was pretty freaking tasty. What is the secret you ask? It is simple; Fill Your Cannoli to Order so the shell stays crispy and the filling stays light.
If you did not read the post above and just drooled over the food porn, the gist of this article was; if you are looking for some serious seafood at a reasonable price look no further than Brigantine Seafood, in Hawthorne, NJ. The waitresses are helpful, patient, and pleasant and the Kitchen Staff prepares creative and gratifying dishes that both taste great and look lovely. The next time you are looking to try a new local eatery, please do yourself a favor and head over to Brigantine Seafood and see what Chef Al is concocting in his kitchen of wonders.
I know I might catch some flak for writing this review because it is on a chain restaurant, but as the Yolo generation says, Haters Gonna Hate! The truth of the matter is that I believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants, and as long as they are serving food that doesn’t look and taste like it fell out of an animal’s hind quarters, I am willing to pay them a visit, especially when one moves in down the street from my current homestead.
When the luxurious Fair Lawn Promenade was erected, not only did this new construction provide high end apartments located in the wonderful town of Fair Lawn, it also brought with it several dining establishments. If you follow my blog you probably noticed that I have already visited and reviewed the Habit Burger Grill which is located in the Promenade, and now I have decided to review Qdoba, in the same plaza. For all of you that are not familiar with Fair Lawn the actual address that can be placed into the googles is 23-31 Route 208, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410.
To clarify my aforementioned comment, I do sincerely believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants as they provide casual dining at an inexpensive price point in a quick and efficient manner. I am not talking about the McDonalds and Burger Kings of the food world, I only eat there when I have had a little bit too much to drink, and I assure you, I regret it more than most people regret their one night stands. I am speaking of franchises that still care about the quality of food they are providing to their customers, and I feel that Qdoba is truly one of those establishments.
First and foremost, what drew me into the Promenade to experience all that Qdoba had to offer actually had nothing to do with their food. If you are a Bergen County resident like me, you know that avoiding Route 4 and Route 17 is more important than eating, sleeping, and on Saturday you can add breathing to that list too. So the addition of a causal dining Mexican Grill like Qdoba moving into what is basically my backyard, thus allowing me circumventing the need to travel on those above-mentioned horrendous parking lots that Bergen County calls highways, was a gift from the Traffic Overlord ConeZilla!
Welcome To Qdoba!
Since my commute was five minutes, and I was only cut off once on my way to Qdoba, when I entered the restaurant with Kat, my foodie partner for the evening, I was much calmer than I have ever been at those Burrito shops located in the 7th ring of traffic hell known as Paramus. To add to my elation, as soon as I walked into the building, I noticed a sign that simply read, “Extras Aren’t Extra!” Could this be true? Is this a Dream, I thought to myself. They can’t just give stuff away for free, right? Or could they?
If it is free, it is for me, I’ll take three!
Since Kat and I are experienced restaurant reviewers at this point, we knew to peruse the online menu prior to our arrival so we were prepared to order the perfect meal. Qdoba is set up like most of the Casual Dining Mexican Grills that are sprinkled throughout our fair land, so the actual procedure of ordering was simple. When you enter, you walk into the queue and wait for an employee to assist you in constructing your epic meal.
This is my favorite part of the experience people; you literally get to build a custom Burrito, Taco, Quesadilla, Burrito Bowl, or Taco Salad that is chock full of everything that makes you happy. I know this method of serving customers has been around for quite some time now, but every damn time I venture to an establishment that uses this system, I can’t help but smile like an infant that has just farted!
As you can see from the menu, Qdoba offers quite a few entree options that can be fully customized, but I decided to go big and order the Craft 2 which is two perfectly sized portions of Qdoba’s most popular dishes. My two choices were the Mexican Gumbo with chicken and a steak taco and a pulled pork taco, one hard and one soft. (TWSS) Kat on the other hand was trying to maintain her girlish figure and opted for the health conscious burrito bowl with shredded beef. Since we both love guacamole and Queso, we made the decision to both order chips with a side of each. We rounded out our order with two medium sodas and called it day.
Our creations were assembled by a very helpful and cheerful employee that explained each step in the process making sure we did not miss any of the delicious ingredients we could add to our dishes. I could list all of the yumminess that can be added to your meal, but it would be about as boring as watching Seabiscuit, a movie about a freaking horse that does not even talk!
Once our concoctions were finalized, we paid, filled our soda cups from the awesome Coca-Cola Freestyle machines which dispenses 146 different flavors of soda, and sat our keisters down in a nice comfy booth ready to begin our feast.
I love Queso more than most people love their significant others!
In hindsight, we may have ordered with our eyes and not our stomachs. The amount of chips provided with a single order would have been more than enough for Kat and I to share, and we will remember that for next time. Although some establishments provide free chips with your entree, Qdoba’s chips do seem to be better than the free ones, and the Guacamole and the Queso were much better that the competition’s offerings. The Guacamole is bursting with flavor, and the hint of garlic makes it very pleasant on the palate. The Cheese Sauce is also flavorful, but unlike most Queso, there is not an abundance of salt, so when the chips come into play, it is the perfect marriage. We had to muster up some serious willpower to stop dipping these crunchy bits of corn into these enjoyable sauces.
A Mexican Food Marriage Made in heaven!
When I was finally able to force myself to stop demolishing the giant pile of chips that was in front of me, I turned my attention to my main course. The Mexican Gumbo, which is described as a unique dish that combines tortilla soup, cilantro-lime rice, beans, salsa, and cheese, intrigued me, so I tried this first. I fell in love with this cardboard cauldron of savory goodness at the moment that spoonful hit my mouth. I made Kat try this dish immediately, and she confirmed that it was rather amazing. The slight smokiness of the tortilla soup and chicken mixed with the heat from the salsa and the calming effect of the cheese and rice combined forces to create a depth of flavor that is hard to achieve.
Gumbo is not just for swamp people anymore!
The tacos were on par with the rest of the Mexican Grills that I have visited with the added bonus of the Queso Diablo sauce, which I found extremely tasty. I do recommend eating the Hard Taco relatively quickly because the juicy awesomeness that the no cost extras provide is no match for the structural integrity of the shell. In other words, eat the hard taco first or it will crumble faster than a game of Jenga being played by a T-Rex, The Incredible Hulk, and Mike Tyson.
YAY!!!! It is Nakey Burrito time!
Weighing in at just under 700 Calories, Kat’s Burrito bowl was not only tasty but somewhat health conscious. Is it a side salad and a fruit cup? No, but this bowl O’ burrito was also much more filling than your common diet fare and tasted delicious to boot. The fajita vegetables were the star of this dish as they appeared to be fresh cut and sauteed in house and treated with a very pleasant spice profile.
I am not going to tell you that Qdoba is the next Orale in Jersey City, but as far as Casual Dining Mexican Grills are concerned, I feel they are a strong contender for the leader of the pack. I thoroughly enjoyed the plethora of choices Qdoba offered when I was creating my perfect meal. I also have to say I was very surprised that the Extras were actually not extra. I was almost sure that when I reached the cash register the receipt tape was going to start to fly as the cashier nickled and dimed my meal way up past the regular price, but they didn’t. Furthermore, the ingredients that were served to us seemed fresh and were seasoned quite well.
Smothered Burritos + The Blue Collar Foodie = One Happy Tummy!
If you need another reason to visit Qdoba, they just introduced their newest permanent menu item, The Smothered Burrito! These are dubbed, “Smothers,” and include one of three sauces that each offer their own unique flavor. The Tangy Verde is the Mild version, The Bold Red Chili is a robust toasted chile sauce with a dash of sweetness, and the Smoky Chipotle Cream is the hottest variety which is said to pack quite a wallop. I just missed the release of these alluring sauce covered bombshells and can’t wait to head back over to Qdoba to taste test these bad ass burritos.
Overall, I would recommend checking Qdoba out if you have not done so yet. If you do plan to visit this location, I suggest signing up for their rewards program to earn free swag and coupons!
Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, “I Brake For Animals?” Well, I have decided that I need to create a bumper sticker for my car that reads, “I Travel For Food.” Most people create this imaginary 10 mile radius around their house and refuse to venture outside of it when it comes time to grab a bite to eat, but I call shenanigans on that mentality. As my now trademarked bumper sticker will eventually read, I TRAVEL FOR FOOD!
I don’t mean one town over either folks; I am talking, “pack a freaking snack, because we are going over the river and through the damn woods to munch on the best Taco, Slice of Pizza, or BBQ that the Tri-State area has to offer.” Hell, I will even travel to different states to feast on the local fare if a foodie friend of mine tells me it is worth it. This approach to eating food, drinking adult beverages, and life in general has taken me down innumerable trails and created countless memories. This zeal is also to blame for my sometimes hectic, but always adventurous life.
Now depending on your age, you may already know that as you get older, your small tight knit circle of friends begins to expand like the paint on a Spirograph. After college, some of them choose the convenient yet somewhat costly suburbs, others yearn for the excitement of the uber expensive city, and others will choose the wildly inexpensive yet slightly inconvenient rural areas of the State.
Once these decisions are made, they are not always final, but I will assure you they will cause some tension in your group. No sane human being leaves the 4 A.M. last call, no need for a car, bar on every corner, City Life to come to the suburbs to hang out. Furthermore, the Suburbanites refuse to admit that they need to enter the city to have fun because they have everything the city has offer; they don’t, but they won’t listen to reason. Lastly, the rural folks were hornswoggled by low property tax and much bigger houses which convinced them that an hour drive to their nearest friend that did not join the cult of the cow, won’t be an inconvenience but some fantastic alone time where they can clear their head; it isn’t, it sucks, and they will soon figure it out!
Luckily though, most of my friends are foodies and follow the same aforementioned principal that I do, so it is somewhat easy to “trick” them or me into hanging out after not seeing each other for quite some time. All one of us has to say is, “Dude, you have to try this (Fill in the Food Here), it will change your friggin’ life!” Works every time, and we all know it, but as Spiderman once said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” so we are careful not to abuse this power.
While at Eleventh Hour Rescue’s Puptoberfest we happened upon a table that was giving out free samples of pulled pork. As I did not want to lose my ‘Merica card, I walked up to the table and tried some of this sauce laden miracle meat. My taste buds rejoiced as I devoured the shot glass of meat and asked the supplier of this magical concoction where I could purchase some of this magical pig. It turned out that Mr. Jeff Feldstein was working the table that day, which happens to be the mastermind behind Down To The Bone, located at 1594 Rt. 10 & Sussex Turnpike in Randolph, NJ 07869. Jeff saw the delight in my eye and simply said, “If you enjoy that, you have to visit my restaurant, Down To The Bone because our food will blow you away.”
I have to admit, I was slightly skeptical about the bold statement that Mr. Felstein just tossed my way. The pulled pork that I had just consumed potentially could have secured a spot in my Top 5 in the Pulled Pork category, but Jeff seemed confident in his claim.
A few days later, Jeff’s statement haunted my foodie day dreams, shut up you are reading a food blog, you know you have them too. Soon I knew that I had to visit Down To The Bone, and see if the food that they were serving at the brick and mortar was really that much better than the pulled pork I chomped on at Puptoberfest. I put my plan into action and contacted a couple that Kat and I have not seen in a while and said, “Dude, you have to try this (Insert obscenity) BBQ Joint, it will change your friggin’ life!” Whamo-Bammo a date was set and my food shakes were finally at ease.
Welcome to Down To The Bone!
When we pulled up to Down To The Bone, we were slightly confused because this particular restaurant is attached to The Clubhouse Golf Center. Do not let this peculiarity scare you away though, in fact we found it to be a bonus, and vowed to return when the sun was out and work up an appetite with a rousing game of mini golf.
This is where the magic happens and that right there is the magician.
When you enter Down To The Bone, the fantastic aroma of smoked meats is wafting through the air and instantly causes you to salivate. When we were seated, we were offered our menus as well as any glasses that we would need for the adult beverages that we brought with us. This establishment is a “bring your own bottle” restaurant, and I highly recommend that you bring beer; because, well beer goes with BBQ like bacon goes with everything.
I said a hip hops, Hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hops, and you don’t stop, a rock it!
As the frothy head of this bold IPA slowly dissipated, we perused our menus to decide what magical meats would grace our plates this evening. I should probably preface this review by saying that I am not a rookie when it comes to BBQ by any means. I have traveled quite extensively and feasted on a plethora of slow cooked meats, and if there is any specific genre of food that I would consider myself an expert of, it would be the glorious gastronomic classification of Barbecue.
A Divine Plate Of Swine!
It did not take long for me to come to a decision, which is rare, but I tend to follow the same basic rules the first time I dine at a BBQ joint. Firstly, I find the largest combination of meats that I can order; in this case it was a Three Meat Combo, then I order the three things that every BBQ place worth the wood it is burning should be able to make. Ribs, Brisket, and Pulled Pork. In my opinion, any spot that can’t make these three staples of the BBQ world shouldn’t be allowed to sully the name of BBQ!
This was more like corn cake than traditional corn bread which I found surprisingly tasty!
As for side dishes, I also have a few select items that I use to judge a BBQ joints worth. These sides should be, and most likely are, on every BBQ menu from here to Texas and back, and I want to try every last one of them. My go-to sides are none other than, Baked Beans, Collard Greens, and Corn Bread. The rest of our contingent followed my lead and ordered a combination platter as well. My BBQ brother from another mother went with the three meat combo; whereas our daintier, and slightly less gluttonous, wives opted for the two meat combination.
There is something delightfully Southern about a bowl full of greens.
We ordered our meal from the owner/waiter/host Jeff Feldstein and after he relayed our order to the kitchen he came to our table to officially welcome us to his restaurant. I want to stress that he had no idea that I was there to review his establishment; he merely wanted to talk to his customers. His passion for not only the food that he serves, but the charitable events that he participates in, was immediately apparent. He spoke to us about the history of his restaurant, his homemade sauce, which he allowed us to try (spoiler alert, it was awesome), and invited us to come back on November 2, 2014 for The Wing Challenge that will benefit local charities.
If there was such a thing as Brisket Ball, this Brisket would be its Lebron James!
When are food arrived at our tables, I, of course, took the photos that you have been drooling over for about four paragraphs. That drool is not misplaced my friends. As I stated earlier, I am no BBQ Virgin, I am like the Paris Hilton of BBQ, if you get me, so I don’t just throw compliments around all willy-nilly when it comes to smoked yumminess. With that said, the brisket that Down To The Bone placed in front of me is hands down the best friggin’ brisket that has ever melted in my mouth and traveled into my belly.
Eating this chicken can cure any fowl mood. See what I did there?
Don’t get it twisted, everything was spectacular, even Kat’s chicken which is not always my favorite dish at barbecue places, but holy hell, the brisket was good! I mean, I still have dreams about it good. The chicken was extremely flavorful with a perfectly crispy skin and the meat wasn’t the slightest bit dry. Dry meat is the scourge of BBQ, and unfortunately Chicken tends to fall into this trap all too often when cooked using the traditional barbecue approach. Furthermore, Kat had the brilliant idea of dipping her chicken into Down To The Bone’s Homemade Buffalo Sauce which only enhanced the already tasty chicken’s flavor.
There ain’t nothing wrong with a bowl of swine!
I will once again mention that Down To The Bone’s pulled pork potentially could be in my top five pulled pork dishes of all time, but that would necessitate a blind taste test, an excel spreadsheet, and ain’t nobody got time for dat, so let’s just say it was damn good! The tender and succulent meat was left rather chunky which made for an excellence texture. The sauce that these tidbits of divine swine were tossed in was simply heavenly; a perfect melody of tangy and sweet leaving me wanting more after each and every one of my bites.
Not only were the main dishes tender, juicy, and downright delicious, the sides did not disappoint either. The beans were chock full of delightful bacon nuggets as you can see above. The bacon was sharing this vessel with expertly prepared beans, and they both were swimming in a slightly sharp sauce that made B&M Baked Beans taste like someone forget to place the ampersand in between those two letters. (For those of you that are slightly slow, that was a poop joke.)
Furthermore, the Mac and Cheese that Kat ordered had tremendous depth of flavor and was the perfect texture, not too gooey but not too firm. It tasted as if fifty different types of astonishing cheeses from all over the world attended a love-in, invited some noodles, and this was the epic offspring. I probably stole too much of this from Kat, but she loves me and luckily did not stab me with her fork.
What they say is true, once you eat this mac, you will never go back!
We all literally demolished our plates, leaving nothing but a graveyard of rib bones, cornbread crumbs, and empty plates with finger smeared sauce lines. After our meal was complete, Jeff once again visited our table, and we pelted him our praises. It appeared that this was not the first time Jeff was told that his food was absolutely amazing because he took the approval in stride. When we were done complimenting his fare, he made mention of the damage Kevin and I had done to our Three Meat Platters and informed us of The Epic Down To The Bone eating challenges. If you win said challenge, you win a Down To The Bone T-shirt and a place on the now empty Hall Of Fame!
Now that is a sandwich!
I understand that food in general is all about personal preference. To promise that Down To The Bone makes the best BBQ that you have had, or will ever have, is a foolish thing to guarantee. I will not make that hubristic mistake, however, I will state that it is now MY GO-TO BBQ. I feel that this endorsement should be at least enough to make you visit this relatively new restaurant. If you are a regular reader of The Blue Collar Foodie, you know that I have reviewed several BBQ joints that are much closer in proximity to me than Down To The Bone and loved each one of them for their own reasons, but I will now travel close to 45 minutes to sit my butt at Jeff’s tables and devour whatever he places in front me. I TRAVEL FOR FOOD!
If you read my blog often, you should already know how I feel about restaurants serving their final dish. Opening an eatery requires a tremendous amount of hard work and Rocky Mountain Oysters the size of Dolly Parton’s best attributes. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that within three years of realizing their vision almost sixty percent of owners are forced to close their doors for good. If you are a foodie, this statistic should be seared into your brain like the flesh of a perfectly prepared filet mignon. This figure quite simply haunts my dreams because I realize that at any given time one or more of my favorite epicurean harbors could disappear overnight, much like Paula Deen’s career.
This depressing statistic is one of the main reasons I got into blogging in the first place. I have made it my mission to not only climb on a soapbox and promote the local restaurants that make my taste buds dance like Shakira, but to additionally place this soapbox on a rooftop called the internets and shriek louder than these goats in order to keep remarkable eateries from failing.
Welcome to Casa de la Trova
One such restaurant that recently moved into my neck of the woods, taking over the location of a quaint crêperie that could not gain traction in the fickle world of food that is Bergen County, is Casa de la Trova Restaurant. This charming authentic Cuban Restaurant located at 12-56 River Road, in Fair Lawn, NJ not only serves some of the tastiest Cuban Cuisine in the area, but the wait staff is warm, welcoming, and super friendly to boot. Casa de la Trova is indubitably an eatery that every gourmand in Bergen County should visit and endorse because restaurants like these are about as rare as a Soccer player without a douchetastic haircut.
Casa de la Trova, being the new girl in town, has been getting slightly busy recently, so Kat and I made a reservation, which I recommend in order to avoid a wait. Another piece of information that you should know prior to making your way to Casa de la Trova is that they are B.Y.O.B., which is always appreciated by this Blue Collar Foodie. If you are reading this on your way there, relax, I got your back. Less than a block away at 13-05 River Road in Fair Lawn is a well-stocked liquor store named B & B Liquors that offers a great selection of wines and some pretty serious craft beers. As for the wait, I would not let it scare you too much, worst case scenario you can sit outside at one of their few outdoor tables and people watch until your table is ready.
Since we were good little foodies and had a reservation, we were seated and handed our menus as soon as we entered the restaurant. Kat and I take food pretty seriously, if you hadn’t noticed, and ordering can be a painstaking and perilous process when we go out together. Choosing what to eat is not a sprint with us, it is a marathon, and in order to shave some time off this lengthy procedure we have taken to doing some light research prior to visiting a new restaurant. Thanks to the interwebs, 9 out of 10 restaurants have their menu located on their website which allows us to narrow our dinner choices down before we even enter the restaurant and barring any specials that blow us way we are usually able to make a decision in the time that it takes a normal human being to choose their food.
Even though we did our homework, we always take one more glance at the menu just to be sure we did not miss anything. I know we are crazier than the Gary Busey tripping face on peyote while huffing paint, but if we can accept it, so should you, you judgmental prick! Satisfied with our choices, we ordered the Plato al trovador as an appetizer which was described as Croquetas, Papa rellena, pollito frito, tamal cubano, chorizo gallego & Carne frita tostones y maduros. Now if you are anything like me, and by that I mean a unilingual Caucasian that has failed every language course he has ever taken, the description above meant about as much as the following sentence would mean to Paris Hilton; Capitulation propagated by undeniably bureaucratic socioeconomic processes undoubtedly precedes collegiate admittance. Lucky for us, our trusty waiter was there to not only translate for us but to also ensure us that ordering this item was a wise decision.
As for entrees, I decided to go with The Pargo al Caribe which was described as a whole Red snapper cooked in a pot with jumbo shrimp & mussels topped with homemade wine & vodka sauce, and Kat chose the Pollo al Ajo, which was described as chicken on the bone sautéed with Spanish seasoning and lime juice topped with a homemade garlic sauce. With our order on its way to the kitchen, I poured a drink for my date, and we proceeded to have polite, mature dinner conversation about anything other than food while we awaited the arrival of our appetizer… who am I kidding, we talked about all the delicious food that was about to hit our table followed by a few minutes of off-colored jokes.
Plato al Trovador
Within minutes, our appetizer arrived, and we were not only impressed by the extremely generous portion size but also the astonishing aroma that was arising from what appeared to be a gigantic plate of fried awesomeness. With the methodical, somewhat obsessive-compulsive, precision of Dr. Sheldon Cooper , Kat and I split each portion of every item and tried them at the same time in order to compare notes. Some of the highlights for this dish were the Tamale that was expertly prepared in a corn husk and delivered the perfect combination of texture and taste. Then there was the Chorizo which was bursting with flavor and amazingly crispy. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Papa Rellena, which is a potato ball stuffed with beef, and the small fried pork nuggets that tasted even better when dipped into the garlicky sauce that was served with this wonderful dish.
Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Plato al Trovador
This appetizer was absolutely brilliant. I could write a paragraph on every single succulent morsel that appeared on that plate, but then this post would be 3,000 words long and no one wants that. What I will say is that this dish could easily feed a table of four, and if you find yourself looking for an appetizer when you visit Casa de la Trova, this is the beast for you!
Pargo al Caribe Close-Up
After we devoured our appetizer, our entrees were served shortly after. As my plate was delivered, I was taken aback by the beautiful presentation of the whole fish, mixed seafood, and salad greens. Upon seeing this plate, I could tell that Chef Juan Ayala takes pride in each dish he prepares, which in a world full of cookie cutter chain restaurants, is a welcomed change.
Look at that fish!
Not only was this dish beautifully prepared and plated, it was cooked to perfection. The flavor was spot on, and the small slots that were cut into the snapper made it tremendously easy to eat. Plus, the addition of the shrimp and mussels just added to the personality of this dish, not to mention the value.
Pollo al Ajo
I was too busy paying attention to my plate to realize that Kat’s dish nearly looked and smelled as good as mine. If you ever meet my wonderful wife, you should thank her, not only does she edit my pieces before I throw them into cyberspace, but she also lets me try every dish she gets in order to properly review the eateries we frequent. I am pretty freaking happy that this rule exists because not only was the chicken damn near fall off the bone tender, the sauce was good enough to make a politician tell the truth.
Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice
Each of our entrees came with a rice of our choice and a small side of salad greens. The rice by itself was good, but considering we were in a Cuban Restaurant I expected as much. However, Kat had the excellent idea to pour her chicken sauce on the rice, and it stepped the side dish to a whole new level.
If it was not obvious, or you just skipped reading the words of this article and looked at the food porn, Kat and I enjoyed our visit to Casa de la Trova Restaurant. The employees were simply wonderful from the smile we received when we entered the door to the helpful assistance we received when we needed it throughout our meal. In addition to the staff, every bit of food that we tried at this establishment tasted as good as it looked, and it looked as good as it tasted.
So grab a few comrades, sorry I could not go an entire article about a Cuban restaurant without any communist jokes, and a couple of cold ones and find your way to Casa de la Trova. The more we as a foodie community support the local eclectic restaurants that move into our neighborhood, the more unbelievable restaurants will call the 201 their home!
Somehow, through the cloud of smoke that was the 60’s and the disaster that was the 70’s, the scientific minds of those generations were able to create mobile phones and personal computers which forever changed the marketing world of today. Damn near all of us carry more information that could ever be housed in one single structure in our pockets, and this data can be accessed 24 hours a day with the swipe of a finger. This technology is continuously evolving and allowing marketing firms to bombard you with immersive advertisements that are harder to ignore than a crying baby on an international flight. So, even though my blog relies almost exclusively on the very same annoying devices that I just flamed, I am somewhat drawn to restaurants that ignore the last twenty years of innovation and much like the honey badger simply don’t care to be a member of the internets.
I think I am attracted to these establishments because I feel like they are shrouded in a cloak of mystery and mysticism as they operate in a world that needs no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to survive like some sort of restaurant sorcerer. At first when I drive past these archaic relics of the restaurant world, I scoff, but with each pass, I begin to get just a little more curious about what is contained within those clandestine walls. My most recent ride on the crazy train went something like this:
Why don’t they need to embrace the limitless world of Social Media? Do they think they are better than the rest of us? That’s it; they are just pretentious smug jerks! But what if they are not? What if their food is so damned amazeballs that they know if they join the social media scene they would break the internets with their culinary genius? What if the Vincent Van freaking Gogh of Lebanese food has been cooking down the street from my house at Rose’s Place and I am missing it?
These rides on the insanity railroad are usually short, considering they always end the same way. That is, Kat and I visiting said restaurant to make sure I am not missing out on something simply because the googles doesn’t know about it. The most recent stop on the irrational rail line was as I mentioned in my earlier rant, Roses Place, located at 32-01 Broadway, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410.
Kat and I were accompanied by two of our gastrologist friends that were intrigued by Rose’s James Bond like internet existence as well. Although there are a few spots in the front of the building, if you are eating at Rose’s I highly recommend parking and entering in the rear. (TWSS) We chose this course of action, and parked in the back and walked to the back door.
Once we entered this fine establishment, we were welcomed by the friendly and warm staff that offered us our choice of table. We chose a table that had decent lighting for pictures, because my wife hates me, and we were offered menus. Rose’s is a BYOB establishment and even though we chose not to BOO, Bring Our Own, many of the other customers had.
With menus in hand, our attention was drawn to the extensive fare that Rose’s Place offers. We are not just talking your normal Hummus and Kebabs here people, we are talking snails, lamb brains, tongue, Frog’s Legs, and more slightly atypical dishes. Roses’ menu is so comprehensive that we had to ask the waiter for more time at least twice before deciding on what to share as appetizers and what to get for our entrees. For all the people that are not absolutely food crazy in the room, choosing a meal at a new restaurant for me is what I would imagine it is like for brides to choose a dress or for Lindsay Lohan to choose a new drug of choice, in other words it is not done lightly.
During this conversation, what I could only describe as a pickle plate was delivered to our table accompanied by a basket of pita. The pickle plate was full of vibrant colors thanks to the greens of the pickles, hot peppers, and olives, which contrasted quite well from the deep purple color of what I think was pickled horseradish root. I was happier than Katy Perry eating Kale when this arrived on the table because my Jewish roots basically define pickled anything as a food group all to itself.
After several minutes of discussion, debate, and several acts of flip-flopping, we signaled the waiter back to our table, and we rattled off a veritable laundry list of foodie fare that would make a stoned Shaggy and Scooby more jealous than they are of Colorado residents this week.
For our appetizers, we decided on the Hummus, the Falafel, the Armenian Salad for the table, and two Lentil Soups in an attempt to fend off the chill we had from dealing with the snow during the day. As far as entrees went, Steph went with the Inam Bayaldi, described as sautéed eggplant with tomato, onion, and garlic, Tara decided upon the Shawerma Platter defined as shredded beef marinated in seasoning, whereas Kat landed on the Kufta with Tahini, explained as ground lamb with tahini sauce. I however decided that I was feeling somewhat adventurous and threw caution to the wind by ordering the Frog’s Legs which were alluringly described as being sautéed in garlic & fresh cilantro.
With our gargantuan food order on its way to the kitchen, we started to discuss the interior of the restaurant since everyone at this table knew that I was going to be writing this review soon and wanted to make sure it was all inclusive. We agreed that the lighting was perfect, not offensively bright nor dive bar dark. The music that was playing not only set the Middle Eastern mood but was not loud enough to drown out our conversations but just loud enough to suppress our neighbors conversations. All in all the design of the restaurant’s interior was pleasant and conducive to eating and drinking.
When our appetizers arrived, I, of course, had to put everyone in a holding pattern while I took the compulsory pictures. I apologized to Steph and Tara, but informed Kat that she gets no apology because she married a crazy foodie, and the food pictures are exactly what the Mayor was talking about when he said for worse!
All of the food looked and smelled utterly fantastic. So much so, that I was unsure which dish to devour first. Luckily, our waiter brought several small plates to the table so we could share all the appetizers. We each shoveled portions of the dishes on our individual plates and began to try each and every one.
The Falafel was beyond appetizing and was the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. When this ball of yummy was paired with the sauce that came with it, it bordered on food pornography.
The Hummus which I believe was house made was just the right texture and full of flavor. The addition of the colorful spices that garnished the bowl made this dish, more attractive than Mila Kunis in Black Swan. Armed with the Pita that was already on the table, this hummus appetizer was simply flawless.
As for the Armenian Salad which was described on the menu and by the waiter as spicy, I guess they had issues in the past with people not expecting, and then not enjoying a zesty salad. However, that was the very reason I ordered it and subsequently enjoyed the hell out of it! The slight spiced nature of the seasoning combined with the citrusy dressing made for a delightful treat.
The Lentil soup was like a warm blanket for my belly. I did not have much of this scrumptious liquefied beantastic concoction because I am not a huge soup fan, but from the small amount I did sip, I could tell it was quality soup. Kat was a huge fan and basically ate her portion and mine without a dispute.
After the appetizer round, I was somewhat full, but that feeling did not last too long because once the entrees hit the table it was game on. Sometimes you have to look at eating the same way you should look at running, when you hit a wall, and your body says stop, pay no attention. Your body is a bigger liar than Bernie Madoff, and that is the truth!
Once again I took my photos while my cohorts drooled over the dishes that were placed in front of them. After the photos were snapped, I dexterously picked up a leg of a frog which was lightly battered and then pan fried in an aromatic garlic sauce and brought it to my mouth. I was unsure what to expect as this was my first frog leg, but after the first bite, I knew that I was in good hands at Rose’s. The delicate white meat of the frog flaked off the bone and was extremely complex in flavor. The best way I can describe the way the meat tasted was somewhere between chicken and fish, which I found to be delightful.
Slowly but surely, I walked my fork around the table, with permission of course, and tasted each of my fellow epicurean adventurer’s dishes. I started with Tara’s Shawerma Platter which was seasoned better than any Shawerma I have had in quite some time. The flavor was so impeccable that I did not even want to dip the yumminess into the sauce that was provided, and I am a sauce fiend.
Steph’s Inam Bayaldi was also quite good. The best part about this dish was the texture. I find that eggplant has a tendency to become a mushy pile of tasteless goo in the wrong hands, but the Chef at Rose’s was able to keep the eggplant somewhat firm, without under cooking it. The flavors married well and when mixed with the rice that was provided with each of our entrees it was a very balanced meal.
Kufta with Tahini
Finally, Kat’s Kufta with Tahini was nothing short of delicious. The Lamb was not gamey at all speaking to the profound skill of the Chef and his crew. Furthermore, the Tahini sauce was not overbearing, which I was concerned of, but complemented this dish faultlessly.
A bite of Kufta
Rose’s Place was a great experience and I will return very shortly to try the Lamb Brains that were calling to me on this visit. Everything I ate was not only tasted wonderfully but contrary to other reviews that I read online. The portions were very reasonable when factoring in the price of the individual dishes. I still can’t believe the lack of their internet presence and could only imagine what a good public relations firm could do for their business, but I now understand how Rose’s exists in our post dial-up world. The answer is not that they are smug; it is that their food is the real deal!