The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Bhoj, a True Sub-Continental Delight

Throughout my many years as a foodie I have visited countless restaurants searching for phenomenal interesting cuisine.  Since I have been on this endeavor for such a lengthy amount of time, it gets harder and harder to find new restaurants to take a bite out of.  I sometimes feel like a nomad wandering out of town, to another county, or even across state lines in pursuit of a foodie find worth talking about.   Imagine my surprise, when I was informed that I had been missing out on some of the best Indian food in the state, right in my own backyard.  After receiving messages from several of my Facebook friends urging me to give Bhoj, located at 430 Market Street, Elmwood Park, NJ 07407, a try, I had no other option but to heed their advice.
Bhoj

Kat and I are no strangers to ethnic food, which you know if you read this blog, so when I mentioned the possibility of Indian food for dinner Kat did not even let me finish the question, before responding, “YES!”  After a long day of work and a short stint at the gym, Kat and I hopped into the car with our appetites and headed to good ‘Ole Elmwood Park to experience all that Bhoj had to offer.

At first glance, Bhoj, does not seem like much, due to the fact that it is located in a shopping plaza with a Dunkin Donuts, a liquor store (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Bhoj is a BYOB), and a Laundromat, but as I have learned quite a few times on my epicurean adventures, looks can be deceiving.  As we entered Bhoj, the intoxicating aroma caused us to forget what the building looked like outside and focus on the interior of this enchanting restaurant, which was decorated with an authentic Indian theme.  I felt like Tucan Sam as I followed my nose through the restaurant as we were seated by our waiter.

Once we were seated we were welcomed to the Bhoj by our server and handed two menus and a list of specials.  While perusing the menu our waiter brought over two glasses and filled them with water while we attempted to make our decision.  When the waiter came back, as per usual, Kat and I could not make up our minds so I asked him to suggest an appetizer.  More often than not a waiter or waitress will choose an item on a whim when requested to advise a diner on what they should eat, but not at Bhoj.  I was happily surprised when our waiter engaged us in a short conversation in an attempt to judge our likes and dislikes before just offering a random dish for us to order.  Armed with the knowledge that he collected from our conversation our waiter competently recommended the Vegetable Samosas with Channa which was described as crispy golden brown triangle pastry stuffed with potatoes and green peas.  We of course took our waiters advice and ordered this alluring appetizer while we scrutinized the menu some more looking for the perfect entrée.  Our waiter also asked us what degree of spiciness we would like our appetizer to have, E.G. Mild, Medium, or Hot.  We requested medium, but our waiter seemed slightly suspicious about our heat tolerance and suggested Mild Plus for the appetizer and if we wanted more heat, he would adjust our entrées accordingly.

Indian Dipping Sauces

Dipping Sauces

Once our appetizer order was in, a waiter came to our table and placed a basket of crispy flat-bread that I believe was Khakra and a dish divided in thirds which housed three distinctly different sauces for said Khakra.  I have to admit that Bhoj scored some points with this foodie by adding the dipping sauces, which were wonderful by the way, because I am huge sauce fanatic, so much so that I have an entire shelf dedicated to sauces is my refrigerator much to Kat’s chagrin.  As we chowed down on the complimentary Khakra we made our final decision for our main course and relayed them to our waiter. I decided upon the Bhuna Gosht for $17.95 which was described as Lamb cooked in special thick gravy with exotic spices and tomatoes, whereas Kat went with the Chicken Tikka Masala for $16.95, which was described as boneless pieces of Tandoori chicken cooked in a creamy tomato sauce.  We also ordered Garlic Naan for $3.95 and Basmati Rice for $1.50 to complete our meal.

Khakra

Khakra all dressed up

Shortly after we ordered our entrées, our appetizer arrived on the table and it was presented beautifully on the serving plate. The two overstuffed triangle pastries were fried to perfection and placed on the dish surrounded by the Channa creating an edible piece of art that any refined foodie, including Kat and I, would feel bad destroying.  That is, until we tasted the first bite, and then we devoured every last morsel of this fantastic dish as if we were a bunch feral carnies that have never used a fork before.  Yea, that is right! It was acting like a feral carnie good!

Vegetable Samosas with Channa

Vegetable Samosas with Channa

While we were demolishing this delectable treat, our waiter approached the table to inquire about the spice level, so the Chef could prepare our meals properly.  Although, this seems like a minor detail, it is interactions like this that separate run-of-the-mill eateries and exceptional establishments.  Kat and I felt that the waiter and therefore Bhoj, honestly cared if we were enjoying their cuisine and wanted to do adjust the spice level to the appropriate tolerance so we would have the best possible experience they could provide.

After we were done with the appetizer, our table was cleared and the table was prepared for our main course.  When our dishes arrived the smell alone caused me to salivate like a rabid Chupacabra in heat.  As is the custom, Kat and I spooned a portion of rice on our plates, which we then topped off with a serving of the entrées that we ordered.  Each bite revealed more and more of the depth of flavor these dishes possessed.  The addition of the Garlic Naan only added to this magnificent feast.

Bhuna Gosht and Chicken Tikka Masala

Bhuna Gosht and Chicken Tikka Masala

The portions were extremely generous and we only ate half of our meals before we felt as if we could not eat another bite. That is, until our waiter approached the table and asked about our thoughts on dessert.  He highly recommended the rice pudding, and since he had not steered us wrong all night, we followed his guidance like he was our gastronomic Sherpa.  Once again his expertise navigated us down a path of culinary enlightenment.  The rice pudding not only tasted great but snuffed out any lingering effects of the tingling sensation that accompanies proper Indian cuisine.

I have to say that I was exceedingly impressed by Bhoj.  The ambiance enhancing modern Indian music combines with the traditional design theme to create an environment that is perfect for dining, while the tremendously helpful and attentive staff serves some of the best tasting Indian food that I have found in this area.  The lesson to be learned from Bhoj, is that sometimes what you are looking for can be found closer than you think, as long as you have an open mind and an open stomach.

Bhoj Indian on Urbanspoon

The Blue Collar Foodie Cooks With Science

As the Holiday season is approaching faster than Frosty melts in Al Gore’s very unpopular remake entitled Frosty’s Inconvenient Truth, everyone tends to overlook one of the greatest holidays of the year.  Everyone that is, except for the foodie community.  I don’t understand what is not to love about a holiday that is all about giving thanks for what you have, eating food until you feel like Jabba the Hutt, and then taking a nap while watching football.  Forget about Christmas and Chanukah people, Thanksgiving is where it is at!

Now that we have determined that Thanksgiving makes those other winter holidays feel like Daniel Baldwin at a family reunion, we are ready to celebrate, so put away your yule tide cheer for just a few more days and let’s talk Turkey!

Thanksgiving is a time for foodies everywhere to roll up their sleeves and prove to the world that they are not in need of an intervention because they watch Food Network every spare second of everyday.  Thanksgiving is a holiday tailor made for all of us that are just the right amount of food crazy.  This food-centric day gives all of us the opportunity to showcase our culinary skills to our beloved family and friends.

If you are anything like me, before you even acquired a kitchen and a dining room of your own, you hatched a James Bond-esque strategy to seize Thanksgiving from your kin, once grandma relinquished control.  This is not an easy task mind you; annexing a holiday is pretty much like licking your elbow, damn near impossible. (Go ahead and try to lick your elbow, I won’t judge. Can’t do it right? I know it is weird; you are so close but yet so far away.  Never mind that now, keep reading.)  But now as the victors of the great Thanksgiving conflict of 2010, Kat and I have won the right to host Thanksgiving and the traditions we create this year may be blogged about by our children someday, so we better bring the pain. The only question was how.

Right about now, you may be asking yourself, “Self, what the hell do I care about this crazy man’s Thanksgiving, I have my own Turkey anxiety to worry about?”   That is a very good question, and if you don’t want to learn how to cook with science and make every single person at your Thanksgiving table this year yearn for your turkey like Govenor Chris Christie and I crave bacon, then close this window and head over to RachaelRay.com and read all about her turkey.

Oh look who decided to stick around and keep reading.  Was it because this crazy foodie mentioned the possibility of cooking with science?  Good, because that is what this blog post is all about.  That’s right the Blue Collar Foodie is going to school you on cooking with straight up, Bill Nye approved science and cause all your relatives to doubt every other turkey cooking method they hold true to their heart.

Back in the 50’s Grandma baked her bird, then when Dad took over Thanksgiving in the 80’s the fowl was put to flame on the grill, and even Cousin Jebediah jumped into the mix circa 2000’s with a fry daddy and a truckload of oil, but if I was going to keep Thanksgiving at our place I had to come up with something huge.  Enter the Char-Broil Big Easy Oil-Less Turkey Fryer and the age of infrared cooked Turkey!

Anyone who has ever dreamt of deep frying a turkey but can’t shake the constant nagging reminder of the 100’s of You Tube videos that are forwarded to your many E-mail accounts this time of year depicting horrific Thanksgiving accidents when dealing with Frying, this baby is for you.  The Big Easy Oil less Fryer is the perfect compromise for the dare devil foodie that is willing to throw caution to the wind and his practical wife that is contemplating the best route to the emergency room during the Thanksgiving parade. This Bunsen burner on steroids can cook up to a 16 pounder in 8-10 minutes a pound and leaves your bird with crispy skin and moist, succulent meat.   Not to mention that you will get to post on Facebook the amazing picture of your Turkey, with the caption, “Cooked With Science,” and if you’re a foodie nerd like me, it does not get much cooler than that.  For my fellow science nerds here is an image that explains the science of infrared cooking.

As the late, great, Billy Mays use to say, “But wait there’s more.”  For all the traditionalists, who are about to comment on this article shunning this remarkable invention, put your blackberry away and relax.  Not only can you still brine your turkey just like you always do but you can also add a dry rub or inject a marinade as well.  Not to mention the fact that your oven is free to cook all your side dishes without the encumbrance of a giant feathered friend taking up 75% of it. 

Still not convinced, just look at the pictures of the nine pound chicken I cooked the other day, in 90 minutes I might add.  Let me explain it to you this way, you can keep cooking your turkey in the oven until someone in your family buys a Big Easy and starts cooking with science, thus commandeering your holiday!

 

 

 

 

 

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 Gets Lucky on River Road!

As a Fair Lawnite, I was very sad to see Sub Base’s reign at 18-50 River Road come to an unceremonious end.  I always had very fond memories of the location that Lucky’s Steak Plate has chosen to set up shop, because my Grandparents used to bring us there as a special treat when I was growing up.

One of the reasons I believe I became a foodie in the first place is because the taste and sheer smell of food can be linked to some of my strongest and happiest memories during my youth.  Just ask any individual of Italian descent to describe their Mother’s gravy or a member of the Jewish faith to discuss their Grandmother’s Matzah Ball soup, and you will hear the passion that food can instill in people, as just the thought of this comfort food transports them back to a simpler and happier time in their lives.

With that said, I was reluctant to go to Lucky’s at first because I wanted to remember Sub Base as it was lodged firmly in my psyche. Luckily, pun intended, Kat was not attached to Sub Base like I am, and she convinced me to give this spot a try.  Don’t tell Kat this, but after visiting Lucky’s Steak Plate I realized I should probably listen to her more frequently.

Kat and I entered Lucky’s and were greeted with a smile and a, “howdy” by a welcoming employee who was standing behind the counter.  This often overlooked and seemingly insignificant interaction is always appreciated by Kat and I whenever we go out, whether it is to a restaurant or even a clothing store.  I was ecstatic to see at Lucky’s, this, thought to be, dead art is strolling around searching for brains just in time for Halloween.

As for the décor, Kat and I truly thought that Lucky’s was a chain restaurant when we first walked in, and that is not the insult that it sounds like.  The color scheme, the paint, the uniforms, and even the menu are so well thought out that it seemed like they were all designed, implemented, and kept up by professionals.  I tip my hat to the proprietor of this establishment, because to be honest most newly opened restaurants look like they were decorated by a student of the Helen Keller institute of design.

I can hear my fellow foodies while I type this review, “WTF!, since when did the BCF turn into a furry Martha Stewart.”  I know this blog is about food and believe me if Lucky’s Steak Plate was just another flashy chain with  required flair this Blue Collar Foodie would not be doing a write up on them.  If you are familiar with my blog, I praise blue collar food done right, and Lucky is, well, doin’ it right.

On our first visit to Lucky’s, Kat and I were in the mood to sample a variety of the fare that Lucky’s is offering.  We decided upon the Cheese Steak Hero with Onion, Sweet Peppers, and Hot Peppers, a side order of hot wings, and a helping of the Disco Fries to round off our healthy meal all for $28.04.

After we ordered our food, the lovely waiting staff instructed us to have a seat and they would bring the food out to us when it was ready.  In the dining area there are several televisions that keep you entertained as well as a great soundtrack of American Rock and Roll, that Kat and I were convinced was someone’s I-pod with a playlist simply entitled Lucky’s. Once we were seated it was only a few minutes until the food arrived and we were able to dig in.

Kat and I are quite the wing lovers so both of us started off our entrée with one of the, “Lucky Wings.”  Lucky’s wings had the perfect ratio of crispy skin to moist meat, which is always a tricky balance to master.  The hot sauce was full of flavor but not punch you in the nuts so you can’t breathe kind of hot.  For those of you who like to lose all your taste buds for a week when munching down on some hot wings, Lucky does supply a bottle of hot sauce on the table to increase the heat.

Next we divided up the Cheese Steak Hero, which as a Chef I would be scared to serve to Kat, due to her roots in Might As Well Be Alabama South Jersey, but she seemed to like it.  I for one was a fan, if not for any other reason but the quality of the steak.  Most North Jersey eateries try to pass off store brought frozen “Steak-Um’s,” as a “Philly” Cheese Steak but not Lucky’s, they use fresh rib eye steak which is served on a fresh baked hero roll.  Furthermore, as a New York Sports fan that despises any and all Philadelphia sports fans, this includes Kat during baseball season mind you; I always love finding a proper Philly Cheese Steak in the North because then it is one less excuse Kat can use to drag me down to Philly to visit the city of brotherly hate.

After a few bites of the Cheesesteak and another wing each, we moved onto the Disco Fries, which as the menu says truly is a Jersey thing.  The fries were cooked well and tasted great due to whatever magical oil they fill their fryer with.  They were also smothered in mozzarella cheese, which is a must for any self-respecting order of disco fries, but sadly the gravy was lacking something.  Don’t get me wrong I would still order them again, but I may ask for the gravy on the side this time.

All in all the food that we tried at Lucky’s was worthy of praise and most definitely earned Lucky’s Steak Plate a return visit, so I can eat me some steak.  Although I was sad to see Sub Base leave, after seeing what Lucky’s is all about, I truly hope they stick around for the long haul and create more than a few memories for the foodies in training that are running around Fair Lawn today.

Lucky Steak Plate on Urbanspoon

The BCF’s Top Ten Football Foods

I am well aware that the post you are about to read is not a restaurant review, but if you are anything like me, and most guys in this country, you understand that Sundays, from early September to mid-February, is no time to be gallivanting around town visiting restaurants.  By 1:00 PM any self-respecting Blue Collar Foodie should be on his/her couch, with the Television tuned to whatever Nationally televised NFL game that is on,  while the oven, smoker, grill, or slow cooker is gradually cooking some type of food that will be consumed joyously at around 6:00 P.M. by family and friends.

As I have stated in previous posts, Football Sundays at my house are damn near religious events.  Tuesday morning during football season, I begin my search for my recipes for the big day, much like the players begin their workouts.  I scour Google, Allrecipes, Food Network, and the like for something that tickles my fancy.  By Wednesday I usually have my game plan and the first shopping trip is done after work, this is where I pick up my non-perishables and proteins, anything that can keep until Sunday.   Thursday and Friday the invites go out and we find out how many people will be watching the games with us.  On Sunday, Kat and I are up early shopping, preparing, seasoning, preheating, and marinating.  The following is what I consider the BCF’s Top 10 Foodie Football Finds for any given Sunday.

Since there is usually three different times that football games are on television during the regular season, I feel that there are really two distinct eating times during the games.  I always cook appetizers for the first game, 1:00 PM, to prime everyone’s stomach for the main event which I serve at halftime of game two, 6:00 P.M, leaving the late night game for digestion and discussion.

5: Guacamole

Coming in at number five in the appetizer class is everyone’s favorite use for an avocado, Guacamole.  This dish has been around since the 16th century, and was very popular in the 1940’s and the 1960’s.  We can all thank our west coast comrades for the resurgence of this classic Mexican dip, since the Avocado has become more popular than celebrities flipping off paparazzi in California, and has since spread like wildfire throughout the country.  This tangy concoction of Avocado, garlic, cayenne pepper, and whatever the hell else the recipe tells you to throw into a bowl and mix until somewhat smooth has become a staple at my house for basically any party.  It is not only simple to make but it is an affordable replacement for the prehistoric and lackluster party basics, salsa and onion dip. The following is just one of the recipes I use, I like variety, so you can try this one, or better yet hunt down a recipe that makes your mouth water and give it a go this Sunday!

4:  Sausage

At the very respectable number four spot for the appetizer division is the ever so manly Sausage.  Some foodies will tell you that sausage is an entree, which I understand, but I am all about slicing these veritable grenades of flavor and cooking them until they are crisp on my grill top.  With an arsenal of toothpicks at the ready and an array of dipping sauces whatever sausage you buy can turn into a crowd favorite in minutes with little to no prep and cook time.  I recommend going to the Swiss Pork Store, located at 24-10 Fair Lawn Avenue, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey 07410 to procure some of the best homemade sausages on this planet!  But, if you want to make things easier on yourself you can always pick up any of the packaged sausages from the local grocery store, I for one, like these the best.

3:  Bacon Wrapped Jalapenos

Rounding out the top three for the appetizers, is a new recipe for my household, but these spicy little devils have stolen my heart, Bacon Wrapped Jalapenos.  First and foremost, anything wrapped in Bacon is always welcome on my team, but when cheese and hot peppers were combined with the world’s best condiment, yes bacon is a condiment; a new level of love was formed.  These petite gems are not only inexpensive and stress-free to make but they are the perfect companion to whatever beer you and your guests are imbibing while shouting at the television as if the coach and players can hear you.

2:  Chicken Wings

The second best appetizer for any football Sunday, in my opinion, is the ageless classic and utterly delicious chicken wing.  Whether they are hot, mild, garlic, sweet, honey, teriyaki, or plain these scrumptious pint-sized buggers just scream football.  Not only can you make them every week for less than 10 bucks, their versatility allows you to never cook the same batch twice.   Not only can you create 100’s of different flavors by combining sauces you can fry, grill, or bake them to create even more variety.  All in all, these vintage sporting event treats are a great choice for the novice chef trying to feed a small army.

1: The Bacon Explosion

The BCF’s top appetizer and truly what should be the winner in any appetizer competition from this point forward is and should always be, THE BACON EXPLOSION!  Nothing goes better with football and beer than a meat log filled with cheese and bacon, wrapped in more bacon, slathered in barbecue sauce and cooked to perfection.  This dish has been known to convert more vegetarians than the crusaders converted heathens.  Although this is a non-traditional appetizer, once you make this stunning bacon wrapped meatgasm, you will forever remember the first time you tasted it, and for that very reason since October 19, 2008 THE BACON EXPLOSION has been The Blue Collar Foodie’s Favorite Football Appetizer!

 

Once the appetizers are all gone and the chips are starting to dwindle your guests are going to become restless.  If you are doing things properly, by the beginning of the second game your entire house is going to smell glorious, and your friends are going to know that dinner is going to be just as good as the appetizers were.   Now after serving one of the aforementioned appetizers you could settle for cooking some hot dogs and hamburgers, or maybe even order some pizza, but that would be the easy way out.  I am the type of person that agrees with the old phrase, Go big or Go Home, I don’t just settle for what is acceptable, I want to crush acceptable into a fine dust and add to one of the next dishes that make up the Blue Collar Foodie’s Fantastic Football entrees.

5:  Chili

Number five on my list only finds itself that low because I have to wait until the colder months to truly enjoy it.  This mélange of ingredients that takes the entire day to truly meld into a cohesive mouthwatering meat potion is one of my favorite dishes to munch on, during a cold blustery football Sunday.   One of the many reasons I love making and eating chili is because everyone has their own recipe and method of cooking, but no matter what they all taste great.  I for one hardly ever make the same Chili recipe twice. With literally 1000’s of recipes to choose from on the internet, I feel that having the same one all the time is just meaningless.  Check out the winners of the International Chili Cook-off recipes for inspiration or be adventurous and create your own.

4:  Barbecue Chicken

Barbecue Chicken is a very simple, yet difficult to master dish, that can go from undercooked to charcoal in a matter of minutes if you are not paying attention.  Furthermore, it is very easy to end up with chicken that is burnt on the outside and pink on the inside, which not only tastes horrible but can be dangerous.  It is these problems that usually make people shy away from cooking this delicious meal, which is exactly why, you should master this art.  There are only a few people in this world that cook truly superb barbecue chicken, and if you can distinguish yourself as one of them, you will have friends lining up at your doorstep at 12:30 P.M. on Sunday begging for a seat on your couch.  Now go get started!

3:  Pork Tenderloin

In third place, and one of my most favorite cuts of swine, other than Bacon of course, is the Pork Tenderloin.   It really does not matter how you prepare this succulent cut of pure porky goodness, it will turn out to be a fan favorite.  This type of meat is so damn popular it has a website devoted to it where you can find recipes and cooking tips that is literally named PorkTenderloin.org.   I have cooked this wonderful piece of meat a dozen different ways and I have never been disappointed before, and neither have my friends.  If it was up to me Chicken would be demoted and we would start calling pork just THE WHITE MEAT!

2:  Brisket

The runner up in the Entree class, Smoked Barbecue Brisket, almost took first place, and really is an amazing meal for anytime of the year, but especially during football season.   In fact, both first place and second place honors were given to meats that are smoked, low and slow, all day long.  (TWSS)  This particular cut of meat is served at almost every BBQ joint I have ever been to, and there is a damn good reason for that.  Brisket has an ideal flavor absorbing quality and due to its fibrous make-up, takes to smoking, like a cheetah takes to running.   Remember though, smoking is a skill that must be honed; one cannot just assume that the first brisket that he or she smokes will turn out as good as a true pit master’s does.  With that said, practice makes perfect and even if your brisket is not perfect, it will still taste fantastic, so I don’t mind practicing.   Try this recipe for your first one.

1:  Ribs

The winner of the entrée group and still tailgate/football party champion of the world, are the one and only, fantastically tasty, PORK RIBS!  Whether these flavor-filled racks of ridiculously good yumminess are grilled, baked, or smoked does not really matter.  There is something about Ribs that just exude football and manliness.  I for one enjoy the smoked variety slathered in my favorite barbecue sauce, surrounded by all the best barbecue sides that I can manage to squeeze on my plate.  Although, ribs, are very forgiving due to their appetizing nature, be careful when smoking and grilling them, there is nothing worse than a ruined entrée to ruin your perfect football Sunday.  For a full rundown on the proper way to prepare a rack or two of awe inspiring ribs, click here.

The most important thing to remember when hosting a football Sunday is that people are over to watch the game first and eat your food second.   Which means, if you expect people to enjoy their Sunday you must keep the game on at all times, and allow people to eat while sitting right in front of it.  If you are worried about a little barbecue sauce getting on your couches then perhaps hosting a football Sunday is not for you.   However, if you don’t mind spending your entire Sunday, cooking, drinking, and watching your favorite teams do battle on the field, then as the envelope said to the stamp,  stick with me kid and we’ll go places.

The Blue Collar Foodie Laments about the Impending Demise of Backyard Barbecues

As the end of summer draws near and the seemingly endless supply of weekend barbecue invites slowly dissipates on my Facebook page, I can’t not help but shed a hickory flavored tear.  The enticing sound, amazing smell, and astonishing taste of searing meats, which were marinated for two days in homemade sauces, cooked to perfection with flawless grill marks is enough to cause a foodgasm, and the sheer thought that soon these events will  soon disappear is enough to make this foodie blue with sadness.

Just as I was contemplating going to Costco and buying a Fred Flintstone sized rack of ribs and going into a Barbecue induced Hibernation for the cold, soul less, barbecue-lacking months that lie ahead, I received an E-mail from LivingSocial.com, an online company that delievers local deals to your inbox.  Like a warm beacon of hope this E-mail shined through the impending gloomy darkness, and invited me to try a barbecue spot called Bourbon BBQ, located at 529 Goffle Rd., Wyckoff, N.J. 07481.  Living Social had come through in the clutch and delivered not only a new Barbecue joint to test out but a half off coupon for something called the Garbage Plate, which appeared to be a barbecue sampler for two.

Upon further research I found that the Garbage Plate was in fact made for two and consisted of bourbon ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, Texas smoked sausage, coleslaw, smokehouse beans, collard greens and corn bread.  I immediately purchased this living social coupon and scheduled a date with Kat for the first available day in our calendar to try this alluring dish offered by Bourbon BBQ.  Their website also informed me that Bourbon BBQ is a BYOB establishment, which always makes this foodie smile, and I noticed that you can make reservations on their site as well.

As we entered Bourbon BBQ, the first thing I noticed was the tantalizing smell wafting about.  I could tell right off the bat that this was not a B.S. BBQ joint due to the smell of smoke lingering in the air.  Kat and I approached the counter and spoke to the hostess who allowed us to choose any table that was available.  We made our way to a table that was empty and sat down with my beer and Kat’s cider in tow.

Before our rumps could warm the seats we had just taken, our waiter appeared in front us and handed us our menus.  We explained that we had the Living Social Garbage Plate coupon and took our drink orders at this time as well.  Our waiter then left the table, and returned quickly with a bottle opener and some glasses for our adult beverages.  The prompt service was highly appreciated because we arrived to dinner close to 8 P.M. and were famished.

As Kat and I discussed our hectic days over a few sips of our cocktails, we eagerly awaited our meal.  Which we did not have to wait long for, and that made both of our bellies smile.  What exited the kitchen and landed on our table was a colossal pile of barbecue, and it was love at first sight.  In addition to the food itself, the server also delivered a caddie full of homemade barbecue sauces, which he described in detail to us one by one, and a roll of paper towels.   More so, before the server left he explained the Garbage Plate to us, pointing our each item of the plate, which for a first timer at Bourbon was extremely helpful.

I consider myself a sauce aficionado, so when the server explained each sauce and informed us that they were all homemade, I paid attention like a physicist listens when Stephen Hawking talks about black holes.  With that said I feel obligated to not only name these sauces but also give you my first impression of them as well, the following is the list:

  1. Kansas City:  Bourbon’s take on a Kansas City style sweet Barbecue Sauce.  This sauce was fantastic for a sweet Barbecue sauce which I tend to shy away from most of the time.   I recommend this sauce on the Pulled Pork.
  2. Carolina:  Bourbon’s vinegar based Barbecue sauce which I found simply divine.  This sauce complimented everything I put it on, instead of overwhelming the flavor of the meat.  Great on the Brisket.
  3. Delta:  This sauce blew mine and Kat’s mind.  A great combination of a spicy yet sweet Barbecue Sauce with an almost three dimensional flavor.  Our favorite sauce by far and we ate it on everything.
  4. XXX:  This is Bourbon’s spiciest sauce offered.  Although we enjoyed this sauce, we found that the Delta had a deeper flavor with just a little less spice.  I recommend this sauce on the Pulled Pork for a spicy twist.

Although the offering of specialty craft Barbecue Sauces, which you can purchase online or in house,  is all well and good, let’s face it, one goes to a Barbecue Restaurant for the meat not the sauce.  I would be remiss if I did not discuss the Garbage Plate Sampler in detail and tell my loyal audience all about Bourbon’s actual Barbecue.

Kat and I attacked this monumental mound of mouthwatering meat as if we were at war with the plate, and employed the “divide and conquer “strategy.  We started with the Pulled Pork, and shoveled a healthy helping onto our plates.  We first tried these delectable slivers of swine sans Barbecue Sauce and at that moment we knew the rest of the meal was going to be utterly remarkable.  The meat was so tender, chewing it felt like overkill, all I needed to do was let it linger in my mouth for a few seconds as it dissolved on my tongue.   Then we decided to splash on a few drops of the different types of Barbecue Sauce and the pulled pork, in the immortal words of John Candy in Spaceballs, went to plaid.  All the sauces transformed this meat into something else, something almost entirely different but equally as tasty.

Next up was the Brisket which was piled high enough to be a meal of its own.  Kat and I once again divided the portion and dug in first without sauce and then with.  This may have been the best brisket Kat and I have ever had, and that is saying something since I like Brisket like Rex Ryan from the New York Jets likes feet.  The meat was tender and succulent with just the perfect pink around the outside to remind you that it lived in a smoker for quite some time.  Once again the sauces that were offered only added complexity to the already impeccable taste.

The Texas smoked sausage reminded me of the smoked Kielbasa that I make at home.  Except for Bourbon BBQ is able to get the skin to the perfect amount of crispness that I just can’t seem to achieve.  I was unsure just which barbecue sauce to match up with these crisp morsels of smokey goodness, so I ate them naked.

The piece de resistance of all Barbecue plates and really how I ultimately judge barbecue chefs is the ever important ribs.  These behemoths were not your run of the mill miniscule baby pork ribs either, these ribs looked like they came for hogasaurus.   Bourbon’s ribs are the type of ribs that make most men feel inadequate if you know what I mean, and that is just the way I like it.  At first bite I noticed that the meat did not need much help in separating from the bone, which is a great testament to the chef with ribs this size.  I was a little underwhelmed by the flavor of the ribs during my initial bite but then I added a small amount of barbecue sauce and the rib came alive like Frankenstein’s Monster.  It appeared that Bourbon’s Ribs were only cooked with a dry rub so as to allow the customer to choose the type of sauce they want to add at the time of consumption.  The sauce complemented the rib meat effortlessly and I found myself leaving not a speck of meat left hanging on the bone.

As for the sides, the Baked Beans actually have what appeared to be pulled pork in them, which made them even better than I expected.  The Cole Slaw seemed fresh and did not have that store bought chemical taste to it that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  The Collard Greens tasted fantastic, as they were not too vinegary, which tends to happen in the north.   The corn bread was exactly as I like it, sweet enough to be a side, but not sweet enough to be dessert.  Kat on the other hand was hoping for dessert corn bread, but she was pleased with the other sides.

Not only was the food marvelous but during our dinner our server came over several times to check on us, which is always under appreciated.  Furthermore, throughout our time at this restaurant who I believed to be the General Manager walked around to every table, including our own, to speak to the customers.  One by one he approached every table and made sure that everything was cooked to their liking and just made some small talk.  Kat and I love small businesses and this added special touch made us feel like Bourbon BBQ truly cared about us, as individuals and not as just another customer.

Bourbon BBQ’s menu is quite extensive and if our first visit is any indication of how all the other items are going to taste, I can see this foodie squandering many an hour at this establishment.  Kat and I both felt that Bourbon’s amazing sampler dish can compete with any and all Barbecue joints that we have frequented in our decade together.   This combined with the fact that they are right next door in Wyckoff and their prices are truly affordable, very well may have placed them number one on our BBQ list.  So when the snow begins to fall and you place your cover on your grill for the last time this season, make sure to stop by Bourbon BBQ when you get the hankering for some good old fashioned BBQ.

 

Judgment:

Overall:                                4 out of 5

Taste:                                   5 out of 5

Presentation:                      3 out of 5

Value:                                   4 out of 5

Bourbon BBQ Hickory Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Urbanspoon Leads The Blue Collar Foodie Down the Road to Juicy Platters

One day last week Kat and I were famished and looking for a cheap local spot to grab some food on the go.  I reached for my trusty I-Phone and opened up my Urbanspoon application for guidance.  For those who have not used the Urbanspoon application or the Urbanspoon website, it is a Foodie’s dream come true.  Whenever you find yourself wondering where to eat, in a foreign place or right in your own backyard, you can turn to Urbanspoon for some much needed assistance.  You have the option to browse Urbanspoon’s vast database of restaurants utilizing their many built-in filters, including but not limited to types of food, prices, hours of operation, and top picks.  If you are feeling frisky you can always just shake your phone and the application will randomly chose a restaurant in your area for you to visit, I can’t tell you how many times this application has solved our restaurant choice arguments after a long day in the city.

On this particular random weekday the Urbanspoon’s magic 8-ball like powers lead us to a local eatery named Juicy Platters located at 22-18 Broadway.  Upon further review of the Urbanspoon Application’s profile of Juicy Platters, I found that they serve Greek, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern fare and the average price for an entrée was listed as under $10. After a quick review of the menu, reading a few reviews online, and, of course, the okay from Kat we were in the car and on the way to Juicy Platters.

Without truly knowing what to expect we ventured down Broadway looking for this new restaurant that we have never seen before on our travels up and down the commerce-laden strip that is Broadway in Fair Lawn.  When we arrived, we saw that Juicy Platters is nothing more than a tiny store front in the plaza that used to house the Hyway Theater. This establishment is comprised of the main counter where the customer can place their order, a rather large kitchen and a small eat-in bar with five chairs.

According to the aforementioned online reviews, Juicy Platters is known for their tzatziki-style white sauce that you can pour over your platter and chicken wings.  Armed with this useful knowledge, Kat and I, ordered two Mixed Platters and an order of Super-Hot n’ Garlic wings.  The total including the Vitamin Water we decided to split came out to $24.40, which we gladly paid and then grabbed two empty seats at the small eating area.  As we waited for the food to arrive, we did some people watching and noticed that most of the clientele that was coming in and out of Juicy Platters were ordering their food to go.  There were quite a few customers that picked up their orders while we were in the restaurant and all seemed to be repeat patrons, which usually is a good sign that a restaurant is doing something right.

When our mixed platters arrived, the first thing we noticed was the generous portion size that was offered at Juicy Platters.  Not only was there a huge amount of rice that filled the aluminum serving container but the mixed grill meat was damn near over flowing.  Kat and I both drizzled the white sauce over the top of our mixed grill platter and each took a bite. With that first bite, Kat and I knew that we had stumbled upon something delightfully unexpected.  Seconds after taking the first bite, Kat uttered a phrase that I cannot add to this review, but let’s just say I knew that she liked it. The meat was tender, juicy, and plentiful, while the sauce was tactfully seasoned to complement both the meat and the rice, and the vegetables were flawlessly cooked.   Juicy Platters had not only shattered our expectations but done it at a price that is both honest and affordable.

We savored each bite like it was the last as we slowly but surely made our way through our Mixed Platters.  We were so overjoyed by this remarkable dish, that when the wings came out, neither of us attempted to even open the box that they were housed in. Finally, I was able to pull myself away from the Mixed Platter long enough to try one of the boneless wings that we had ordered. Sadly, I was unimpressed with the wings that Juicy Platters offered. The wings were not bad, but compared to the Mixed Platter they were nothing spectacular.  The sauce was as advertised both spicy and full of garlicky goodness, and when dipped into the house white sauce they were respectable as far as boneless wings go.  Before a final decision on Juicy Platter’s wings can be made I will have to try their bone-in variation which might be better. My suggestion as of now, is to skip the wings and double down on the Meat for your platter, not only will save a few bucks but you will be just as full, and twice as happy.

After eating our share of the wings both Kat and I dove back into our main course and fell in love with Juicy Platters all over again.  The combination of the amazing taste explosion and the low-low prices that they charge has earned Juicy Platters a spot in our regular rotation of fast food choices.  Kat and I will definitely be returning to Juicy Platters again and again to try all of their offerings and we suggest that you do as well.

On a side note, for all of the Vegetarian foodies in the area, Juicy Platters offers several vegetarian options that I have heard are just as memorable as their meat coma-inducing counterparts.  In a world that treats vegetarians as it does lepers, this is a welcomed change for most of my friends that walk through life as herbivores.

Overall:               4 out of 5

Taste:                  4.5 out of 5

Presentation:     3 out of 5

Value:                  5 out of 5

Juicy Platters on Urbanspoon