The Essential Epicurean Guide To NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2015

restaurant week NYC 2015For 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&WillsBurke & 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 HarlemThe 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 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.

InakayaInakaya:   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.

JunoonJunoon:  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 ShopKin 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: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 ColonialLe 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'sMiss 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'sMr. 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 SummerPark 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.

RaymiRaymi:  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.

Roots and BonesRoot 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.

smogas chef 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 BuenaYerba 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.

 

PSA

Stop Ruining Thanksgiving Hipsters: The Five Classic Dishes Every Turkey Day Spread Should Feature.

PSAStop Ruining Thanksgiving JERKS! Listen, I am all for experimental cuisine, I am a freaking Gastronaut for fuck’s sake. For real though people Thanksgiving is about tradition, so stop fucking it up with Kale and Corn Fritters, Tofurky, Kimchi Tacos, and especially anything that was FORAGED! No, Tallulah Mc. Hipsterpants, I don’t care if foraging is what the murdering Pilgrims would have done. I don’t wear a fucking hat with a buckle on it and I am not eating something you picked up off the ground at park that has 17 resident homeless people that use the slide as a toilet!

If you want whip up some Lentil Sloppy Joes with a side of Butternut Squash and Chickpea Cakes any other damn day of the year, beep me, only because it is ironic, and I will hop on my Vespa, throw on my fedora and be at your warehouse/art studio in no time. However, the last Thursday of every November is hallowed ground and should be treated with the foodie respect it deserves.

I am not saying you can’t jazz up the Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole recipe that appears on the side of their Mushroom Soup can, but I am saying that the following five items should at least make an appearance on your Thanksgiving Table.  If they do not then you are doing a disservice to every guest that you invite/guilt over to your homestead.

Turkey1.)  Turkey: We will start with an easy one folks. Thanksgiving without Turkey, is like playing poker without real money, it is a waste of everyone’s time. Sure it can be boring, bland, dry, and tasteless but instead of folding the fowl hand you have been dealt, take it as a challenge and attempt to create the best bird that any of your guests have ever eaten. This means no rabbits, ducks, squabs, quails, Cornish hens, or pheasants should be served! I am looking in your direction, scarf lady with horn-rimmed glasses.  With that said, you can choose to season, prepare, and present your bird in a multitude of elaborate, creative, and original ways to suppress your inner artist from serving people fucking Emu on Thanksgiving! Here is a link to help you plan how to prepare your bird!

Stuffing2.)  Stuffing: Here is where you can really let your Gastronomic imagination run wild! Stuffing can be full of artisan sausage, organic fruit, and spices that 98 percent of the population has never heard of.  Go nuts, let your freaky, foodie, flag fly, but use some sort of bread as the base, please. I don’t care if you call your Gluten Free Quinoa and Brussels Sprout Surprise a stuffing. The golden rule is if there ain’t Gluten laden bread cubes floating around in there somewhere it simply is not stuffing!  Here is a link for some pretty exciting stuffing and dressing recipes.       

         Mashed Potato 3.)  Mashed Potatoes:  Please try to reign in your adorable ADHD and muster up some concentration for at least the entirety of the two word heading for number three. That second word is very important! It says POTATOES! Not Cauliflower, Celery Root, Parsnips, or Turnips, just good old fashioned, hearty taters. Furthermore, try real hard not to go to crazy and put so much crap and seasoning in your mashed potatoes that you can no longer tell what they are. I am somewhat of a purist when it comes to my mashed potatoes but I am not saying that you have to be too. Here is a link for some Mashed Potato Recipes.

Mac and Cheese4.)  Macaroni and Cheese:  This is another dish that you can really have fun with but again remember that ultimately the final product’s main ingredients should be Pasta and Cheese. You can put bacon, truffles, rutabagas, beer, or virtually any other edible object that you can possibly think of.  Shit you can even serve it in a damn mason jar if you want, which is like the most hipster food vessel in the world. Mac & Cheese is a staple on my table and honestly the simpler the better, I even like the horrible yellow poop that comes out of the blue box and claims to be the cheesiest. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. Here is a link for a few decent Mac and Cheese recipes.

CANberry Sauce5.)  Cranberry Sauce: I know I am going to get shit for this and lose like 5 foodie points but I absolutely fucking love cranberry sauce from a can. I don’t even slice the son of a bitch before placing it on the table because I want to see the wonderfulness of the ridges while I slice off each and every luscious, disgusting, slab of processed yumminess. You can choose to make the “good” stuff by hand if you wish but I am telling you there is nothing better than a filthy .$89 can of Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce paired with a nice can of craft beer!  If you must make the homemade kind because you can’t stand the thought of having a can of anything join your spread here is the link for Cranberry Sauce Recipes.

If you follow these five simple rules your Grandmother’s heart will not break and your Mother’s head will not explode because you are trying to serve them a Goat Tongue and Ramp Salad on Thanksgiving!  Thank you for reading this Public Service Announcement. Please pass it on to anyone who you believe may RUIN A THANKSGIVING!

The More You Know

The Blue Collar Foodie Goes On A Foodcation

When normal people go on Vacation, they spend hours, if not days, obsessing over which monuments to visit or which museum has the most, must see artwork, within its confines.  I however am not an ordinary person, I am a foodie through and through and my vacation planning begins with the googles and ends with a list of must have foodie finds for whatever foreign land I am venturing to.

In the past, I have ate my way through a road trip spanning across this beautiful country of ours sampling all the spectacular food that the fly over states have to offer.  Kat and I then went on an International foodcation to see what eats Europe had to offer, while stopping off at London, Paris, and Rome. No matter where Kat and I journey, as Snoop  Dogg once kind of said, “We got our mind on our food, and our food on our mind.”

This past week Kat and I were traipsing through LA LA land, over on the left coast, and I was not disappointed with the fantastic food that I found while I lived among the movie stars and crazy meth addled homeless people that seem to live next door to each other in good ole’ Los Angles. The following is my Top 5 Blue Collar Foodie finds in the L.A. area.

5.  Bar Kitchen 819 S. Flower Street, Downtown LA

“When in Rome” is the Cliché that should roll off every foodie’s tongue when foodcationing (Yes I just made that word up and by the way, it is Trademarked).  One should not go to Philadelphia and opt to eat a Cheese Steak without Cheez Whiz because they are on a diet, just like one should not go to the Musée du Louvre in Paris and opt not to see the Mona Lisa because the line is too long, it is decisions like these that make the rest of the world believe that Americans are uncouth, and this foodie will not allow that to happen on his watch.

With this thought in mind, I could not let my fellow East Coasters down, even if every frugal bone in my body was tingling like Spiderman’s spidey sense at Doctor Octopus’s New Years Eve Party, as I walked into the posh downtown eatery known as Bar Kitchen.  From the moment I walked into this establishment my hipstrometer, which of course is my scientific device that measures the approximate hipster level a restaurant gives off, was reading Michael Cera in a Starbucks with a Mac Book Pro, which is the highest reading I have ever seen before.

When in Rome I thought to myself as we were seated adjacent to the wall that was showing a looped, muted, black and white version of The Never Ending Story and offered a libation before our five course Chef’s Tasting began.  I ordered a Golden Road, Point the Way I.P.A, which is one of the few beers that is brewed and bottled in sunny Los Angeles, California.

With my first bite of the first course, a Quail salad with sweet potatoes and pomegranate seeds, I was ready to don an ascot, black glasses, and sing to Weezer while driving down Hollywood Boulevard in my Smart Car.  With every bite I was whisked away to a foodie paradise via Falcore the Luck Dragon, the creepy flying dog from The Never Ending Story, and I savored every second of it.

With a tiny bird and some greens in my belly, the courses hit the table like a flurry of punches from Mike Tyson, not the pigeon wrangling medicated Tyson either, the biting people’s ears off crazy Tyson.  The Mussels with Catalina beans and Tasso Ham were so rich and decadent they would make Bill Gates jealous, a Chicken Chorizo skewer topped with a lime aioli that tasted as if it was grilled on Jesus’s barbecue outside the pearly gates, and a Sock-Eye Salmon that was served with Fava beans and an Olive Compote that was so light and flaky that I mistook it for actress and damn near asked it for its autograph.

With the savory courses done, our Motley Crew sat back in our chairs like the hedonistic rulers of age old societies as we loosened our belts and discussed the fine food that graced our table in celebration of our friend Benni’s bachelor party and all agreed that this grub was in fact better than the obligatory stripper laced bachelor party that is the ordinary agenda for a party of this magnitude.   Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, a small glass of sherbet and cantaloupe arrived in front of each of us.  The chef at Bar kitchen is apparently smarter than the average bear, and knows no one in Los Angles can turn down Sherbet and Fruit no matter how stuffed they are.  This final course was simply divine and was the perfect ending to a tremendous meal.

When I entered this eatery I fell into the age old trap of judging a book by its cover and I was wrong to do so.  To add insult to my injury their price was half as much as one would expect to pay a New York Restaurant for a 5 course tasting meal, and I gladly ate the chef’s humble pie for only 35 bucks!  Well done Bar Kitchen, my compliments to the chef.

Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

4.  Bob’s Big Boy 4211 Riverside Dr. Burbank, CA

There are quite a few things that New Jersey is known for, some of them we are proud of and others, not so much. A true Jersey native will proudly boast about first game of baseball being played in Hoboken, cringe at any Snookie related nonsense, and give you directions to one of the 17 billion malls that are located in the Garden State.   Even though New Jersey is known for all of these things, the one thing that Jersey has that no New Jersian can truly live without, is the magical Diner.  In most of the other states that I have traveled to finding a Diner is quite a task, but not in our wonderful little armpit. I am pretty sure that every town has a law about having at least one diner, and if that diner closes your town risks being shunned and forced to become a part of Pennsylvania, and believe me, no one wants that.

Everyone enjoys having a small slice of home when they are on vacation, including Kat and I, so if we can have breakfast  at a diner when we are away  it makes the start of the day that much better. Enter Bob’s Big Boy, which is not just any old run of the mill diner, but a full service diner that has been feeding the residents of Burbank, California since 1949.  Whenever we are in the L.A. area Bob’s Big Boy is a must stop for at least one leisurely breakfast.

The door for Bob’s in Burbank is like a time portal that whisks you away back to the 1950’s when Diners were chock full of plump oversized booths  and smiling waitresses.  As you walk into this amazing historical landmark, you can feel the Americana oozing from every corner, from the plague that informs you where the Beatles ate to Bob Big Boy statue that is displayed within the dining area.   If there is one thing better than the décor, it is the deliciously comforting food.

At Bob’s you can, of course, get the normal diner fare, but in my opinion normal is just another way to say mundane.  If you decide to go visit Bob in Burbank I recommend getting the Big Boy Scramble which is described as scrambled eggs mixed with ham, bell pepper, onions and tomato, topped with cheddar cheese and is served with fresh hash brown potatoes, a side of salsa and toast, English muffin or biscuit if you are hungry yet want to appear healthy.  I for one, use the mantra go big or go home a lot when I am on vacation, so when I go to Bob’s I order the Deep Fried French Toast with bacon, eggs, and home fries.   That’s right I said DEEP FRIED FRENCH TOAST, try to read the rest of the article before booking a flight to Big Boy Land please.

Bob's Big Boy on Urbanspoon

3.  Food Trucks (Lardon’s Obituary)

The first time Kat and I wandered around the streets of California we had never partook in the offerings of mobile gastronomy purveyors, or food trucks in layman’s terms.  It was on this first adventure to Los Angles that Kat and I realized the folly of our ways.  While we were looking for expensive chic restaurants in preparation for our trip, we should have been scouring the interwebs for mobile eateries and then chasing them down California Highway Patrol style sans the goofy looking tan shorts and bad 80’s hair.

The food truck that converted us to the church of portable cuisine was none other than the delectably decadent Lardon.  This now extinct beast was the countries’ first and, as far as I know the only Bacon themed food truck.   Lardon was so popular due to its Baconey goodness that it was featured on numerous Television Shows including everyone’s favorite Ginger, Conan O’Brien.  Just reading Lardon’s menu literally added cholesterol to your system.  Some of the menu highlights were, The Bacone which consisted of three strips of exotic bacon, such as Duck or Wild Boar, Chicken Wings covered in bacon hot sauce, topped with hot sauce covered bacon served with a bacon blue cheese dipping sauce, and of course the BACO, a Taco Shell made entirely out of BACON!

I honestly could write a dozen sonnets in iambic pentameter about Lardon and their porky yumminess, but alas they are no more, so I will mourn in silence for our deceased friend.  In the meantime, let me explain how these trucks work for those of you who are not in the know.  The first step is to find a truck you are interested in trying before you arrive in L.A., which is easy enough thanks to the good ol’ googles.  If you are feeling lazier than usual, you can choose one from the Zagat’s Top 10 L.A. food truck list.

Once you have a truck in mind, for example the Grill ‘Em All truck, head over to their website and check out how you can follow them around town.  Most trucks use their Twitter and Facebook feeds to tell potential clients where their truck will be parked for breakfast, lunch, and diner.   Once you are following your food truck via your preferred method of social media, the rest is simple.  Check feed, find truck, and eat food.

The food truck scene in California is amazing because the weather year round is perfect for outdoor dining and standing in line.  Although the New York Metropolitan area is trying to catch up, there seems to be a lot more red tape on this coast that these small businesses have to cut through in order to open up shop.   With that said, these mobile business ventures do seem to disappear overnight never to be heard from again, so if you see one you like and you have the opportunity to eat there, do it while you can.

2. Smoke House  4420 W Lakeside Dr. Burbank, CA

While driving around the Burbank area, Kat and I drove past this unassuming eatery and noticed a neon sign that read, “fine food at a fair price.”  You would think that the sign read, “Free Bacon,” because the next day Kat and I were on our way to explore Smoke House with some friends and family that we were visiting with during our stay.

Me, being me could not resist doing a little research on the place before just walking in, so out the I-Phone came and onto the Googles I went.  I found out that the Smoke House is one of the oldest restaurants in Burbank, California and was opened in 1946.  Due to its location, near the Warner Brother’s Studio, it became a haven for celebrities in its hay day.  Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, and even James Dean could be found dining at the Smoke House on any given Friday night back in the day.   While now George Clooney and Andy Garcia are known to pop in from time to time, Clooney even named his production company after this place.  The more and more I read about this spot, the more and more I knew I needed to eat there.

The Smokehouse Restaurant is yet another time travel device tucked away in Burbank California.  As you walk in, the old Hollywood Lounge vibe is stronger than Charlie Sheen’s coffee after a weekend binge.   I almost expected to hear a traditional lounge singer crooning over a bad P.A. system and be assaulted by plumes of cigarette smoke from the patrons.   As we traveled to our table, the nostalgia level only increased, from the in booth telephone jacks, the artwork on the walls, this was in fact Hollywood the way I only wish I could experience it.

Not only was I excited just to have the opportunity to dine at this sweet establishment, when we looked at the menu is only got better.  We had apparently arrived at the Smoke House during their 66th Anniversary celebration and we were able to order off a special menu that shaved off about 7 dollars a plate.   My research insisted Kat and I try the Smoke House famous Prime Rib with a side order of “The World’s Best Garlic Bread,” and we are not ones to argue with the foodie community or the googles for that matter, so Prime Rib it was.

Not only did I feel like a pimp sitting in this restaurant, I felt like a King eating the food.  The Garlic Bread was bursting with flavor; the salad portion was larger than Christina Ricci’s five head; and the Prime Rib was simply amazing.  To top it all off, the wait staff was wonderful and treated us like we were one of the many celebrities that has placed their rump in their vintage comfy seats.

If you find yourself in Burbank, California and you don’t hit this remarkable establishment up, you sir have failed the foodie that lives inside of you.

Smoke House on Urbanspoon

1: IN AND OUT BURGER (212 locations in CA)

If you don’t know about In and Out Burger, then you need to fly to the West Coast immediately and put some of their crazy good burgers in your belly.  I know I have done articles about Gastro Burgers and sung their praises but there is something about the simplicity of a good old fashioned In And Out burger that makes my stomach smile.  You can ask Kat, when I enter a state that has an In and Out located within its borders (Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, or Utah) we are driving until In and Out is in my belly.

Before I get a hundred nasty grams from you guys, I should clarify that I am fully aware that it is just a burger and fries from yet another fast food restaurant.  But, because I can only have one every so often they become a forbidden fruit, a red button that you are told not to press, or a wrapped toy that you can’t play it, it gets to the point that I dream about them.

Not to mention the fact that In and Out has a super not so secret menu that you can order off of to procure items that are not listed on their very limited menu.  If you do intend to go to an In and Out during your travels you should definitely study this clandestine menu so you can experience the best  In and Out has to offer.   I love ordering off the secret menu because you feel as if you are a member of a fraternal order and only you and the cashier know the handshake.

I have a standard order when I go to In and Out for the first time in a long time.  I get myself a Double Double Animal Style with a side of Animal Style fries and wait in anticipation for them to call my number.  After ordering, I am like a child on Christmas morning waiting for their parents to wake up, I pace around the restaurant in anticipation getting the napkins and ketchup prepared so when my number is called all I have to do it sit and eat.

In and Out Burger has been pumping out fantastic burgers and fries since 1948 and the basic process has remained the same.    They don’t freeze, pre-package or over-process their beef patties.  They hand leaf their lettuce so each piece is inspected before landing on your burger.  Their fries are individually cut at the store that you walk into, so they are the freshest they can be.  The best way to put it is that In and Out Burger just make things the old-fashioned way, and that is why their food tastes so good.

I, by no means claim to have a working knowledge of the California Foodie Scene and I am sure a California native could throw out the name of ten places that are bigger and better than the five restaurants I mentioned above, but then they have missed the point of this article completely.  This post is merely designed to explain that a vacation can be turned into a foodcation with a little research and an open mind.   Next time you venture out of your area don’t just visit the monuments and museums, explore the local culture one forkful at a time.

The Blue Collar Foodie’s School of Endless Shrimp!

Sometimes foodies, out of habit, seem to be somewhat pretentious and give off a like hipster vibe.  It is this ostentatious elitism that rubs me the wrong way and basically caused me to create this blog for the everyday foodie that welcomes noteworthy food no matter where it comes from.  With that said, this week I am reviewing a chain restaurant that rarely is uttered in the foodie realm without contempt.  This chain is none other than Red Lobster.

Red Lobster is usually synonymous with sub-par seafood and over salted steaks like most large chain restaurants in America.  But once a year, Red Lobster offers a promotion that no Blue Collar Foodie should miss, and that time is now.  Endless Shrimp has returned to Red Lobster and every single server in the employ of this eatery collectively has begun to weep in unison.

Other than the servers, who honestly loathe this time of year, everyone else should be rejoicing that Red Lobster is still offering this amazing deal.  For $14.99, you can shovel unlimited quantities of Teryaki Grilled Shrimp, Parmesan Shrimp, Garlic Shrimp Scampi, Shrimp Linguine Alfredo, and Hand-breaded Shrimp, a salad, a potato, and unlimited Cheddar Bay Biscuits.  After nearly a decade of attending this event, the economics of this deal still baffle me, but I am not complaining and neither should you.

Some of you are sitting in your ergonomic office chairs adjusting your horned rimmed glasses, preparing to write me angry hate mail about the quality of the shrimp, or the fact that the parmesan cheese is not organic, and you are entitled to your own opinion but dude seriously this is ALL YOU CAN EAT SHRIMP we are talking about.  This event is not about the tantalizing Amouz-bouche or the tastefully created radish flower, this experience is all about strapping on a feed bag and attempting to devour literally an entire school of shrimp in one sitting.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a classy black tie restaurant as you should all know if you read my blog each week, but there are sometimes that the Blue Collar in me, ties up the foodie, 50 shades of grey style, and drives me straight to yummy town.  The shrimp that Red Lobster offers during this event is not Sushi Grade by any means, but I love shrimp like fat guys like cake, so when I am offered an endless supply, I tend to get a little excited.

Before we discuss the individual types of shrimp that Red Lobster is offering this year, I think we must first discuss a good strategy for optimizing your shrimp intake.  First off, soda fills you up as does beer and wine, so I always order water with lemon as my drink selection for the evening.  Next we must discuss the Cheddar Bay Biscuits.  These miniature scrumptious morsels of sheer fatty goodness tend to be irresistible but very filling, so I try to only eat one with my salad to save room for the main course, and the reason we have decided to enter the threshold of Red Lobster to begin with.   As for the main course, I shy away from ordering a potato with my meal, because starches fill me up eight times more than any other side dish in this world, so I usually pair my shrimp with whatever vegetable they are offering.

Now that the side dishes have been discussed there is also a strategy when choosing your shrimp plates as well.  Two of the selections on the Endless Shrimp Menu seem to have been placed there with the purpose of filling you up quickly, so you reach your limit rapidly and thus saving Red Lobster some money.  The Teryaki Grilled Shrimp, although very tasty, comes with a side of rice, and the Shrimp Linguine Alfredo, are chock full of stomach filling belt loosening carbohydrates that will stop you in your tracks immediately and cause your endless shrimp adventure to come to an early end.  I am not saying don’t try these tasty dishes, all I am saying is save them for last.   Stick with the two scampi selections and the fried shrimp at first to maximize your shrimp eating ability.

In order to make this event even more enjoyable, I usually hook up with a few of my foodie friends that enjoy a good feeding frenzy and venture to Red Lobster to participate in a gluttonous eating competition that would make vegetarian’s far and wide weep for the entire crustacean community.   During one of these competitions, which get pretty heated, my record is 155 shrimp in one sitting.  I am both proud of this record and slightly disgusted with myself when I think of it.

Whether you are attending this promotion with one other person or ten other people, be aware that you are holding up a table for quite a long time, and that your waiter or waitress depends on quick turnovers, or good tips to make his/her night as good as yours.  If you are like me and can eat shrimp for 2 hours straight, please tip accordingly so the story about you that he or she tells at the bar after work starts with, “this freaking guy ate 150 shrimp” and ends with, “but he tipped well so it was all good, and it was kind of awesome to watch.”

The main thing to remember about this hedonistic affair is that sometimes, even a foodie has to recognize a great deal when he/she sees one and join us common folk at the Red Lobster and dive into some shrimp.  You can even request a plastic food bib if you don’t want to ruin your tweed jacket.  See you all there!

Red Lobster on Urbanspoon

Burger Battle in Bergen County

In my honest opinion a burger is about as gourmet as a hot dog and therefore when all these new age, “Hipster,” burger joints broke onto the foodie scene I was skeptical.  Since I am a food network fanatic, which should be expected considering I write a food blog, I waited for the crowds to die down at Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace located in the new Bergen Town Center, and gave Mr. Flay’s burgers a try.  Since that moment many months ago, I have been a fan of these boutique burger eateries, and I will try any and all of them that come to town.

  1. Fuddruckers:  1813 Route 23 S. Wayne, NJ 07470

First to weigh in, is the Grandfather of these epicurean Burger peddlers, Fuddruckers.  I am a loyal guy when it comes to food establishments and furthermore as Kat will tell you I am also quite nostalgic so I have to at least mention the first great burger franchise in the area.  Even though Fuddruckers has been around well before I was chewing solids they still deliver a decent burger plus all the fixings.  Fuddruckers advertises that they are the world’s greatest burger and although I am not on this band wagon anymore, there was a point in my life where I believed this slogan.

Fuddruckers has a pretty extensive menu which offers the Original Fudd in 1/3 pound $4.65, ½ pound $5.50, 2/3 pound $7.50, and 1 lb. $9.50, as well as some serious specialty burgers, for $1.75 more, like the Southwest which is topped with smokehouse bacon, guacamole and pepper jack cheese or for fans of exotic meats some of the Fuddruckers are even starting to offer Buffalo, Elk, and Wild Boar burgers in an attempt to compete with the new burger places that we will discuss a little later.  Fuddruckers also offers something that I have not found at any of the other burger bistros, a self-serve toppings bar that allows the customer to add as much or as little of the dozens of toppings that Fudds offers.  Additionally, Fuddruckers has a full service bar featuring beer, wine, and spirits which is a huge plus in the ever growing burger trade.

Fuddruckers is by far the best burger place in this article for a family to go to grab a much needed burger when you just don’t have the energy to spark up the grill.  The kids can much on some memory making meals while soaking in the kid-friendly atmosphere while you take a ride down memory lane with a Fuddrucker burger in one hand and a frosty beer in the other.


Fuddrucker's on Urbanspoon

2.  Bobby’s Burger Palace:  Bergen Town Center Paramus, NJ 07652

Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace was the first of the new wave of Burger spots to break into the Bergen county market when the Bergen Town Center was renovated.  As I stated earlier, I did not expect much from this establishment, but I was happily surprised.  I was hesitant to believe that a world renowned chef like Bobby Flay could dive into the burger market and make a difference.  Mr. Flay apparently left a lasting impression on many Bergen County residents, including me, because his simple burger shop is still crowded every time I drive by.

The Burger Palace offers a selection of high-end burgers such as the Bobby Blue Burger, topped with Blue Cheese, Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato for $7.75, The Dallas Burger topped with spices, coleslaw, Monterey Jack cheese, BBQ sauce, and pickles for $7.75, or the L.A. Burger topped with avocado relish, watercress, cheddar cheese, and tomato for $7.75.  Bobby Flay’s cooking style truly comes out in these creations, which are not overly seasoned, yet are simply bursting with flavor.

One issue that I had with Mr. Flay’s offerings is that the burgers are sold separately from the fries and onion rings, which always irks me about these restaurants.  In a perfect world I could order a meal that would combine a burger, a side, and a drink for one price instead of attempting to do math in my head to find out if I have enough cash on me for a true dinner, but alas our world is not perfect.  Fortunately, however Bobby’s Beer Battered Onion Rings are! When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he must have been envisioning these tasty deep fried morsels of yummy, which are a must try if you step into the Burger Palace.

In summation, Bobby’s Burger Palace offers simple yet divine Hamburgers at a price that will make some blue collar foodies blush. Their seating style is strange to say the least and may have you sitting next to, or at the same table as, strangers so for the sanity of all who are trying to enjoy their food be aware of bringing your wee ones to join in the cowgasm that Bobby Flay is serving at his Burger Palace.

Bobby's Burger Palace on Urbanspoon

3. Smashburger:  556 Rte. 17 North, Paramus, NJ

Smashburger boasts that every Smashburger menu is specially crafted to reflect the tastes and flavors of your city or state, which I have to admit sounds very intriguing.  Upon further review, it appears that only one burger on the menu seems to change as I searched through all of their menu’s online but the state specific specialty burgers almost makes me sad I went on a road trip before I knew about the Smash.

Smashburger offers a classic burger of course, but let’s be honest if you are like me those burgers are merely on the menu for the unadventurous people we bring with us to try out a new foodie find.  The specialty burgers are really where it is at which feature the New Jersey Burger is piled with applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese crumble, grilled onions, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on an onion bun for $7.19, the Spicy Baja consists of pepper jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion, spicy chipotle mayo and fresh jalapeños on a spicy chipotle bun for $7.19, and of course a few more premade specialties. But Smash also offers the option to create your own craziness with your choice of buns, toppings, and cheeses, which permits you to craft seemingly endless burgers formations, as you strive to reach meatphoria.

Smashburger also offers a plethora of side dishes that you can opt to add to your burger, for a nominal fee of course.  They have SmashFries in original or sweet potato for $1.99, that are tossed with rosemary, olive-oil and garlic, and are a great addition to any of their burgers and my suggestion for your Burger’s Robin.  They do offer Fried Pickles for $2.29, which I am usually Pepe Le Pew style in love with, which did not impress me. I felt that they were a tad over salted, and I just could not get into them.

Where Bobby Flay’s burgers were simple, Smashburger’s burgers are complex.  I feel it would take dozens of visit’s to this eatery to find and refine my go to burger, which for me is tremendous because I love to eat new and exciting meals, but for some I could see it being slightly overwhelming, I am looking in Kat’s direction as I write this sentence.  Once you do finally order your burger concoction, I do not think you will be disappointed because everything I have eaten at Smash has been fantastic.  Smash is slightly more kid friendly than Mr. Flay’s establishment but still not anything close to Fuddruckers.  The last thing I feel I have to report, as a native New Jerseyan, is that I was slightly disappointed that the New Jersey Burger was lacking Taylor Ham, but I guess if Snooki does not eat it on the Jersey Shore then it must not exist.

Smashburger on Urbanspoon

4.  Boom Burger: 375 W.Passaic St., Rochelle Park, NJ.

When this place first started to make waves in the foodie realm, I thought nothing of it.  I figured it was merely just another burger joint jumping on the bovine bandwagon.  As the Boom craze picked up speed and word continued to spread, I decided to go check it out.  After one visit to Boom, I figured out why everyone simply could not stop jib-jabbering about how incredible Boom Burger was.  Their top-secret ingredient to their success is their booze.  Don’t get me wrong their food is rather special too, but what separates Boom Burger from the ever growing crowd of chic burger spots is the fact that Boom Burger is firstly a colossal bar and secondly they have remarkable burgers.

Boom Burger offers several specialty burgers that include the Boom Burger, which is described as an explosion of cheese in your mouth due to the fact that the cheese is on the inside of the Burger for $8.00, the Cuban which is topped with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo for $7.00, the Breakfast Burger topped with Taylor Ham, Fried Egg, and American Cheese for $7.00, and a few other fancy looking burgers as well.  Boom Burgers shtick with their burgers is that they are cooked to perfection every time, which means you cannot order them at any other temperature, which annoyed me slightly, but only because I am a control freak. Boom Burger also seems to be the only Burger Joint that uses Pat LaFrieda’s or “the master of meat’s” special burger blend, which I am apparently a fan of.

Boom Burger offers a few sides to pair with their burgers which include French Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, and Parmesan & Rosemary Fries at a nominal fee yet again.  They also offer a variety of bar style foods like Chicken Fingers, Chicken Wings, and Fried Calamari to name a few, which can be eaten as an appetizer or paired with your burger choice as well.

If BoomBurger and SmashBurger had a blind taste test I would have a hard time telling their food apart and then I would go to BoomBurger to grab a beer and celebrate the contest.  What I am trying to say here is that what this battle comes down to is the libations that Boom offers which Smash is lacking.  Not only does Boom offer a respectable beer list but their insanely large signature drinks definitely inspire some wonderful conversations.  Not to mention the fact that Boom has giant televisions strewn about the restaurant which are always showing all the premiere sporting events.

When all is said and done, each of these Burger Boutiques caters to different clientele and has found their own niche.  They all serve up fantastic food at about the same price, so it all matters on what type of atmosphere you are looking for. The following is a quick and easy guide that should help you make your decision:

  1. If you have children and want a good old fashioned hamburger Fuddruckers is the place for you and your family.
  2. If you are looking for a “gourmet” Burger and need to do some shopping but don’t mind cozying up to some strangers, Bobby’s Burger Palace is where you should go.
  3. If you want a burger that is smashingly good but don’t really want to have to deal with the cast of Jersey Shore taking JagerBombs at the table next to you, SmashBurger is your spot.
  4. If you want to wash a fantastic burger down with some beers and watch the baseball game while crazy twenty-somethings take body shots off one another, I will see you at BoomBurger.