The Ultimate 2015 NYC Restaurant Week Survival Guide

NYC Restaurant Week

Well, it is that time of year again folks. Old man winter is being his normal douchebag self and the rich folk are hibernating or vacationing. We can all put on our Grumpy Cat sweat shirts, hunker down in our houses, and hate them as hard as Yankee fans will soon hate A-Roid or we can embrace one of the few perks that accompanies this frigid season.

Since this is a food blog it should be quite obvious that I am referring to the bi-annual event known as Restaurant Week. From February 16, 2015 until March 6, 2015 we, the commoners, can dine like royalty for a fraction of the normal damage that these heavy-weight gastronomic contenders would normally do to our wallets.

Instead of bills that are larger than the New York Mets budget for 2015, if you visit one of the 340 restaurants that are participating in Restaurant Week this year (The most ever by the way), you will only pay $25.00 for Lunch and $38.00 for Dinner. To make things even better, those prices include an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert.

As with everything else in life, you should always be wary of deals that sound too good to be true, and there are a few things one should know before you venture out to the great city of Gotham, in search of foodie gold.

1: Friends Don’t Let Friends Binge Drink and Dine

This ain’t college anymore Jockey Mc. FratPants. At this fine establishments the hooch is expensive and the fare is skillfully seasoned. If you still answer to a nickname such as Drunk Tom, The Slutbuster, or Senor Tequila, this event may not be for you.

Furthermore, if you are from New Jersey you are probably used to BYOB establishments that help alleviate the cost of dining out at most local restaurants. In New York, however, liquor licenses are easier to get than the internet clap from a torrent file. The liquor bill at these eateries can quickly and inadvertently surpass the price of the food, thus negating the savings you expected. I suggest meeting your party at a local bar in the neighborhood for a little pregame, drinking a moderately priced wine with your meal, and then finding an inexpensive night cap location before heading out of the city.

2: Do Your Homework

With 340 restaurants to choose from, follow the phrase, “know before you go.” A restaurant that is participating in Restaurant Week but does not display a menu on their website is not an automatic no, but it does raise a red flag. Think of your Tinder account here guys, would you meet that random horny cougar without at least seeing her slightly blurry, ten year old photo that was taken from an angle that only the Hubble telescope could actually capture. In other words, do your research and you will not be disappointed.

3: Suit-Up…Maybe

A lot of these establishments have a dress code and these rules are strictly enforced. You are not going to White Castle after a Tigerman show at the Clash Bar. Always check the website of the eatery of your choosing to find out what the required level of dress is for both males and females. I love jeans and a t-shirt, but nothing is worse than arriving at one of these restaurants with your lovely significant other in tow and being turned away at the door because you are rocking the wrong gear.

4: Arrive On Time

Most of the participating restaurants add extra tables and bring on additional servers for this epic event because they are booked solid for the entire duration of Restaurant Week. This means if you are late for your reservation they will give your table away without a second thought. The excuses that normally work at most eateries, simply won’t fly. Telling a New Yorker you got stuck in traffic will get you as much sympathy as telling your girlfriend that you cheated on her because you were drunk, and you thought you were playing the bongos on her ass. Do yourself a favor and get a late reservation so your on-time arrival is guaranteed and you can get your pregame on properly.

5: Eat Outside Your Comfort Zone

Restaurant Week is all about expanding your culinary aptitude and foodie street cred. This is not the time to order a safe meal that you can acquire at any old eatery. In other words go big or don’t go at all. I assure you, everything you eat at these restaurants is going to taste good, so why not try the grilled octopus instead of the Caesar salad or perhaps order the Foie Gras as opposed to the French Onion Soup. Your Instagram followers and your belly will thank you.

Since the number of restaurants that are involved in Restaurant Week can be slightly intimidating, I have decided to do you a solid. I have scoured through this year’s participants and have chosen what I consider to be the best of the best. The following are The Blue Collar Foodie’s Top Picks for each most of the culinary styles that appear on this massive list. This is by no means an all inclusive list and if you are a seasoned NYCRW veteran, I urge you to explore the directory on your own. However, if you are new to this game these are a few of the restaurants that will impress even the most persnickety epicurean.

American New

Park Avenue Winter

Park Avenue WinterWhere:

360 Park Ave. South (Park Av So/26 St)

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-644-1900

http://www.parkavenyc.com

Why:

This trendy eatery changes its name, design, and menu along with the seasons. Even if you were to eat at this spot four times a year, you would never get bored.

What:

Appetizer: Steak Tartare Rossini Foie Gras & Black Truffle ($5 supplement)

Entrée: Everything-Crusted Branzino with Smoked Cream Cheese and Pickled Onions

Dessert: Salted Pistachio Sundae with Orange Marmalade and Dark Chocolate Caramel

American Traditional

21 Club

21 ClubWhere:

21 West 52nd Street

New York, NY 10019

(212) 582-7200

http://www.21club.com/

Why:

Once a Pimp Ass speakeasy, this now upscale restaurant is not only celebrated but it is a celebrity favorite as well. If you are a TMZ fan, this one is for you. Some of the A-listers that have dined at this spot include; Harrison Ford, Bill Fucking Murray, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bo Jackson, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank Sinatra. Hell, the last time I ate at the 21 we were sitting two tables away from Geraldo Rivera and his super stashe.

*DRESS CODE: No jeans or sneakers. Jackets are necessary for gentlemen.

What:

Appetizer: Head-On Maya Prawn – Tomato Eggplant Chutney, Picholine Olives, Lemon Preserve, Chili Oil

Entrée: Lamb Bolognese – Garganelli Pasta, Roasted Tomatoes, Basil, Chili Flakes, Manchego

Dessert: Caramel Banana Sundae – Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, Whiskey Caramel, Banana Slices

Asian Fusion

Spice Market

Spice MarketWhere:

403 W. 13th St. (13 St/9 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-675-2322

www.spicemarketnewyork.com

Why:

This Meatpacking District gem focuses on Asian inspired street food the Chef fell in love with while traveling throughout South East Asia.  

What:

Appetizer: Soy Cured Salmon with Cilantro Crème Fraiche

Entrée: Roast Pork Steamed Buns with Yuzu Pickles and Chili

Dessert: Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Pomegranate and Condensed Milk

Brazilian

Fogo de Chão Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse

Fogo de ChaoWhere:

40 W. 53rd St. (53 St/6 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-969-9980

www.fogodechao.com

Why:

Fogo de Chão is a Churrascaria. In English, that roughly translates to MEAT! Holy Hot Damn, MEAT Everywhere! With unlimited trips to the salad bar, bread and side dishes served at the table, and endless cuts of Sirloin, Leg of Lamb, Pork Sausage, Pork Ribs, Pork Loin, and Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon you better wear your buffet pants.

What:  

EVERYTHING YOU GLUTTONOUS BEAUTIFUL BASTARD!!!!

Chinese

Hakkasan New York

Hakkasan New YorkWhere:

311 W. 43rd St. (43 St/8 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10036

212-776-1818

www.hakkasan.com

Why:

It is one of only a few Restaurant Week Participants that is rocking a coveted Michelin star.

What:

Appetizer: Hakka Fried Dim Sum Platter – Sesame Prawn Toast with Foie Gras, Crispy Fried Prawn Dumpling with Plum Sauce

Entrée: Tofu, Aubergine and Shiitake Mushroom Clay Pot with Chili Black Bean Sauce

Dessert: Mango Parfait – Pink grapefruit & Szechuan Sorbet with Coconut Dacquoise

Continental
Petrossian

petrossianWhere:

182 W. 58th St. (58 St/7 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-245-2214

www.petrossian.com

Why:

If you are looking to impress, this is the spot to take that someone special. Quiet, extravagant, and romantic are adjectives that have been used to describe this French influenced foodie haven. I am usually against a large supplement cost but Petrossian is so well known for their Caviar, I suggest you shell out the extra $12 bucks and eat some serious Fish Eggs.

What:
Appetizer: Transmontanus USA farmed caviar 12 g presentation ($ 12.00 supplement)

Entrée: Pan Roasted West Coast Sturgeon with Cauliflower Ribs, Zucchini Pearls, and Stewed Eggplant

Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake

French

Benoit Restaurant & Bar

BENOIT NYCWhere:

60 W. 55th St. (55 St/6 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

646-943-7373

www.benoitny.com

Why:

Since most of us can’t jump on our G6 and float over to Paris any damn time we want, we rarely get to experience an authentic French Bistro. That is until Benoit opened its doors in 2005. The highly touted Chef Alain Ducasse is in charge of the Kitchen and each dish prepared in this classy joint illustrates his immense skill and training.

What:

Appetizer: Escargots

Entrée: Roasted Pork Loin with Creamy Polenta and Prune Sauce

Dessert: Soufflé glace a l’orange

Greek

Kefi

Kefi NYCWhere:

505 Columbus Ave. (Columbus/85)

Manhattan, NY 10024

212-873-0200

www.kefirestaurant.com

Why:

With two huge culinary names involved in this venture, Chef Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia, you know Kefi is going to deliver some serious eats. This is one of the few restaurants I will recommend without seeing the Restaurant Week Menu because that star power holds weight!

What:

Game time decision.

Indian

Junoon

junoon nycWhere:

27 W. 24th St. (24 St/5 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-490-2100

www.junoonnyc.com

Why:

Junoon means passion and after one visit to this sophisticated Indian restaurant you will understand why they named it that. Junoon is not only gorgeous but it very well may serve the best Indian Cuisine in NYC. Not to mention the fact that it is also a Michelin Star recipient.

What:

Appetizer: Murgh Bhut Jolokia – Chicken Tikka with Spaghetti Squash, Pistachio, and Ghost Chili

Entrée: Kashmiri Rogan Josh – Lamb Shank with Cashew Yogurt Gravy

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Ras Malai Terrine

Italian

Trattoria Il Mulino

Il Mulino Trattoria Where:

36 E. 20th St. (20 St/Park Av So)

Manhattan, NY 10003

212-777-8448

trattoriailmulino.com

Why:

Leaving New Jersey for an Italian joint is like exiting New York City to score a slice of Pizza. If you are however in the mood for Italian, I highly recommend this trendy Trattoria with an industrial twist. This may not look like Uncle Sal’s corner eatery; but this hip, edgy spot knocks out the classics, just like Nonna used to make.

What:

Hipsters don’t post Menus!

Japanese

Nobu Next Door

Nobu Next Door Where:

105 Hudson St. (Hudson/Franklin)

Manhattan, NY 10013

212-334-4445

www.noburestaurants.com

Why:

Much like its sister restaurant Nobu, the fare served at Next Door is world renowned and delightfully prepared. The design and environment of Next Door adds a dash of culture to the overall meal experience that is well worth the wait.  You can try to call ahead but they rarely take reservations.

What:

Appetizer: Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce

Entrée: Assorted Sushi

Dessert: Chef’s selection dessert

Korean

Bann Restaurant and Lounge

Bann NYCWhere:

350 W. 50th Street

New York, NY 10019   (between 8th & 9th Ave)

Phone: (212) 582-4446

http://www.bannrestaurant.com

Why:

You will notice that there are two Korean restaurants that landed on this list. I honestly could not decide which one of these jaw dropping spots to suggest so after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I decided to declare the battle a draw.

Bann, the first of the two, is a unique and interactive restaurant that calls upon your skills as a Chef by allowing you to cook your own meals on their smokeless tabletop grills. Of course, if you are reluctant to participate in this endeavor the actual Chef will prepare your meals for you, because you are lame. The cook your own option at Bann adds an element of fun to your evening and may even cause the members of your group to actually put their cell phones down at the table.

What:

Appetizer: Bossam Bun – Roast Pork Belly, Spicy Daikon, And Sweet Soy on Steamed Buns

Entrée: Korean Barbecue

Dessert: Carrot Cake – Asian Spiced Carrot & Yuja Pineapple Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

Gaonnuri

GaonnuriWhere:

1250 Broadway, 39th fl. (Broadway/32 St)

Manhattan, NY 10001

212-971-9045

http://www.gaonnurinyc.com/authentic_korean_restaurant_nyc/

Why:

Gaonnuri is located in a 39th floor penthouse in Koreatown and offers awe-inspiring views of the greatest city in the world. To be honest, Gaonnuri could serve  McDonald’s in a dining room like this and still make a killing.  However, they choose to serve some of the best Korean Food in the city, only adding to the appeal of this spot.

What:

Appetizer: Bossam – Braised Pork Belly with Kimchi made with Octopus, and Perilla Leaves

Entrée: Duck Breast BBQ

Dessert: Chef’s Choice

Mediterranean

Taboon

taboon NYCWhere:

773 Tenth Ave. (10 Av/53 St)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-713-0271

http://www.taboononline.com/

Why:

Taboon combines the vibrant spices of the Middle East with the alluring flavors of the Mediterranean to create innovative dishes that will awake your taste buds.   This may not be the most expensive restaurant on the list, but the food they are cooking in their wood fire oven is equal if not better to the big dogs.

What:

Appetizer: Black Tuscan Kale with Feta Cheese, Shaved Fennel, Cucumber, Apple, Sunflower Seeds, Lemon juice, Olive oil and Sumac dressing

Entrée:   Pressed Lamb Belly Moussaka with Tomato and Eggplant Puree, Fingerling Potatoes, and Kashkaval Cheese

Dessert: Silan – Vanilla Ice Cream layered with Puffed Rice and Date Syrup, sprinkled with Caramelized Pistachios & topped with shredded Halva

Mexican

Empellón Taqueria

Empellon TaqueriaWhere:

230 W. 4th St. (W 4 St/10 St)

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-367-0999

www.empellon.com

Why:

Empellón Taqueria opened their doors in 2011 with the intention of treating tacos with a high level of respect and serving them in a fun environment. They have accomplished that mission and then some. If you are a Taco lover, like my wife Kat, this is the spot for you. For all the haters that are reading this thinking, “Tacos can’t be classy,” stuff a burrito in your pie whole and check out the sick menu they are offering for Restaurant Week.

What:

Appetizer: Ceviche – Octopus, Parsnip Pumpkin Seeds, and Salsa Papanteca

Entrée: Shortrib Pastrami Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Mustard Seed Salsa.

Dessert: Milk Chocolate Flan

Pan-Latin

Yerba Buena

yerba BuenaWhere:

23 Ave. A (Av A/2 St)

Manhattan, NY 10009

212-529-2919

http://www.ybnyc.com/media/yerbabuena.html

Why:

I had a rough time choosing a Pan-Latin representative for my list because I have not visited very many of them in the city. Then I read the menu that Yerba Buena is offering for Restaurant Week and my belly had a foodgasm. I dare you to read the menu and not hit this Latin inspired eatery up… Go ahead, I will wait… Told you so!

What:

Appetizer: Empanadas de Pato – Duck Confit Tinga, Salsa Mexicana, Crema, and Queso Fresco

Entrée: Lechon – Suckling Pig Carnitas, Habanero-Orange Salsa, Cactus Salad, and Chicharron

Dessert: Tres Leches – Crema de Cajeta, Tres Leches Sauce, and Vanilla Ice Cream

Seafood

The Sea Grill

The Sea Grill NYCWhere:

19 W. 49th St. (49 St/5 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10020

212-332-7610 | fax: 212-332-7677

www.theseagrillnyc.com

Why:

The Sea Grill is another prime example of how Restaurants are a lot like Real Estate. Location, location, location! If you are looking for some relationship points, bring your beau Ice Skating at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink before walking hand in hand to this absolutely stunning seafood eatery. Watch as they Instagram the night away and each LIKE those filtered photos garner you will earn you one more cool point! You’re welcome!

What:  

Appetizer: Montauk Baby Calamari a la Plancha with Patatas Bravas and Chimichurri sauce

Entrée: Maine Monkfish ‘Osso Buco’ with Creamy Polenta and Wild Mushrooms

Dessert: Vanilla Caramel Panna Cotta with Valrhona Chocolate Sorbet

Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse Where:

261 Water St. (Water St/Peck Slip)

Manhattan, NY 10038

212-277-0020

www.markjosephsteakhouse.com

Why:

Restaurant Week is usually not the best time to visit a Steakhouse in NYC.   The truth is, if you want a slamming steak in the Big Apple you normally have to bite the bullet and pay out the nose. However, MarkJoseph Steakhouse is the exception that proves this rule. They are offering a 20 oz. sirloin or an 8 oz. Filet Mignon on their dinner menu.  Get your meat on!

What:

Appetizer: Sizzling Canadian Bacon

Entrée: Sirloin Steak 20 oz.

Dessert: Cake

Vietnamese

Le Colonial

Le ColonialWhere:

149 E. 57th St. (57 St/3 Av)

New York, NY 10022

212-752-0808

www.lecolonialnyc.com

Why:

Le Colonial was once a bustling haven for OG foodies in the NYC area and then for some reason lost its place in the culinary pantheon of Gotham. Instead of closing up shop and admitting defeat, however, this restaurant found a new Chef that seems to have set Le Colonial back on the path of Gastronomic greatness.

What:

Appetizer: Suon Nuong – Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Lemongrass and Sweet Soy

Entrée: Bun Trio – Grilled Prawns with Beef Brochettes & Cha Gio Herbed Vermicelli Salad

Dessert: Banana Tapioca Pudding

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Serves This Foodie Up A Slice Of Nostalgia Pie

If you are like most people, you probably enjoy nostalgia. It allows us to reminisce about times that we hold dear and memories that make us smile. Even though when you were living those moments you were inevitably thinking back to an even simpler time, ruminating about the past is always an amusing endeavor. This feeling of joy and serenity when recalling past occurrences is what makes Throw Back Thursday so much fun on Facebook. Well, that and the fact that your friend’s Mom constantly posts pictures of him at the age of 7, dressed up like Jem! #TrulyTrulyOutrageous!

A large majority of people tend to embellish and exaggerate stories from their past, even when discussing them with friends that were there as well. As the memory gets older the tale gets bigger and better, I call this phenomenon, Legend…wait for it…Darism. Think of a game of telephone, but everyone is in on it, slightly altering the story each time it is told, to make their past lives seem somewhat more epic.

Much like that abstract memory of the dude that ate his own dingleberry in college for a buck 25 and a loosie evokes the highest of high fives amongst friends, there are certain establishments from your past that will always arouse emotions of happiness. Unfortunately, these emotions are usually misguided by the aforementioned illness. That sandwich place with the best sandwich in the world when you were 18 was only good because it was two pounds of food for 3 bucks, and you were stoned; the band that you swore was going to be the next Beatles was called Sum 41, and that sentence sounds just as dumb now as it did back then; and the beer you drank in college was horse piss, and I don’t care if it won a blue ribbon in1893, it still tastes like the dingleberry our friend ate!

Rarely, however, you get the chance to return to an old haunt that exceeds your expectations of awesomeness, and this is what I experienced a few days ago. I was feeling nostalgic, so I suggested to Kat that we go visit our old watering hole that got us through college one beer at a time, The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse, located at 529 Belmont Avenue, Haledon, NJ 07508. Kat must have been feeling sentimental too because she instantly agreed, and we were on our way.

Welcome to the Shep!

Welcome to the Shep!

I am well aware that The Shepherd & The Knucklehead should have been posted on this blog a long time ago, since they have been making waves in the local craft beer market for a while now. With 90 microbrew taps, a menu that would make any foodie squee, and an atmosphere perfect for a laid back beer snob like myself, I have somewhat failed my audience and this establishment by taking this long to visit what was once my go to bar. My explanation for this monumental gaffe is quite simple; I was petrified I would not like it. I was nervous that the bar that existed in my head that was connected to so many wonderful memories was going to be tarnished by what the bar had become.

To make a long story short, I am an asshole. The Shepherd & The Knucklehead is not only as good as I remember, but it is even better. Their beer selection is second to none in this area, if not in this state. Did you read the sentence above? That was not a typo, 90 Mircrobrew taps that are constantly changing as they kick. The beer menu for The Shepherd & The Knucklehead is almost as thick as the menu for the Cheesecake Factory! Furthermore, the wait staff and the bar tenders actually know what they are talking about when it comes to craft beer, so if you can’t decide exactly what to drink, they will talk you down off the ledge and make sure you choose the right beer.

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Beer Taps

…And this ain’t even all of them people!

It took us some time, and some serious deliberation, but eventually Kat and I were able to choose our first beer. While we awaited its thirst quenching arrival we perused the food menu. The Knucklehead’s kitchen offers a variety of food options for the different social situations that could occur at a bar and/or a restaurant.   There are quite a few appetizers that are perfect for sharing amongst the table if you and your friends get a little noshy during your stint at the bar, such as the Knuckle-head sized Wings, The Shep’s Pork Poutine, or the Beer Mussels. If you are a bit hungrier, are a germophobe, or just a selfish twit, they have a myriad of soups, salads, wraps, burgers, and sandwiches, such as a Half-Pound Angus Burger, BBQ Pork Sliders, a Philly Cheeseburger Wrap, and even a Vegetable Curry Wrap for you veg-heads.

However, if like me, you were on a date of sorts and wanted to dine on something a little more refined, have no fear the Shepherd has you covered. After some serious hemming and hawing, I decided to order the Shep’s Paella which was described as Shrimp, Mussels, and Chorizo served over saffron rice; whereas Kat did not think twice about ordering the 12 oz. NY Strip topped with Bourbon-glazed onions paired with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli Rabe.

With our orders placed and our beers at the table, we were free to reminisce about the small hallway of a bar that the Shepherd and The Knucklehead used to be. Back in the day when we would open and close this small local tavern they had 20 taps and no food. Yet we kept coming back. Why you ask? The atmosphere was amazing. There were board games you could play, books that adorned the walls begging you to read them, a dart board, craft beer, and some of the nicest drunk people you would ever meet. It was a Hippie bar through and through, all the way down to the cardboard sign that hung on the wall that read, “If you yell or anything no coming for 2 months.”

NO YELLING

By the way this sign can still be found on the Shep’s website, which leads me to believe that they agree with the wise words of H2O, Don’t Forget Your Roots!

Funny thing about The “New” Shepherd and The Knucklehead was it felt the same, just larger and more spacious. There were still board games, books, craft beer, and great people, but now there was food and room to roam like the free range hippies we always wanted to be.

While Kat and I continued to go story for story about The Shepherd and our college years like prized fighters, we could not help but bask in the wonderful feeling of being home. You know the feeling I am referring to. That sensation you get after traveling for an extended period of time, when you walk through your door and are greeted by your animals and splash into your own bed. The calming and friendly atmosphere that we fell in love with at The Shepherd & The Knucklehead all those years ago, surprisingly is still alive and well. I was ecstatic to see that even though the walls have been expanded, The Shepherd still feels cozy.

Meanwhile, as Kat and I were bar dreaming, the kitchen was apparently working fervently to prepare our meals because in no time our meals were being placed in front of us. As the food was being placed down, the delightful aroma of our entrees sent food chills down my spine, which elicit similar symptoms to the douche chills you get from seeing Bryce Harper, but are much more enjoyable.  I almost could not wait to dig into my meal, but alas, I have to make sure to get the perfect food porn shots, and of course another beer had to be ordered. While I was snapping photos our waitress was kind enough to help us pair our dinner beers perfectly with our meals.

Knucklehead's Steak

Look at that sear!

After the obligatory photographs were taken, we slowly but surely devoured our dinners. I, of course, got to taste a portion of Kat’s entree because she is the best foodie wife ever! Not only was her steak expertly seasoned but check out the preparation. This masterpiece had the perfect cross pattern sear which gave the outside of the steak an amazing char broiled taste, while the inside… well see for yourself. I assure you it tasted just as good as it looks in this photo; it was juicy and absolutely delicious.

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Steak

I don’t care if foodies don’t like this word to describe food, this steak was f-ing moist!

I also was afforded the opportunity to try the side dishes that Kat ordered. The Broccoli Rabe was not immensely bitter but still had the tried and true minor bitter bite that a fan of the side dish looks for. Furthermore, the texture and seasoning of these veggies was spot on, and I am convinced the Chef must have had a Nonna that taught them to respect the Rabe. I will confess that I am a sucker for sweet potatoes. So, I may be a little biased when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Shep’s mashed sweets but Kat seemed to like them too considering her plate was clean by the end of the night.

Shepard And The Knucklehead Paella

Paella may be hard to spell, but this dish was easy to eat.

After taste testing Kat’s wonderful meal, I was nervous that I was going to have food envy. That is until I took the first bite of my Paella. Holy freaking flavor country Batman! The saffron rice was tender and extremely tasty thanks to the world’s most expensive spice, proper cooking, and the deliciously spicy chunks of magnificent chorizo that were floating around in this dish like savory depth charges. Furthermore, the mussels were some of the best mussels I have eaten in quite some time, and I have had some pretty serious muscles, my friends. Not only were they flavorsome, but the consistency was perfect, not a hint of rubber to be found. The entire dish was a fantastic marriage of flavor, texture, and aroma, so much so I forgot Kat’s dish even existed. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, her steak was freaking awesome!

I am pleased to say that my preliminary trepidation was completely unsubstantiated, and The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse remains a force to be reckoned with in the Craft Beer Nerd Realm. Furthermore, they have now broken into the foodie world as well. If you are looking for a serious Craft Beer spot with a menu to match, I highly recommend you come visit The Shep. The nicest thing about going there for dinner is when you are done eating; you can retire to the bar and have a nice nightcap without even stepping outside. Considering we live in the good ol’ Garden State, I feel obligated to quote Bon Jovi here, Who Says You Can’t Go Home!

 

 

Shepherd & the Knucklehead on Urbanspoon

Holy Hell, Habit Burger, May Be Habit Forming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Habit Burger

Welcome to Habit Burger

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

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

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

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

The fixins'

The fixins’

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

Double Char Burger

Double Char Burger

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

Onion Rings

Onion Rings

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

Fried Green Beans

Fried Green Beans

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

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

Single Char Burger

Single Char Burger

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

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Na zdrowie! The Blue Collar Foodie Raises His Glass To The Royal Warsaw!

When most gourmands speak of exotic food they are usually referring to Tibetan, Ethiopian, or perhaps even Lebanese fare, but not the Blue Collar Foodie. The problem with the stereotypical foodie is that they ooze pretentiousness like a beached Chris Christie, mid-August, secreting perspiration. This is one of the sad but true realities that cause a large percentage of tremendous eateries to go unrecognized in the epicurean realm. This lack of apparent gastronomic flair causes a chain reaction which results in the general public not seeing the delightful offerings from restaurants that don’t add Truffle Butter or Kale to every dish on their menu, which is of course printed on recycled paper that has been shat out by organic compost eating worms.

I, however, pride myself on attempting to never judge a book by its cover. I stress the word “attempting” in that previous sentence because to be honest, if a restaurant looks and smells like a Frat House on a Friday Morning, one is allowed to pass a quick and fatal judgment before exiting immediately. Barring any catastrophic foodie faux pas though, I will seriously try anywhere and anything at the very least twice before I come to a conclusion on whether or not I am a fan.

This method of hardly ever saying, “no,” to the phrase, “Dude you wanna go try (fill in the blank restaurant) tonight?” has allowed me to taste, savor, and appreciate dishes that some self-proclaimed connoisseurs will never get the chance to chew on. This has been my motto since I was young, and when a friend of mine brought up a restaurant by the name, Royal Warsaw, located at 871 River Drive, in Elmwood Park, NJ, that I had not been to in a while, I of course followed my foodie decree.

The Royal Warsaw serves Polish food. I know you are not a child, and if you are, stop reading this immediately, I curse like a drunk who stubbed his toe on another drunk. Since you are not 7, I assume that as you read the name of this restaurant you immediately knew it was a Polish restaurant, but I need you to think to yourself when the last time you went to a Polish restaurant actually was. No, Stanislaw the last time you went to your Babcia’s house does not count.

For most of us, the answer to that simple question is either never, or very rarely. Polish food is not the type of fare that brings the hype like some other highly sought after cultural culinary styles. However, I must inform you that if you have never been to an authentic Polish restaurant, you are missing some serious grub.

The Royal Warsaw has ample parking which wraps around the entire building, but that is not to say the parking lot does not fill up quite quickly. Even though you may have never heard of this joint, I assure you that the rather large Polish population of towns like Elmwood Park and Garfield sure have, and they tend to convene at this establishment regularly to taste a small bite of home and perhaps even knock back a pint or three. Furthermore, the Royal Warsaw also offers an outdoor patio so during the spring and summer; one can eat al fresco and usually avoid the somewhat long waits for a table in the main dining room.

On our journey to the Warsaw, we decided to dine outside because we had a group of six and were rather famished from our Sunday activities. Once we arrived, we did not wait at all, and we were ushered into the garden area where we were seated and handed our menus.

Na Zdrowie!

Na Zdrowie!

Here, my friends, is where the fun begins. First off, the menu is extensive and has a crap load of options so the first thing you are going to want to do is order yourself a beer. Not a domestic beer either you twit, order something that sounds or looks Polish. Now, hopefully you brought some friends with you so you can spend the next few minutes trying to pronounce half the things on the menu. This part is always hysterical considering that I am under the impression that I would have to rip out my tongue in order to pronounce some of the things that appear here. Don’t believe me, here is the test, pronounce this; Przekladaniec Zakopianski. Seriously, that is a thing!

After chuckling at the horrible pronunciation attempts of you and your friends, the next step in the ordering process at the Royal Warsaw is to read their English translations of the dishes they offer, which they are generous enough to provide.

Most likely your beer has arrived by now and the waiter is asking if you are ready.   Take this opportunity to ask him any questions you may have about the menu and ask if there are any specials, you will thank me for this later, and then ask for a few more moments to decide.

Now just like our group, you will have all the knowledge you could possibly want to order the perfect item off the slightly intimidating menu at the Royal Warsaw.

We decided that since we were ever so hungry, an appetizer was in order, and went with the Polish Style Plate which consists of Potato Pancakes, Russian Pierogies, and Grilled Kielbasa. With the appetizer out of the way, we one-by-one carefully selected our meals, with the occasional assistance in pronouncing the dish provided by our trustee waiter.

With a cold Warka or Zywiec in hand, my friends and I told stories of the weekend as if it was a battle, and we were the lone survivors. As we were joking and laughing about the hectic recent past, the kitchen staff was working feverishly to create our Polish Style Plate which zoomed out of the Kitchen at a speed that the Enterprise would be jealous of. Yes, that was a Star Trek joke! You got a problem with that?

Polish Style Plate

Polish Style Plate

Behold in all of its glory the Polish Style Plate, well one-fifth of its glory because the damn dirty apes that I was feasting with could not wait for me to take a picture before they started to dismantle this dish with their filthy paws. I highly recommend this appetizer for a group because it is the perfect portion size to tantalize your appetite when shared, without filling you up before your entrée even arrives. Not to mention the fact that each item on this dish tasted better than the next. I mean, how could you possibly go wrong with eating Pierogies and Kielbasa at a Polish Restaurant? The answer is you can’t, and that is why you need to order this plate of freaking yummy!

After demolishing the Polish Plate, we set our sight on the entrees that our waiter assured us would be out momentarily, after he of course filled our mugs with more tasty beer. Shortly after our waiter left, he returned with our meals in hand. I reminded my table mates that I am trying to inform you wonderful people about the amazing food that The Royal Warsaw offers. I further explained to them how intricate my food porn was to these articles. They were nice enough to afford me the opportunity to take one photo of their meal before they began eating.

Plate a la Warsaw

Plate a la Warsaw

I started with my wife’s plate because, well, “Momma didn’t raise no fool,” and Kat gets pretty Hangry sometimes. That comment is not going to go over well, but hey these are the sacrifices that I make for my readers. My wife’s dish, which was lovingly named the Plate a la Warsaw and contained Stuffed Cabbage, Polish Sausage, Mixed Pierogies, and Hunter’s Stew. The star of this dish was the Hunter’s Stew which is an amalgamation of sauerkraut and mixed meats; Mmmmmmmmm mixed meats! I suggest if you order this dish using this pleasant Polish porridge as a dipping sauce of sorts for every bite you take.

Schabowy Cutlet

Schabowy Cutlet

Tara ordered the Schabowy Cutlet which basically translates to Breaded Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Polish Salad. The presentation and aroma of her dish was utterly magnificent, and the flavor was nothing short of fantastic. The crispy exterior gave way to the tender meaty insides while the sauce blended everything together in style. This was hands-down one of the best pork chops that I have ever tasted, and for only $13.95, the portion size was out of control.

Polish Style Grilled Keilbasa with fried sauerkraut, onions, and garlic bread

Polish Style Grilled Keilbasa with fried sauerkraut, onions, and garlic bread

Next up was Steph’s Polish Style Grilled Keilbasa with fried sauerkraut, onions, and garlic bread. We already discussed how amazing this hot link of pig meat is, but I will further state that if you enter this restaurant and don’t at least try some Warsaw Keilbasa, I may have to rethink our entire blogger to reader relationship.

The Royal Warsaw Escargot

The Royal Warsaw Escargot

Steph believes in the theory, “go big or go home,” so she paired this monster meat stick (TWSS) with an order of Escargot. I know what you are thinking, what the hell does Poland know about snails. Well smart ass, if you look at a map, you will notice that Poland is only one former war mongering super power away from the capital of terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs, France. These snails were the perfect combination of buttery, garlicky, and… ummmmm… snaily… deliciousness.

Schabowy Moskvian Style

Schabowy Moskvian Style

Marco decided to rock the Schabowy Moskvian Style which was described as Breaded Bone-In Pork Cutlet served with mashed potatoes and fried sauerkraut. This picture does not do this pork chop justice because there is nothing to use as a scale, but I assure you it was impressive. Once again the crispy outer coating was the perfect companion to the tender juicy pork that it was protecting. When this flavorful chop was paired with the lightly fried sauerkraut, it was a duet that Disney would have been jealous of.

I have accepted my short comings as a food journalist and so should you! Pretty picture though right.

I have accepted my short comings as a food journalist and so should you! Pretty picture though right.

Lastly, I photographed my wonderful dish. Unfortunately, by this time I was three Warkas in, and I had only ingested a fraction of the calories I had expended playing baseball that day.  Due to the combination of sun, hunger, and inebriation I forgot to write down what the heck I ate actually was. I remember it tasting like it was sent from the heavens and shit it looks beautiful, but I have no idea what the hell it was. My fellow bloggers might chastise me for even including this dish in my post, simply stating that I could have easily rewrote the day and stole a friend’s dish as my own.   To them I say, why? The only reason I can’t remember exactly what the dish was is because it was a special, and I remember it tasting and looking amazing so I felt that it was my duty to include this dish in my review.

The purpose of this post is to remind you to open your mind when it comes down to selecting your meal destination. Sure, you look awesome posting those photos of Fried Cambodian Spiders or South East Asian Snake Wine but sometimes this leads to the classics getting over looked. The Italian restaurant that is still making its own pasta, the local seafood joint that travels near and far to procure the freshest seafood, and the local Polish restaurant that believes in the philosophy of using, ”meat from healthy breeding, fresh field vegetables, garden fruits, and fish from clean waters to produce cuisine that is honest and simply tastes good,” need your praise and business too. I highly recommend that any foodie located near Bergen County follow my advice and hit up The Royal Warsaw for a great meal and a few drinks!

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The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Chatni

I occasionally get asked why I am so passionate about the food that I eat. This question usually follows a zealous discussion or argument if you ask my wife, about all things foodie. I explain to my inquisitors that my passion may originate from the food that I ingest, but it is actually the unique cultural experience of the meal that fuels my creativity and produces my hunger to explore cuisine on a global scale. This explanation usually provokes some chuckling and some skeptical glaring from my comrades and cohorts. You see, to some of them, eating is a necessity of life as opposed to a necessity of living.

Not every meal I eat is a lavish celebration of artistic culinary ethos; I don’t have that kind of scratch. However, because I am lacking the resources to be a true elite gastronomic adventurer, I attempt to locate restaurants that are situated in close proximity to where I rest my rump that can take me on an epicurean exploration, one forkful of awesomeness at a time. These extraordinary eateries can be somewhat hard to find, but are well worth the quest if you can’t afford to visit Bangkok for Pad Thai, Hanoi for Pho, Moscow for Borscht, or Mumbai for Curry.

So, instead of boarding my private jet, I hopped into my 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and drove down Rt. 46 West taking in all the breathtaking scenery that Clifton, New Jersey has to offer. Clifton, however was not my destination, my goal was a town that is rapidly becoming a foodie haven in Northern New Jersey, Montclair. Brimming with restaurants, cafés, gastropubs, and hookah bars. If I was going to find an eatery that was going to teleport me to distant land using the power of gastronomy, this was definitely the town.

Kat and I turned down Bloomfield Ave. and began our search for the rare parking spot on the main drag. Have no fear, there are plenty of spots off the strip at the ample municipal parking lots that litter Montclair, but when you get that perfect spot downtown, in any city, you feel like you won something. As we were approaching our journey’s end, we almost gave up on locating the golden space, but like kismet, a vehicle pulled out right in front of the restaurant we were headed to and not to toot my own horn, but I parallel parked serendipity, yea we name our cars, like a boss!

 Chatni Patio

The restaurant that brought us to this Foodie Mecca is none other than Chatni, located at 381 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ. Chatni is an Indian restaurant that is not only in the heart of downtown Montclair, but also offers a large outdoor patio perfect for dining alfresco. Furthermore, to make this eatery even more alluring, Chatni is also B.Y.O.B which always makes this Blue Collar Foodie smile larger than the Cheshire Cat in the midst of mischief.

With a bomber of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, Double IPA in hand, we entered Chatni and were welcomed by the smiling hostess that offered us the option of sitting inside the beautiful dining room or venturing outside to the spacious courtyard. Kat and I debated this decision for a little bit because the dining room area was very inviting and looked extremely comfortable.   Ultimately, we decided to eat outside because not only was it the perfect night for an outdoor meal, but also because my food photographs come out so much better when being kissed by the setting sun.

Once we were seated, our waiter brought us two pint glasses for our delicious liquid appetizer, two glasses of refreshing water, and our menus. While I twisted the cage from the cork in the bottle, Kat opened the menu and let out an exclamation that I cannot repeat on this site, we are a family site after all, aren’t we? Wait a minute; that does not sound right at all. Never mind that. She said, “Holy Shit, there are a lot of choices.” After a quick glance around our table to ensure the lack of impressionable minds, I filled our glasses and took my own gander at the menu.

I soon realized that Kat was right and her choice of language was not unprovoked. We hemmed and hawed, sipped and swallowed, and discussed and deliberated for quite some time until we had hammered out the best possible foodprint we could use to fully experience our Indian food expedition.

If you have ever eaten Indian food before, you should know that it lends itself to plate sharing or family style eating, so this is exactly what Kat and I decided to do. To inspire our appetites, we decided to order the Fresh from the Garden Salad. Once the spark of hunger was glowing within our bellies, we thought two entrees would quell our craving. I ordered the Boti Saagwala with Lamb and Kat decided upon the Chicken Curry. As with any Indian food that I partake in, I had to order some garlic Naan as well.

To add to the variety that Chatni offers, each entrée can be served at a mild, medium, or hot spice level. We chose medium because we are always somewhat intimated of hot when that adjective is used to describe non-American cuisine.

Chatni Papadum bread

Chatni Papadum bread

Shortly after we ordered, our waiter arrived at our table with a basket of Papadum bread and a lovely triplet of sauces. If you follow this blog at all you know I am a sucker for sauces, and these fine specimens were each better than the last. Kat and I sat back in our chairs, embraced the long awaited spring air, soaked in the superb atmosphere exuding from Chatni’s patio, and devoured this crispy-crunchy bread-like cracker dipped in a trio of awesome… Wait for it…Sauce!

Chatni Salad

Garden Fresh Salad

Within minutes, our salad arrived, and it was dressed to impress. More often than not, when I order a salad these days, they are over dressed and end up being a soggy mass of green gelatinous goo. Not this salad though, it was perfectly dressed and with the addition of the lemon wedge, that it was served with, it tasted phenomenal. Not only was the array of vegetables crunchy and fresh, the portion size was just right for the two of us to start our eating engines.

With our appetizers merely a recent memory, the main event was on the horizon. I wish I could transfer the feeling that I get before a feast to the aforementioned inquisitors, because then they would never ask that silly question again. The combination of anticipation, expectation, and realization that accompanies eating innovative and stimulating food for me is only second to actually traveling to the distant lands that this food originates from.

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

The first entrée we dove into was the Chicken Curry, described as a traditional Indian dish cooked in savory tomato and onion sauce with the blend of Indian spices. With a layer of rice on our plates, we divvied up this thick and rich concoction that smelled as if it came from the land of Brahma, Ganesh, and Vishnu. This savory and somewhat spicy dish had immense flavor without kicking you in your, you- know-whats with heat. The chicken that was swimming in this delicious vat of yummy was fork tender and full of amazing.

Chatni Garlic Naan

Chatni Garlic Naan

As I was relishing in the rays of awesomeness that were emanating from the Chicken Curry and bouncing off my taste buds, I noticed the Garlic Naan was sitting on the table looking lonely, delicious and lonely, but lonely none the less. I reached for this appetizing slightly crispy disc of doughy garlic-ness and tore a small piece off, and dipped it right into the Curry. To bastardize the late great Jerry Lee Lewis, “Goodness, gracious, great balls of hot damn!” If the Curry was not tasty enough, the addition of the Garlic Naan as a garlicky canvas put this dish over the top.

Lamb Boti Saagwala

Lamb Boti Saagwala

Next up was the Lamb Boti Saagwala, which was described as tandoori baked lamb cooked with lightly spiced spinach in a cream sauce. I did not think the Chicken Curry could be out matched, I thought perhaps we had chosen the wrong one to eat first and everything else would pale in comparison. I was wrong! This dish was equally as spectacular! The sauce was well spiced but not over powering and the lamb was so succulent and juicy that at a point I questioned if Chatni had a chef in the kitchen or a sorcerer. Once again the Garlic Naan dipped into the sauce only added to the wonderfulness of this dish.

Chatni Meal

Chatni Meal

I know in some cultures cleaning ones plate can be construed as rude, but I could not think of wasting even a morsel of this fantastic fare, so Kat and I threw caution to wind and did not even google the etiquette before virtually licking our plates clean. I don’t want you to think that the portions were small or that we were still hunger which caused us to eat every speck of food that was presented to us either, we were full and content, yet we could not bear witness to this food failing to reach its ultimate potential of being eaten.

Gulab Jamun

Gulab Jamun

Even though we were satisfied, we simply could not say no to dessert. We opted to try something new and ordered the Gulab Jamun, which was described as a light pastry made of dry milk served in sweet syrup.   We were unsure what to expect but if the previous courses were any indication, we knew it was going to good. We were right! Imagine a lighter, not as sweet, zeppole swimming in a delectable simple syrup.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

To those of you who have ever been questioned about your foodie infatuation, I suggest that you forego attempting to argue with your interrogator, and merely invite them out to a restaurant such as Chatni. In a world saturated with places to eat, Chatni and its small group of equally astounding restaurants truly transport you to a far off land where burgers and pizza are not the only things you can order. Hope to see you there soon!

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Eating Healthy this Super Bowl Without Losing Man Points. Here is an App for that!

Super Bowl XLVIII

That mean Super Bowl 48 for those of us that did not go to a wealthy school which taught fancy roman numerals.

Did you know that the number one New Year’s resolution in America for 2014 was to lose weight?  Furthermore, studies say that only 39% of people in their twenties and a mere 14% of people over 50 with accomplish their resolution.  If you decided to jump into the deep end of Resolution River without a life jacket, you are not the first and you will certainly not be the last.

In December 2012, my wife and I were sifting through pictures from the past year and saw a picture from a recent wedding where we resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Miss Piggy attending a cocktail party.  To paraphrase Queen Victoria, we were not amused.  So our 2013 resolution was to lose weight, and although it was an uphill both ways in the snow without shoes or a jacket kind of arduous task, we succeeded.

In 2013, Kat and I lost a combined 75 pounds before the Holidays gave us about a 10 pound present.  I am not telling you this to boast, although I am proud of our accomplishment, I am telling you this to inform you that even if you are a foodie, you can lose weight and keep it off.  The secret to our success was not some scientific weight loss drug, newfangled exercise machine, or fad diet, it was good old fashioned vomiting, that is right bulimia is not just for teenage girls anymore!  Relax people; the real top-secret weight loss program we established was portion control, exercise, and calorie counting.

Now I could ramble on about how we accomplished this three pronged attack on our floppy bodies but this is a food blog not fatties anonymous, so I will simply say the hardest thing to do while on a diet is to make the correct choices while eating out or at a party.  This problem is only compounded for men that are trying to lose weight because there is nothing less masculine than the phrase, “I can’t eat that!  Do you know how many calories are in (fill in the delicious food here)?”

With this in mind, I have compiled a list of the top 10 healthy yet still somewhat manly appetizers you can bring, serve, and eat at a Super Bowl party without losing dozens of man points per carrot dipped in broccamole that you force yourself to eat.  Note:  I don’t care that the word “Bro” is in the word Broccamole, it is the least manly thing you could ever eat, and that includes Activia yogurt that is specifically designed to make women regular.  (Click the titles of the food to follow the link to these fantastic recipes.)

Buffalo Balls

Buffalo Balls

You might wanna change the name but you will not want to change the taste!
Photo Credit: I Breathe…I’m Hungry…

Buffalo Wings and Football games go together like Kayne West and Douchebaggery, so a Super Bowl spread without some form of chicken wings would be like A-Rod without steroids.  Unfortunately, Chicken wings are about as healthy as a deep fried Twinkie wrapped in bacon, unless you follow this easy low carb, gluten free recipe.

Individual Seven Layer Dip:

Mini Seven Layer Dip

Size doesn’t always matter! Right… Right?

These delicious little cups of yummy pack the same great flavor that your mother’s seven layer dip offered with two outstanding improvements.  First off, they have built in portion control so you can keep track of how much of this wonderful stuff you are eating. Secondly, if you have germophobic tendencies, like I do, and the mere thought of a double dipper causes you to cringe worse than Freddie Krueger scratching a chalk board, the individual servings keep your dip safe and sanitary.

Lightened Up Mac & Cheese Bites:

Lightened Up Mac & Cheese

Mac and Cheese that will not make your personal trainer weep!
Photo Credit: 3 Pastries A Day

I think we can all agree, if you do not like Mac & Cheese you are un-American.  I don’t know why Reagan did not just use this as a test to find all the communist spies that infiltrated our country in the seventies.  Instead of all the surveillance, interrogating, and torturing, all he needed to do was put a plate of herring and a plate of Mac & Cheese in their hotel rooms and wait to see which one they picked.  Since we no longer need Mac & Cheese to protect our country, I suggest you use this recipe to pair America’s favorite food with America’s favorite sport.

De-Pudged Pigs in a Blanket:

De-Pudged Pigs in a Blanket

Not all pigs are fat! That is fatism!
Photo Credit: Lisa Lillian, Hungry Girl

As far as appetizers go, pigs in a blanket have weathered the test of time better than Vanna White, which by the way is not easy considering she is 56 and still is in the GSHILF category.  I will wait for you to get that one and if you don’t e-mail me and I will explain.  These little buggers are perfect for any party and by using reduced fat all beef franks and low reduced calorie crescent rolls they can be quite healthy.  Another bonus to these tried and true apps, they are so damn easy to make even Lunch Lady Doris couldn’t screw them up.  For a slight change of pace try this recipe, Mini Corndog Muffins.

Chuck’s Crab Cakes:

Crab Cakes

Crab People, Crab People, look like cakes tastes like crab!
Photo Credit: Chuck Hughes

If you have been dieting longer than a day and are at least slightly smarter than anyone of these celebritarts, you already know that, for the most part, seafood is pretty healthy.  As long as it is not bathed in butter or deep fried, when you are out and about, seafood is a pretty safe bet to keep your calorie count lower than the NY Mets payroll.  These simple yet tasty crab cakes are not only low in calories but also allow you to keep your mantastic foodie street cred.

Paleo Pizza Bites:

Paleo Pizza Bites

Paleo Pizza Bites GOOOOODDDDDD, Inner Aisles BAAAAAAAADDDD!
Photo Credit: Health Bent

This dish is for all the cavemen who read this blog.  For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few years, I am referring to my followers that prescribe to the Paleolithic diet.  The basic rule of this diet is if a caveman could not eat it, neither can you.  If this is the diet that you chose to hitch your fat ass to, more power to you, here is an app just for you.  These pizza bites remove the dough, lessen the cheese, but still allow you to visit the most wonderful place on earth, no not Disney Land you jerk, Pizza Town!

Deviled Eggs:

Deviled Eggs

These Healthier Deviled Eggs Should Be Called Angel Eggs.
Photo Credit: Molly Burke

Relax, remove your hand from the mouse, keep reading, I will explain everything.  Some of you who have not eaten in a while just got really Hangry, part hungry, part angry, all vicious, with me for even suggesting that you can eat deviled eggs on a diet.  I am here to inform you, that you can.  Maybe not your grandmother’s 300 calorie lard filled egg o’tasty goodness, but you can have these healthy dressed up deviled eggs without feeling guilty.  These recipes all use reduced fat mayonnaise to create a deviled egg that is ready for the big game.

Healthified Spinach Dip in a Bread Bowl:

Healthified Spinach Dip In a Bread Bowl

So good you will wanna dip your bread in it! You thought I was going to say something else that starts will a B and is round didn’t you?
Photo Credit: Living Better America

I can hear some of you now.  What do you mean healthified spinach dip?  Spinach is one of those green things; therefore any dip that has spinach in it must be good for you.  If you believe this, I have a sweet bridge in Brooklyn I would love to sell you.  Think of all those hipsters you can charge a toll to just to cross your bridge to get to their warehouse parties and scarf shops.  This Spinach Dip adds more spinach and uses low-fat sour cream to start down the healthy path and then replaces the calorie rich cream cheese that is normally found in this dish with Greek Yogurt!  Mental Note People, Greek Yogurt was sent to earth from the heavens to replace fatty calorie laden ingredients in recipes without sacrificing the creaminess.

Oven “Fried” Pickles with Skinny Ranch Dip:

Oven Fried Pickeles.

Oy! These Pickles Are Good!
Photo Credit: Skinny Taste

If you have not accepted the amazing pickle as your diet savior you are a blasphemer.  Excuse me a minute while I testify about the sanctity of the almighty pickle.  These salty and garlicky explosions of flavor weigh in at a measly 5 calories a serving and are a great way to curb your appetite in between meals.  These oven fried pickles are of course a little heavier on the calories but still pack immense flavor in each tasty morsel and it does not get much manlier than breaded pickles.

Healthy Cookie Dough Dip

Cookie Dough Dip

Want to win some bets this year at your Super Bowl Party? Have everyone taste this dip and bet them they can’t guess the secret ingredient.
Photo Credit: Chocolate Covered Katie

A Super Bowl party is just not over until you have stuffed your face with sweet, sweet, fat filled dessert right?  What if I told you that you could have your sweets and not completely ruin your diet at the same time?  Put me down, crazy person, I am not a witch.  I am referring to this Healthy Cookie Dough Dip that uses a surprising ingredient to keep it low in fat and carbs, Chick Peas.  I know what you are thinking, “I don’t care if you are not a witch, I want to burn you at the stake anyway for this heresy.  Chick Peas are not a dessert you douche!”  I dare you to make this and have only one bite!  Go ahead, that is a challenge!

There you have it!  The top 10 Blue Collar Foodie approved healthy yet manly apps for the Super Bowl. Remember, one bad day will not ruin your health, just like one good day cannot make you healthy, so if you decide to cheat on Super Sunday, make sure you get back on track during Move Your Ass Monday.  Save this page to your favorites and when you need to make a dish for a party that won’t make you feel less masculine than buying Maxi-Pads for your wife during the Super Bowl, remember, there is an App (itizer) for that!

The Blue Collar Foodie Celebrates Small Business Saturday

Since November 30, 2013 was Shop Small Saturday, I being a foodie took that as a cue to not only visit my favorite local shops but also to support the local eateries around town.   For breakfast Kat and I stopped off at our favorite bagel shop, Modern Bagel, located at 23-59 Fair Lawn Avenue in Fair Lawn.  I know, I just inadvertently started Bagel Wars on the internets by claiming that Modern Bagel was our favorite, but that is not what this article is about so please refrain from threatening my first born son, lovely wife, and/or cute dog, because you feel that there are other bagel shops in the area that are better.  I respect your opinion, even though it is wrong, Sick Burn, so you should follow what theChive.com says, Keep Calm and Carry On.

Once our bellies were full, Kat and I decided to venture down the road a bit and visit our favorite and damn near the last true comic book store in the world, The Joker’s Child, located at 12-23 River Road in Fair Lawn.  If you have any Big Bang Theory types on your Christmas list this is the only place to go to fill their stockings chock full of nerdy goodness!

Help make every Saturday Small Business Saturday

Help make every Saturday Small Business Saturday!

While Kat and I were browsing everything from Archie to Zombies, we were discussing our dinner.  I know what you are thinking blog reader man, “dude you just ate breakfast, and you are already thinking about dinner!”   To that I say, don’t judge us, Kat and I like food, like the Grinch loves misery, like Frosty hates global warming, and like Justin Beiber (There should be a link here for the Beebs, but I refuse to perpetuate his fame and therefore, no Wiki link for him!) likes selfies, so thinking about dinner before lunch makes perfect sense, Jerk!

Kat and I are very serious about dining out.  You see, there are many pros to being The Blue Collar Foodie, but there are some Cons.  One such Con is that we don’t get to frequent the same place very often because I am always on the hunt for a new and exciting place to write about, so a lot of thought normally goes into to where we should dine.  However, this decision was somewhat simple, thanks to one of my Facebook friends Carolina P., who informed me about a new Fair Lawn eatery that moved into the Picnic’s old digs.  So, before leaving The Joker’s Child, with a handful of gifts for our friends, Kat and I decided that The Istanbul Café & Grill, located at 1425 Plaza Road North in Fair Lawn, NJ, is where our Small Business Saturday Smorgasbord would be.  I dare you to try to say the name of this Restaurant without singing this song in your head.  Go.

Istanbul

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

With that decided, Kat and I could enjoy the rest of our Saturday pontificating, dreaming, and salivating, patiently waiting for dinner time to arrive.  Since we seem to never have a spare moment in our lives, the day went by relatively fast and soon enough we were pulling up to The Istanbul Café & Grill packing a camera and our normal hearty appetites ready to devour some delicious Turkish food.

Upon entering The Istanbul Café & Grill, we were immediately greeted by not only a friendly member of the wait staff, but also the fantastic aroma that can only be attained by the low and slow cooking of fresh quality ingredients.   Since Istanbul Café & Grill is a BYOB establishment, we brought a bottle of middle of the road white wine to accompany our meal, and our helpful waitress showed us to our table before whisking the bottle away to be opened post haste.  Once seated we realized that this restaurant was perfect for not only couples but could easily accommodate the two large families that were in attendance.  Although, I do suggest a reservation for larger parties, as the dining room was mostly full when we arrived.

Our waitress soon returned with our now uncorked bottle of wine and our reading material for the evening, the menus.  To be honest, as much as I love a good book now and again, I will honestly take the menu from a respectable restaurant over a Dostoyevsky any day of the week.   We filled our glasses with wine, toasted to a rare date night, and perused the menu with the logical profoundness of Mr. Spock.  As we carefully weighed our options, as to not make the wrong decision and be destined to have plate envy for the entire evening, we decided that there simply were too many options to choose just one and sharing was in order.

Once we made the decision to go all Karl Marx on our dinner, the decision was much easier, considering we were guaranteed to have at least half of each other’s food, thus negating plate envy altogether.  Now we only had to worry about eater’s remorse.  We soon decided on the Eggplant Salad for an appetizer, combined with the Mixed Grill and Stuffed Cabbage as out main courses.

With our order complete, we were then able to sit back, relax, and sip our wine as we absorbed the ambience of The Istanbul Café & Grill.  The first thing I noticed is that Istanbul Café & Grill is bucking the trend that seems to be in many new foodie approved eateries across the land, and that is a dark and dimly lit dining area with dub step blaring over hipster speakers.  The Istanbul Café & Grill was well lit with soft light and had quiet, modern, culturally influenced music as the soundtrack for our meal.  I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of The Istanbul Café & Grill which allowed me to both see my lovely wife and enjoy a conversation with her without using more hand gestures than a sign language interpreter would use during an old school Micro Machine Commercial.

Warm Doughy Goodness!

Warm Doughy Goodness!

While Kat and I were relishing in our peaceful conversation, which was most likely about either food or Grumpy Cat our waitress delivered a basket of warm fresh bread paired with a bowl of olive oil complete with a few olives and house seasoning.   Warm bread makes me happier than an Elf eating candy wrapped Schnapps cake on December 26, 2013, so I immediately grabbed a hunk of this deliciousness and dipped it into the olive oil.  I savored each bite of this toasty, doughy, and somewhat crispy slice of awesome and only halted my delight when our appetizer arrived.

Whoa the colors man, the colors!

Whoa the colors man, the colors!

The color of our dish was so vibrant it looked like an Andy Warhol painting that should be on the wall rather than in a bowl.  After the requisite photo session, Kat and I attacked this aromatic dish with the tenacity of a honey badger.   Being a purist, I ignored my instinct to grab another hunk of the warm bread and dip it into this eggplant laden concoction, and instead guided a forkful towards my awaiting taste buds.  The flavor of this dish was elegant and delicate, yet so complex that it lingered long after I had swallowed it.  Nothing about it was overbearing which allowed all of the tastes to marry together flawlessly.  After tasting it by itself, I was unable to resist the urge to create a bread and eggplant conglomerate, and so I did.  The warm bread danced with the cold eggplant salad and created a wonderful juxtaposition that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Meet the Meat!

Meet Istanbul’s Meat!

Shortly after Kat and I finished our appetizer our main courses arrived at the table.  The first thing I noticed upon its delivery was that the portion sizes at The Istanbul Café & Grill seemed to be very generous.  The Mixed Grill, described as a combination of Chicken Shish, Adana Kebab, and Chicken Adana was paired with a substantial amount of rice pilaf and a garnish that we found to be perfect for cleansing our palates in between the different types of meat.  Each of these appetizing morsels of meaty goodness were fork tender and teeming with flavor.  As we were consuming each style it seemed as if the one we had just eaten was our favorite; that is until we tried the next one.  I would highly recommend this dish to the Istanbul Café & Grill virgin, as it gives you the opportunity to try a few varieties of the awesomeness that is being grilled in the kitchen.

Cabbage Stuffed Chock Full of Wonderfulness!

Cabbage Stuffed Chock Full of Wonderfulness!

After trying a few pieces of the delectable meat that formed the Mixed Grill, we moved on to the Stuffed Cabbage that was described as cabbage leaves stuffed with ground lamb and rice served with yogurt.  To be honest, I am usually not a huge fan of Stuffed Cabbage, but Kat loves the stuff.  I really wanted to try the yogurt sauce, so I acquiesced to the ordering of this dish.  I should remember moments like these when I question listening to my wife because she was absolutely spot on about this entrée.  Not only was this easily the best Stuffed Cabbage Rolls I have ever tasted, but the yogurt sauce was damn near perfect.  This simple, smooth, and creamy sauce not only was an impeccable companion to the Stuffed Cabbage dish, but it also went quite well with all the meat from the Mixed Grill.

Not only was everything that we ate at the Istanbul Café & Grill tasty and wonderfully prepared but the bill was just right too.  Don’t get it twisted, this establishment is not cheap, but you most definitely get your money’s worth.  It is apparent that this eatery serves high quality, fresh food that is cooked with love, on site, by an expert.  If you are in the Fair Lawn area, and you are in the mood for a meal with Turkish Flair, I highly suggest you make your way down to the Istanbul Café & Grill and try a few of their subtle yet flavorful dishes.

Istanbul Cafe & Grill on Urbanspoon

Orale Mexican Kitchen Makes The Blue Collar Foodie Say OMG!!!

As a wandering gourmand, my passion for the epicurean spirit has led me to establishments near and far. I have always said that good food is worth traveling for, and I have been known to embark on a gastronomic voyage, simply because of a fellow foodie’s recommendation.   These adventures have brought me to places that I still dream about today and conversely these excursions have been responsible for numerous night terrors.

I thoroughly enjoy the anticipation of driving to a restaurant that I have never been to before. There is a certain Schrödinger’s cat like perception, because as I am in transit the restaurant is both bad and good. This is why I continue doing this wild and crazy hobby turned damn near full time job, that and of course, I freaking love food like Kayne West loves being a douche.

Orale SignWith that said, after hearing some great things about a relatively new restaurant located at 341 Grove Street in Jersey City called Orale Mexican Kitchen, Kat and I decided to leave our comfort zone of Bergen County and head to Hudson County to give Orale a whirl. As stated above, I will travel for food, and even though Jersey City is not far, I rarely find myself in that neck of the woods, but if the internets were not lying, Orale was a must hit eatery in the ever evolving Jersey City Foodie Scene.

Not sure what to expect as we fought our way through traffic to make our 7:30 reservation, we decided to peruse the menu. While we did the New Jersey traffic dance which consists of accelerating to 75 miles an hour, braking the instant you get to a good cruising speed, traveling at 4.5 miles an hour, honking at the idiot that is texting and changing lanes without using his signal, dropping several F-bombs, throwing up so many hand signs that everyone around you thinks you are in the bloods, and then accelerating once again to 75 miles an hour only to rinse and repeat, Kat and I realized that Orale was not your typical taco joint.

First off, Orale’s menu is based on the following principle, “It is our belief that the best meals are those that are shared. It is in the passing of plates amongst friends and the communal savoring of multiple small-bite dishes that the true spirit of our cuisine resides. All items will arrive at the table as they are prepared.”  Meaning that Orale Mexican Kitchen is all about the shared experience that food can convey to a table of friends. This pseudo communistic outlook on eating a meal is making a comeback as more and more people begin to embrace the epicurean sub-culture, because it allows everyone that is involved to experience more than just one of the chef’s culinary creations.

Orale Crispy Pork Guacamole Furthermore, as we participated in our New Jersey Highway Hoedown, we noticed that the food that Orale was offering was not your ordinary Mexican fare either. Since I enjoy living, Kat read the menu to me because if texting while driving is dangerous, menu reading while bobbing and weaving through rush hour traffic is about as safe as jumping into a car with Lindsay Lohan after a night of twerking and pill popping. Every dish that Kat verbalized made me want to commandeer a police car and head to Orale with the lights and sirens blaring. Menu items like Crispy Braised Pork Belly Guacamole, Roasted Bone Marrow Tacos, and Empanadas Made with Green Masa Filled with Shrimp, Cilantro, Chipotle and Lime were just some of the highlights of the extensive menu that Orale Mexican Kitchen offers on a regular basis.

When we arrived, Kat and I were lucky to find a parking spot within walking distance of Orale, and we headed to our dinner destination. As we entered the dining area, I fell in love with the décor. From the brick walls, to the graffiti that adorned them, the entire restaurant gave off an excellent modern vibe that was a welcomed change to the hum drum atmosphere that some restaurants create within their walls.

As soon as we were seated, we were met at our table by Christian, our server who discussed the extensive cocktail and food menu with us. Christian’s knowledge of what Orale served was extremely helpful and he guided us as we perused the menu. Thanks to his expert suggestions, I decided to go with a classic yet always refreshing Margarita while Kat set her sights on the White Wine Sangria.

Once our beverage order was in, Kat and I turned our attention to the food menu which we had already engaged in some serious foodie foreplay with in the car. Thanks to our traffic induced tryst with this drool inducing carte du jour, we already had a vague idea of what we wanted to sample at our first visit to Orale Mexican Kitchen. With a few more glances at the menu, we had made up our minds and as soon as our drinks arrived, we were able to place our food order.

Guacamole TrioFor our appetizer, we decided on the Trio of Guacamole which allowed us to choose three different guacamoles to sample. We chose the Casa, or house, the Chipotle, and the Crispy Pork Belly. As for our entrees, Kat being a taco fanatic decided to try the Chicken Tacos that were described as Shredded Chicken Tinga Topped with Soy Pickled Serrano Chiles & Yellow Tomato Pico, whereas I chose the Bone in Lamb Ribs with a Tamarind Chili Glaze paired with a Jicama Slaw and Sweet & Spicy Butternut Squash.

Orale DrinksAfter ordering our food, it was time to taste the beautiful cocktails that were brought to our table. Kat’s white sangria was topped with fresh fruit and tasted remarkable. The flavor of the fruit was apparent but not overbearing allowing the wine to still be the star of the drink. My Elite Margarita was appropriately named as it was one of the best margaritas I had tasted in quite some time. It walked a fine line between refreshing and strong while delivering a tremendous flavor.

It was not long after we ordered our meals that our trio of Guacamole arrived at our table.   As I took picture after picture of this culinary masterpiece, I could feel Kat’s glare, burning a hole in my forehead. Kat is normally a very patient person when it comes to my overzealous food photography but standing in between Kat and fresh Guacamole is tantamount to stealing a polar bear’s baby and then taunting the mother by making the new born cub do the Cha-Cha Slide instead of running for your life.

After all the photographs were taken, we dipped a chip into each of the guacamoles before we discussed any of them. We then compared and contrasted these delicious concoctions like Bill Belicheck dissects film on a Monday morning. What we came up with is that each of the varieties we chose was good in its own right. The house guacamole had the perfect texture and for the traditionalist, it was the perfect guac. The chipotle was basically the house guacamole with just the right amount of kick that would satisfy the spice seeking guacamole lover. Then there was the extremely impressive Crispy Pork Belly guacamole that literally made me sound like a porn star upon first bite, due to the unintentional moan that I released. The salty crunch of the pork belly combined with the subtle yet flavorful guacamole achieved in my opinion guacamole Nirvana.

Eye of Orale To top it off, the Trio of guacamole was served with house made sauces that took these wonderful creations to a whole other level of scrumptiousness. These sauces were once again described by the knowledgeable Christian, and we began to experiment with them. All three of the sauces were fantastic when paired with the guacamole singularly, but as if I were Bill Nye the Foodie Guy, I did not stop there. We continued this hedonistic food experiment by mixing the sauces together.  After we tasted two of the sauces together, we decided we were going to be forced to move to Utah and become sauce polygamists, that is until we tried all three combined with the guacamole on a chip, and realized that we were actually going to have to move to Texas and create a sauce cult.

While we finished off our amazing appetizer, we did what every couple that is out to dinner does, discuss the finer points of our crappy day and how much the food we were eating was doing to make it better. During our conversation, we noticed something spectacular about Orale. There was enough music to drowned out the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant but not too much to stifle conversations. I have been to way to many “hip” eateries that pump in music at an obnoxious level forcing their patrons to yell at each other like Howard Wolowitz and his Mother, and I was extremely happy with Orale’s decision to not give into this annoying trend.

Orale Lamb RibsOnce we were done hating on our day like Grumpy Cat hates on this Smiley Cat Compilation, our entrees arrived.   Both plates appeared to be two parts food and one part art, thanks to the dutiful and noticeable attention the chef paid to presentation. With a small sense of guilt as if I was drawing on the Mona Lisa with a crayon, I cut into my Lamb Ribs, and I was amazed at how tender the meat really was. My knife fell through the meat, as if it was a Honey Badger’s claws ripping through, well let’s be honest anything that is not a honey badger.

These Lamb Ribs were not only tender and juicy, but they tasted incredible. I was slightly nervous when I ordered this dish that the gaminess of the Lamb would be too strong but that was not the case. I was informed that they marinade these fantastic bone-in ribs in yogurt in order to extract most of the gaminess before applying the tamarind sauce that paired perfectly with the lambey goodness.

Orale Butternut SquashAfter tasting the lamb ribs, I was under the impression that the side dishes of this meal would be nothing more than an afterthought, but I was dead wrong.   The sweet & spicy butternut squash was the most remarkable seasonal side dish I have ever had, and I am a huge fall food fan. The duality of this dish was expertly created by the chef, and I could have eaten a bucket full of this brilliant vegetable side.

After tasting each portion of my meal, I assure you that I was skeptical to share even one morsel of it with Kat, but when in Rome right. I followed the Orale Mexican Kitchen’s guide to karmatic communal food sharing, and I was met with a welcomed dose of instant karma, of the rare good variety. Upon taking my first bite, I could not hold back a smile. These mini-tacos may have been small in size but they packed a mighty flavor punch.   Not to mention Kat decided to follow the Boy Scout motto and saved some of the guacamole to pair with her tacos which only added to the awesome sauce that these tacos were pouring all over me. (TWSS)   Furthermore, Kat’s chicken taco dish was designed for sharing as it came with six mini taco shells stuffed with yummy goodness.

Orale Chicken TacoAs we finished our meal, we made the fatal mistake of glancing at the dessert menu, and even though we were absolutely full, we simply could not pass up the opportunity to try the Helados Domingo described as Vanilla & Chocolate Ice Cream, Cajeta, Chocolate Sauce, Crumbled Cookies, and Caramelized Bananas. If an alcoholic, nicotine addict first tasted this dessert and was then given the option to give up booze and cancer sticks or the Helados Domingo for the rest of their life, 99 out of 100 of them would choose to give up the former as opposed to the latter. Yea, it is that kind of good. Don’t believe me, I guess you will have to bring your ass to Jersey City and try it yourself; careful though, just like cigarettes and heroin, it is habit forming.

Orale Helados DomingoI know this review was rather verbose and if you made it this far, you deserve a Helados Domingo, but when I walk into a restaurant that gets it like Orale gets it; I can’t help but sing its praises. But believe me, you do not want to hear me sing, I sound like an auto tuned cat in heat participating in a duet with Justin Beiber, so instead of singing, I will use the clickity clack of my keyboard and the vastness of the world wide web to get my message out. After reading this review that message should be clear, Orale Mexican Kitchen is a must try establishment for anyone that fancies themselves to be a food connoisseur.

Click to add a blog post for Orale Mexican Kitchen on Zomato

The Q-Crew BBQ Catering Company Rocks Out With Thier Hog Out!

So, you want to throw a backyard Barbecue that will make one of Andrew Jackson’s epic White House parties seem like a lame Jack and Jill shower, but even though Yan Can Cook, You Can Not.  You may think that you have no options and sheepishly accept your fate as merely a party attendee and not the host with the most, but you would be wrong.  Perhaps you can cook with the best of them, but you are lazier than a freshman in college after partaking in your first all night weed and fast food festival. Not that I condone that sort of thing, I mean fast food is horrible for you.  Maybe you are not lazy or gastronomically challenged but just want to be able to enjoy the legendary soirée that you are planning without having to man, or woman, the grill all night while your friends enjoy the giant bouncy castle and life size wrestling Ring full of Jell-o shots that you rented for this event.  If you fall into any of the aforementioned categories you need to request the Q-Crew to come to your next event!

Andrew Jackson sure did love to party!

Andrew Jackson sure did love to party!

Recently, I had the honor of officiating the wedding of two of my friends, one whom happens to be a fellow blogger. (Check out his humorous child rearing blog by clicking here.)   You read that right, I not only have a 9-5 job and write about some of the best Blue Collar Food I can find, but I also happen to be an ordained Reverend!  I thoroughly enjoy performing marriage ceremonies, and I have a blast at every wedding that I get the chance to preside over, although, this wedding had something that made this member of the cloth salivate like never before.  Instead of a pretentious indoor, five course meal, offering the same menu that has been served at receptions for 35 years, this couple made the executive decision to call in the Q-Crew to cater their special day.

Whole Pig Roast

Here Piggy Piggy Piggy

The Q-Crew is not your stereotypical catering company.  Instead of chasing stuffy white gloved waiters throughout a banquet hall, creating a live action Pac-Man like game that ends in you eating three shrimp and one pizza bite that you had to wrestle from your Great Aunt Bertha, you get to watch the Q-Crew in action as you mingle with the other guests during the cocktail hour.  Q-Crew does offer many different packages for any event that you could imagine, but by far their most impressive is the roasted whole pig complete with Pre-dinner photo ops.

Grilling

The Q-Crew hard at work!

This particular event not only featured the whole roasted pig, but the privileged guests of this amazingly meaty shindig got a one way ticket to flavor country courtesy of the Bride and Groom, via the Q-Crew express.  The menu for this grand affair consisted of St. Louis Style Ribs, Pulled Pork, Barbecue Chicken, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Grilled Vegetables, and a plethora of fixings that paired perfectly with this meatgasmic offering.  Although the Bride was beautiful, the Q-Crew spread gave her a run for her money as the most stunning attendant of this fine affair, but since she was the one who brought this eating orgy to my world, I will say she beat the pig by a snout.

So much meat! TWSS

So much meat! TWSS

Once the food was ready, I was like Alex Rodriguez in a Performance Enhancing Drug store; I did not know which wonderful concoction to try first.  Since there was only limited plate space and I am a carnivore at heart, I decided to fill my first plate to capacity with the tantalization flesh of my most favorite farm animal, the pig!  As I was scooping the hearty portions of this fantastic meat onto my plate, the wafting aroma overwhelmed me with so much joy and happiness; I could barely make it back to my table before shoveling copious amounts of this picturesque BBQ into my drooling mouth.  Before I damn near ran to my table, I hit up the sauce bar to dress my swine properly before eating the hell out of this masterpiece that I created.  Not knowing which sauce was going to be the best on the pork I added a small amount of each type strategically so they did not comingle and contaminate each other.

Plate of Pig

Meat my plate of pig! See what I did there?

My first plateful consisted of two ribs, a generous helping of the roast pig, some pulled pork, a piece of corn bread, and a few pickles.  Considering I had been peering at Wilbur throughout the afternoon much like a 12 year old boy studies the first playboy he finds hidden in his father’s garage, I decided that it was the most logical starting point for my adventure down BBQ lane.  As I took my first bite, all I could think is if I were Zach Braff in Scrubs, my favorite pork memories would be playing in my head in slow motion with a horrible 80’s ballad added in for good measure.  Alas, I am not Zach Braff, although I think Kat would not be opposed to it.

Divine Swine

Divine Swine

Even though there was no divine swine montage, the pig was uber tasty.  It was moist, yet firm, with the proper bite that should be associated with good, wait check that, great barbecue.  The smoke flavor was not overbearing but still created that slight wood cooked twang that barbecue aficionados search near and far for.  I also loved the fact that the meat was not over seasoned or over sauced. The Q-Crew allowed the meat to speak for itself and not only did it talk but it sang!

Ribs of plenty

Ribs of plenty

After demolishing the pile of roast pig I had liberated from the buffet table, I moved onto the ribs.  When most people discuss ribs they rave about the meat falling off the bone but not I and much to my euphoric joy not the Q-Crew either.  In my opinion, ribs should have a slight firmness that requires a small amount of effort to remove the succulent meat from the bone, which perpetuates the primal sensation one gets when eating a bone-in cut of meat. The Q-Crew’s rib was not only expertly prepared in this fashion, but it also had a flawless smoke ring that added to its esthetic appeal.   As for the taste, the sweet smoke flavor paired perfectly with the tanginess of the barbecue sauce and spices creating a cacophony of flavor that made me want to create a Facebook page for these ribs simply so I could become friends with this rib for real because we all know you ain’t really friends with someone until you are friends on Facebook!

Pulled Pork

Pork that is pulled makes me happy!

The pulled pork, which had been waiting patiently as I fell in love with the pig and then cheated on her with the angelic ribs, was finally ready to be devoured.  I created a sandwich with the pulled pork and topped it with a liberal slathering of BBQ sauce, because that is how I roll.  See what I did there, sandwich, roll, get it, get it… Oh to hell with you, that was funny.  Once again this pulled pork was not drowned in sauce but instead the Q-Crew let the natural flavors of the porky goodness be the star of the show.  Don’t get me wrong, this pulled pork had some righteous flavor, but the predominant taste was good ol’ fashion pig and that is just how pulled pork should be.

Hamburgers

Just in case you’re a traditionalist.

I would be remiss as a card carrying member of the foodie community if I did not try everything the Q-Crew had to offer, so as I explained to Kat, it was my civic duty to say to hell with our diet and rock some seconds. On this trip up to the buffet line, I had to try some of the Q-Crew’s chicken because I had yet to sink my teeth into that BBQ favorite, but I simply could not pass up the opportunity to grab some more pig, pulled pork, and ribs.  Once again, there just was not any room for sides or the hamburgers and hotdogs, but I was told by other guests that they were mighty good.

Corn Bread

Mmmmmmm Corn Bread!

As for the chicken, at this point if you expected anything lower than stellar marks for anything that graced the Q-Crew’s grill, you have not been paying attention to this review very closely.  The flavor profile on the chicken was simple yet palatable, and it was cooked impeccably.  Chicken can be tougher than Howard Wolowitz’s Mother’s brisket, to cook properly on an open flame in large quantities, but the Q-Crew’s professional staff made it look about as easy as finding a celebrity who has a drug problem.

If you are looking to be the envy of the entire Social Media community that was not invited to your next backyard bash, you need to contact The Q-Crew BBQ Catering Company at 908-256-1198.  I warn you though, whoever can’t make it to the event due to a prior engagement will have to be put on suicide watch after they read all your friends’ status updates.  Furthermore, if I was you, I would warn my neighbors that the Q-Crew will be cooking at your function so they don’t think that you rented your house to a purveyor of cinematic filth when they hear the sounds of pure ecstasy escaping from your guests’ mouths after they take their first bite of the serious barbecue that the Q-Crew will deliver.  The Q-Crew slogan pretty much sums up the awesomeness of hiring these BBQ connoisseurs to bring their epicurean treats to your next jamboree and that is, “You Chill…We Grill.”

Grilled Veggies

BTW, Their Grilled Veggies were pretty good too!

Central Kitchen Opens In Englewood Cliffs

When a local eatery shuts its doors for the last time and decides to close up shop, most people think nothing of it. In fact, a fair amount of these individuals might not even notice that a restaurant has vanished from the local foodie scene. Fortunately for all of us in the Gastronomy Guild, Mr. Joseph Sansotta, owner of several successful food establishments in Westchester, New York, is not your average passerby. So when the Royal Cliffs Restaurant located at, 717 E. Palisade Avenue in Englewood Cliffs served its last hamburger, Mr. Sansotta seized the opportunity to open the restaurant that he had been conceptualizing for quite some time, thus Central Kitchen was born.

Welcome to Central Kitchen

Welcome to Central Kitchen

Those from the area that are familiar with this iconic corner in Englewood Cliffs might notice that Mr. Sansotta did not just buy the building and change the signage. Central Kitchen was essentially redesigned from the ground up to reflect the image that was dancing in Mr. Sansotta’s head all these years. Although this building has the very same footprint of the diner that once held this address, that is where the similarities end, and the beauty of Central Kitchen begins. The exterior of the building looks particularly contemporary due to the flat roof, brick red siding, gray brick accents, and fieldstone foundation. In addition this skillfully designed structure features not one but two large patios for alfresco dining when the persnickety New Jersey weather cooperates.

The interior adds to the modern ambience that oozes from Central Kitchen, due to the dark wood flooring, chic color scheme, and gigantic windows that allow the sunlight to accent the design features. Some of the key elements of the interior décor that I instantly noticed was the glass fronted open wood burning brick pizza oven, the thick granite bar top, and the large flat screen televisions that were tuned into the Yankees game when I visited.   Another fabulous addition to the interior of Central Kitchen is the large renditions of Sansotta family recipes that adorn the walls throughout the restaurant, some of which even appear on the Central Kitchen’s Menu.

Central Kitchen Interior

Central Kitchen Interior

Even though the grand opening event for this establishment is not scheduled until June 7, 2013, they are in, what the restaurant business calls, the soft opening phase. For those that are not in the know, a soft opening gives business owners a chance to identify and repair any glitches they might have with their general operations without having to deal with the pressure that usually accompanies a grand opening.   I must say, I have been to quite a few restaurants that are in this purgatory like stage, somewhere between open and closed, and this past week when I visited Central Kitchen, they did not seem to have any of the issues that I have experienced with these other restaurants. The fluidity of the overall experience and the knowledge of the seemingly cohesive staff lead me to believe that Central Kitchen was already an established restaurant. I don’t know if this overtly apparent stability is due to the fact that this is not Mr. Sansotta’s first rodeo or that his General Manager, Mr. Abdou Belmaachi, has been working in the food service industry for over 20 years, but I do know that whatever their secret is, it is working, because Central Kitchen is running like a finely tuned machine.

Central Kitchen was nice enough to invite me to explore there innovative twist on American Comfort food prior to the Grand Opening event, and after conducting some high tech research, which consisted of a Google search, I found that Central Kitchen was perfect for this Blue Collar Foodie. Central Kitchen features food that is seasonally inspired and created with many ingredients that are acquired from local purveyors.   Furthermore, it appeared that their prices seemed both fair and reasonable, as well.

Brick Oven Margarita Pizza

Brick Oven Margarita Pizza

On my visit to Central Kitchen I was afforded the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes that Mr. Sansotta envisioned and Executive Chef Adolfo Silverio bought to life with exquisite execution.  My first stop on this gourmand exploration of Central Kitchen’s gastronomic chops was a tag team of appetizers that would beat the silly costumes off of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. First off, I could not help but dive into the Brick Oven Margarita Pizza that was delivered to our table considering I fancy myself somewhat of a Pizza connoisseur. Most places choose to serve this style of pizza because it seems simple and easy, when in reality it is its simplicity that makes the Margarita Pizza an arduous task for the Chef that prepares it. However, Central Kitchen nailed the philosophy behind the Margarita Pizza flawlessly, by combining fresh ingredients with crispy dough to create a light palate pleasing appetite stimulator that prepares the diner for the rest of the meal, instead of ruining his or her appetite.

Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Appetizer

Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Appetizer

In addition to this enjoyable pie, a Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese appetizer was provided. This beautifully presented dish was as tasty as it was vibrant and the addition of the balsamic reduction only added to its appeal. The freshness of the tomatoes were not only obvious but extremely welcomed in this must try appetizer, that is simply perfect for any summer day while enjoying Central Kitchen’s patio.

Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay

Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay

The next dish that graced our table was the Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay. I believe that when a Chef steps out of his comfort zone and “covers” a dish that is not technically in their culinary wheelhouse, they should approach it as a band covering a famous song, and add a little bit of themselves to the dish to make it their own. This is exactly what Chef Silverio accomplished with this skillfully prepared starter. The chicken was grilled to perfection leaving the outside slightly crispy with the inside moist and meaty, and the sauce was remarkable with the perfect texture and a hint of spice.

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli

As I basked in the glory that was the dishes that I had already sampled, I was introduced to the next dish that Central Kitchen had in store for me, the Lobster Ravioli, and we became instant friends. These large doughy delights were swimming in a fragrant vodka sauce calling me like a siren from Greek Mythology. So much so that I almost forgot to take a picture before I dug in. As I took my first bite of these delectable spheres, my taste buds were overjoyed by the flavor and I was elated by the amount of Lobster these ravioli had to offer. Too often I order Lobster Ravioli that should be aptly named Lobster flavored Ravioli, this just was not the case at Central Kitchen, and my belly was happy.

Lamb Shank cradled by pearled cous cous, topped with a sherry wine reduction sauce

Lamb Shank cradled by pearled cous cous, topped with a sherry wine reduction sauce

Just when I thought this eating orgy was winding down our final savory dish was delivered to the table, in the form of a stunningly presented Lamb Shank cradled by pearled cous cous, topped with a sherry wine reduction sauce. The lamb fell off the bone with a gentle caress of my fork and when paired with the cous cous and the delicate sauce, it was absolutely divine. The gaminess of the lamb was toned down perfectly by the Chef, leaving just enough to remind me that I was eating lamb, but not enough to overpower the dish.   To add to this entrée’s charm, the portion was gigantic and paired with an appetizer could be a great meal for two.

Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli

Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli

I had a fleeting thought that I could not eat another bite, but just then, dessert was brought to our table, and as soon as it arrived, I knew I could not resist. Before us was placed Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli and an alluring Tiramisu served in a glass. Unbeknownst to the staff at Central Kitchen, one must be very careful serving me a cannoli, considering that I take the ruination of this most exalted tasty treat to be a direct insult to me and my entire house. Lucky for everyone, Central Kitchen followed the golden rules of cannoli making, start with quality shells and filling and fill it when I order it and not a moment sooner, to ensure the structural integrity of this yummy cream filled vessel. Not only were the shells crispy and the filling delicious, the combination of the two was heavenly.

Tiramisu Served in a Glass

Tiramisu Served in a Glass

The Tiramisu was slightly different than most of the Tiramisus that I have eaten and that is why I loved it. I find that in most Tiramisu, the creamy substance that is the basis for this dessert is usually too liquefied and therefore if not eaten immediately turns the entire dish into some form of lumpy pudding.   Central Kitchen solved this problem by using a cream with a pudding texture as the base thus creating in my opinion a revolutionary Tiramisu.

Cheers From Central Kitchen

Cheers From Central Kitchen

If reading this article has not made you want to check out this fantastic new foodie find, I will up the ante a bit. Central Kitchen also has a fully stocked and quite affordable bar. They offer a wine list that is not only impressive but reasonably priced, a seasonally rotating craft beer selection, and some very fancy specialty cocktails that are utterly perfect for a hot summer’s day on the patio.

All in all, thanks to Joe Sansotta’s imagination, Chef Adolfo Silverio’s execution, and Abdou Belmaachi’s expert guidance, Central Kitchen is on the verge of becoming a true contender in the heavily populated foodie scene of Bergen County. The community of Englewood Cliffs should be proud to claim Central Kitchen as its own, and support this fledging restaurant as it blossoms into the culinary powerhouse that it has the potential to become.