Summer is hurdling at us faster than hipsters flocking to a vintage flannel sale in Williamsburg, which means the time to prepare is nigh. No longer can you get away with making a Lasagna, a Sunday Sauce, or a Chili for your friends when they visit. The time for one pot meals is behind us and we are staring directly into the heart of the most epic and somewhat daunting cooking season there is. That is right people, this is not a drill! It is time to buy way to much food, invite a shit-ton of people over, drink heavily (But Responsibly…Stupid Lawyers!), light inappropriately large (But Manageable…I H8 Lawyers) fires in your suburban back yards, and grill, damn you, grill, until all of your guests tap out like the late great Kimbo Slice in rear naked choke.
For those of you that saw the title of this post and thought it was going to be about which movies are the best to watch while you Netflix and Chill, I apologize. For those of you that don’t exactly know what Netflix and Chill means and just clicked the link above to find out, I am looking at you Mom, have no fear, there is no porn here.
This post is about the Top 5 titles on Netflix to Binge Watch prior to the start of summer to get your creative juices flowing and assist you in formulating a plan for each and every backyard get together that is in your future. There will always be a place on my grill for burgers and dogs, but to supplement those staples, I like to go off-book and the following shows get me “in the mood”, so without further ado let’s Netflix and Grill!
This feature length film is for everyone that hates documentary style movies and television shows. I for one can watch a Chef wield a knife, talk about the perfect turnip, and pontificate about the need for 300 varieties of rice for hours on end, but I understand that those types of shows are not for everyone. This 2014 Dramedy is about a prominent Chef that loses his job and decides to open a food truck to reclaim his culinary passion and spend some quality time with his son. The cast is a recipe for awesomesauce as Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo add a cup of comedy, Sofia Vergara throws in a bunch of Tablespoons of Sexy, and Emjay Anthony steals the show with more than a pinch of epic acting. After watching Chef, if you don’t know why you started cooking, hang up your tongs, turn off the gas, and get the fuck away from the grill.
Quite the opposite of my first selection, Cooked is the epitome of Documentaries, but that is exactly why I freaking love it. This four episode mini-series is based on Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, by the same name, and discusses how varying cooking techniques impacted mankind and transformed the world as we know it. Each episode is named after one of the four basic elements of nature; Fire, Water, Air, and Earth to further drive home the deep connection between our evolution and the food of our ancestors, predecessors, and ourselves. After watching the Fire episode, Episode 1, you will want to kick your Grill’s tires, let some fires, and sear something that was recently slaughtered, but if you are anything like me you will have to binge watch the rest of the episodes first.
The host of this oldie but goodie, Alton Brown, is a combination of Julia Child, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mr. Rogers, and Pee Wee Herman. Good Eats, at times maybe funny, satirical, and nostalgic, but it is always informative and educational. Whenever I am cooking something for the first time I turn to Mr. Brown, because he does not just give you a recipe like all the other Chef’s kicking around your cable box, he explains why and how the given ingredients in that recipe work. Good Eats doesn’t focus on what you cook, it concentrates on teaching you how to cook, and that is why is the perfect show to watch before manning your meat maker. As of right now the only episodes that are available on Netflix Streaming is a selection of 25 episodes called the Good Eats Collection, but that should be enough to give you some solid ideas for your future backyard Soirees.
Thanks to Executive Producer/Culinary Cowboy/Narrator Anthony Bourdain and PBS, Mind of a Chef entered our lives in 2012. Wait…Wait…Wait… come back, PBS is so much more than Opera and Pledge Drives. This revolutionary show feels as if the producers gave some of the most innovative Chefs in the world a camera crew, a kitchen, and a Black AMEX and said, “show us why you became a foodie.” What came from this magnificent concept is a show that truly allows you enter the mindset of Chefs that are changing the very culture of cooking, one dish at a time. You begin to identify with the Chefs that are showcased as well as see how their influences, hardships, cultural backgrounds, and relationships shaped them into the culinary juggernauts that they are today. “Enter the Mind Of A Chef.”
If inspiration is what you are after, look no further than this gastronomic Netflix Original Series. Each episode introduces you to one of the world’s most renowned Chefs and invites you into their unique culinary world. The show includes an in-depth tour of the world’s best restaurants, stunning food porn; detailing the remarkable food these establishments serve, and of course a glimpse into the Chef’s inspiration, passion, and life experiences. After watching this awe-inspiring documentary one cannot help but be motivated to create food that not only tastes good, but looks as beautiful as any piece of art hanging in the Louvre. *Warning* By watching this show, you will add several restaurants to your Dine Before Death list and none of them are inexpensive.
There you have it folks. The Blue Collar Foodie’s Netflix and Grill list. Now get to binge watching because a backyard barbecue without creativeness is as enjoyable as drinking a non-alcoholic beer on a Saturday Night while you Netflix and Chill sans partner.
Once a year, in the backwoods of Sussex County, an invite-only Pig Roast occurs that is so fucking epic it is known throughout the State as “The Pig Roast.” This soiree is an underground four-day foodie fiasco that includes bands, pot luck style dining, drinks of all kinds, a gigantic Pig roasted on a spit, and experimental food preparation.
I have had the distinct and greatly appreciated privilege to attend this event for the past two years. This year, however, my connection to the gathering wanted to prepare something special for the party and asked me if I wanted to assist him in this endeavor. Attending this affair is one thing, but cooking, on a large scale, is a whole other level of crazy. You see, some of the best and most eclectic amateur and professional chefs in the area ascend the mountains of New Jersey to concoct dishes that are not only tremendously appetizing but also prepared in exotic and daunting techniques, so when my cohort dropped the bomb that we might cook, I was wondering what the hell he was smoking.
With a smile on his face, he asked me bluntly, “What do you know about Hangi?”
Thinking my friend was in trouble, I immediately asked him if he smelled burnt toast. He retorted that he was not having a stroke, and that Hangi was the New Zealand method of cooking in an Earth Oven.
I was intrigued, fascinated, damn near titillated about this unique cooking method, and I immediately signed onto the google machine to find out more. Sure as shit, Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Māori (Indigenous New Zealanders) method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a damn hole in the ground.
From that moment on, we began to hash this plan out over the course of the next month. It seemed like every time we had a pint in our hands the conversation would switch to Hangi. We read articles, watched Youtube clips, scoured the internets, and even asked Reddit for help in the form of a post on R/NewZealand. It appears the old adage, “the best ideas are imagined in the minds of the sober, but it takes some lubrication to implement them,” is correct.
What started as half a joke, had now consumed us. We were going to put down a Hangi at The Pig Roast, and we were going to do it fucking right!
Listen closely as this is as close as I get to a disclaimer. I am a fucking American, so this is in no way a definitive guide to Hangi. Furthermore, if any of you try this at home, please use common sense considering not only are you playing with fire, but you are playing with fire, next to a hole full of 1200 degree bricks! With that said, I hope this illustrated guide will give you a general idea of what cooking with an Earth Oven is all about. A huge thanks to the many Reddit users that assisted me in this endeavor, especially MurrayMcScurrilous.
The following is a list of the materials you will need for this endeavor, and I will explain each one in detail so you don’t fuck shit up! Pay attention, some of the details will make the difference between meat that gives you an orgasm and meat that gives you an organism. Don’t worry after the list of shit you need, I will explain how the whole thing comes to together.
Meat: There are a few things to consider here. How much meat you will need will of course depend on how many freeloading friends you have invited to your shindig, and whether or not they eat like birds or Joey Chestnut sitting outside a Nathans.
Another very important element is the type of meat that you choose to bury in your pit of awesome sauce. We did two Pork Shoulders, two Beef Rump Roasts, and two Whole Chickens. Honestly, you can throw what the fuck you want in the hole, but I would stick to boneless meats that contain a lot of collagen.
*Note (Even though we tried the Chicken, and it wasn’t half bad, it was not the best and was slightly under cooked, requiring us to cook it further on a grill. Since the whole idea of you reading this fucking thing is to learn from our stupidity, do yourself a favor and replace the chicken with Boneless Lamb, you and your guests will be happier.)
Vegetables: To be honest, no one walked past our table that night and said, “Oh shit look at those vegetables” or “Dude, I want to dip my balls in those carrots.” However, it is tradition in New Zealand to cook vegetables with the meat when putting down a Hangi, so if you want to experience the whole shebang, you should use the likes of potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Stay away from anything that would disintegrate in say a stew or a chili.
Cabbage: This is used in place of the traditional banana leaves because it is what we can find in the states. You will use it to wrap the meat and to line the baskets so buy enough to do both jobs. Shit, buy some extra fucking cabbage it is $0.59 cents a pound, you cheap fuck.
Aluminum Foil: My Comrade and I had delusions of grandeur of rocking the Hangi ol’ school until we talked to some real life Kiwis. They told us that we would be dumber than a sheep in heat, if we did not use Aluminum Foil to wrap our meat rather than the traditional plant leaves and mutton cloth. Neither of us were 100% sure on the meaning of this insult, but we understood the context clues in the sentence enough to know that we would be wrapping all of our food in this food science wunderkind and so should you.
Baskets: Considering if you are reading this you are from the States, you will most likely have the same issues as we had in acquiring Hangi Baskets. Apparently in New Zealand, you can run to the corner store and buy these fucking integral apparatuses, but here in America, you will have to be industrious and build your own. These baskets will have to hold all the meat and vegetables and will have to withstand a tremendous amount of heat so don’t skimp. We fashioned ours out of Chafing Dish Frames and NON-GALVANIZED Chicken Wire.
*Note (Notice the CAPITAL LETTERS IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE. For all of you that are internet disabled, that means I was yelling those fucking words. Galvanized metal will make people sick, and you don’t want to kill any of your friends, so don’t be a douche and buy the right chicken wire.)
Hole/Pit/Earth Oven: Most people think the first step to laying a Hangi is crafting the hole that will act as your Earth Oven. HEY YOU! STOP! COME BACK HERE! Damn A.D.D. generation. Don’t just grab a shovel and rip up your Wives’ begonias… that right there is how divorces happen. In this case, much like penises, SIZE MATTERS!
Your Hangi hole size should be directly proportionate to the size of your baskets, the amount of food you are making, and the size of your stones. The larger the Ho’ the harder it will be to heat it. According to my extremely helpful New Zealand Hangi brethren, a solid hole should be deep enough to fit the Hangi Paraphernalia listed above, as wide as the bottom of the baskets and slightly flair out to the sides, similar to a wok.
Location: The pit should be on flat ground for the safety of both the meat and yourselves. Remember, you are going to be maneuvering/running around it carrying scolding hot bricks and eventually reaching into it to retrieve heavy stuff. Pay attention to the wind in the area of your pit too, rain is tolerable, but wind is the enemy of your Hangi.
Shovel: I suggest at least three of these bitches, unless you want to do all the heavy lifting yourself. You will need this ever important tool for digging the hole, carrying the stones, burying the meat, and unearthing your buried meat treasure.
Fire Bricks: THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! You will be heating these sons of a bitches to well over 1000 degrees, and if you do not pick the right stones, they will explode sending white hot shards of stone in every direction if you don’t want a money shot full of lava, pay the fuck attention!
One is supposed to lay down a Hangi using volcanic rocks and in New Zealand finding these is like finding a douche at the Jersey Shore. Unfortunately, we have douches a plenty, but we lack volcanic rocks. Once again we had to improvise. We decided to use fireplace bricks which are designed to endure a massive amount of heat without making us all look like JPP’s mangled hand stump.
Fire: I am not talking about a tiny little city fire either! I am talking about a ragin’, big ol’, country fire. This fire will have to fit all of your stones and burn for about 3-5 hours.
Wood: You are going to need more wood than Ron Jeremy on a four day binge of snorting Cialis and Viagra so act like a Boy Scout, and Be Fucking Prepared!
Burlap: You can find spools of this material at Walmart or Home Depot. It is used to separate the layers of the Hangi and to add moisture to the mix.
Cheese Cloth: Enough to cover each of your baskets.
Bucket: You will need at least one bucket to soak the burlap sheets in which will allow the burlap not to burn and add extra moisture to the process.
Garden Hose: This is optional, but you will need to moisten the Hangi hole one way or another, and a source of water is never a bad thing to have handy when you are playing with fire.
Seasoning: Since you found this page, you have no doubt been bouncing around the interwebs in search of guidance on how to season the meat that you are about to bury in the earth. I was surprised to find that most websites simply don’t talk about this element of the process. However, upon speaking to many people that have participated in Hangi before I soon found out why. New Zealand has some weird ass herbs and spices that you or I have never fucking heard of. For example, Piko Piko, Piri Piri, Kawa Kawa, and Horopito.
Furthermore, we found that most Hangi meat is simply seasoned with a little bit of canola oil, salt and pepper. We decided to add a little ‘Merica into this bitch, and concoct seasoning rubs for each of our meats that we felt would not only taste fantastic but give a slight nod to the Maori people by adding as many fresh herbs and spices we could get our hand on.
Marinades: We toiled and labored over the keyboard to find the perfect marinades for our meat, only to find out that wet marinades are horrible for Hangi, which makes sense since we are essentially cooking with steam. However, not to be deterred, we decided to use injectable marinades instead, which we did the night before, and let the juices sink into the lovely meat overnight while chillin’ out maxin’ and relaxin’ in the fridge.
Friends: In New Zealand they are called Mates, in America we call them friends, and you are going to need a lot of them. Putting a Hangi down is a social\team event from start to finish, and believe me, the more the merrier!
Foreman: Most likely if you are reading this, you have already assumed this role, but this is a must for a successful Hangi. This does not give you the license to be a dick, but as I will explain the last step, putting down a Hangi is intense and time sensitive. Decisions will have to be made that will affect the outcome of the food, and these decisions should not be questioned because those questions will eat away precious seconds.
Seats: What are you going to do? Stand up for 12 hours?
Beer: Every single guide I read and person I talked to clearly stated that beer in some quantity or style was an absolute must when you are laying down a Hangi. Be responsible though, you are playing with insanely hot shit and the fate of the food lies solely on your shoulders.
Gloves: Holy Fuck the fire pit gets hot, and you are going to need some gloves. Not gardening gloves either you wanker. Get yourself some diesel BBQ gloves or even better Fireman gloves!
Sauce: I love sauce like Ron Burgundy loves Scotch, so I put sauce on EVERYTHING. If you are looking for a traditional sauce, I will include an amazing recipe at the very end of this tutorial; however, you can use any sauce that you think will taste good with the meat you selected.
Wheel Barrel: This will hold the dirt that you remove from the ground, so you can dump that shit back in the hole when the time comes. Remember time is of the essence, so this will come in handy later.
Mesquite or Hickory Wood Chunks: These pieces of wood will be added to the whole after the bricks to add a bit of good ol’ fashioned smoke flavor.
The Meetup: Wake up really fucking early and meet up with your Hangi Homies. Make sure you have all your gear, a box of Joe, a cooler full of solid craft beer, and set up your seats.
The Fire: This ain’t Naked and Afraid, and the fire needs to be hotter than Ronda Rousey and bigger than Chris Christie so use as many fire starters as you need. To paraphrase Jim Morrison, come on baby light your fire.
Can You Dig It: While a few of your mates tend the fire, grab a few others and start digging. By now I hope you have already scoped out the location of the pit and planned the dimensions, so this should be as simple as scooping the dirt out of the ground and into the wheel barrel.
Burn Those Bricks: Strategically place your bricks or stones into your now hopefully roaring fire. Your friends always said that all those years of playing Tetris instead of banging chicks and getting drunk were a waste of time, but now is your chance to show off your skills. BE CAREFUL!!! Use gloves and tools if necessary to stack the bricks in the fire. Now that your bricks have been placed in the hell fire you created, drink some beers, and take a breather. You need to get the bricks stupid hot, so they will sit in the fire for between 4 to 6 hours depending on the stones and the size of your fire. Just remember to tend the fire and make sure your bricks don’t fall out.
Basket Weaving 101: Now that your hole is all holey and your bricks are on the barbi, it is time to turn your attention to your meat holders. If you found something that will work without any tweaking, more power to you, but if you need to build the DIY version, now is the time. All you have to do is wrap the chicken wire around the Chafing Dish trays and connect the two of them by folding the end of the wire over the frame. *NOTE* You might want to use gloves during this step too, Chicken Wire is sharper than your douchey cats nails, and you will poke yourself a lot.
Peel Out: When you have about an hour left of cooking time on your bricks, you should start peeling and cutting your veggies. Before you start peeling them though, remove your meat from the fridge and place it to the side. Peel everything and cut the vegetables into large chunks, not too small so they fall apart, but small enough to allow them to cook. I know that is pretty fucking vague but stop your whining, I told you this shit ain’t scientific, you are cooking in a hole for fucks sake.
Rub Your Meat: Unwrap your meat and rub it down like a 16 year old that just found porn hub. Make sure to cover every square inch of your fleshy dead animal.
Wrap it up: Pretend you are about to score with a Las Vegas hooker and triple bag your meat and Veggies. Wrap it first in your cabbage leaves and then in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Don’t be a fucktard and use some bull shit off brand aluminum foil either! Remember the foil will protect your food from the pile of earth you will throw on it in about 15 minutes so don’t be cheap!
Soak Your Sacks and Wood: Throw your large burlap cuts, your cheese cloth, and your wood chunks into a big pot of water and let them soak for approximately one beer.
Meat and Veggie Jenga: Place your meat on the bottom of the baskets and the veggies on top. Make sure that everything is stable because you will have to maneuverer these bitches in the hole and then out again.
Final Preparation: This shit is about to get real and now is the time to go over your plan one more time with your team and bring everything over to your Hangi hole. This is your last chance to make everything just right before you take the first stone out of the fire and the clock starts ticking, so don’t fuck shit up.
GO TEAM GO: Time is of the essence!
Use a hose or a bucket to wet the hole slightly. Don’t make a puddle, you are not making soup, just add enough to dampen the dirt.
Transfer all the bricks into the pit faster than an eight ball disappears during a bachelor party. Use your shovel and your gloves because those stones are going to be hot as fuck, and don’t just throw them in all willy-nilly either, you are going to need a flat surface to place your baskets on.
Throw the chunks of wood on top and around your stones.
Put the baskets on top.
Place the Cheese Cloth on top of the baskets.
Throw some dirt on the sides of the pit to protect your stones from touching the layer of burlap that will go on top.
Place a layer of wet burlap on top of the baskets. Don’t let the burlap touch the stones or it will burn and ruin the flavor of your Hangi.
Add some more dirt to the pit and fill it up about half way.
Add the second layer of burlap.
Pile the dirt into the hole and seal it up tight. The rule here is, NO STEAM CAN ESCAPE! Keep adding dirt until you no longer see any steam wafting from your Hangi Pit.
Place the last burlap sheet on top of the hole and exchange several high fives.
Mind the Gap: Now that your food is in the pit, the craziness is over. Stay close though because as your food cooks you may need to tend to the Hangi Hole. As the magic happens, the dirt in the hole may shift, and some steam may try to escape. If this happens, immediately cover that spot with more dirt.
Low and Slow: As I stated earlier, I am just a stupid American, and I have only done this once so as far as cooking time goes, your guess is as good as mine. I let mine cook for about five hours, and it came out awesome, I checked each cut with a thermometer, and I suggest you do the same. Best case scenario, everything comes out epic. Worst case scenario, you have to throw your Hangi in the oven for a few to complete the cooking, but at least everyone will be alive at the end of this experience.
Make the Sauce: If you are making the sauce I mentioned earlier, and you fucking should because it is pretty damn amazing, now is the time. Follow the directions and improvise as you see fit.
Dig up Your Buried Treasure: The nice thing about the burlap cuts is that you can slowly lift them out of your hole to remove layers of the dirt that you threw on top of your baskets. Be careful stabbing your shovels into the ground as you don’t want to hit your meat. Ruin your Hangi at this stage would be a catastrophe. Once you hit pay dirt, use your gloves to remove the baskets from the hole and bring them to your carving station.
The Moment Of Truth: Unwrap your first cut of meat and stab that bitch with a thermometer. If you are rocking a Hangi I assume you are not a novice chef, so make sure your meat is cooked to a safe temp and then start carving. Carve and plate all the meat and the vegetables.
Sit your ass down to a true New Zealand Maori FEAST!!! You are fucking welcome!
Our Hangi Slideshow
Our Hangi Video
The Maori Sauce Recipe
2 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Onion
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Chili Sauce
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 ½ Teaspoons Garlic Powder
½ Teaspoon White Pepper
¼ Cup Pineapple Juice
1 Small Bay Leaf
¾ Cup honey
1 Cup Tomato Sauce
½ Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 ½ Teaspoon Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon BBQ Spice
1 ½ Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1 Tablespoon White Vinegar
Sauté onion in vegetable oil until golden brown. Combine with remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Makes three cups.
For numerous years I have been an avid fan and participant of the NYC Restaurant Week movement. I know there are hundreds of haters that disagree with the savings, despise the menus, and talk shit about the service, but I am not one of them. If you are, kindly piss off and save your hate mail for some other blogger. However, if you are trying to choose an interesting restaurant to venture to this year please continue reading.
If you are like me and this is not your first time rocking Restaurant Week you are tired of the regular RW haunts. If you are a virgin to the Restaurant Week game this post is really not for you. Please go to the NYC GO website and do some research, I assure you it is totally worth it! However, if you are tired of eating where Frank Sinatra punched Elvis in the junk, where Edgar Allen Poe wrote some words on a napkin that he blew his nose in, or at a spot that used to be hostel for starving artists that you have never heard of, this is the post for you!
This year my top 15 really has nothing to do with history, decor, or prominence. My methodology was simple. I scoured the menus that were available for every restaurant on the RW list and picked out the ones that gave me a food boner. Feast your eyes and get ready to hide your erection because without further ado, here are my selections for the summer session of the 2015 Restaurant Week!
Burke & Wills: This Australian eatery ain’t the fucking Outback! It is the real deal and they serve actual Australian Cuisine. Their menu for this RW session offers the likes of Kangaroo, Octopus, Lamb, Veal Sweetbreads, and Prawns. In other words, if you are looking for a little down under strange, this is the place to visit!
The Cecil: In the immortal words of Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.” The Cecil is described as New York’s first Afro-Asian-American brasserie and it serves some exceptional dishes. The highlights from their Restaurant Week Menu include Crispy Squash Blossoms served with Shrimp and for a ten dollar supplement you can sink your teeth into a Grilled Lamb Saddle topped with a Spicy Tomato Peanut Sauce. Make sure you also sample a beer direct from Africa if you stop by the Cecil!
DBGB Kitchen and Bar: This downtown hot spot is what you get when a French brasserie meets an American tavern, has one too many and slips one past the goalie. Normally, I would not recommend a burger during Restaurant Week but one look at their menu and I was dreaming of The Frenchie Burger, which is described as a 7 oz beef patty topped with confit pork belly, arugula, tomato-onion compote, and morbier cheese all served on a peppered brioche bun. Not to mention DBGB offers 25 taps and 75 bottles of beer to wash down that behemoth burger.
Inakaya: It is true that not all sushi is created equal but for the most part great sushi is all pretty comparable. Inakaya not only boasts remarkable sushi, which you can find on their RW Menu, but they also provide a show while you eat. Inakaya uses the traditional method of Robata-Yaki, or Grilling Around a Sunken Hearth. In other words the Chefs play to the crowd while they grill each dish in their open kitchen, using only the freshest ingredients they can find.
Junoon: I am a sucker for Indian food, so I knew at least one of them would end up on this list. The aroma, the depth of flavor, and the occasional heat not only intrigues me, but entices me like a bag o’ blow speaks to Charlie Sheen. Junoon won me over the second I viewed their menu and saw the Bhut Jolokia which is described as a Ghost Chili Yogurt served with honey and 65% Chocolate. Sure they have several great appetizers and entrees as well, but who cares… GHOST CHILI YOGURT!!!
Kin Shop: Kin is the Thai word for eat, and at this casual yet hip establishment that is exactly what you will want to do. In a sea of Thai restaurants that are popping up faster than pimples on a teenager, Kin Shop really is one of the Stand Outs. What caught my eye of this menu was the Steamed Bouchot Mussels that are served in a Siamese Curry Sauce and the Braised Hampshire Pork served in a Panang Curry. Deal with it, I am a curry whore!
L’Ecole, The Restaurant Of The International Culinary Center: Ever wonder where tomorrows top chefs hone their skills? Question no more, L’Ecole is the culinary world’s Minor Leagues and some of these powerhouses are ready to be called up to the Bigs. I am a storyteller, as you can tell, so the chance to eat a dish prepared by a Chef that potentially could be the next James Beard is just too good to pass up. Not to mention, their menu is quite extensive! If my ass lands in one of their seats I will be dining on the Country Pate with Truffles, Pistachios, and Cornichons and The Roasted Duck Leg served with House Made Pappardelle. I don’t care what Daffy says, for me it is always Duck Season.
Le Colonial: Both the decor and the menu serve as a “tip of the hat,” to a forgotten time when Southeast Asia was colonized by France. The fare is generally traditional Vietnamese but possesses a French flair that adds a subtle, yet wonderful uniqueness to each and every one of their dishes. If you choose this spot I recommend the Suon Nuong: Grilled Baby Back Ribs served with Lemongrass and a Sweet Soy Sauce paired with The Trio: Grilled Prawns, Beef Brochettes, and Cha Gio Herbed Vermicelli Salad.
Miss Lily’s: My Boxador, half Boxer and half Labrador, is named Lilly, so I immediately checked this restaurant’s menu out when I saw it was participating in Restaurant Week. Furthermore, ever since I got back from the Caribbean I have been craving Jerk, just about anything. Enter Miss Lily’s, bringing Jerk BBQ Ribs, Jerk Grilled Corn, and Jerk Chicken to the RW world. To top it all off their is a Curried Goat dish that needs to be in my belly immediately!
Mr. Chow’s: This ain’t your corner Chinese Restaurant! The menu is not delivered to your door, nor is it depicted by 1970’s photos on a giant back lit rectangle that hangs above the counter. The menu at Mr. Chow’s is comprised of a combination of old Beijing cuisine and original recipes that have been delighting New York’s fashion and music elite for damn near 30 years. The name of the game here is Family Style Dining, so bring people that like to share, and don’t miss the Famous Mr. Chow Noodles.
Park Avenue Summer: Talk about trendy! This epic eatery not only seasonally changes their menu but they change the entire decor as well. P.A.S. makes my top 15 due to the amount of choices they offer on their Restaurant Week Menu. Most places offer a very limited selection but Park Avenue Summer is offering 6 different options for both the appetizer and the entree portion of the meal. If you are looking to hit up RW with a semi-large group, I assure you that everyone will be able to find something that tickles their fancy. However, if someone doesn’t order the Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs you have failed Restaurant Week and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Raymi: Raymi is an upscale Peruvian Restaurant that blends the flavors and culinary traditions of Spain, Japan, Chinese and Peru itself. The star of Raymi’s Menu is the Ceviche that captures the savory yet elegant taste that only this delicacy can deliver. Not only can you score some of this amazing seafood but you can pair it with some Carapulcra, or Roasted Pork Belly. If you are not into Ceviche, I suggest you rock the Pulpo Meloso, or Charred Octopus, which I might suggest Kat gets when we go, so I can try both.
Root and Bone: No food sticks to your bones like Soul Food, and even though it is summer time I simply can’t say no to this Uber comfort food. If you enter this restaurant and don’t order the Award Winning, Fried Chicken and Waffles you are no longer allowed to read my blog, so lucky for both of us it is on the RW menu! I am sure the other items are solid but FRIED CHICKEN AND WAFFLES!!! As a bonus, if you are ginger and eat here enough, you might acquire a soul… I kid, I kid, there is no way for gingers to get a soul.
Smorgas Chef: Raise your hand if you knew a Scandinavian Restaurant resided in the Big Apple. Keep it up if you can tell me what the hell Scandinavians eat. Unless your name is Thor or Dag I doubt you are well versed in the viking way of life. Well one night out of this establishment and you can school all your friends about this obscure cuisine. I highly recommend The Classic Smorgasbord from the menu simply because I can’t pronounce half the items that are on it and that is how I roll! Furthermore, I am like 80% sure it will taste as good as most Scandinavian ladies look.
Yerba Buena: Yerba may be somewhat small compared to other restaurants in NYC, but their flavors are gigantic. Not to mention their menu had me drooling all over my keyboard. They are dishing out Duck Confit Empanadas and Suckling Pig Carnitas during this session of Restaurant Week and if that doesn’t make you wanna jump on the Subway right the fuck now, I feel like I don’t know you anymore.
That is my list ladies and gentleman! Remember, Restaurant Week is all about exploring the greatest city in the world and sampling the amazing culinary treats it has to offer. The summer session is running from July 21, 2015 until August 15, 2015 and I highly recommend not only stepping out of your comfort zone while dining at these establishments but leaving it so far behind you that you never think about stepping into it again.
I know I might catch some flak for writing this review because it is on a chain restaurant, but as the Yolo generation says, Haters Gonna Hate! The truth of the matter is that I believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants, and as long as they are serving food that doesn’t look and taste like it fell out of an animal’s hind quarters, I am willing to pay them a visit, especially when one moves in down the street from my current homestead.
When the luxurious Fair Lawn Promenade was erected, not only did this new construction provide high end apartments located in the wonderful town of Fair Lawn, it also brought with it several dining establishments. If you follow my blog you probably noticed that I have already visited and reviewed the Habit Burger Grill which is located in the Promenade, and now I have decided to review Qdoba, in the same plaza. For all of you that are not familiar with Fair Lawn the actual address that can be placed into the googles is 23-31 Route 208, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410.
To clarify my aforementioned comment, I do sincerely believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants as they provide casual dining at an inexpensive price point in a quick and efficient manner. I am not talking about the McDonalds and Burger Kings of the food world, I only eat there when I have had a little bit too much to drink, and I assure you, I regret it more than most people regret their one night stands. I am speaking of franchises that still care about the quality of food they are providing to their customers, and I feel that Qdoba is truly one of those establishments.
First and foremost, what drew me into the Promenade to experience all that Qdoba had to offer actually had nothing to do with their food. If you are a Bergen County resident like me, you know that avoiding Route 4 and Route 17 is more important than eating, sleeping, and on Saturday you can add breathing to that list too. So the addition of a causal dining Mexican Grill like Qdoba moving into what is basically my backyard, thus allowing me circumventing the need to travel on those above-mentioned horrendous parking lots that Bergen County calls highways, was a gift from the Traffic Overlord ConeZilla!
Welcome To Qdoba!
Since my commute was five minutes, and I was only cut off once on my way to Qdoba, when I entered the restaurant with Kat, my foodie partner for the evening, I was much calmer than I have ever been at those Burrito shops located in the 7th ring of traffic hell known as Paramus. To add to my elation, as soon as I walked into the building, I noticed a sign that simply read, “Extras Aren’t Extra!” Could this be true? Is this a Dream, I thought to myself. They can’t just give stuff away for free, right? Or could they?
If it is free, it is for me, I’ll take three!
Since Kat and I are experienced restaurant reviewers at this point, we knew to peruse the online menu prior to our arrival so we were prepared to order the perfect meal. Qdoba is set up like most of the Casual Dining Mexican Grills that are sprinkled throughout our fair land, so the actual procedure of ordering was simple. When you enter, you walk into the queue and wait for an employee to assist you in constructing your epic meal.
This is my favorite part of the experience people; you literally get to build a custom Burrito, Taco, Quesadilla, Burrito Bowl, or Taco Salad that is chock full of everything that makes you happy. I know this method of serving customers has been around for quite some time now, but every damn time I venture to an establishment that uses this system, I can’t help but smile like an infant that has just farted!
As you can see from the menu, Qdoba offers quite a few entree options that can be fully customized, but I decided to go big and order the Craft 2 which is two perfectly sized portions of Qdoba’s most popular dishes. My two choices were the Mexican Gumbo with chicken and a steak taco and a pulled pork taco, one hard and one soft. (TWSS) Kat on the other hand was trying to maintain her girlish figure and opted for the health conscious burrito bowl with shredded beef. Since we both love guacamole and Queso, we made the decision to both order chips with a side of each. We rounded out our order with two medium sodas and called it day.
Our creations were assembled by a very helpful and cheerful employee that explained each step in the process making sure we did not miss any of the delicious ingredients we could add to our dishes. I could list all of the yumminess that can be added to your meal, but it would be about as boring as watching Seabiscuit, a movie about a freaking horse that does not even talk!
Once our concoctions were finalized, we paid, filled our soda cups from the awesome Coca-Cola Freestyle machines which dispenses 146 different flavors of soda, and sat our keisters down in a nice comfy booth ready to begin our feast.
I love Queso more than most people love their significant others!
In hindsight, we may have ordered with our eyes and not our stomachs. The amount of chips provided with a single order would have been more than enough for Kat and I to share, and we will remember that for next time. Although some establishments provide free chips with your entree, Qdoba’s chips do seem to be better than the free ones, and the Guacamole and the Queso were much better that the competition’s offerings. The Guacamole is bursting with flavor, and the hint of garlic makes it very pleasant on the palate. The Cheese Sauce is also flavorful, but unlike most Queso, there is not an abundance of salt, so when the chips come into play, it is the perfect marriage. We had to muster up some serious willpower to stop dipping these crunchy bits of corn into these enjoyable sauces.
A Mexican Food Marriage Made in heaven!
When I was finally able to force myself to stop demolishing the giant pile of chips that was in front of me, I turned my attention to my main course. The Mexican Gumbo, which is described as a unique dish that combines tortilla soup, cilantro-lime rice, beans, salsa, and cheese, intrigued me, so I tried this first. I fell in love with this cardboard cauldron of savory goodness at the moment that spoonful hit my mouth. I made Kat try this dish immediately, and she confirmed that it was rather amazing. The slight smokiness of the tortilla soup and chicken mixed with the heat from the salsa and the calming effect of the cheese and rice combined forces to create a depth of flavor that is hard to achieve.
Gumbo is not just for swamp people anymore!
The tacos were on par with the rest of the Mexican Grills that I have visited with the added bonus of the Queso Diablo sauce, which I found extremely tasty. I do recommend eating the Hard Taco relatively quickly because the juicy awesomeness that the no cost extras provide is no match for the structural integrity of the shell. In other words, eat the hard taco first or it will crumble faster than a game of Jenga being played by a T-Rex, The Incredible Hulk, and Mike Tyson.
YAY!!!! It is Nakey Burrito time!
Weighing in at just under 700 Calories, Kat’s Burrito bowl was not only tasty but somewhat health conscious. Is it a side salad and a fruit cup? No, but this bowl O’ burrito was also much more filling than your common diet fare and tasted delicious to boot. The fajita vegetables were the star of this dish as they appeared to be fresh cut and sauteed in house and treated with a very pleasant spice profile.
I am not going to tell you that Qdoba is the next Orale in Jersey City, but as far as Casual Dining Mexican Grills are concerned, I feel they are a strong contender for the leader of the pack. I thoroughly enjoyed the plethora of choices Qdoba offered when I was creating my perfect meal. I also have to say I was very surprised that the Extras were actually not extra. I was almost sure that when I reached the cash register the receipt tape was going to start to fly as the cashier nickled and dimed my meal way up past the regular price, but they didn’t. Furthermore, the ingredients that were served to us seemed fresh and were seasoned quite well.
Smothered Burritos + The Blue Collar Foodie = One Happy Tummy!
If you need another reason to visit Qdoba, they just introduced their newest permanent menu item, The Smothered Burrito! These are dubbed, “Smothers,” and include one of three sauces that each offer their own unique flavor. The Tangy Verde is the Mild version, The Bold Red Chili is a robust toasted chile sauce with a dash of sweetness, and the Smoky Chipotle Cream is the hottest variety which is said to pack quite a wallop. I just missed the release of these alluring sauce covered bombshells and can’t wait to head back over to Qdoba to taste test these bad ass burritos.
Overall, I would recommend checking Qdoba out if you have not done so yet. If you do plan to visit this location, I suggest signing up for their rewards program to earn free swag and coupons!
Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, “I Brake For Animals?” Well, I have decided that I need to create a bumper sticker for my car that reads, “I Travel For Food.” Most people create this imaginary 10 mile radius around their house and refuse to venture outside of it when it comes time to grab a bite to eat, but I call shenanigans on that mentality. As my now trademarked bumper sticker will eventually read, I TRAVEL FOR FOOD!
I don’t mean one town over either folks; I am talking, “pack a freaking snack, because we are going over the river and through the damn woods to munch on the best Taco, Slice of Pizza, or BBQ that the Tri-State area has to offer.” Hell, I will even travel to different states to feast on the local fare if a foodie friend of mine tells me it is worth it. This approach to eating food, drinking adult beverages, and life in general has taken me down innumerable trails and created countless memories. This zeal is also to blame for my sometimes hectic, but always adventurous life.
Now depending on your age, you may already know that as you get older, your small tight knit circle of friends begins to expand like the paint on a Spirograph. After college, some of them choose the convenient yet somewhat costly suburbs, others yearn for the excitement of the uber expensive city, and others will choose the wildly inexpensive yet slightly inconvenient rural areas of the State.
Once these decisions are made, they are not always final, but I will assure you they will cause some tension in your group. No sane human being leaves the 4 A.M. last call, no need for a car, bar on every corner, City Life to come to the suburbs to hang out. Furthermore, the Suburbanites refuse to admit that they need to enter the city to have fun because they have everything the city has offer; they don’t, but they won’t listen to reason. Lastly, the rural folks were hornswoggled by low property tax and much bigger houses which convinced them that an hour drive to their nearest friend that did not join the cult of the cow, won’t be an inconvenience but some fantastic alone time where they can clear their head; it isn’t, it sucks, and they will soon figure it out!
Luckily though, most of my friends are foodies and follow the same aforementioned principal that I do, so it is somewhat easy to “trick” them or me into hanging out after not seeing each other for quite some time. All one of us has to say is, “Dude, you have to try this (Fill in the Food Here), it will change your friggin’ life!” Works every time, and we all know it, but as Spiderman once said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” so we are careful not to abuse this power.
While at Eleventh Hour Rescue’s Puptoberfest we happened upon a table that was giving out free samples of pulled pork. As I did not want to lose my ‘Merica card, I walked up to the table and tried some of this sauce laden miracle meat. My taste buds rejoiced as I devoured the shot glass of meat and asked the supplier of this magical concoction where I could purchase some of this magical pig. It turned out that Mr. Jeff Feldstein was working the table that day, which happens to be the mastermind behind Down To The Bone, located at 1594 Rt. 10 & Sussex Turnpike in Randolph, NJ 07869. Jeff saw the delight in my eye and simply said, “If you enjoy that, you have to visit my restaurant, Down To The Bone because our food will blow you away.”
I have to admit, I was slightly skeptical about the bold statement that Mr. Felstein just tossed my way. The pulled pork that I had just consumed potentially could have secured a spot in my Top 5 in the Pulled Pork category, but Jeff seemed confident in his claim.
A few days later, Jeff’s statement haunted my foodie day dreams, shut up you are reading a food blog, you know you have them too. Soon I knew that I had to visit Down To The Bone, and see if the food that they were serving at the brick and mortar was really that much better than the pulled pork I chomped on at Puptoberfest. I put my plan into action and contacted a couple that Kat and I have not seen in a while and said, “Dude, you have to try this (Insert obscenity) BBQ Joint, it will change your friggin’ life!” Whamo-Bammo a date was set and my food shakes were finally at ease.
Welcome to Down To The Bone!
When we pulled up to Down To The Bone, we were slightly confused because this particular restaurant is attached to The Clubhouse Golf Center. Do not let this peculiarity scare you away though, in fact we found it to be a bonus, and vowed to return when the sun was out and work up an appetite with a rousing game of mini golf.
This is where the magic happens and that right there is the magician.
When you enter Down To The Bone, the fantastic aroma of smoked meats is wafting through the air and instantly causes you to salivate. When we were seated, we were offered our menus as well as any glasses that we would need for the adult beverages that we brought with us. This establishment is a “bring your own bottle” restaurant, and I highly recommend that you bring beer; because, well beer goes with BBQ like bacon goes with everything.
I said a hip hops, Hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hops, and you don’t stop, a rock it!
As the frothy head of this bold IPA slowly dissipated, we perused our menus to decide what magical meats would grace our plates this evening. I should probably preface this review by saying that I am not a rookie when it comes to BBQ by any means. I have traveled quite extensively and feasted on a plethora of slow cooked meats, and if there is any specific genre of food that I would consider myself an expert of, it would be the glorious gastronomic classification of Barbecue.
A Divine Plate Of Swine!
It did not take long for me to come to a decision, which is rare, but I tend to follow the same basic rules the first time I dine at a BBQ joint. Firstly, I find the largest combination of meats that I can order; in this case it was a Three Meat Combo, then I order the three things that every BBQ place worth the wood it is burning should be able to make. Ribs, Brisket, and Pulled Pork. In my opinion, any spot that can’t make these three staples of the BBQ world shouldn’t be allowed to sully the name of BBQ!
This was more like corn cake than traditional corn bread which I found surprisingly tasty!
As for side dishes, I also have a few select items that I use to judge a BBQ joints worth. These sides should be, and most likely are, on every BBQ menu from here to Texas and back, and I want to try every last one of them. My go-to sides are none other than, Baked Beans, Collard Greens, and Corn Bread. The rest of our contingent followed my lead and ordered a combination platter as well. My BBQ brother from another mother went with the three meat combo; whereas our daintier, and slightly less gluttonous, wives opted for the two meat combination.
There is something delightfully Southern about a bowl full of greens.
We ordered our meal from the owner/waiter/host Jeff Feldstein and after he relayed our order to the kitchen he came to our table to officially welcome us to his restaurant. I want to stress that he had no idea that I was there to review his establishment; he merely wanted to talk to his customers. His passion for not only the food that he serves, but the charitable events that he participates in, was immediately apparent. He spoke to us about the history of his restaurant, his homemade sauce, which he allowed us to try (spoiler alert, it was awesome), and invited us to come back on November 2, 2014 for The Wing Challenge that will benefit local charities.
If there was such a thing as Brisket Ball, this Brisket would be its Lebron James!
When are food arrived at our tables, I, of course, took the photos that you have been drooling over for about four paragraphs. That drool is not misplaced my friends. As I stated earlier, I am no BBQ Virgin, I am like the Paris Hilton of BBQ, if you get me, so I don’t just throw compliments around all willy-nilly when it comes to smoked yumminess. With that said, the brisket that Down To The Bone placed in front of me is hands down the best friggin’ brisket that has ever melted in my mouth and traveled into my belly.
Eating this chicken can cure any fowl mood. See what I did there?
Don’t get it twisted, everything was spectacular, even Kat’s chicken which is not always my favorite dish at barbecue places, but holy hell, the brisket was good! I mean, I still have dreams about it good. The chicken was extremely flavorful with a perfectly crispy skin and the meat wasn’t the slightest bit dry. Dry meat is the scourge of BBQ, and unfortunately Chicken tends to fall into this trap all too often when cooked using the traditional barbecue approach. Furthermore, Kat had the brilliant idea of dipping her chicken into Down To The Bone’s Homemade Buffalo Sauce which only enhanced the already tasty chicken’s flavor.
There ain’t nothing wrong with a bowl of swine!
I will once again mention that Down To The Bone’s pulled pork potentially could be in my top five pulled pork dishes of all time, but that would necessitate a blind taste test, an excel spreadsheet, and ain’t nobody got time for dat, so let’s just say it was damn good! The tender and succulent meat was left rather chunky which made for an excellence texture. The sauce that these tidbits of divine swine were tossed in was simply heavenly; a perfect melody of tangy and sweet leaving me wanting more after each and every one of my bites.
Not only were the main dishes tender, juicy, and downright delicious, the sides did not disappoint either. The beans were chock full of delightful bacon nuggets as you can see above. The bacon was sharing this vessel with expertly prepared beans, and they both were swimming in a slightly sharp sauce that made B&M Baked Beans taste like someone forget to place the ampersand in between those two letters. (For those of you that are slightly slow, that was a poop joke.)
Furthermore, the Mac and Cheese that Kat ordered had tremendous depth of flavor and was the perfect texture, not too gooey but not too firm. It tasted as if fifty different types of astonishing cheeses from all over the world attended a love-in, invited some noodles, and this was the epic offspring. I probably stole too much of this from Kat, but she loves me and luckily did not stab me with her fork.
What they say is true, once you eat this mac, you will never go back!
We all literally demolished our plates, leaving nothing but a graveyard of rib bones, cornbread crumbs, and empty plates with finger smeared sauce lines. After our meal was complete, Jeff once again visited our table, and we pelted him our praises. It appeared that this was not the first time Jeff was told that his food was absolutely amazing because he took the approval in stride. When we were done complimenting his fare, he made mention of the damage Kevin and I had done to our Three Meat Platters and informed us of The Epic Down To The Bone eating challenges. If you win said challenge, you win a Down To The Bone T-shirt and a place on the now empty Hall Of Fame!
Now that is a sandwich!
I understand that food in general is all about personal preference. To promise that Down To The Bone makes the best BBQ that you have had, or will ever have, is a foolish thing to guarantee. I will not make that hubristic mistake, however, I will state that it is now MY GO-TO BBQ. I feel that this endorsement should be at least enough to make you visit this relatively new restaurant. If you are a regular reader of The Blue Collar Foodie, you know that I have reviewed several BBQ joints that are much closer in proximity to me than Down To The Bone and loved each one of them for their own reasons, but I will now travel close to 45 minutes to sit my butt at Jeff’s tables and devour whatever he places in front me. I TRAVEL FOR FOOD!
If you 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!
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.
…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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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!
If you missed my first post about the epic adventure eating club known as the Gastronauts, you may not be aware that I am a super fan of this organization. However, if you have ever visited my page, you are well aware that I love food porn almost as much as Luis Suarez likes to do his best Mike Tyson impersonation while on the pitch.
Since each and every Gastronaut event contains more food porn than a sixteen year old’s Reddit feed has actual porn, I decided that it was my duty to not only take pictures of these epicurean gatherings but share them with all of you. This post will contain the last two gastronomic happenings that I attended with this epicurean society but from this point on I will make sure to post each on separately as to not overload you with foodtography.
Back in May the Gastronauts invited its members to join them at Phayul located at 37-65 74th Street in Jackson Heights for a Tibetan feast. The menu for this event was intriguing because the descriptions were very vague, unlike the other meals that I have attended. Unsure and slightly nervous, my friend and I ascended the stairs that lead to Phayul and placed ourselves at the mercy of the Chef.
A Dinner at Phayul
Churu Tibetan cheese soup
Fried beef spicy tongue
Gyuma Ngoe Ma
Fried blood sausage with onions & green chilli
Tibetan style beef tripe
The first thing to hit our table was a caddy that held two vessels which contained two different, slightly scary, spice concoctions that caused some minor whispering throughout our table. All of us were curious, but we were also a little apprehensive since the predominant color of these potions were bright red, and we were under the assumptions that they were going to either kill us or destroy our taste buds for the upcoming meal. Eventually, one of us dipped our fork into the evil looking spices and tasted what turned out to be an extremely pleasant sauce with a subtle yet lingering heat that was not offensive at all.
Next up in this food orgy was the Churu, or Tibetan Cheese Soup. Steph, my fellow gourmand for the evening, and I discussed this dish in particular length during the arduous ride from New Jersey during rush hour. Both of us were somewhat uneasy about eating this dish because the internets was pretty damn useless when we tried to find out what this cheese soup was all about. It turns out that we were concerned over nothing and not only was this soup straight up amazeballs, we now crave it like Piper Chapman yearns for affection.
After conquering our first, seconds, and thirds of the Cheese Soup, Steph and I were ready for the Chele Khatsa or the fried spicy beef tongue. This dish not only looked breathtakingly beautiful, but it tasted absolutely amazing.
The combination of the fresh vegetables and the fried beef tongue created a sublime texture contrast and the flavor of the dish was superb. I added a small amount of the aforementioned hot sauce and savored each and every bite.
Relax food police, before I ate the last bite, I asked my fellow table mates. I know that when eating family style there are certain rules one must follow. Unless of course you are eating with your actual family, then to hell with the rules and grab as many pieces of yummy you can before your gigantic Uncle Morty eats all the Christmas Lo Mein.
The next dish to arrive was the Gyuma Ngoe Ma or the fried blood sausage with onions & green chilies. I am pretty sure the actual translation for this Tibetan dish is THE BEST BLOOD SAUSAGE YOU WILL EVER FUCKING EAT, EVER, but since that is not politically correct, they go with the one above.
I am a huge fan of blood sausage, and I must say that everything that I ever knew about blood sausage was absolutely wrong and I am an idiot for every thinking it. I was under the impression that there was always a slight metallic, iron-esque flavor to blood sausage, and this was just a minor imperfection that one who eats this delectable treat had to accept and get used to.
This blood sausage did not taste metallic at all; it had every single wonderful quality that I crave in blood sausage and none of the flaws. It seemed like witchcraft to me at the time, and now that I think of it, it still does. Furthermore, now that I wrote this paragraph, I want some right the hell now!
Following the blood sausage was not going to be easy for any dish, but none the less the Dropa Khatsa or Tibetan style beef tripe entered the eating arena. Since the supposed death sauce was less killy than I thought it would be, I disregarded the bright red flakes and rosy glistening hue that appeared on the plate in front of us. That my friends, I can tell you, was not the best idea. Don’t get it twisted, this dish tasted amazing, but I should have taken a much smaller first bite. The heat slowly built in my mouth and set up camp on my tongue. Being a seasoned, see what I did there, professional with spicy foods; I did not go for my water or my beer and just waited the heat out as it slowly dissipated. I then of course ate more of the tripe because I can’t resist a nice kick in the taste buds.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat one more bite of this delightful Tibetan fare, out came the PARADE OF MOMOS! And what a parade it was!
Momos are basically Tibetan dumplings, and they come with a variety of fillings. The first one we got to eat was the vegetable Momo. These were filled with a combination of potato and diced veggies. The crispy and crunchy exterior was the perfect companion to the soft center that was bursting with flavor.
Beef Momos graced our table next and, in my opinion, were the best of the Grand Momo Show! If there was a momo Oscar, these tasty bastards would win hands down, and they would not even play that music in the background during his acceptance speech to kick him off the stage. Beef momo gets all the time he wants!
Hiding in the center of these pan fried pouches of dough was a succulent and flavorful morsel of meaty goodness that I could not get enough of.
I remember a time that I was not a Gastronaut, I remember a time that I was not fortunate enough to share in the experience of eating these astonishing meals, I remember those times, and I do not like them. The Gastronauts should be commended for allowing foodies like us to eat, drink, and take a thousand pictures of food without all the normies in the world staring at us with discontent and dejection. So, join the Gastronauts and in the immortal words of the sideshow performers in the movie Freaks, become, One of us! Gooble Gobble, one of us!
A Lebanese Dinner by Naji
Raw Goat Pate
Lamb brains and Lamb testicles
Brain Salad and Testicles Served With Hummus
Beef Tongue Fatteh
Toasted Lebanese flat breads mixed with a garlic yogurt sauce and Beef Tongue
Large-grain couscous, served with liver
Prepared similarly to sweetened cottage cheese, and topped with fruit and crushed pistachio.
After partaking in the awesome sauce that was the Tibetan dinner you drooled over above, I was yearning for the next Gastronaut event. I was just hoping that it would work with my hectic schedule of work, writing, and studying. Lucky for me, and I guess in turn lucky for you, I was available on the night in question and without hesitation reserved two seats for the Lebanese Dinner at Naji located at 160 Havemeyer Street in Brooklyn, NY 11211.
I may have agreed to attend without hesitation but upon further research, like reading the entire email, I was able to find my uncertainty quite easily. I neglected to read the menu for the evening and missed the eating testicles portion of the event. I had never eaten testicles before and I was concerned about the texture, the flavor, the potentiality of liquid bursting from the center as I bit into them, and a myriad of other orb related issues.
With that said, my adventure eating partner, Steph and I embarked on our journey to Brooklyn to eat the testicles and brains of a lamb that I assure you is much less happy to be attending this dinner party than we were.
Our wonderful and exceptionally helpful waitress delivered a plate of side dishes that were to be consumed with the meal as per the instructions of the chef. Steph and I both agreed that we are always a fan of instructions when eating a cultures food that we are not familiar with, so we were happy to hear that we would be guided on when and how to eat the chef’s preparations.
The Kibbeh Nayeh, or Lebanese Goat Tartar, is considered the national dish on Lebanon and is served at feasts and festivals throughout the year. When this dish hit the table, everyone was a little nervous about eating raw meat because we are Americans, and we all know that eating raw meat could potentially cause the outbreak of zombies thus destroying the world as we know it. Although, we decided that when in a Lebanese Restaurant in Hipster Ground zero, we should all act like a Lebanese Hipster… That does not work at all. I got it when in a… Never mind, you get the point.
We ate the raw meat according to the instructions that were explained to us by the staff and guess what? No Zombies! I know, I was slightly disappointed too. To be honest though, I was way too far from my house and wife for a zombie invasion to work out well for me anyway, so I was okay with the lack of brain eating, for now anyway, according to the menu.
The instructions of how to eat The Kibbeh Nayeh were fairly simple and created a lovely hand held flatbread of tastiness. We were to spread the raw goat on a plate and top it with the most amazing garlic spread I have ever eaten and fresh mint leaves. Then you take the concoction, place it on a pita, and take a bite which is followed by a piece of either an onion or a scallion. Needless to say, this did not help our breaths at all, unless eating raw goat causes vampires instead of zombies, then the whole garlic breath thing might work out for us.
Perhaps raw goat does turn us into zombies because all of us were pretty freaking excited to eat us some brains. Damn Center for Disease Control, being right all the damn time, what the hell? Although, it might have been the fact that the brains smelled absolutely incredible and did not look too shabby either that caused the mental salivation. The aroma of this lamb lobe was hard to place at first until we tasted it. There was a distinct cinnamon or garam masala flavor that was tremendously enjoyable. The texture could have been a problem, considering brains tend to be as appetizing as lumpy cottage cheese in the mouth feel category, but the chef expertly prepared this dish as a salad with a slightly peppery salad greens that created a flawless union of taste, texture, and spice.
The moment of truth was upon us. Apparently, what separates the men from the boys in the world of food happens to be balls, which is pretty accurate in the real world too. In this case though, these balls were going to be in my mouth instead of between my legs. Go ahead… Get it out… I realize that I just typed “balls” and “in my mouth” in the same sentence. I tried to get around it, but there was no way to avoid it. When you are done laughing out loud, I will see you in the next paragraph.
I summoned all of my culinary testicular fortitude and stabbed a lamb testicle with my fork and placed it on my plate with a small amount of hummus, a pomegranate seed or five, and some greens and took the requisite photos. This time I did not mind the delay, I sort of needed it to psyche myself up for what was about to happen.
With one swift motion, I brought a small piece of these rather large lamb testicles to my mouth and ate it. I should know by now that if the Gastronauts feed me something, it is going to taste stupid good, and these spheres were not the exception to this rule. Not only were these testicles not bad, they were freaking good! The texture was nothing like I thought it would be and resembled a somewhat undercooked meatball and much to my delight; no liquid of any kind was released from the center of these balls of yummy. I ate several more after cleaning this plate, and I would definitely order them again.
With a belly full of testicles…Dammit… Go ahead… The next course arrived at our table. I was impressed with the presentation of the beef tongue fatteh because the colors were spectacular. I mean seriously, this vibrant brew looked like it should be in an art museum, not in a bowl about to be consumed. I fought off my tablemates as long as I could to make sure I got the perfect photos before it was devoured.
This dish’s praise was magnified because it contained one of my favorite “bizarre” meats, beef tongue. Not to mention the fact that the garlic yogurt broth it was swimming in tasted outstanding and was full of tasty goodness.
If the fatteh was not enough to get your taste buds dancing like Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Chef also sent out a serving of Moughrabiyeh, which is large grain couscous. He decided to add a little liver to the dish to add a little Gastronaut style to the mix which only added to the already flavorful combination of the spices that were having a party in the bowl.
For dessert, we were given Ashta, which was described as a dessert that has a sweet and aromatic flavor which is often compared to the atemoya fruit. This would have been a great description, if I knew what the hell an atemoya fruit was. The good news was that we were about to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert; I appreciated the subtle melon like taste combined with the small amount of crushed pistachios that were placed on top of this pudding like dessert.
I really cannot express to you how much fun it is to hop on board one of these culinary expeditions and eat your way into the stratosphere with the Gastronauts. There really are no words to describe the feeling of apprehension, realization, and relaxation that occur at these tables, it truly is something special.
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!
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
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
To me the phrase “back in the day” used to be something that old people said when they were talking about 8-tracks, Blockbuster Video Stores, and a world without craft beer, ::Gasp:: Relax, craft beer is here now, and most likely will remain for a reasonably long time, so there is no reason to hyperventilate. Nowadays though I find myself using that idiom quite often, in fact I am about to use it right now. Ready, wait for it… wait for it…
Back in the day, when I was in high school, a double date meant a trip to the mall in my mom’s mini-van with my girlfriend and another couple. We ate the most economical food we could find at the food court, smoked cigarettes outside entrance 1 while foot bagging, and went to the movies to watch whatever sappy rom-com was starring John Cusack. A little less father back in the day, during our college years our double dates consisted of us trying to cook a gourmet meal with Ramen noodles, a half bag of stale stolen dining hall cereal, and 1 ¼ boxes of wine, while we waited for a deep intellectual movie to download on Napster, so we could watch it and discuss why the world was broken.
Unlike the disgruntled old timers that believe that everything was better back in their day, I have no delusions about what era that I enjoy the most. Sure I occasionally long for the days when I was in High School and my biggest problem was the pimple on my nose and the upcoming football game. Furthermore, who doesn’t miss their college days where they worked part-time at a retail job so they could afford a few 30 racks of PBR and a carton of Marlboros for the week while they spent the rest of their time waxing poetic about the fascist government’s capitalistic ways?
Sure some aspects of those archaic times were decent, but as explained above a double date was not one of them. Today, as Mikey from the Goonies would say, it is our time! Sure date nights might take a little extra planning now in order to work around everyone’s crazy schedule, but they are leaps and bounds above their predecessors. A normal double date for Kat and I consists of a pre-game get together at someone’s house to have a craft beer or two to start night off, then we travel to a restaurant that would make my college-self die from a foodgasm, followed by a night at The Twisted Elm or some such Gastro Pub that serves craft beer that would make Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch give each other atomic wedgies for daring to allow the swill that they once canned to be in the same category of alcoholic beverage.
Recently, Kat and I were able to find an open Saturday evening that somehow worked for not only us but another foodie couple that we often dine with, Kristen and Brian. After some hemming, hawing, and flip-flopping at a rate that has not ever been seen outside of Washington D.C., we all decided that the epicurean aspect of our date night would take us to Tierney’s Copperhouse located at 4 Little Falls Road in Fairfield, NJ 07004. Might I add, that this was a better decision than anyone has made in our government since the Thirteen Colonies declared our independence.The night we chose to meet for dinner, Mother Nature decided to test our testicular fortitude and dropped a few inches of snow on the ground a few hours before we were supposed to arrive. Well Mother Nature apparently does not understand that we take our food quite seriously, and we are from New Jersey, not Atlanta, so it was going to take a Tony Montana sized mountain of white powdery stuff to cancel our plans!
After sloshing and sliding our way to Tierney’s, we rushed inside to gain shelter from the blustery conditions. It may have been colder than Hoth outside but as soon as we entered the Copperhouse, the chill of the evening was merely a memory as we were greeted by a smiling hostess who brought us to our table. To add to the inviting warmth, there were two roaring fireplaces creating not only the perfect contrasting temperature but setting a wonderful mood for the guests of Tierney’s Copperhouse.
Slowly but surely the cold melted from our bodies as the snow melted from our shoes and within seconds of sitting down we were warm and ready to enjoy our stay. We were greeted at our table and handed the menus for the evening. After welcoming us once again, he asked if we would like to order drinks, which of course was answered with a resounding YES. Which may have been too loud, but it was snowing, we were cold (ish), and it had been a long day!
Upon inspection of the adult beverage section of the menu, I could tell right away that Tierney’s Copperhouse knew that Gastronauts like the Beastie Boys like their girls, CRAFTY! (See what I did there?) I am not only talking about their beer selection either, I am talking about their imaginative signature cocktails and their extensive wine list. Fear not my Oenophobic friends, the waiter will guide you towards a wine of your liking, all you need to do is click your heels together three times and say…, wait, that is not right, just ask; they will help.
With our drink orders in, we turned our attention to the most vital part of the evening, the ordering of our fare. Due to the diversity of the menu, we began discussing all the different options that tickled our fancy. When our drinks arrived, our waiter informed us of the specials which he stated rotate on a weekly basis and told us that whenever possible Tierney’s uses locally sourced organic ingredients in the preparation of their food. This information was greatly appreciated, although the addition of the specials only added to the challenge of choosing a meal.
As we took the first sip of our well-deserved, delicious, beverages, we dove deeper into the menu which brought on some discussion about the possible options of both our main courses and the shared appetizer. With our minds made up and our bellies growling, we signaled the waiter that we were ready and rattled off an order that would make Charles Darwin jealous. That’s right Mr. Darwin was a foodie, and he would have loved our meal; therefore by extension, Mr. Blue Footed Booby himself would like the hell out of Tierney’s Copperhouse on Facebook! By the way, you should too!
After some light conversation and more than a few chuckles, our first course arrived at the table. We had decided on the Tierney’s Copperhouse exclusive Pot Roast Nachos. These, flavorful, house made tortilla chips were topped with a generous portion of Pot Roast, roasted corn salsa, and a tangy chipotle aioli. The best part was that they were individual chips stacked with the perfect helping of yumminess. As a minor germaphobe, sharing a plate of nachos with even good friends makes me slightly uncomfortable and not to mention that most nacho appetizers are large enough to feed a small village, and therefore ruin anyone’s appetite before their meal even arrives. So, I was happily surprised when these single serving sized nachos arrived, and then I went from surprised to in love with one bite. These delectable, crunchy, zesty, and flat out scrumptious nachos are a must-try for anyone who comes to the Copperhouse.
Shortly after the last bite of my nacho that I will have slightly inappropriate dreams about in the future, our entrees arrived at the table. After a pretty serious internal debate, I decided on the rack of lamb with horseradish mashed potatoes, cipollini onions, topped off with a balsamic reduction. The smell of this dish was intoxicating, and only quelled by the taste. Each component of this dish was extremely appetizing by itself, but when combined, they created a culinary Balrog that only Chef Gandalf could defeat.
Kat decided that ordering a special was the way to go and chose the Stuffed Eggplant, which was bursting with zucchini, squash, fresh mozzarella, and topped off with a roasted red pepper coulis. This dish so artistically plated that Kat did not want to eat it at first, in order to preserve its beauty. However once she tasted it, she threw caution to the wind and devoured every last morsel. If the Mona Lisa tasted as good as this dish, it would not be hanging in the Louvre, it would be in Leonardo da Vinci’s belly!
Brian has sunk his teeth into a Tierney’s steak once before, so he knew just how amazing they were before we embarked on this culinary escapade, and although several items on the menu tempted him, he could not force himself to stray. I understood why, I too have fallen under the spell of the Tierney’s meaty goodness, and so his selection of the 14 oz Filet on the Bone was no surprise. Like always, this steak was flawlessly prepared as he requested and joined with luscious mashed potatoes and vegetables. Take my advice, if you go to Tierney’s only once in your life, make sure that you at least try a small slice of this heaven. I assure you if you do, it will not be the last time you are within the confines of the Copperhouse.
Last, but certainly not least Kristen opted to dine on the Tierney’s Burger which is paired with Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions before being placed on a Kaiser roll. I know it sounds slightly silly to go to a restaurant such as Tierney’s and order a run of the mill hamburger, but truth be told, Tierney’s is actually very well known for their hamburger. Furthermore, I feel that hamburgers are viewed undeservedly as the red headed step child of the meat community. These patties of deliciousness are only looked down upon because no one ever orders them at a restaurant such as Tierney’s that will do them justice. I feel we should look at Kristen as a pioneer of food rights and recognize that she was willing to stand up for the lowly hamburger when the McDonald’s of the world are trying to beat them down, one dry dollar menu hockey puck at a time. One day Kristen, Hamburgers everywhere will rejoice in song on your birthday, shortly before being consumed by foodies all across this planet!
We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals and since it was date night we decided to tempt ourselves by taking a gander at the dessert menu. The first item on the menu, the Apple Doughnut, described as two apple doughnuts covered in a maple bacon glaze served with vanilla ice cream, made it impossible to say no. So we followed the age old phrase, “go big or go home,” and ordered one of those paired with the Peanut Butter Souffle which was described as infused chocolate cake oozing with house made peanut butter served with vanilla ice cream.
I don’t know which one of these desserts was better, but I can tell you that my life got a little better after I ate them. The Apple Doughnut had chunks of smokey bacon sitting on top the fresh made doughy delight which was chock full of actual apple bits. I thought there was no way that any sweat treat could possibly contend with this champion of desserts, but then the Peanut Butter Souffle kicked me square in the taste buds with its salty and sweet combination of gooey yumminess. I am sure their other desserts are good, but I think we made the right choice here, calorie counting be damned!
If you read the article above or even just looked at the food porn that I provided, you can tell that Tierney’s Copperhouse is slinging slamming modern American food to its customers on a daily basis. I highly recommend that you venture to this relatively new, established in 2012, eatery and let your inner foodie go wild.