The Garden State Ale House Opens Its Doors and Throws Down The Gauntlet

As a foodie and a Certified Cicerone the opening of a new Gastropub gets me about as giddy as a sci-fi geek hearing that Joss Whedon is working on a new show. However, since these craft beer slinging, epic eateries are popping up faster than a Lindsay Lohan relapse, I tend to be slightly apprehensive about getting too excited before visiting these potential honey holes.

In the last year or so, within my immediate review radius, there have been several new taverns, pubs, lounges, saloons, and bars that opened their doors promising true craft beer with epicurean eats, only to leave this Blue Collar Foodie, wanting and melancholy. Some of them fell short on delivering genuine craft beer, offering a plethora of Anheuser-Busch InBev owned brands masquerading as bona fide craft, while others advertised high-end pub fare, but instead offered dishes that were basically frozen chicken fingers with a side of Sriracha mayonnaise. Then there were one or two that hit the food and drink notes like a trained vocalist yet failed to stick the dismount, due to their décor, customer service, and douchey clientele.  If I believed in bad reviews, I would insert the names of theses asshat asylums, but I don’t, so I won’t, but you will know them as soon as you walk through the door.

I know what some of you are thinking. WTF, man, you are being uncharacteristically critical, and leaving douche droppings all over the internets. You must understand, that my high expectations for a gastropub stems from the fact that I live within 3 miles of one of the best craft beer and food emporiums in the North Jersey region, and therefore, I hold all establishments to the standard that is The Twisted Elm, in Elmwood Park.

Garden State Ale House LOGO

Enter, the new kid on the block, and I am not talking about Donny and Joey, I am talking about the Garden State Ale House, located at 340 Paterson Ave., in East Rutherford, NJ. When I say new, I don’t mean opened two months ago either, I mean like opened on December 28th, new.

As a rule, I normally don’t visit an establishment during their first month of operation, because I have worked in the restaurant industry before, and I completely understand it takes a while to work out the kinks. With that said, this joint is within walking distance of my friend’s apartment and we decided to break my tenet and check it out on opening day.

I was not going to write this review to be honest, because I expected a general shit-show, which is to be expected from a restaurant that is literally minutes old.  However, The Garden State Ale House, spoiler alert, fucking nailed it so hard, I felt I was doing my readers a disservice by not spewing these glowing words all over the interwebs.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

As we entered, a smiling hostess greeted us, and seated us almost immediately, even though the dining room was quite crowded. The excellent customer service continued, when Christian arrived at our table with the food, beer, wine, and cocktail menus. Since, they just opened their doors and it was obvious that we had not been to Garden State Ale House in the past, Christian took the time to explain each menu, and informed us that if we had any questions to flag him down.

The beer menu was solid, offering a wide selection of not only exceptional brands, but varied styles as well. Of course, the menu was IPA heavy, but that is to be expected, because ‘merica. However, Stouts, Porters, and Saisons could be found as well, which is always a bonus. For those of you that have friends or fathers that feel that hops, barley, water, and yeast should taste like, well, water, they got you covered too, with a few not so craft beers that will wet their whistle.

Welcome to the Garden State Ale House.

Welcome to the Garden State Ale House.

We ordered our beers and began to peruse the food menu. Although, I like my gastropubs to push the epicurean envelope and deliver a diverse menu, full of  an assortment of cuisines, I actually judge them first on their burger. I feel that this item embodies what a gastropub should be, and is the perfect vessel to express the chef’s creativity and flavor. Therefore, I immediately flipped to the burger section, and began the decision making process.

Normally, it takes quite a bit of time for me to choose the perfect burger to test the wherewithal of the cooking staff, but not on this occasion. The Garden State Ale House literally must have been thinking of me, and my kin, when they created the prodigious Das Burger. Described as an 8oz, 100% certified Angus Beef burger, topped with fried Gouda, fried egg, bacon, Taylor ham, a jumbo onion ring, and chipotle mayonnaise. Holy hell, I could feel my arteries constricting, and I fucking loved it.

My comrades also made their choices rather quickly and we flagged down Christian to place our order. Kat went with the Pickle & Horseradish Steak wrap, Buro decided to join me on my burger adventure with the Blazin’ Cajun Burger, Steph rocked the Adult Grilled Cheese, and Alex chose the Guinness Stew. Since we were all damn near starving we also ordered the Taste of Thanksgiving and the Smokin’ Calamari for the table.

Smokin' Calamari

Smokin’ Calamari

The appetizers arrived shortly after we ordered them, and they not only smelled fantastic but they also looked appealing, which is a testament to the kitchen staff’s attention to detail. The Smokin’ Calamari was described as lightly battered fried calamari, sauteed with hot peppers, served with a citrus aioli and marinara sauce. The calamari itself was prepared extraordinarily well, and the spicy flavor of the hot peppers was present, but not overbearing. My only critique of this dish was it was missing the citrus aioli, but the marinara was flavorful enough to make up for this minor infraction.

The Definition of Amazeballs.

The Definition of Amazeballs.

Since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the food that is served on this highest of holy days, is in my opinion, foodgasmic, I am cautious when ordering menu items that attempt to summon their essence. But, when dining with a crowd, democracy rules, so I went with it. All hail democracy friends! These fried spheres of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes were nothing short of amazeballs. I mean it; they were literally balls of amaze! When you bring your ass to this spot, and after reading this article, why wouldn’t you, do yourself a favor and put these in your food hole.

You can't go wrong with Beer Stew.

You can’t go wrong with Beer Stew.

Before, I wax poetic about my legendary burger, I will touch on the entrees that my cohorts chose. Firstly, Alex’s Guinness Stew, which was described as a hearty stew with generous chunks of tenderloin steak, slowly cooked in Guinness, finished with Jameson Irish Whiskey, served over mashed potatoes. This dish was rich and hearty as advertised, complete with an excellent robust flavor. The gravy, was the star of this meal, and I could not help but dip a nice chunk of bread in the ooey, gooey deliciousness when Alex tapped out, and I was not disappointed at all.  The portion size of the entree was concerning at first, but each item that comprised this meal was so sturdy that it was more than enough to feed an average eater.

Fire Goooood!!! Napster Baaaaad!!!

Fire Goooood!!! Napster Baaaaad!!!

As a spice fiend, when restaurants describe things as “Spicy,” “Ultra Hot,” or in this case “Blazin’,” I expect a weak, half-assed, attempt at tantalizing my taste buds. I almost always have to add hot sauce just to get the dish to an acceptable level of heat. This was not the case at The Garden State Ale House. After the first bite, Buro began to sweat, and with a smile on his face he housed the whole burger. This burger was not all about heat though, it was the perfect melody of burgery deliciousness, bready awesomeness, and  jalapeño fierceness.  If you are a fan of flavor, this could very well be your go to order when you visit.

The Blue Collar Baby Maker approves this sandwich.

The Blue Collar Baby Maker approves this sandwich.

We all grew up eating Grilled Cheese, at least we should have. If you didn’t, I call your parent’s parenting into question, but that is a topic for some other blog, maybe called TheBlueCollarBabyMaker.Com.  This grilled cheese, however, was not your grandma’s Wonder Bread and processed cheese sandwich. This son of a bitch is two slices of Texas toast crammed with cheddar, pepper-jack, and smoked gouda, served with house chips and tomato fondue. I am all for nostalgia, but you can’t tell me that this sandwich doesn’t crap all over your G-ma’s bullshit ass Grilled Oil on GMOS! I was impressed with the melding of the three cheeses and this dish was exactly what I would want an adult grilled cheese to taste like. Unfortunately, it was delivered to the table without the tomato fondue, which would have brought this meal to whole other level. We chocked this faux pas up to an opening day oops and I will order this again to see how the tomato soup adds to this already impressive sandwich.

Steakey...Steakey...Steak...I love Steak!

Steakey…Steakey…Steak…I love Steak!

Since it was a Monday, Kat was trying to be somewhat healthy, so she went with the Pickle Horseradish Steak Wrap with a side of Cole slaw. This wrap was full of chopped steak, smoked Gouda, hot cherry peppers, hot pepper brined pickles, baby arugula, sliced tomatoes, red onion, and horseradish honey mustard. Although there appears to be a surplus of ingredients joining the party within this wrap, they all play very nicely with each other. No one piece of the puzzle overshadowed the other and thus complemented one another quite well. For a healthier option, I feel like this dish was a resounding success, and Kat seemed to be happy with her selection.

Untimely death be damned, I fucking love this burger!

Untimely death be damned, I fucking love this burger!

Now for the pièce de résistance, the magnum opus, the crowning achievement of the evening. THE DAS BURGER! First off, I ordered this beast at Medium Rare, and it arrived expertly cooked. I  was slightly nervous that I would not be able to fit this monstrous slab of yummy in my mouth, but with a little squishing, and cutting it in half, I was able to take the perfect first bite. As, angelic music was playing in my head, I chewed that first bite, savoring each and every second this amalgamation of salty, spicy, and meaty was frolicking with my taste buds. Lucky for me, after swallowing that first lovely mouthful, TWSS, there was so much more burger to be had, not to mention the pile of BACON, RANCH, CHEESE FRIES!

BaconRanchFriesGSAH

Look at that beautiful pile of cholesterol and death!

You know there is no way I couldn’t mention the Bacon, Fucking, Ranch, Fucking, Cheese Fries. I mean come on dude, look at that beautiful pile of cholesterol and death! As good as the fries were, the superstar of this plate was definitely the burger. It was juicy to the last bite, the bun held up, and I have to confess it was the first burger, in a long time, that almost defeated me. I had to force the last flavorful tidbit of super tasty burger in my mouth, but it was a labor of love people.

Every element of the Garden State Ale House seemed like it was painstakingly taken into consideration. The décor, the placement of the televisions, and even the tables themselves seemed like an interior designer was hired to construct the prefect atmosphere to enjoy the food and drink they serve. Furthermore, the beer selection was on point, delivering the perfect blend of high-end Cicerone approved rarity and approachable brews for general consumption. All in all, The Garden State Ale House, was extremely well received by the motley crew that I rolled in with and that is high praise, especially on their first night open. In the immortal words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back!”

HOT DAMN! Lan Sheng Is Good

In the restaurant world there are a plethora of accolades that establishments can earn. Most of these awards originate from local newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers, and good old-fashion cook-offs. These trophies, plaques, and certificates adorn the walls of many an eatery. The most coveted of these honors is known as the Michelin Star and in order to obtain this prestigious praise a restaurant must be something quite special.

I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!

I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!

You may be asking yourself, what the hell does a fat man made of tires know about food and why does his recommendation catapult a restaurant into the highest level of gastronomic notoriety.   The short answer is the Michelin Guide has been around since 1900 and each and every year this prominent guidebook reads like the who’s who of the culinary world. Most of the epic eateries that are found in this cookery compendium are located in large cities like San Francisco, Paris, London, and of course the greatest city in the world, New York, which to some is expensive and inconvenient.

However, what if I told you, you can experience all the straight-up awesome sauce of a Michelin Star restaurant, without exiting the fine state of New Jersey. Where in New Jersey you ask? You might think the answer to that question would be Hoboken, Morristown, or maybe even somewhere down in the might as well be Alabama part of New Jersey, like Cape May, or Wildwood. You sir, would be wrong. The town that this restaurant resides in, is none other than Wallington, NJ.

There it is!

There it is!

That is right, Wallington, New Jersey. Don’t lie, some of you just had to google where that is! Others just uttered the phrase, “what the fuck is a Wallington,” out loud, making your co-workers tilt their head like a confused puppy. Let me save you some time people, Wallington is a one square mile town in Bergen County, which is best known for its Bowling Alley. That is until now. Wallington is now home to a restaurant with a Michelin Star and after you read this post you need to get into your car and enter 209 Paterson Avenue, Wallington, NJ into your GPS and drive your ass to Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant.

Welcome to Lan Sheng!

Welcome to Lan Sheng!

To be honest, I have been eating at Lan Sheng for quite some time now and I loved it since the moment I walked in. The reason I have yet to post about the amazing food that can be found at this modest eatery off the beaten path, is because I had a brief but justified internal conflict. One side of me wanted to climb on top of the Internets and shout the praises of this establishment as loud as my blogospheric voice would allow me, while the other side wanted to Gollum the hell out this precious establishment and keep it all to myself. Finally, I decided that I needed to share Lan Sheng with the world, and this post is the byproduct of the winning punch that knocked Sméagol out cold.

Have a seat...

Have a seat…

Lan Sheng isn’t overly extravagant like some opulent eateries that I have frequented, but it is classy in a subdued way. Not sophisticated enough to force you to rock a suit and tie, but cultured enough that one should not recite dirty limericks while waiting for their waiter. When you enter Lan Sheng, you will be greeted by a host or hostess and promptly seated at a table. The menus will land, water will be poured, drink orders taken, and then you are left to peruse the insanely diverse and eclectic pages of their food bible.

This ain’t your Grandmother’s Chinese takeout either! Choosing what to grace your taste buds with is a struggle and the struggle is real. There are way too many options to list them all, but some of the highlights are the Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, Spicy Rabbit, Hot and Spicy Frog, Hot Spicy Mix Pot, and the recently rare and highly sought-after Sliced Conch. By the way, if you do end up visiting this joint ask for the Conch each and every time you visit. The two reasons for this request are; A: If you score it your mouth with have a flavorgasm, and B: If everyone asks for it, they might offer it all the time, and thus you pass along that flavorgasm, like a STD in an old folk’s home.

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

The way we like to experience Lan Sheng is family style and I recommend this to you as well. This way you can try a variety of dishes as opposed to trying to narrow your selection to just one tasty treat. Furthermore, I love dining this way because I can sneak in an out of the ordinary dish like Spicy Duck Tongue, Beef Tar Tar, Sichuan Spicy Dry Pig Feet, or Chongqing Style Pork Blood Curd.

The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.

The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.

However, if you happen to be less adventurous than me and mine, Lan Sheng has you covered as well, you can pass on the Julienne Jelly Fish Appetizer, which is real and particularly tasty, and order something like Chengdu Wontons in Broth paired with an order of Volcano Beef , Tangerine Chicken, or Spicy Chicken and you’ve got yourself an epic meal that won’t make you squirm.

Did someone order the Spice without the weird.

Did someone order the Spice without the weird.

As I am writing this post I am starting to salivate and I hope you are too, but I know a lot of you are thinking, “WTF BCF, these dishes sound not only incredible but incredibly expensive. Therein lies the rub faithful readers, Lan Sheng is pumping out quality grub at reasonable prices on a consistent basis, and in the restaurant world that is the Unicorn. Hence why I contemplated not writing this post, if word gets out about this impressive establishment it could be flooded with people, and then I would have to wait longer to shovel their miraculous fare into to my talking hole. However, if word does not get out, and they fold, I would never forgive myself!

Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.

Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.

The dishes that I have mentioned above are a mere fragment of the selection that Lan Sheng offers its customers. Furthermore, the Chefs at Lan Sheng have never, not once, disappointed me, and we have ordered quite a bit off the extensive menu. Each and every dish is seasoned to perfection, cooked expertly, and served beautifully.

A big ol' pile of the other white meat!

A big ol’ pile of the other white meat!

All the ingredients that are precisely positioned on the dishes that Lan Sheng serves are not only prepared properly but they are exceedingly fresh. The color, texture, and flavor almost make you believe that some of these fixings are being grown in the backyard in some type of clandestine enchanted farm. I know we are known as the Garden State, but something tells me that when the Public Relations department of New Jersey came up with that slogan, Wallington was far from their minds.

Damn that is pretty!

Damn that is pretty!

I am not talking about lettuce and tomato here either people, which Boston freaking Market can get fresh. I am referring to the likes of Bamboo Shoots, Shanghai Choi, Chinese cabbage, Lotus Roots, and something called a Garlic Bolt. Not to mention the countless elements that find their way into the obscure dishes that I order, that I can only identify as Yummy 1 or Yummy 2.

Green can be good too!

Green can be good too!

More so, if it is labeled as spicy, it is! Not burn your face off, can’t taste anything through the fire spicy either. The kind of piquant that sits on your tongue for a minute or two and challenges your taste buds to a duel, yet ultimately dissipates leaving a palatable aftertaste, which in turn leaves you longing for another bite.

Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.  This duck tongue will win every time.

Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.

You know I love BYOBs, and unfortunately Lan Sheng is not one of these money saving honey holes. However, if you are feeling adventurous, they have some tantalizing specialty cocktails like a Lychee Martini. You can conversely go the traditional route and treat yourself to a Tsingtao or a Sapporo, which may not be the best beer in the world, but when in Rome, right.

Lan Sheng is the perfect combination of affordable, approachable, and appetizing blending dishes with tremendous depth, attentive service, and adventurous eating. These components have made this restaurant my new go to joint when Kat and I are having a hard time deciding on where we should dine. It has come down to, if one of us invokes the name of this spot, it is an automatic, the foodie trump card, if you will. If you were ever thinking about trying Szechuan or if you love it already, I highly recommend this extraordinary restaurant!

Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Green Dragon Brings World Class Sushi Back To Fair Lawn

As a local restaurant slowly becomes your go to spot, it is comparable to a blossoming friendship. At first you stick to the basics, small talk is tantamount to the rudimentary menu items, but as the relationship continues, a sense of trust develops and gradually, this new friend, errrrrr… eatery can do no wrong. In other words you have rocked every item on the menu and have never been disappointed.

Sadly, much like some of your most memorable BFF’s, these local haunts relocate without notice. No matter the reason, taxes, rent, or the necessity for more space, at first you feel optimistic. What is a thirty minute drive among friends after all? Unfortunately, as many a bumper sticker from the 1980’s communicated, “Shit Happens,” and as we all know Life Happens as well. Your visits become less frequent and excuses are flung around like excrement at a monkey preserve.

Most of the time, this is where the story ends, however recently, I was able to rekindle a foodie friendship with an amazing Chef that happened to move right back into my hometown. The restaurant I am referring to is Green Dragon and the amazing culinary mind behind there cuisine is Chef Huarong Chen A.K.A. Ken. This kids is the story of How I Met Your Sushi Chef. Ba Bum Bum Bum Bum Ba Ba Ba Baaaaaaa…

One of the first places I reviewed as The Blue Collar Foodie was the amazing Six Happiness that was located on Morlot Avenue, in Fair Lawn New Jersey. One of the reasons I fell in love with this seemingly ordinary, yet extraordinary, Chinese Take-Out joint, was the addition of Chef Ken, who was churning out some of the most intriguing and remarkable Sushi I have ever eaten. We are talking NYC good people!

Ye Olde Six Happiness

Ye Olde Six Happiness

Sadly, Six Happiness went through some changes and the original staff moved to Lodi under the name of Taste of Asian, located at 122 Essex Street in Lodi, and the food at the Fair Lawn location was never the same. To add insult to injury, Chef Ken disappeared from my life for quite some time and I was forced to eat sub-par sushi like a common street vagrant. I know… I know… First world problems, but still a problem none the less.

Thinking I had tasted Chef Ken’s epic oceanic goodness for the last time, I tried to put it out of my mind. That is until I walked into Green Dragon for the first time! In my head, Chef Ken jumped over the counter in slow motion and ran towards me, Bay Watch style, as I threw chairs and tables out of my way as I ran to him even slower. As we met in the middle of the restaurant we embraced in the greatest man hug of all time, the man hug between the foodie and the long lost Chef. In all reality, we saw each other from across the restaurant, and gave each other the obligatory standard manly greeting, the nod of acknowledgement,  but that doesn’t seem like a good ending to this anecdote at all, so we will just say the first version happened and forget about the boring truth.

Green Dragon recently opened its doors at 19-01 Fair Lawn Avenue in Fair Lawn New Jersey in place of Dish Eatery. Even though it is always unfortunate to see a new-ish restaurant like Dish close its doors, I was extremely happy to see that a Sushi and Chinese Restaurant was moving back to Fair Lawn. This happiness turned to unbridled jubilation when I saw that it was Chef Ken at the helm.

I Heart Dragons of any color.

I Heart Dragons of any color.

This establishment ain’t your normal Chinese Food take-out spot though, this is a sit-down restaurant with a fair amount of tables and a pretty extensive menu. They of course have the elementary Chinese food fare that we all crave from time to time, but they also offer specialties like Duck Fried Rice, a Bento Box, and the aforementioned Sushi.

Welcome to Green Dragon, your table to waiting.

Welcome to Green Dragon, your table to waiting.

The first time I visited Green Dragon I phoned in an order for normal, everyday Chinese Food and picked it up because that is what Kat and I were craving.  However, after seeing Chef Ken behind the Sushi counter I knew we were coming back. A few short days later, Kat and I returned to Green Dragon to experience a sit down meal at this somewhat new eatery and… Spoiler alert, we were not disappointed.

When we were seated our delightful waitress brought us a couple of glasses of water as well as a portion of Crispy Chinese Noodles complete with a side of duck sauce. *Note, I scoured the internets to find what these scrumptious little fried crunchy strips of amazeballs are actually called and came up with the utterly unimaginative designation you see above.* However, whatever you call them, they are always welcome on my table and never unappreciated.

Crispy Fried Strips Of Amazeballs

Crispy Fried Strips Of Amazeballs

Kat and I then began the constantly slothful and arduous task of ordering something from a menu that is new to us. With only a small amount of hemming and hawing Kat and I were able to come up with what we thought was a solid selection. I ordered the Shrimp Teriyaki Bento Box which comes with a garden salad, shrimp shumai, haru maki, rice, and normally a California Roll, which I paid extra to bench, and replaced it with a spicy tuna. Kat decided on the Fried Tofu and invited a Peanut Avocado Roll to the party as its plus one.

The only reason I order a salad at a Chinese Restaurant is the heavenly ginger dressing that tops the roughage. With an almost paste like consistency, this dressing is what really separates this salad from that of an ordinary pizzeria salad. Simple and fresh components make up the body of this garden salad and the ginger dressing adds a much needed flair to make it worth the nod, instead of any soup on the menu.

If they bottled this stuff I would eat it for days.

If they bottled this stuff I would eat it for days.

After our salads were devoured our entrees hit the table and Kat’s looked magical. The crispy outside of the fried tofu was the perfect complement of the warm silky inside, and when paired with the tangy sauce, this dish was spot on. Not to mention the vegetables that were served with it were fresh and had a distinct bite to them, which is always a bonus when dealing with steamed vegetables.

#AnyFriedTastesBetter #Don'tJudgeMe #TofuIsHealthyRight

#AnythingFriedTastesBetter #Don’tJudgeMe #TofuIsHealthyRight

As for my Bento Box, it what everything I wanted and more. For one thing the reason why I love Bento Boxes is not only the glutenous amount of food that is provided, but the variety as well. This box was no magnificent! (TWSS) Each element that graced this dish was undeniably tastier than the last… Until of course I took a bite of something else. The only problem I had with this wonderful meal was which bite would be my last… It was the Sushi… I freaking love that stuff. In fact, as I write this I am now realizing that I have to have more tonight.  *Edit:  I did in fact go to green dragon after writing this, and it was glorious.*

Anything with the word box in it still makes me chuckle.

Anything with the word box in it still makes me chuckle.

Speaking of Sushi, Kat’s was not half bad either, I mean for being fake Sushi and not containing any seafood at all. The presentation though was beautiful and the sushi rice was cooked expertly. Take that California, we know how to eat Avocado too and we have four seasons! HA! NEW JERSEY 1 – CALIFORNIA 0

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

In case you just looked at the Food Porn and failed to read any of the words that seeped out of my brain and landed firmly on the interwebs, I highly recommend hitting up Green Dragon. Not only is it my new Sushi spot, but it is also my new Chinese Restaurant too.

Green Dragon Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Bacon Fest 2015

Once a year, on International Bacon Day, instead of attending food or beer festivals, I host one. Not just any old fiesta either, a tiny subversive underground shindig one can only attend if invited by me or mine. This event is entitled Bacon Fest and this year we celebrated our fifth anniversary in style.

Peace Love And Bacon
Bacon Fest is comprised of 13 amateur chefs preparing their favorite bacon concoctions and presenting them, pot luck style, to be judged by our guests. The competition is fierce, and the prize, simple bragging rights. Well, that and the coveted Cup of St. Anthony, who happens to be the patron Saint of Bacon. This Trophy, much like the Stanley Cup, is only borrowed for the year, because the following year, the winner must bring it back and present it to the next Bacon Fest Champion.

This event features some of the most whacked out, innovative, and straight up fucking delicious bacon dishes I have ever sunk my teeth into; and that is saying something friends because I like bacon, like Jared likes jailbait. However, that is not the only reason we throw this salty soiree. Each year we donate not 10%, not 50%, but 100% of the proceeds of this cured meat jamboree to a charity of our choosing.

Since you have all obviously clicked this link to see the filthy food porn and read descriptions of bacon preparations that would make Ron Jeremy blush, without further ado I bring to you this year’s Bacon Fest entries. We will get back to the trivial details a little later:

A – “The Bloody Wilbur”
How could one conceivably improve on the quintessential brunch cocktail, The Bloody Mary, you ask? Add Bacon and Guinness of course! This invigorating concoction unites the traditional essence of the Bloody Mary with the velvety goodness of Guinness and the smoky flair of Bacon Infused Vodka. This “boarish” libation should be imbibed utilizing the provided handcrafted candied bacon straw.

Brunch served in a glass!

Brunch served in a glass!

2 – “Fall Fest”
Baked sweet potatoes topped with sautéed apples and bacon, reminding you of your grandmother’s apple pie…but with bacony goodness! Swallow down with a mouth full of delicious, cold Oktoberfest!

Apples, Bacon, and BEER! OH MY!

Apples, Bacon, and BEER! OH MY!

3 – “Three Drunken Pigs”
Imagine three pigs from three different nations sat down with a bottle of bourbon then finished with a nice rich breakfast gravy.

This gravy would make a southern girl swoon!

This gravy would make a southern girl swoon!

4 – “Chicken Ba-Bombs”
Jalapenos filled with cheese, stuffed in chicken, and wrapped lovingly in bacon. These delicious Ba-Bombs are exploding with all sorts of cheesy, salty, and meaty flavor.

ChickenBaBombs

Like the Turducken of Bacon Fest!

5 – “S’more Bacon Please!”
Your favorite campfire delight, but with bacon! This is a bacon s’mores no-bake cheesecake with bacon bits mixed into the graham. Complete with a marshmallow, cool whip, and cream cheese layer plus a bacon chocolate layer on top. This delight has an added layer of bacon bits topped with a roasted marshmallow on a stick. This is the best way to end the summer!

SmoresBacon

Who needs camping when you have this delightful treats!

6 – “Xun Rou Bao (Bacon Buns)”
Inspired by the delectable dim sum treat, these dense, soft buns are filled with a sweet & savory BBQ bacon filling. If these were on the dim sum cart, the old ladies would never have to resort to the hard sale.

Xun Rou Bao

MMMMMmmmmmmmmm Dim Sum!

7 – “Breakfast for Dessert”
Espresso Chocolate Mousse with bacon fat and bourbon, caramelized bananas, fresh vanilla bean whipped cream and bacon sprinkles in a flaky crust. Bacon sprinkles are for winners and that is what this dish is.

You had me at Bacon Fat and Bourbon!

You had me at Bacon Fat and Bourbon!

8 – “Did someone say Tots?”
This Cheesy Tater Tot breakfast bake combines all your morning faves! Sausage, tots, cheese, eggs, and of course BACON! So, stick your fork in it and take a bite… cause it’s 5 A.M. somewhere.

This was better than if you replace the O with an I...

This was better than if you replace the O with an I…

9 – “Scuttlebutt Bites “
This Ebelskiver or traditional Danish pancake is prepared with fruit butter and Applewood smoked bacon before being topped off with a bacon glaze for good measure. Everyone will be talking about these tasty treats!

Even though I can't pronounce them, I sure as hell with eat them!

Even though I can’t pronounce them, I sure as hell with eat them!

10 – “Backels”
As the leaves change colors and fall from the sky certain edibles are simply irresistible. This is one of those wonderful treats, only these caramel apples are bite sized and chock full of bacon, chocolate, and nuts.

Caramel Apples with Bacon? Damn Straight!

Caramel Apples with Bacon? Damn Straight!

J – “All American Poppers”
Beer battered and fried, these balls of freedom are part homemade mashed red skin potatoes, part cheddar cheese, and part bacon, but I assure you they are 100 percent ‘merica!

'Merica, FUCK YEA!

‘Merica, FUCK YEA!

Q – “Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Pork Roulettes”
Nothing goes better with bacon than a nice pork cutlet. Especially, when it is pounded thin, layered with stuffing, rolled up and then wrapped in the salty temptress.

Pig Wrapped in Pig PEOPLE!!!

Pig Wrapped in Pig PEOPLE!!!

K – “Ice Cream for Breakfast?”
Maple flavored ice cream with candied bacon and Amaretto liqueur, served on a homemade chocolate chip waffle. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and now it includes bacon, booze, and ice cream!

Fifty Scoops Of Awesome!

Fifty Scoops Of Awesome!

You may have noticed that in front of each of the food descriptions above, there is a number or a letter. If you are slightly smarter than the hog that was transformed into the bacon that is celebrated on this most joyous occasion, you may have put two and two together and got something that resembled a four. This inkling would be correct, those symbols reassemble the ones in a deck of cards. There is a reason for that, in order to level the playing field, each Bacon Fest judge receives five playing cards that correspond with the dishes that are being served and judge only them, without knowing who prepared them. After about an hour, all the votes are in and the leftovers are devoured by the hoard of bacon lovers.

Bacon, Bacon, and more Bacon is not the only thing that is consumed during Bacon Fest! We of course have to provide something to wash that bacon down with, and I will give you all just one guess as to what that fine fucking liquid would be… Did someone say, Craft Beer? You are correct sir! This year we delivered libations fit for a king, Founders All Day IPA and Troegs Sunshine Pilsner. Not to mention a sweet ass souvenir cup complete with the Bacon Fest Slogan, “Peace, Love, and Bacon.”

baconfestcups

When all the votes were tallied and our Stomachs were chock-full of Bacon, Barley, Hops, and Happy, Kat delivered unto me the final standings. A hush fell over the crowd as I delivered the standings:

Third Place: “Chicken Ba-Bombs”
Second Place: S’more Bacon Please!
First Place: Scuttlebutt Bites

Before I close this ode to Bacon Fest out, I would like to genuinely thank everyone that attended, especially the Chefs because without them this bacon bash would not be possible, and not only would our taste buds suffer but the selected charities would too. If you have ever planned a wedding you understand how annoying the details are, yet how rewarding and magical the outcome is. Now imagine planning a union between Bacon and Beer, every year… That my friends is the fairy-tale of Bacon Fest!

Bacon Pimp!

Sir Bacon of Pimptown!

We Love Hangi! A.K.A. So You Want to Put Your Meat In a Hole

Once a year, in the backwoods of Sussex County, an invite-only Pig Roast occurs that is so fucking epic it is known throughout the State as “The Pig Roast.” This soiree is an underground four-day foodie fiasco that includes bands, pot luck style dining, drinks of all kinds, a gigantic Pig roasted on a spit, and experimental food preparation.

THE PIG ROAST THE PIG ROAST

I have had the distinct and greatly appreciated privilege to attend this event for the past two years. This year, however, my connection to the gathering wanted to prepare something special for the party and asked me if I wanted to assist him in this endeavor. Attending this affair is one thing, but cooking, on a large scale, is a whole other level of crazy. You see, some of the best and most eclectic amateur and professional chefs in the area ascend the mountains of New Jersey to concoct dishes that are not only tremendously appetizing but also prepared in exotic and daunting techniques, so when my cohort dropped the bomb that we might cook, I was wondering what the hell he was smoking.

Three Days of Pigs, Love, and Music. Three Days of Pigs, Love, and Music

With a smile on his face, he asked me bluntly, “What do you know about Hangi?”

Thinking my friend was in trouble, I immediately asked him if he smelled burnt toast. He retorted that he was not having a stroke, and that Hangi was the New Zealand method of cooking in an Earth Oven.

I was intrigued, fascinated, damn near titillated about this unique cooking method, and I immediately signed onto the google machine to find out more.   Sure as shit, Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Māori (Indigenous New Zealanders) method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a damn hole in the ground.

From that moment on, we began to hash this plan out over the course of the next month. It seemed like every time we had a pint in our hands the conversation would switch to Hangi. We read articles, watched Youtube clips, scoured the internets, and even asked Reddit for help in the form of a post on R/NewZealand. It appears the old adage, “the best ideas are imagined in the minds of the sober, but it takes some lubrication to implement them,” is correct.

What started as half a joke, had now consumed us. We were going to put down a Hangi at The Pig Roast, and we were going to do it fucking right!

Don't sue me! Don’t sue me!

Listen closely as this is as close as I get to a disclaimer. I am a fucking American, so this is in no way a definitive guide to Hangi. Furthermore, if any of you try this at home, please use common sense considering not only are you playing with fire, but you are playing with fire, next to a hole full of 1200 degree bricks! With that said, I hope this illustrated guide will give you a general idea of what cooking with an Earth Oven is all about. A huge thanks to the many Reddit users that assisted me in this endeavor, especially MurrayMcScurrilous.

The following is a list of the materials you will need for this endeavor, and I will explain each one in detail so you don’t fuck shit up! Pay attention, some of the details will make the difference between meat that gives you an orgasm and meat that gives you an organism. Don’t worry after the list of shit you need, I will explain how the whole thing comes to together.

Meat me at the Hangi pit Meat Me at The Hangi Pit

Meat: There are a few things to consider here. How much meat you will need will of course depend on how many freeloading friends you have invited to your shindig, and whether or not they eat like birds or Joey Chestnut sitting outside a Nathans.

Another very important element is the type of meat that you choose to bury in your pit of awesome sauce. We did two Pork Shoulders, two Beef Rump Roasts, and two Whole Chickens. Honestly, you can throw what the fuck you want in the hole, but I would stick to boneless meats that contain a lot of collagen.

*Note (Even though we tried the Chicken, and it wasn’t half bad, it was not the best and was slightly under cooked, requiring us to cook it further on a grill. Since the whole idea of you reading this fucking thing is to learn from our stupidity, do yourself a favor and replace the chicken with Boneless Lamb, you and your guests will be happier.)

Why did the potatoes argue? Because they could never see eye to eye. Why did the potatoes argue? Because they could never see eye to eye.

Vegetables: To be honest, no one walked past our table that night and said, “Oh shit look at those vegetables” or “Dude, I want to dip my balls in those carrots.” However, it is tradition in New Zealand to cook vegetables with the meat when putting down a Hangi, so if you want to experience the whole shebang, you should use the likes of potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Stay away from anything that would disintegrate in say a stew or a chili.

Clean Cabbage Is The Best Cabbage. Clean Cabbage Is The Best Cabbage

Cabbage: This is used in place of the traditional banana leaves because it is what we can find in the states. You will use it to wrap the meat and to line the baskets so buy enough to do both jobs. Shit, buy some extra fucking cabbage it is $0.59 cents a pound, you cheap fuck.

Wrap it up be! Wrap it up be!

Aluminum Foil: My Comrade and I had delusions of grandeur of rocking the Hangi ol’ school until we talked to some real life Kiwis. They told us that we would be dumber than a sheep in heat, if we did not use Aluminum Foil to wrap our meat rather than the traditional plant leaves and mutton cloth. Neither of us were 100% sure on the meaning of this insult, but we understood the context clues in the sentence enough to know that we would be wrapping all of our food in this food science wunderkind and so should you.

Warning! Dropping a Hangi can make you a Basket Case. Warning! Dropping a Hangi can make you a Basket Case.

Baskets: Considering if you are reading this you are from the States, you will most likely have the same issues as we had in acquiring Hangi Baskets. Apparently in New Zealand, you can run to the corner store and buy these fucking integral apparatuses, but here in America, you will have to be industrious and build your own. These baskets will have to hold all the meat and vegetables and will have to withstand a tremendous amount of heat so don’t skimp. We fashioned ours out of Chafing Dish Frames and NON-GALVANIZED Chicken Wire.

*Note (Notice the CAPITAL LETTERS IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE. For all of you that are internet disabled, that means I was yelling those fucking words. Galvanized metal will make people sick, and you don’t want to kill any of your friends, so don’t be a douche and buy the right chicken wire.)

Hole in one! Hole in one!

Hole/Pit/Earth Oven:   Most people think the first step to laying a Hangi is crafting the hole that will act as your Earth Oven. HEY YOU! STOP! COME BACK HERE! Damn A.D.D. generation. Don’t just grab a shovel and rip up your Wives’ begonias… that right there is how divorces happen. In this case, much like penises, SIZE MATTERS!

Your Hangi hole size should be directly proportionate to the size of your baskets, the amount of food you are making, and the size of your stones. The larger the Ho’ the harder it will be to heat it. According to my extremely helpful New Zealand Hangi brethren, a solid hole should be deep enough to fit the Hangi Paraphernalia listed above, as wide as the bottom of the baskets and slightly flair out to the sides, similar to a wok.

Much like real estate the key to Hangi is, Location, Location, Location! Much like real estate the key to Hangi is, Location, Location, Location!

Location: The pit should be on flat ground for the safety of both the meat and yourselves. Remember, you are going to be maneuvering/running around it carrying scolding hot bricks and eventually reaching into it to retrieve heavy stuff.   Pay attention to the wind in the area of your pit too, rain is tolerable, but wind is the enemy of your Hangi.

Pick a tool, any tool! Pick a tool, any tool!

Shovel: I suggest at least three of these bitches, unless you want to do all the heavy lifting yourself. You will need this ever important tool for digging the hole, carrying the stones, burying the meat, and unearthing your buried meat treasure.

USE THE RIGHT STONES!!! USE THE RIGHT STONES!!!

Fire Bricks: THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! You will be heating these sons of a bitches to well over 1000 degrees, and if you do not pick the right stones, they will explode sending white hot shards of stone in every direction if you don’t want a money shot full of lava, pay the fuck attention!

One is supposed to lay down a Hangi using volcanic rocks and in New Zealand finding these is like finding a douche at the Jersey Shore. Unfortunately, we have douches a plenty, but we lack volcanic rocks. Once again we had to improvise. We decided to use fireplace bricks which are designed to endure a massive amount of heat without making us all look like JPP’s mangled hand stump.

In the immortal words of Beavis... FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! In the immortal words of Beavis… FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!

Fire: I am not talking about a tiny little city fire either! I am talking about a ragin’, big ol’, country fire. This fire will have to fit all of your stones and burn for about 3-5 hours.

Hangi gives me wood! Hangi gives me wood!

Wood: You are going to need more wood than Ron Jeremy on a four day binge of snorting Cialis and Viagra so act like a Boy Scout, and Be Fucking Prepared!  

Burlap sections Burlap sections

Burlap: You can find spools of this material at Walmart or Home Depot. It is used to separate the layers of the Hangi and to add moisture to the mix.

Insert Cheesy Joke Here! Insert Cheesy Joke Here!

Cheese Cloth: Enough to cover each of your baskets.

Let's Do This! Let’s Do This!

Bucket: You will need at least one bucket to soak the burlap sheets in which will allow the burlap not to burn and add extra moisture to the process.

Yous a hose! Yous a hose!

Garden Hose: This is optional, but you will need to moisten the Hangi hole one way or another, and a source of water is never a bad thing to have handy when you are playing with fire.

Some say Summer is the best season, I say the best season is Hangi season! Some say Summer is the best season, I say the best season is Hangi season!

Seasoning: Since you found this page, you have no doubt been bouncing around the interwebs in search of guidance on how to season the meat that you are about to bury in the earth. I was surprised to find that most websites simply don’t talk about this element of the process. However, upon speaking to many people that have participated in Hangi before I soon found out why. New Zealand has some weird ass herbs and spices that you or I have never fucking heard of. For example, Piko Piko, Piri Piri, Kawa Kawa, and Horopito.

Furthermore, we found that most Hangi meat is simply seasoned with a little bit of canola oil, salt and pepper. We decided to add a little ‘Merica into this bitch, and concoct seasoning rubs for each of our meats that we felt would not only taste fantastic but give a slight nod to the Maori people by adding as many fresh herbs and spices we could get our hand on.

A-Roid would like this part A-Roid would like this part

Marinades: We toiled and labored over the keyboard to find the perfect marinades for our meat, only to find out that wet marinades are horrible for Hangi, which makes sense since we are essentially cooking with steam. However, not to be deterred, we decided to use injectable marinades instead, which we did the night before, and let the juices sink into the lovely meat overnight while chillin’ out maxin’ and relaxin’ in the fridge.

Cheers to good times and good friends Cheers to good times and good friends

Friends: In New Zealand they are called Mates, in America we call them friends, and you are going to need a lot of them. Putting a Hangi down is a social\team event from start to finish, and believe me, the more the merrier!

Who you choose might be your down fall! Who you choose might be your down fall!

Foreman: Most likely if you are reading this, you have already assumed this role, but this is a must for a successful Hangi. This does not give you the license to be a dick, but as I will explain the last step, putting down a Hangi is intense and time sensitive. Decisions will have to be made that will affect the outcome of the food, and these decisions should not be questioned because those questions will eat away precious seconds.

Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good Dog. Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good Dog.

Seats: What are you going to do? Stand up for 12 hours?

Be Responsible You Jerks! Be Responsible You Jerks!

Beer: Every single guide I read and person I talked to clearly stated that beer in some quantity or style was an absolute must when you are laying down a Hangi. Be responsible though, you are playing with insanely hot shit and the fate of the food lies solely on your shoulders.

Protection is important! Protection is important!

Gloves: Holy Fuck the fire pit gets hot, and you are going to need some gloves. Not gardening gloves either you wanker. Get yourself some diesel BBQ gloves or even better Fireman gloves!

Saucey... Sauce... Sauce... I Love Sauce! Saucey… Sauce… Sauce… I Love Sauce!

Sauce: I love sauce like Ron Burgundy loves Scotch, so I put sauce on EVERYTHING. If you are looking for a traditional sauce, I will include an amazing recipe at the very end of this tutorial; however, you can use any sauce that you think will taste good with the meat you selected.

Dirt Holder Dirt Holder

Wheel Barrel: This will hold the dirt that you remove from the ground, so you can dump that shit back in the hole when the time comes. Remember time is of the essence, so this will come in handy later.

Pick a wood! Any wood! Pick a wood! Any wood!

Mesquite or Hickory Wood Chunks: These pieces of wood will be added to the whole after the bricks to add a bit of good ol’ fashioned smoke flavor.

Don't sleep on the Hangi Don’t sleep on the Hangi

Step 1

The Meetup: Wake up really fucking early and meet up with your Hangi Homies. Make sure you have all your gear, a box of Joe, a cooler full of solid craft beer, and set up your seats.

Building a big ol' fire Building a big ol’ fire

Step 2

The Fire: This ain’t Naked and Afraid, and the fire needs to be hotter than Ronda Rousey and bigger than Chris Christie so use as many fire starters as you need. To paraphrase Jim Morrison, come on baby light your fire.

Just keep digging, just keep digging! Just keep digging, just keep digging!

Step 3

Can You Dig It: While a few of your mates tend the fire, grab a few others and start digging. By now I hope you have already scoped out the location of the pit and planned the dimensions, so this should be as simple as scooping the dirt out of the ground and into the wheel barrel.

In the immortal words of Beavis... FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! Use your Tetris skills here!

Step 4

Burn Those Bricks: Strategically place your bricks or stones into your now hopefully roaring fire. Your friends always said that all those years of playing Tetris instead of banging chicks and getting drunk were a waste of time, but now is your chance to show off your skills. BE CAREFUL!!! Use gloves and tools if necessary to stack the bricks in the fire. Now that your bricks have been placed in the hell fire you created, drink some beers, and take a breather. You need to get the bricks stupid hot, so they will sit in the fire for between 4 to 6 hours depending on the stones and the size of your fire. Just remember to tend the fire and make sure your bricks don’t fall out.

We can build it, we can make it stronger. We can build it, we can make it stronger.

Step 5

Basket Weaving 101: Now that your hole is all holey and your bricks are on the barbi, it is time to turn your attention to your meat holders. If you found something that will work without any tweaking, more power to you, but if you need to build the DIY version, now is the time. All you have to do is wrap the chicken wire around the Chafing Dish trays and connect the two of them by folding the end of the wire over the frame. *NOTE* You might want to use gloves during this step too, Chicken Wire is sharper than your douchey cats nails, and you will poke yourself a lot.

It's Peelin' Time It’s Peelin’ Time

Step 6

Peel Out: When you have about an hour left of cooking time on your bricks, you should start peeling and cutting your veggies. Before you start peeling them though, remove your meat from the fridge and place it to the side. Peel everything and cut the vegetables into large chunks, not too small so they fall apart, but small enough to allow them to cook. I know that is pretty fucking vague but stop your whining, I told you this shit ain’t scientific, you are cooking in a hole for fucks sake.

Rub your meat! Rub it real good! Rub your meat! Rub it real good!

Step 7

Rub Your Meat: Unwrap your meat and rub it down like a 16 year old that just found porn hub. Make sure to cover every square inch of your fleshy dead animal.

Wrap it up! Wrap it up!

Step 8

Wrap it up: Pretend you are about to score with a Las Vegas hooker and triple bag your meat and Veggies. Wrap it first in your cabbage leaves and then in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Don’t be a fucktard and use some bull shit off brand aluminum foil either! Remember the foil will protect your food from the pile of earth you will throw on it in about 15 minutes so don’t be cheap!

The wetter the better! The wetter the better!

Step 9

Soak Your Sacks and Wood: Throw your large burlap cuts, your cheese cloth, and your wood chunks into a big pot of water and let them soak for approximately one beer.

Stacks on Stacks! Stacks on Stacks!

Step 10:

Meat and Veggie Jenga: Place your meat on the bottom of the baskets and the veggies on top. Make sure that everything is stable because you will have to maneuverer these bitches in the hole and then out again.

The Calm Before The Storm! The Calm Before The Storm!

Step 11:

Final Preparation: This shit is about to get real and now is the time to go over your plan one more time with your team and bring everything over to your Hangi hole. This is your last chance to make everything just right before you take the first stone out of the fire and the clock starts ticking, so don’t fuck shit up.

GO TEAM HANGI!!! GO TEAM HANGI!!!

Step 12:

GO TEAM GO: Time is of the essence!

  1. Use a hose or a bucket to wet the hole slightly. Don’t make a puddle, you are not making soup, just add enough to dampen the dirt.
  2. Transfer all the bricks into the pit faster than an eight ball disappears during a bachelor party. Use your shovel and your gloves because those stones are going to be hot as fuck, and don’t just throw them in all willy-nilly either, you are going to need a flat surface to place your baskets on.
  3. Throw the chunks of wood on top and around your stones.
  4. Put the baskets on top.
  5. Place the Cheese Cloth on top of the baskets.
  6. Throw some dirt on the sides of the pit to protect your stones from touching the layer of burlap that will go on top.
  7. Place a layer of wet burlap on top of the baskets. Don’t let the burlap touch the stones or it will burn and ruin the flavor of your Hangi.
  8. Add some more dirt to the pit and fill it up about half way.
  9. Add the second layer of burlap.
  10. Pile the dirt into the hole and seal it up tight. The rule here is, NO STEAM CAN ESCAPE! Keep adding dirt until you no longer see any steam wafting from your Hangi Pit.
  11. Place the last burlap sheet on top of the hole and exchange several high fives.
Hang on Hangi we are almost done! Hang on Hangi we are almost done!

Step 13

Mind the Gap: Now that your food is in the pit, the craziness is over. Stay close though because as your food cooks you may need to tend to the Hangi Hole. As the magic happens, the dirt in the hole may shift, and some steam may try to escape. If this happens, immediately cover that spot with more dirt.

Boom! Boom!

Step 14

Low and Slow: As I stated earlier, I am just a stupid American, and I have only done this once so as far as cooking time goes, your guess is as good as mine. I let mine cook for about five hours, and it came out awesome, I checked each cut with a thermometer, and I suggest you do the same. Best case scenario, everything comes out epic. Worst case scenario, you have to throw your Hangi in the oven for a few to complete the cooking, but at least everyone will be alive at the end of this experience.

I did not get a picture of us making the sauce. Fucking Deal With It! I did not get a picture of us making the sauce. Fucking Deal With It!

Step 15

Make the Sauce: If you are making the sauce I mentioned earlier, and you fucking should because it is pretty damn amazing, now is the time. Follow the directions and improvise as you see fit.

X marks the spot! X marks the spot!

Step 16

Dig up Your Buried Treasure: The nice thing about the burlap cuts is that you can slowly lift them out of your hole to remove layers of the dirt that you threw on top of your baskets. Be careful stabbing your shovels into the ground as you don’t want to hit your meat. Ruin your Hangi at this stage would be a catastrophe. Once you hit pay dirt, use your gloves to remove the baskets from the hole and bring them to your carving station.

THAT IS FUCKING PORK!!! Hangi Ninjas

Step 17

The Moment Of Truth: Unwrap your first cut of meat and stab that bitch with a thermometer. If you are rocking a Hangi I assume you are not a novice chef, so make sure your meat is cooked to a safe temp and then start carving. Carve and plate all the meat and the vegetables.

Our first Hangi! Our first Hangi!

Step 18

Sit your ass down to a true New Zealand Maori FEAST!!! You are fucking welcome!

Hangi WIN!!!! Hangi WIN!!!!

Our Hangi Slideshow

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 Our Hangi Video

The Maori Sauce Recipe

2 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Onion

1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil

1 Cup Chili Sauce

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce

1 ½ Teaspoons Garlic Powder

½ Teaspoon White Pepper

¼ Cup Pineapple Juice

1 Small Bay Leaf

¾ Cup honey

1 Cup Tomato Sauce

½ Teaspoon Salt

2 Tablespoon Brown Sugar

1 ½ Teaspoon Chili Powder

1 Tablespoon BBQ Spice

1 ½ Teaspoon Liquid Smoke

1 Tablespoon White Vinegar

 

Sauté onion in vegetable oil until golden brown. Combine with remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Makes three cups.

Chef Eric LeVine and Morris Tap & Grill Introduce A True Foodie Experience: The Kitchen Bar

Being a foodie is not just about stuffing your face with the latest food trends, posting pictures on Instagram, and writing copious amounts of Yelp reviews, blog posts, and comments. A true foodie should always be on the lookout for epicurean adventures that transcend basic consumption and craft a memorable experience.

I am not talking about Medieval Times or the Renaissance Faire either. Not that eating a giant turkey leg wrapped in bacon, chugging a beer from a leather skin, and saying “Ye’ old” all day is not a fantastic freakin’ time, but I don’t consider them to be food centric. These types of attractions tend to focus almost exclusively on the spectacle of the affair, and therefore, the food is merely an afterthought.

I am referring to the type of gastronomic experience that begins as a seed in a talented Chef’s mind and blossoms into an edible journey unlike any other. One such experience can be found at Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 NJ-10, Randolph, NJ. This magnificent foodie find is the brain child of Chef Eric LeVine, and is known as the Kitchen Bar.

Kat and I were recently invited to join Chef Eric, literally in the kitchen, of Morris Tap & Grill for a meal that we would not soon forget. If you have ever worked in the food service business, you are aware of the chaotic rush that occurs behind those dangerous swinging doors that act like sentinels for the kitchen. For those of you that have never had the opportunity to don an apron, memorize the specials, and get a 2% tip from a jerk in a Jaguar, your table is waiting at Morris Tap and Grill.

I have to admit, it has been a while since I was behind the scenes at a restaurant, so I was extremely excited to be in the thick of it once again. Not to mention, I knew that Chef Eric and his team of culinary wunderkinds were going to drop a foodtastic bomb on us unlike any other, and that just added to my enthusiasm.

As we entered the restaurant we were escorted to the kitchen where a private table for two was set overlooking Chef Eric’s pristine kitchen. We were seated at once and handed drink menus that showcased the impressive beer selection that I have come to love and expect from Morris Tap & Grill. While perusing the effervescent offerings, our waitress introduced herself and placed a basket of homemade seven dust chips on our table complete with a dipping sauce.

Mmmmmmmmm Beer!

She’s Crafty and just my type!!!

After a brief discussion about the rare gems that littered the beer menu we placed our drink orders with our server who was extremely knowledgeable about the extensive beer list. Upon finishing the order I apologized for asking so many questions. Our server informed me and wanted me to inform you that they enjoy conversing about the libation menu at the Morris Tap and would rather you choose the right drink to pair with your meal, than choose the wrong one and have a bad experience.  Cheers to that!

Crispy fried slices of fantastic wonder, covered in the seven spices that fall from the sky in nirvana.

Crispy fried slices of fantastic wonder, covered in the seven spices that fall from the sky in nirvana.

We then turned our attention to the basket of Seven Dust Chips which are leaps and bounds above any loaf of bread that you receive at most restaurants. Bursting with flavor, these crispy-fried-slices-of-fantastic wonder tasted even better when dredged in the chipotle dipping sauce that made my mouth happier than a crooked politician in New Jersey.

As we were enjoying the first of many courses that we would see that night, Chef Eric arrived at our table and welcomed us to his Kitchen. He confirmed that Kat and I don’t have any food allergies or any aversion to specific types of food. After we verified that we would eat just about anything that he could possibly place in front us, we began talking about that evening’s agenda and beyond.

The Kitchen Bar experience is unlike your normal dinner out on the town. Chef Eric contacts you via email and discusses the menu with you before your reservation. Although, you won’t know exactly what you are having, which is half the fun, the Chef will create a meal that is specifically designed for you and your group. The only catch is that the whole table has to commit to the same meal prior to your arrival. In other words, if you choose to bring a vegetarian, Chef Eric will create a vegetarian meal that will convert most carnivores, but all of you will get no meat.

Sushi ain't got nothing on this perfect summer dish!

Sushi ain’t got nothing on this perfect summer dish!

While members of the staff danced around the kitchen as if Fred Astaire himself created the choreography, Kat and I watched intently as Chef Eric was diligently working on our next course.   The Chef plated and delivered a beautiful and remarkably flavorful Tuna Tartare Flatbread dish.   The peaceful tuna tossed in a slightly tumultuous Ginger Scallion Sauce served with a downright boisterous Wasabi Mayo created a dish with levels of depth that made the Grand Canyon look like a Hāngi HoleChef Eric and the staff allowed Kat and I to enjoy each course before removing the plates from our table and starting to prepare the next. As we savored each bite of the Tuna, we listened to the clamoring of the kitchen, complete with a soundtrack of orders being barked, food being prepped, and pans rattling.

Tempura Battered & Lightly Fried Asparagus & Broccolini served with Crispy Carrot Threads and a Soy Scallion Ginger Sauce

Ohhhh Crispy Carrot Threads You My Only Friend!

Shortly after we were done with the Tartare, Chef Eric once again delivered a plate to our table. This time we were gifted with a Tempura Battered & Lightly Fried Asparagus & Broccolini served with Crispy Carrot Threads and a Soy Scallion Ginger Sauce. This dish is bar none of our favorites at Morris Tap, and we were very happy to see it. The true star of the this dish are the Crispy Carrot threads, which according to Chef Eric, not a lot of people even eat because they think they are a garnish. If you do ever find yourself at Morris Tap & Grill, even in the normal dining room, do yourself a favor, order this app, and promise me you will eat the whole damn thing!

Fire it up!

Fire it up!

While we were demolishing the tempura dish, Chef Eric began to work on our next course, and he said it was a special one. Kat and I were both filled with intrigue and wonder as he prepared the dish merely feet away from us. We were trying to peer over his shoulder and use all of our senses to make an educated guess on what our next gastronomic dish could be. We channeled everything we ever learned from watching Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and we were only able to decipher that he was prepping raviolis of some sort. Unfortunately, the exact variety was still a mystery.

The Ravioli Revolution will not be televised, so I will be sure to Blog the hell out of it.

The Ravioli Revolution will not be televised, so I will be sure to Blog the hell out of it.

However, the moment the plate hit the table, I instantly knew that these stunning stuffed pockets of pasta were none other than Chef Eric LeVine’s world renowned Lobster Ravioli. Not only do these ravioli house an extremely generous portion of actual lobster meat, they are topped with a Chipotle Shallot Shrimp Sauce that boasts more shrimp than George Constanza could eat in a two hour long meeting.

If you don't order this you should go directly to the Jerk Store!

If you don’t order this you should go directly to the Jerk Store!

As we relished in the sheer awesomeness of this course, Chef Eric discussed his most recent project, Chef Eric’s Ravioli Revolution. Although this revolution will not be televised, it will bring these glorious pasta pouches, as well as other varieties to grocery stores all across New Jersey and, hopefully, the country. In other words, on the nights you can’t get to the one of Chef Eric’s bad ass eateries, you can still enjoy these marvelous morsels.

Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!

Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!

Even though Kat and I were approaching the food wall, we could not let any of those luxurious raviolis go to waste. Chef Eric and his staff recognized our dilemma and automatically decelerated the pace of our meal. This reduction allowed us to interact with the kitchen staff a little, and Chef Eric took this opportunity to introduce to us the key players that keep the kitchen running like a well-oiled machine and allow him to bounce around from Paragon Tap & Table to Morris Tap & Grill like an errant beer pong ball.

Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!

Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!

After some brief introductions and a much needed hiatus from the conveyor belt of yummy, we were ready to jump back into the ring and see what else Chef Eric had in store for our feast. Next to arrive was the House Made Chorizo on Corn Pudding paired with Smoked Oxtail which is served on Herb Crostini. Although the oxtail was expertly prepared and was melt in your mouth tender, the show stopper on this plate was the corn pudding paired with the Chorizo. The spicy kick of the chorizo balances the sweetness of the corn pudding creates a combination that is straight up perfection. Not to mention it is almost as gorgeous as my wife.   Relax, I said almost!

Sweet, Sweet Porky Goodness!

Sweet-Sweet Porky Goodness!

Our appetites were once again satiated, but as soon as the next course hit our table, we were instantaneously hungry. One of the main reasons that Kat and I do not own a pig is because we love pork to damn much to give it up, so when this pork tenderloin dish was served I knew it did not have a chance. To make its chances of survival worse it was paired with risotto, which happens to be another weakness of ours, because I make Risotto like Joffrey from Game of Thrones makes friends…Spoiler Alert… Poorly!

Chef Eric's Decadent Masterpiece

Chef Eric’s Decadent Masterpiece

The Kitchen Bar experience includes a dessert unlike any other in the world. That is because it is created while you watch while Chef Eric himself and no two are ever quite the same. It is the perfect way to finish this unique foodie voyage that breaks down the fourth wall of the restaurant business for all to see.

Beautiful and Edible

Beautiful and Edible

Chef Eric has deemed this distinctive dessert, The Dessert Scape, and it is created on your table top from various syrups, cakes, toppings, and candies. As with actual artwork, pictures just don’t do it justice.   Watching it being constructed might be half the fun, but the temptation to eat it before it is finished is stronger than the Schwartz that is contained within Yogurt.

Ohhh Myspace angles, you can even make dessert look better.

Ohhh Myspace angles, you can even make dessert look better.

The wait however is well worth it; because once this masterpiece was completed, eating it was as rewarding as sneaking a selfie at the Sistine Chapel.  Each sauce dollop and syrup smear, when combined with the pastries that were strewn about the table, created a new and exciting forkful of amazeballs. Although I was slightly sad to destroy Chef Eric’s craftsmanship, I did not feel bad enough to stop eating every last bite of his sweet-sweet sculpture of yummy.

Chef Eric LeVine could build a fortress with all of his accolades and from this stronghold watch as his multitude of projects prosper. However, that is simply not how Chef Eric LeVine rolls. He is one of the hardest working Chefs in the business, and is constantly looking to cultivate innovative and exciting business ventures. In other words, Chef Eric LeVine only has one speed, and that speed is Ludicrous Speed!

If two parts eating orgy and one part kitchen drama sounds right up your alley contact Morris Tap & Grill via their website to discuss the Kitchen Bar details. If this does not sound like your cup of tea, then at the very least visit Morris Tap & Grill or Paragon Tap & Table to experience Chef Eric Levine’s masterful creations.

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You Need Yo! Sushi In Your Life!!!

Within the spacious confines of the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, there are innumerable shops, kiosks, and restaurants. A large majority of these establishments can be found at just about any mall that exists in a metropolitan area. However, since New Jersey is the Mall capital of the world and we are a Stone’s throw away from the greatest city in the world, every once in a while a spot opens up in The GSP that is worth getting excited over.

Back in the day, when I was a rebellious youth, I was what one would consider a “Mall Rat”. This was not just a title; it was a lifestyle. There were several crews that called The Garden State Plaza home, and each of us had our own “territory,” where we would rock some footbag, smoke, drink, and talk junk about the patrons that were actually there to buy something. Our clique staked claim near the Old Entrance 1, the crème de la crème of spots back then.

Entrance 1 gave us access to the food court and all the free samples we could eat, the bus stop was within eye sight, and Sam Goody was a 5 minute stroll away. For those of you that are confused, Sam Goody was a brick and mortar store that sold CD’s because at that time downloading one song took literally 20 hours.

Even though it has been quite some time since my friends and I called the GSP our home away from home, I still consider it to be my mall, and that specific area is special to me. Sam Goody went the way of the Dodo bird after being acquired by Best Buy, and the mall has had several face lifts since I kicked my last Footbag outside Entrance 1, but it still pained me to see a shoe store, a furniture store, or a clothing store occupy the space that once was the most popular storefront in the mall.

Yo! Sushi Sign

My suffering was extinguished recently when I heard that Yo! Sushi was moving into my old stomping ground, and from what I heard about this innovative Sushi joint, I was ecstatic. As stated above, the GSP will forever be my mall, and I was proud that MY MALL was chosen to be the first Yo! Sushi restaurant to open in the United States! Take that Palisades Center, perhaps they heard that you are slowly sinking into the earth!

YoSushi Entrace

Yo! Sushi is not just your run-of-the-mill Sushi place that you can find on every corner in North Jersey.   Yo! Sushi is delivering the art of “kaiten,” or conveyor belt sushi to our beloved mall, and you should be Fraking excited about it! That is right, I said conveyor belt sushi, as in, the chef expertly prepares your sushi in their open air kitchen, places the dish on the conveyor belt, and then that piece of fish travels throughout the restaurant until a customer yoinks it off the belt and devours it.

The Yo! Sushi delivery system!

The Yo! Sushi delivery system!

As the late great Billy Mays used to say, “But wait there’s more!” Yo! Sushi is not just about Sushi; they serve over 80 Japanese inspired dishes that include hot classics, sashimi, tempura, salads, hand rolls and desserts! I, for one, love Sushi, but if your date, comrade, buddy, mother, sister, or brother does not, have no fear Yo! Sushi has something for them to sink their teeth into

Calamari anyone?

Calamari anyone?

The procedure at Yo! Sushi is as simple as it is ingenious:

Step 1: Find a Seat

Step 2: Sit down, you look weird just standing there looking at a chair!

Step 3: Order your drinks and specials from the extremely helpful staff.

Step 4: Keep your eyes on the conveyor belt of yummy that will deliver fresh mouthwatering sushi directly to your table and eat.

Yo! Sushi Takoyaki

These balls were freaking Amazeballs!!!

How do they know how much Sushi you crammed in your craw, you ask? It is simple! When you have had your fill, just tell a team member you are tapping out, and they will count your dishes and charge you accordingly. Each dish is color coded and matches a price guide that you will find in your menu.   This way you can keep track of the damage as you fervently grab plate after plate of gorgeously prepared amazeballs, no seriously, they have a Crispy Octopus ball that is called Takoyaki (See Above) that I am pretty sure is the origin of that word!

I know this is all sorts of American but I like my Wasabi in my soy.  Deal with it Trolls!

I know this is all sorts of American, but I like my Wasabi in my soy. Deal with it Trolls!

Half the fun of Yo! Sushi is trying to identify the item that is passing by you on the belt before it is out of your reach and could end up in someone else’s belly. Eating at Yo! Sushi is like being on Tinder; sometimes you swipe left when you meant to swipe right, and your soul mate ends up dating Atticus Mc Hipster Pants.

These balls were freaking Amazeballs!

A bird’s eye view of the open kitchen.

Kat and I were invited to experience Yo! Sushi during their soft opening soiree, and we are very grateful that they included us! Even though they had just opened, we could not have been more impressed. The staff was friendly and helpful, the ambiance was hip and chic, and the food was utterly magnificent. I have been to numerous Sushi spots all over this country, and I believe that Yo! Sushi was on par with the best of the best of them. The fish was fresh, the rolls were skillfully constructed, the variety was immense, and the creativity should be applauded.

Ain't that pretty!

Ain’t that pretty!

Yo! Sushi may not be the best spot for a first date due to the hustle and bustle, but in my opinion, it is the perfect place for a second or third date, a gathering between friends, or a dinner shared by a recently realized, “old married couple,” like ourselves to reminisce about the days of yore.

Kanpai (Kan-pie) translates to

Kanpai (Kan-pie) translates to “dry the glass” and is how you say cheers in Japan.

If all these damn words did not convince you check out my stash of leftover food porn from the Yo! Sushi soft opening party!

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Yo! Sushi on Urbanspoon

The Evolution Of Morris Tap & Grill

Most restaurateurs and Chefs are content with resting on their laurels and patting themselves on the back about past successes. They use their meteoric rise in the foodie subculture as an excuse to become soft and complacent. These actions cause most of them to quickly fall from the pedestal they have placed themselves on and return back to the middle of the pack as they are replaced by hungry young culinary minds, eager to prove their worth.

Luckily for the New Jersey food scene, Chef Eric Levine has never been this kind of Chef. Since the beginning of his career, he has knocked down one barrier after another, barely pausing to bask in the greatness of his accomplishment.

Chef Eric traveled the world gathering culinary techniques at every turn. He worked in France, Italy, and Japan at world-renowned restaurants alongside of highly acclaimed Chefs before returning to his hometown of New York City to become Chef de Cuisine at the famed Marriott Marquis in New York City.

Was this enough for Chef Eric? Nope! Chef Eric continued to take the restaurant world by storm collecting accolades like Justin Bieber accumulates haters. In 2011, Chef Eric appeared on Food Network’s Chopped and his personality and talent left the competition on the chopping block, as he was declared the champion.

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill

This illustrious victory was parlayed into the opening of Morris Tap & Grill located at 500 Route 10 in Randolph, NJ. Chef Eric busted into the New Jersey Restaurant scene with reckless abandon offering an innovative menu paired with a beer list that could make a Cicerone weep.

Still not satiated, this gastronomic juggernaut refused to take his foot off the pedal. As Morris Tap & Grill was creating a name for itself in the Pantheon of New Jersey eateries, Chef Eric and #TeamKickAss opened up Paragon Tap & Table located at 77 Central Avenue in Clark, NJ.

One would think that operating two of New Jersey’s top restaurants would earn Chef Eric a reason to sit back, relax, and watch his hard work simply flourish. If this is your thought, you apparently don’t know Mr. Levine.

Instead of allowing his establishments to become stale in the ever-so finicky restaurant market, Chef Eric immersed himself in his passion once again and decided to unveil a new menu at his flagship restaurant Morris Tap & Grill.

Last week, Kat and I were fortunate enough to be invited to Morris Tap as Chef Eric’s guests amongst several other writers, bloggers, and foodies to taste the exciting offerings that will populate the new menu, which is only one aspect of the evolution of Morris Tap & Grill.

Wasabi, Truffle, and BBQ Oh MY!

Wasabi, Truffle Butter, and BBQ Oh MY!

The first course we were introduced to was the Trio of Popcorn appetizer that featured three unique and fun flavors that are not usually associated with this movie theater staple. Barbecue, Wasabi, and Truffle Butter seasoning topped the perfectly popped kernels of corn that made Orville Redenbacher’s old school offerings taste like stale matzo. This casual yet witty preparation breathed new life into a forgotten dish, creating a boldly flavored appetizer ideal for the barroom hero that has refined his palate since shotgunning PBRs in a college dorm room.

As I was daydreaming of Magnitude from Community reciting his famous line, “Pop! Pop!” about the trio, Chef Eric hit us with the second course of the night, a tempura fried broccoli and asparagus platter paired with crispy carrot shavings and a scallion ginger dipping sauce.

I will dream of these carrot shavings and it might not be the driest dream I have ever had.

I will dream of these carrot shavings and it might not be the driest dream I have ever had.

I am not usually one to rock appetizers, but this dish very well may convert me. The tempura battered veggies were light, crunchy, and flavorful, and when combined with the dipping sauce, it created a party in my mouth. However, the true star of this plate was the deep fried carrot tidbits that flawlessly walked the line between salty and sweet. Not only was this dish enormously tasty due to the fact that it was mostly comprised of vegetables, it made me feel like I was trying to eat healthy.

Up next was the Smoked Shrimp paired with a Fennel salad topped with a garlic pesto dressing. Chef Eric informed us that the new menu is littered with items that will be prepared via the in-house smoker that will be cranking at damn near full tilt around the clock.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Smoke ’em if you got ’em!

When most people think about smoked dishes, images of heavy, sauce-laden entrees like ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder immediately come to mind. As we discussed earlier, Chef Eric is not like most people, and therefore, this avant-garde offering was a welcome change to this thought process.

I thoroughly enjoyed the delicate smoke flavor that was imparted on the shrimp that was finished on the grill. Furthermore, the fennel topped with a pesto garlic sauce, which boasted a hint of chili oil, was a flawless and healthy substitute for the traditional pasta that would be served with a dish like this.

Mmmmmmm Buttery!

Mmmmmmm Buttery!

If this expertly prepared Shrimp was not enough to solidify our opinion on Chef Eric’s seafood skill, the next course dropped the hammer. The next offering was Seared Scallops served on top of a Corn Risotto. Separately these components were magical, but when married together, each forkful was simply divine. The buttery scallops combined with the creamy risotto were a better match than Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski.

At this point in the tasting, my cohorts and I were feeling as if we were a Thanksgiving Turkey in the 1960’s…Stuffed! Some of us were even thinking about waiving the white towel and tapping out, that is until the next dish hit our tables. A beautifully presented braised oxtail entrée that was served on an herb crostini paired with a chorizo sausage and poblano cream topped corn pudding.

This dish had it all!  I could eat this everyday.

I could marry this dish!

This was by far my favorite meal of the night! The Oxtail was prepared in the traditional fashion, which allows the fatty nature of the meat to deliver an immense flavor and a wonderful texture. I was under the impression that after shoveling a few pieces of the oxtail into my craw, nothing was going to compete with the amount of happy my taste-buds were experiencing, but then I tried the corn pudding and chorizo tag team, which conveyed a spicy, sweet juxtaposition that was delightful.

This dish could be my Mistress.  Shhhhh don't tell the Oxtail!

This dish could be my Mistress. Shhhhh… don’t tell the Oxtail!

Just when I thought Chef Eric could not top the previous meal, the House Cured Pork Belly and Tomatillo Salad was brought to the party. When reviewing my notes for this dish, I noticed that I wrote three words that I still feel describes this dish flawlessly, “Holy Hot Damn!” This was Kat’s favorite, and I can see why. The tomatillo salad was exquisitely spicy and the House Cured Pork Belly was nothing short of perfection.

So sweet and yummy!

So sweet and yummy!

The crew at Morris Tap & Grill wowed us all with their innovative, fun, and playful new culinary creations that would soon grace their everyday lineup all night, and just when we thought we were done, dessert was served. A Caramel Trio concoction composed of caramel chocolate mousse, caramel cake, and a chocolate bar topped with dulce de leche and a play on a traditional Mirepoix, served as a Dessert, featuring carrot cake, fig onion marmalade, and a lichee sorbet hit the table. Although both desserts were great, I am a sucker for chocolate and caramel and therefore this dish reigned supreme in the dessert round!

MTG Mirepoix

Go ahead you can look up WTF a Mirepoix is… I had to.

If the 1300 or so words of praise that I just spewed on this page combined with the crap load of food porn that I uploaded don’t sway you to visit Morris Tap & Grill, maybe this last little bit of information will. MT&G is also adding several original cocktails that were created by a serious mixologist to their already insane craft beer list. Perhaps you are a math person instead of a verbose foodie like me, so let me explain it in a way that you might understand. AMAZING FOOD + TOP FLIGHT BOOZE = SHEER AMAZEBALLS

Regulars at Morris Tap & Grill should refrain from mourning the death of the classic dishes they have grown to love over the years. Chef Eric ensured us that these new menu items would not replace the crowd-pleasing fare that Morris Tappers have been enjoying since the restaurants inception. However, I implore each and every one of you to give these contemporary meals a whirl next time you decide to visit MT&G. Just please don’t take my reservation!

Morris Tap and Grill on Urbanspoon

Celebrate Pi Day With A Fast Fire’d Pizza Pi From Blaze Pizza For Just $3.14

At the intersection of foodie and nerdy exists one of my most favorite pseudo holidays. I am referring to Pi Day of course, otherwise known as March 14th. For those of you that are still connected to a dial-up modem, rock a flip phone, dropped-out of school to join the circus at age 8, or have never watched the Big Bang Theory, 3/14, is referred to as Pi Day because the first 3 digits of this infinite and pattern less mathematical super star is 3.14.

Most people believe this numerical celebration is all about math and numbers but as a foodie and a pun fanatic, I believe that together we can catapult Pi Day to a different level of word play awesome sauce.  For that however, I am going to need your assistance.

Each and every year I revel in all the glory that is Pi Day by not only posting a ridiculous amount of Pi related pictures, artwork, and other assorted “pi”raphernalia to my numerous social media outlets but I also make a mandatory stop a local Pizza Parlor. Why a Pizza joint you might ask, if of course you were dropped on your head repeatedly as a child. For all the Andy Dwyer’s in the room, I will answer this question anyway. I order a Pizza Pi, at the Pizzeria. See what I did there? By removing the “e” from the word Pie, I made it a pun. Look, if you don’t appreciate puns, you might as well just leave my site and never come back, because this bitch is riddled with them.

Pizza Pi from The Twisted Elm

Last year, I chose The Twisted Elm Tavern as my Pi Day sojourn and I was not disappointed. Then again at the Twisted, I never am! Not only was the pizza absolutely perfect as always, but Chef Al hooked us up with a true Pizza Pi!

This year however, I decided I am going to visit a new comer to the New Jersey pizza scene, Blaze Pizza. Blaze has been on my foodie radar for a while now, and since they have a spectacular Pi Day special, it only seemed right to crash their Pi Party. Can you guess what their Pi Day deal is? Any Pi for $3.14! Boom!!! That right there is Pun Pricing and I freaking love it!

Blaze3.14

Before I get 200 emails from the trolls that hide under the shady bridge that is the interwebs, let me explain why I am choosing a chain restaurant as opposed to any number of local pizzerias that litter the streets of my favorite armpit.  The simple answer is, their method of pizza making intrigues me. Blaze offers an environment of pizza building that encourages customization and imagination. Blaze Pizza is a mystical land where pizza that was once merely fantasy becomes reality, thanks to their unique creation assembly line. In other words, if Willy Wonka created a Pizza Factory, it would resemble Blaze, only Blaze hires extremely helpful humans to work in their locations instead of scary orange men that were stolen from their land and not compensated for their labor.  Come to think of it, Willy Wonka is a jerk and furthermore, I think he also killed, maimed, and tortured kids according to the book.  Dude, why is that a children’s story?

Sorry, we got off track.  Anyway, if making decisions make you feel like you just agreed with something that fell out of mega douche Kayne West’s  Pi hole, no worries, Blaze has a menu of Signature Pizza Pies pre-customized. However, if you would like to go all Bill Pi, the Pizza Guy and concoct the craziest Pizza ever constructed, then belly up to the Blaze bar, and do your worst, in the name of culinary science!

Blaze Pizza Topping Bar

The canvas you get to bedazzle with a myriad of delectable embellishments is an 11-inch thin crust dough that is fresh made from scratch at each Blaze location using a recipe developed by Chef Bradford Kent, The Pizza Whisperer. A small sampling of the toppings that you can choose to sprinkle on top your creation are Applewood Bacon, Crumbled Meatballs, Smoked Ham, Gorgonzola Cheese, Ricotta Cheese, Artichokes, Banana Peppers, Pineapple, and Spinach. Not to mention the varying sauces that you can slather on as well, like Classic Red, BBQ Sauce, and Pesto Drizzle.

10299759_412003035627966_614392422_n

We have all ordered a garbage pie at one point in our lives; you know a pizza with everything. We have also gasped at the bill when it arrived at our table, when we found out we were charged individually for every topping causing us to devour a $45.00 pizza that stained our pants and our bank accounts. However, at Blaze, Fast Fire’d Pizza, is under $8.00, no matter how high you pile those scrumptious extras.

So, tomorrow, in honor of Pi Day, I highly recommend you don your nerdy-ist shirt, jump in your car, jam-out to Mc Chris, and join me at Blaze Pizza for a Pi Day Extravaganza! If you are in the Bergen or Passaic area like me, you can either hit up the Paramus location at 65 Route 4 West or visit Blaze’s newest location at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne.

Blaze Pizza on Urbanspoon

The Blue Collar Foodie Adds Brigantine Seafood To His Restaurant Rotation!

As a Blue Collar Foodie always looking for a bargain there are certain types of food that my normal restaurant rotation lacks. There are some varieties of food that you just don’t trust from a value menu or a street cart. For example, an Ozzie Dog, which is a hot dog in a potato roll, topped with cheez whiz, beef chili, hot sauce, and potato sticks, which you can score outside Yankee Stadium is acceptable coming from a cart from 1975 that has been sitting in the sun all day. However, I would not feel the same level of comfort about ordering and consuming a Fillet of Fugu with a side of Sushi from Mr. Ozzie and his sun soaked wagon.

There is a level where frugality becomes stupidity and by saving a few bucks you end up wasting a day or two in the restroom or even worse the hospital. So pay attention to the words that are coming out of my mouth young BCF Padawans. At 3:00 A.M. there is no gas station that serves, “Epic Salmon,” no matter what Doug says and that Sword Fish Steak at that deli in the village for a “buck 99”, is as safe as sharing a toothbrush with the Hobo that lives outside that very same bodega.   However, there are places in our area that will serve you fantastic seafood dishes, for a moderate price, at a decent hour. Brigantine Seafood Eatery & Market , located at 112 Lincoln Avenue in Hawthorne, NJ, is one of these establishments and I highly recommend paying them a visit.

Quality Seafood at a fair price is not something you should take for granted in this area. Sure if you live in Maryland it is easier to get crabs than it is when you lived in your college residence hall, and as for Maine, I have had a $5.00 lobster from Shoprite that would make most New York Lobsters hang their tails in shame. So how does Brigantine do it you ask? Every morning, the owner and Chef Alfred Ianniello travels to the famous Fulton Fish Market located in The Bronx and personally selects the finest seafood for his customers. These customers include some of the top restaurants in the Bergen/Passaic county region and odds are if you have enjoyed a seafood dish in one of these counties you have already seen what Chef Ianniello can deliver to your table.

Brigantine offers a standard menu that can be found online that is chock full of flavorful and inventive dishes, but if you ask me, and you did because you are literally reading the words that my brain is spewing forth, the specials are worth both the price tag and the time and energy it will take to listen and comprehend all their awesomeness. When you decide to visit this seafood Shangri-La you will thank me that you asked the wonderfully helpful wait staff what the specials of the evening are.

Before I begin describing the astonishing meal Kat and I shared with a fellow foodie couple a few weeks back, I feel like I should place a disclaimer here. If you are looking for a romantic modern seafood boutique this is not the place for you. Brigantine Seafood resembles a Diner like establishment from years past, which I find to be immensely charming and adds to the je ne sais quoi that is teeming off of Brigantine like steam from a large bowl of Clam Chowder. Furthermore, I will guarantee that the seafood being served by this local gem is twice as good as the hipster dipped mussel balls being served in your bougie fish lounge.

Since this was not our first rodeo at this eatery, we knew the drill. We stopped off at a liquor store on the way and grabbed some cold beers and a bottle of wine, since like all of the Blue Collar Foodie’s top joints, Brigantine is BYOB. When we arrived we parked in the parking lot in the rear of the restaurant and walked in the back door (TWSS). Chef Alfred was on hand to welcome us to his restaurant and as always the staff was all smiles and ready to assist us.   We had a reservation so we were seated within minutes and our menus were in our hands shortly thereafter.

As I stated above you can order off the menu but the real reason to visit Brigantine is to allow the Kitchen to punch you in the belly with flavor and innovation by haphazardly picking a special that sounds intriguing. This is exactly what I did and I was not disappointed.

Fish is a dish best served cold!

Fish is a dish best served cold!

As an appetizer we ordered the seafood tower because Brigantine boasts a plethora of Oysters from various coasts and countries, and the Tower is a great way to sample a few of these salty treats.   In addition to the oysters this fortress of shellfish included shrimp, clams, and a Lobster Tail. If you are looking for an economical appetizer this one may not be for you, as the price point is rather high at $30.00, but if you are treating yourself, as we were, this is the only way to go. Each item was fresh, delicious, and unique. In other words, these are not wedding buffet oysters and clams, these are the real deal and if you are a connoisseur they are a must!

You would have to be a Master Baiter to catch a Bass this big!

You would have to be a Master Baiter to catch a Bass this big!

Shortly after we destroyed the seafood tower, our meals arrived at the table. After a rather lengthy deliberation and compelling the uber patient waitress to read me the specials three times, Kevin and I decided on the Sea Bass paired with Mussels and Clams in a marinara sauce. The portion size was incredible and the piece of fish was larger than any Sea Bass I have had the pleasure to eat in recent memory. However, the most impressive element in this dish was the marriage of flavor between the shellfish, the Bass, and the sauce. Each bite delivered a depth of flavor that is unfortunately rare for fish dishes in this area, because, to be honest, fish in the hands of a poorly trained chef tends to be boring and lack any culinary panache. To the contrary, this dish had panache coming out of it gills, and I loved every last bite of it!

he Arctic char is closely related to both salmon and lake trout, and has many characteristics of both.

The Arctic char is closely related to both salmon and lake trout, and has many characteristics of both.

Our friend Kim decided to try the Breaded Arctic Char served with Capers and a Citrus Gastrique. I am not going to lie; when this dish hit the table I had a slight case of food envy. The presentation of this dish was absolutely beautiful due to the breading being cooked to perfection, which created a deep brown hue across the filet in perfect contrast with the white plate and green garnish. Furthermore, the aroma of this dish wafted across the table and assaulted my olfactory senses with all its awesome sauce, begging the ever important question, “Did I order the right dish?”

No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!

No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!

Before I write this next sentence I ask that you please do not flame, troll, or otherwise harass Kat for the following gastronomic flaw. With that said, I will forward all hate mail directly to her inbox until she realizes the folly of her ways. Here goes nothing; Kat does not like seafood. Relax…I know… But to be fair I knew of this defect when I married her and if I can get over it, you guys should be willing to except her as well.

The reason I bring this foodie fail up is not to convert my lovely wife into a born again Pescetarian, but to explain just how remarkably accommodating Brigantine Seafood actually is. Even though a chicken dish was not on the menu that evening, Chef Alfred hooked Kat up with his famous, yet clandestine, Chicken Scarpariello. Kat craves this dish and thoroughly enjoys each and every morsel that is chock full of pieces of chicken combined with mushrooms and herbs swimming in a luscious white wine sauce.

And the award for best supporting role in a serious dinner goes to...

And the award for best supporting role in a serious dinner goes to…

In addition to the generous portion size of our meals we were also provided with a side of rice and seasonal vegetables for the table. I appreciated that these sides were not overly seasoned and flamboyant as to take away from the main dish that is the star of the show. Like a good supporting actor in a movie, these side dishes lifted the star to another level while preforming admirably on their own.

After we plowed through our entrées one yummy forkful at a time we were asked about dessert. Now, by no means did we need dessert, as we were all pretty fat, but we decided that we should treat ourselves to the homemade desserts that Brigantine’s Culinary Team creates daily.

Now wonder all the damn Amish return to village after Rumspringa!

Now wonder all the damn Amish return to village after Rumspringa!

Kat ordered the apple pie which was baked Amish Style, which includes Sour Cream. We had never heard of this type of pie before but after tasting this slice of ecstasy, we will sure be on the lookout for this method again. The sour cream increases the creaminess of the filling and calms the cloying sweetness that plagues most commercial apple pies.

However you say it doesn't matter as long as you eat it!

However you say it doesn’t matter as long as you eat it!

Weather you pronounce this fantastic pie like the true North Easterner you are and call it “Pee-can” or you embrace the southerner in you and rock the proper pronunciation “pee-KAHN,” there is one thing we can all agree on… HOLY HELL THIS PIE IS GOOD!!! I love Pecan Pie from a box that came from a factory so when I can get homemade Pecan Pie from a spot like this, you bet your sweet nuts I am going to order it! Furthermore, no you cannot have a piece. It is mine! You get your own damn pie!!! P.S., if you go to Brigantine and this is on the menu that night, and you fail to order it, you also fail at life.

Cheese + Cake = Happiness

Cheese + Cake = Happiness

Kevin landed on the Cheesecake as he spun the wheel of indecision in his brain. He was not upset either, as the Cheesecake was fluffy, smooth, and deliciously decadent. The addition of the strawberry drizzle added a delightful dash of attractiveness to the already handsome dish.

Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!

Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!

The final dessert that was ordered was the Cannoli. I know the secret to a slamming cannoli because I grew up in North Jersey, which contrary to popular belief is the real Little Italy. Apparently, Brigantine’s culinary team also knows this secret and so their cannoli was pretty freaking tasty. What is the secret you ask? It is simple; Fill Your Cannoli to Order so the shell stays crispy and the filling stays light.

If you did not read the post above and just drooled over the food porn, the gist of this article was; if you are looking for some serious seafood at a reasonable price look no further than Brigantine Seafood, in Hawthorne, NJ. The waitresses are helpful, patient, and pleasant and the Kitchen Staff prepares creative and gratifying dishes that both taste great and look lovely. The next time you are looking to try a new local eatery, please do yourself a favor and head over to Brigantine Seafood and see what Chef Al is concocting in his kitchen of wonders.