Holy Hell, Habit Burger, May Be Habit Forming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Habit Burger

Welcome to Habit Burger

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

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

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

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

The fixins'

The fixins’

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

Double Char Burger

Double Char Burger

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

Onion Rings

Onion Rings

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

Fried Green Beans

Fried Green Beans

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

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

Single Char Burger

Single Char Burger

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

Click to add a blog post for The Habit Burger Grill on Zomato

The Blue Collar Foodie Celebrates the Happiest Hour at Rare The Steak House

There are 24 hours in each day and a few of these hours get special titles. Some of these designations symbolize the good times while others denote the bad. For example no one likes “Rush Hour”, except for of course Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Then there is the “Witching Hour”, which I tend to use to indicate the time of night when the bars are closing and all the drunks are out on the road. And the term “afterhours” used to be fun and exciting until I got old and now the mere thought of an after hour’s club makes me want to punch my 19 year self in the face.

However, some of these distinctive hours of the day are better than bad, they are good! One of these wonderful 60 minute blocks of awesome sauce is the Lunch Hour. Tell me you don’t walk into the office on a daily basis, open up the first email out of the 100 or so that have somehow found their way into your inbox, even though you were the last one to leave the office yesterday and the first one in that morning, and begin to calculate how many seconds until the holiest of hours during your eight hour shift.

Lunch hour may be the king during the day, but let’s be honest; anything that breaks up the monotony of your work day would reign supreme.   On the other hand, there is only one period of time that millions of Americans embrace every day to wash away the contempt and disdain that their normal daily activities produce within them. This magical interval allows us to rinse the hate from within us one pleasing pint at a time and is appropriately entitled Happy Hour!

Rare The Steak House

Happy Hour is a fairytale like time that combines the ending of the work day, cheap beer, and foodie friendly appetizers all rolled up into one enchanted time frame. And, since every fairytale needs a castle, I present to you, Rare The Steak House, located at 440 Main Street, in Little Falls, NJ 07424 and their epic Happy Hour specials.

Rare is actually pretty well known for their impressive dinner menu, featuring some unbelievable cuts of meat that are wet aged for at least four weeks before being grilled to perfection and delivered to your table. They pair these remarkable slabs of yumminess with an extensive wine list, and gourmet sides such as Rare Fries Tossed with Truffle Oil and Parmesan Dust. Just one look at their menu will clue you in that Rare The Steak House knows what they are doing when it comes down to supper, but the question is, does this knowledge and execution transfer to the very the different world of entertaining the Happy Hour crowd?

The Answer to this question is very simply, YES! I know I am usually exceedingly verbose, but if something acts like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you make Duck a l’Orange, not hasenpfeffer.

Welcome to Rare

Welcome to Rare

Rare has a great setup for Happy Hour because as you walk into the establishment the bar and the dining room are separated fairly well. Nothing is worse than lifting a shot of bourbon to the sky with your co-workers while Jim from accounting wishes an S.T.D. onto your boss, only to realize that the Smith family is celebrating Grammy’s 95th birthday at the table next to you, and she chose that phrase to be the one thing she hears that night. Furthermore, Rare’s in-house music is not loud enough for you to have to scream over it, but not soft enough so you can hear Bill from Human Resources chewing his food like a cow eating a bag full of big league chew.

Happy Hour is not just about shots, beers, and wrong decisions, it is also about food. Rare has you covered here too! On our trip there, we sampled some of the offerings that grace the Happy Hour Menu at Rare. Kat and I were reasonably hungry after a long, hard day at work, so we decided to order four things off the menu and split them between the two of us. For our first round of food, we ordered the Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings paired with a Roquefort Dip and the In House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze. We of course added two specially priced beers to our order as well, because…well…Happy Hour!

Since we were ordering the Spicy Hot Wings, we ordered two beers that I thought would pair well with that dish. I suggested a Stella Artois for Kat, and I went with the Radeberger Pilsner. Both of these beers are light and crisp which are perfect to pair with the spicy wings in order to cut through the heat and remove some of the spice from the palate.

Rare Bruschetta

Rare Bruschetta

With a beer in hand and a few sips in our bellies, we were offered a plate of complimentary bruschetta and bread while we waited for our appetizers to arrive. The bruschetta was light and flavorful which meant it was an impeccable amuse-bouche to prime our appetites for the food that was being prepared in the kitchen as we watched Sports Center on the large flat screen Televisions that adorn the walls of the bar.

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Shortly after we polished off the tasty bruschetta, the food we ordered arrived at the table. The moment the wings landed in front of me, I was drawn to them like a sunset to the ocean. In my mind, Chicken Wings are the quintessential Happy Hour appetizer. The primal aspect of eating meat off the bone while your fingers get stained with the sauce of the G-ds combined with the anxiety that at any time a juicy morsel might fall from the sky, destroying your shirt and tie, creates an air of freedom because you know you could never eat these spicy gifts from the heavens in the confines of your own personal hell.

Rare’s wings did not disappoint either. They had some actual kick to them unlike many other so called “hot” wings that you find at other establishments throughout the Garden State. For some reason New Jersey seems to the home to bland wing instead of the hot wing. When paired with the slight sweetness of the maple glaze and dipped into the fire extinguishing Roquefort dip which further amplified the sweet maple flavor, these wings sang a song of wingy goodness.

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

Next up for Kat and I was the In House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze. First off, I would like to state that I should recuse myself from judging this dish, considering that I love bacon more than most people love their pets. Relax people, I love my pets more than most people love their wives, and I love my wife more than most people love themselves, so please do not send me hate mail about that comment.

For me, there is just something special about bacon, and cured pork belly gets lumped into the category of salty, cured, strips of awesomeness so therefore I, of course, thought this dish was magnificent. The real test of Rare’s Pork Belly however was to see if they could bring Kat, who secretly doesn’t think bacon is all that wonderful, to the smoky dark side. Although she won’t be buying an “I love Bacon T-shirt,” anytime soon, she did admit that she liked this dish, which is quite an accomplishment for what amounted to a really thick slice of bacon. If you do order this slab of gooey greatness, do yourself a favor and eat it from the inside out in order to save the slightly burnt crispy ends for the last two bites.

With these items eaten, Kat and I once again set our eyes on the Happy Hour Menu to choose our next victims. We decided on the Steak Sandwich with Hot Peppers and Onions and the Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw.   Since we were ordering roasted and grilled meats for this course, Kat and I decided to order some heavier beers to stand up to the robust flavors that Steak and Short Ribs bring to the table. Kat ordered a Guinness whereas I ordered the Sam Adams Winter Ale.

Our very responsive and helpful waitress brought our drinks back almost immediately and Kat and I began to discuss the finer points of our day while waiting for the food to arrive. The atmosphere at Rare lends itself to being open and being able to converse freely. The décor is not overly pretentious, but not divey and dirty either, much like Goldilocks found the Baby Bear’s digs in the acclaimed fable, Rare is just right.

Cheesesteak Sliders

Cheesesteak Sliders

When this round of food hit the table my selection of which dish to attack first was much more difficult. They both looked and smelled spectacular, so it was a hard decision, but in the end, Kat’s South Jersey-ness came out and we dove into the steak sandwich first. Not only was the steak expertly seasoned, but it was tender enough to eat it like a sandwich without pulling all the meat out with each and every bite.  Furthermore, the fries were crispy on the outside and warm and mushy on the inside, exactly how a fry should be. At $6.00, this dish was by far the best bargain on the menu considering the generous portion size of both the sandwich and the French fries.

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

After demolishing the steak sandwich, we turned our attention to the Short Rib Sliders. These two juicy patties come with Cole Slaw that was neatly packaged in a cucumber slice. This attention to detail and plate appearance separates Rare from the Hooters of the world, that prepare each plate with about as much love as Michael Vick has for dogs. Not only was the plate pretty, but the Sliders were pretty freaking amazing themselves. The patties were smothered in a delicious tangy sauce that complimented the meat flawlessly. Not to mention, the buns were obviously fresh and high quality.

If you have ever been to Rare The Steak House, you know it is not your average Happy Hour establishment, but that is what makes it great. You are not going to have to deal with a bunch of 21 year old knuckleheads acting a fool doing body shots of Fireball. Furthermore, you get gourmet food at a superb price, everything on their Happy Hour menu is $6 bucks or less! To top it off, the atmosphere is sophisticated yet amicable, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. This Blue Collar Foodie highly suggests you give Rare a shot at being your Happy Hour headquarters!

Click to add a blog post for Rare the Steakhouse on Zomato

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

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

Seasons 52 Glass

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

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

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

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

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

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

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

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

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

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

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

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

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

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

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

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

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

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

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

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

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

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

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

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

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

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

Cheers

Cheers

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

Click to add a blog post for Seasons 52 on Zomato

Noodle Chu + Dim Sum = One Happy Blue Collar Foodie

Webster’s dictionary describes Dim Sum as, “traditional Chinese food consisting of a variety of items (as steamed or fried dumplings, pieces of cooked chicken, and rice balls) served in small portions. Whereas, The Blue Collar Foodie describes Dim Sum as, “a magical buffet of enigmatic food offerings that makes my foodie soul happier than Grumpy Cat on Prozac.” (Sorry about starting this blog post off the same way horrible wedding speeches usually commence on bootleg sitcoms, but I thought it worked.)

If you have never experienced Dim Sum before, the epicurean in me cries for you and if you have and claim to not enjoy it, then you are crazier than Paul “Bear” Vasquez appears to be in his famous viral video Double Rainbow!   Dim Sum is not only about the food that is offered, it is also about the unique way this fare is served. Traditionally, these mini meals are carted around the dining area while the customers choose as many different varieties as they wish to become part of their smorgasbord for all to enjoy. This distinctive style of service is what makes Dim Sum not only a meal but a fun interactive way to dine with friends. Furthermore, when visiting a Dim Sum eatery, you should channel your inner Peter Griffin and be happy that at Dim Sum, the Buffet comes to you!

Noodle Chu Sign

Recently one of my foodie friends recommended a restaurant named Noodle Chu which is located at 770 US Hwy 46 in Parsippany New Jersey that transforms into a Dim Sum establishment every Sunday. Normally, Sundays are reserved for cooking, drinking, and watching football for this Blue Collar Foodie, but I just could not resist a brunch time Dim Sum extravaganza.

When you approach Noodle Chu, the slightly dilapidated sign that hangs outside does not scream, “this is the restaurant you want to visit!” But I have fallen into the judging a book by its cover trap more times than I would like to admit, so I listened to Admiral Ackbar’s voice as it bounced around my brain and entered Noodle Chu with an open mind and an empty belly.

Once inside, Noodle Chu, I could tell I had come to the right place for Dim Sum in New Jersey. From the outside it looks like a small establishment that could hold at best 50 people, but much like the Tardis, Noodle Chu is bigger on the inside and is comprised of two dining areas instead of just the one that we could see from the parking lot. Furthermore, at 10:45 in the morning, which I might add is not a traditionally normal time for Dim Sum, there was already a substantial amount of people seated and eating their way through brunch. Even more impressive, was the amount of Asian families that were partaking in Noodle Chu’s festivities which is always a good sign for how authentic the food truly is.

As we were seated, the cart operators moved towards our location like a hoard of Zombies that just caught a whiff of fresh meat. They circled our table and began to offer us dozens of different dishes from their appetizing carts o’plenty. The golden rule of Dim Sum, that is more important than any of the eight rules of Fight Club, is be selective when ordering.   Many Dim Sum virgins allow the servers to continue to pile dishes upon dishes of food within the first 10 minutes of their arrival and become over stuffed before they even see what it on all the carts. The main thing to remember is to pace yourself, Dim Sum is not a sprint, it is a marathon, and in order to finish it, you must follow the sage tortoise’s advice, “slow and steady wins the race.”

Another important thing to remember is that it is okay to say no to the servers. You must understand that it is their job to sell you as many items as they can in a short period of time, thus raising your bill and clearing the table quicker. Furthermore, some of them are pushier than Ben Roethlisberger on a Viagra and Cialis cocktail during a homecoming celebration, so you will have to be firm when declining a dish. Honestly though this ordering dance is all part of the fun of the Dim Sum experience.

Dim Sum

Full Lazy Susan

With the Dim Sum directive in mind, we began to choose the most appealing dishes from the carts that were passing by. Slowly but surely the giant lazy Susan in the middle of our table was filling with steamer bowls, dishes, and bowls all chock full of awesomeness until we decided that our first round was complete. Once this decision was made it was time for my favorite part of any meal with friends, our first collective bite. In my opinion, this naturally occurring, simultaneous taste of the ensuing banquet is better than any shot that I could ever participate in at a bar. With the first bite down, the First Annual Blue Collar Foodie Dim Sum Invitational began, and it was epic!

Dim Sum Close Up

Dim Sum Close Up

Normally, this is the part of my article where I explain the food that I ate in detail and try to give you a case of food envy, so you will feel obligated to venture to the spot I am reviewing. I would love to say that I could do that, but as I stated earlier in my definition, part of the fun of Dim Sum is that for the most part you have no idea what you are eating. Even if you swallow your pride and ask what the dish you are selecting off the cart is comprised of, most of the time a combination of a language barrier, the ambient noise of the restaurant, and the soft speaking voice of the server leaves you with little to no information about what you are about to eat. The good news is every dish we ate at Noodle Chu was mouthwateringly foodie approved and after the first bite even an untrained palate can usually ascertain the basic ingredients what was ordered.

Fried Pork

Fried Pork!

A word of caution though, if you have friends that have food allergies, are Gluten Free, vegan, vegetarian, or keep Kosher, I suggest you leave them home while you enjoy your epicurean adventure at Noodle Chu. Not that they would not be able to find something to eat, but each time they take a bite of something new, they would be rolling the dice with their dietary concerns. Dim Sum does not lend itself to picky, finicky, or squeamish eaters either, considering that you may never find out what you just ingested, and one must be okay with that concept when partaking in this exploratory cuisine.

Mystery Dumplings

Mystery Dumplings

Don’t be afraid, most of the dishes that you will be served will consist of the basic building blocks of normal Chinese Food. You will find pork, beef, seafood, and tofu as the main components of most of the dishes that you will be offered. If you are however feeling frisky, and want to try some of the more adventurous options, you should be able to sample tripe, chicken feet, squid, and other assorted strangeness, so keep your eyes peeled as the carts go whizzing by.

Holy Shrimp

Holy Shrimp!!!

As with every restaurant I review, I am always concerned about price and trying to figure out the pricing of Dim Sum is about as easy as learning how to play craps, while reading The Silmarillion, and listening to Death Metal. In other words, good luck with that. Just to explain how ridiculously difficult it is to keep track of the bill, of the eight people that were eating at our table, two of them were accountants and three of them teach at the University Level, and we were still as lost as Hurley, Kate, Mr. Eko, Sawyer, and Jack.

05FullLazy

No worries, my fellow frugal foodies, after 29 spectacular dishes, the total per person tally including tip and tax was a paltry $16.00.   That is right, you read that correctly! I could not believe it either, I thought there must be a mistake, but even after a recount the bill remained the same. I was in awe, I was dumbfounded, I was in love with Noodle Chu!!!

The general theme of this blog post, in case you missed it, is that Dim Sum and The Blue Collar Foodie are BFFs, and Noodle Chu is our new rendezvous point. I used to have to travel all the way to New York City for high quality, inexpensive, Dim Sum, but that is not the case anymore, thanks to Noodle Chu!

Click to add a blog post for Noodle Chu Dim Sum Seafood on Zomato

The Blue Collar Foodie Praises His Hometown’s Dish Eatery

Dish's Broiled Trout

Dish’s Broiled Trout

As Elton John once sang, “It’s the Circle of Life and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place on the path unwinding, in the circle, the circle of life.”  This strangely deep and poignant verse from a song that was created for a Disney movie not only describes the circle of life for living creatures but explains the development, growth, and eventual demise of eateries as well.  As Simba learns through the Lion King, mourning cannot be perpetual and a time comes when one must end the lamentation phase and move on to the acceptance stage.

When a restaurant closes its doors for the last time, it is always a time full of melancholy and sorrow, but as many a Disney movie has taught us, that gloomy period will eventually give birth to a ray of hope, because as one chapter ends another one is sure to follow.  The Brunch Club Café in Fair Lawn was a staple on Fair Lawn Avenue for as long as I can remember, so when the doors were closed for the last time, I, like most Fair Lawnites, were sad to see them go.  Soon after though, as I drove, walked, or ran past, I noticed the resurrection had begun and after several weeks from the ashes of the Brunch Club rose the Dish Eatery located at 19-01 Fair Lawn Ave., Fair Lawn, N.J. 07410.

Click here to read the rest of the article…

Dish Eatery on Urbanspoon

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry At The Twisted Elm, All Before Noon!

Sometimes it is difficult to be a foodie and not lose some man points from time to time. I occasionally find myself choosing to attend a wine tasting instead of a bar crawl or missing out on a trip to the ball park due to a restaurant opening. Most of the time I try to blame Kat for these somewhat less than blue collar decisions in order to make sure that my man card is not revoked or suspended. With that said, there is one thing in the foodie culture that I feel gets a bad reputation for being pompous, pretentious, and damn near douche, and that is Brunch.

Shenanigans I say to every red blooded American male that scoffs at brunch as if it was high tea with a side of ballet. I have heard this argument far too many times from my blue collar brethren, and I can no longer sit in silence while the best meal of the week gets discriminated against by ill-informed scallywags that think a scone is that fancy thing on the wall that holds a light bulb.

Relax, The Blue Collar Foodie did not go soft, I am not going to have to change my website to www.thewhitecollarnancy.com. I am just trying to preach the Gospel of Brunch, as if I was Matthew, and Bacon was Jesus. That is right people, brunch equals bacon, and if you can’t get behind that type of algebra then we simply can no longer be friends. I am serious, I will wait, go to Facebook.com right now and unfriend me because if you hate swine, you can’t be a friend of mine!

If that simple equation does not change your mind about brunch, I would like to formally invite you to the advanced brunch symposium that The Twisted Elm, located at 435 River Drive in Elmwood Park, NJ, holds every Sunday from 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M where you will be schooled in Brunchology. Your first lesson is as follows; Twisted Brunch=Bacon + Booze! Solve for stop talking junk about brunch and get your arse to the Twisted Elm.

Twisted Elm MuffinsThat is right the Twisted Elm, this food critics’ favorite Gastro Pub is serving brunch and just like everything else I have ever eaten there, they did not disappoint. First off, just for walking in the door and choosing to allow the Twisted Elm to blow your taste buds out of the back of your skull, they will give you a complimentary brunch cocktail of your choice; a Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Bellini, or a Screwdriver. If a free drink is not enough to entice you to venture over to the Elm, they also will provide your table with a basket of assorted breakfast muffins complete with a berry butter that will make you want to slap your mother for serving you that bland salty stick of non-sense that you once thought was butter, but now will only refer to as “I damn well know it is not Berry Butter!”

Just in case you are not yet convinced that Brunch is as manly as eating a steak off the bone sans utensils while shooting a shotgun on a construction site from behind the wheel of a monster truck, let’s talk food! The Twisted Elm is not about to serve just any old fare to their Brunch clientele, much like the other food that is served at this establishment, they add their own twist. See what I did there? Twist… Twisted… Suffice it to say, this is not your grandma’s brunch menu. With dishes that inspire foodgasms like the Huevos Rancheros, Fried Chicken and Bacon Waffles, Irish Eggs Benedict, and Shrimp & Grits, The Twisted Elm is taking brunch to a whole new level, and I am all about it.

Twisted Elm DrinkOn my most recent visit to The Elm, Kat and I could not decide what we should get so we decided to order two items that piqued our interest, and we would share them. I decided that the Chicken and Bacon waffles needed to be in my belly, and Kat, being the pizza addict that she is, found the Sausage and Egg Brunch Pizza to be quite intriguing. While the rest of our group ordered, visions of Bacon Waffles danced in my head, and I was ecstatic. With our orders on their way, there was only one thing left to do, imbibe our brunch intoxicants and discuss our love for having an excuse to drink at 11:30 A.M. on a Sunday. Oh, and adjust our fantasy football rosters of course.

Twisted Elm Chicken and Bacon Waffles Soon our food was delivered to our table and as it arrived, I was happy that we had just got finished running the Elmwood Park Chamber of Commerce 2nd Annual 5K Run-Walk, because the first thing I noticed was that the portion sizes were amazing.   I am not talking slightly larger than I was expecting, I am talking, so big that Roseanne Barr and Chris Christie would have a hard time finishing these wonderfully indulgent plates of yumminess. Within seconds, I was no longer intimated by the magnitude of my meal, but rather I was captivated by the notion that I would get to eat every last bite of the food that was being placed in front of me, because it was at that moment that the tantalizing aroma of this deviousness made its way to my olfactory senses.

I fiercely fought the urge to rip into my food with the tenacity of a caveman before everyone’s plate was in front of them, and I had taken all the necessary photos. After a well fought battle, I was able to cut a piece of chicken, stab a small section of waffles, and dip both of these magical morsels into the Blueberry agave maple syrup that is served with this dish. That forkful of food is what Willis was talking about, why Ferris Bueller really took a day off, and the only thing in this Universe that Ron Burgundy loves more than Scotch. The combination of the crispy savory skin, the tremendously moist meat, the soft baconey waffle, and the sweet syrupy goodness made my knees buckle worse than Robert Griffin III this season when any defensive player gets within 5 feet of him.

Twisted Elm PizzaI was slightly depressed that I had made, what Kat declared as “a legally binding agreement that could potentially lead to divorce if broken” once she saw my meal. That is until I tasted her Brunch Pizza which apparently was made of anti-depressants and flavor grenades. I was worried that the eggs and sausage would not mix properly on top of a pizza crust, but my apprehension was pointless because this pie was a marriage made in foodie heaven. The fact that the sausage was breakfast style instead of Italian added the perfect amount of tanginess to subtleness of the eggs and cheese.   It also helped that this astounding pizza was cooked to precision in a brick oven causing the crust to be crispy and light.

Twisted Elm Eggs BenedictWhile Kat and I were demolishing our meals, our friends were busy inhaling theirs. They informed us that the Shrimp and Grits and The Irish Eggs Benedict were both worthy of a test next time around. Meanwhile, we all were very happy with our complementary cocktails that were expertly blended and, as always at the Elm, top notch.

Just to reiterate my point, brunch is not some mamby pamby meal that is only for old ladies and rich folk, at least not at the Twisted Elm that is. Their behemoth portions, fantastic cocktails, and foodie inspired dishes unite every Sunday to create the perfect pre-kickoff man date that you have been waiting for. Instead of losing a man point every time I go to Brunch, I postulate that every Sunday that you are not at the Twisted Elm for Brunch you lose 2 man points, starting now!

Click to add a blog post for Twisted Elm on Zomato