The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Morris Tap & Grill for a Beer Paired With a Side Of Awesome

If there is one specific type of eatery that exemplifies the Blue Collar Foodie movement that I have been trying to showcase throughout my blogging career it would have to be the Gastro Pub. These establishments combine good old fashioned blue collar elements with a twist of foodie flair causing epicurean adventurers like myself to flock to them like Charlie Sheen to a dysfunctional twenty- something with daddy issues. Since this movement is catching like wild fire, it is hard to keep up with all the Gastro Pubs that are popping up faster than a New York Mets fan gives up on the season, but one specific Pub caught my interest a while back and I vowed to pay them a visit.   I am referring to none other than Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 Route 10 West in Randolph, NJ.

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill has been on my radar since they damn near slapped me sober with foodie brilliance at the Morris Town Beer Fest. Since that day I knew I needed to make the trek down to Randolph to try the full MTG experience.   So, Kat and I made plans to meet with another Gastro Centric couple, Mr. Jabre and Ms. Berners-Lee, who are from those parts and head over to Morris Tap & Grill for a fun-filled evening of tempting vittles and libations.

When we arrived at the Morris Tap & Grill, I was surprised to hear the harmonious hums of a live band jamming out in the bar area. Much to my delight the band was playing at the perfect level as to add to the ambience of the restaurant but still allow pleasant dinner conversation at a normal speaking tone. If you are anything like my past self you may have just shot the computer screen a derision-laden glare in response to that comment, and most likely thought of me as an old fuddy duddy who does not like his music loud anymore. I assure you, I still feel there is a time and place for loud music, but while I am trying to eat dinner is not one of them, so I was very happy that the Morris Tap & Grill were savvy enough to take that into consideration.

Upon reaching our table and meeting up with our fellow foodies, we were almost immediately welcomed by our server Katrina who offered us our Menu’s and whole hearted greeting, which was appreciated immensely. I seem to be able to tell a greeting that is laced with contrived emotions, but Katrina honestly seemed like she enjoyed her job and was happy to help us, which instantly set the mood for our dining experience.

My first mission when I visit a Gastropub is the challenging task of picking my first beer of the evening. If you have never been to a Gastropub, you may not have ever had this issue, but once you venture down the rabbit hole that is craft beers you will find that sometimes selecting a beer can be as hard as catching the white rabbit. So, if you are an over analytical beer fanatic like me and you find yourself staring at an extensive and impressive beer list the likes of the Morris Tap & Grills, this process could take several minutes and some arduous decision making, which may cause your wife and friends to stare at you with an ominous ire as their stomachs grumble. Fortunately, Morris Tap & Grill has once again thought of this problematic situation before you even walked in the door, and are nice enough to offer what is known as a flight of beers as the solution.   For anyone that has never had a flight of beer, it is quite simply, four small beers instead of one big beer, which allows you to taste multiple beers instead of only choosing one. With the knowledgeable assistance of Katrina, I was able to piece together my beer flight and our drink orders were on their way to the bar.

Morris Tap & Grill Beer Flight

With our first undertaking considered to be success we moved onto our next imperative task of the evening, our meals.   I am not sure what is more comprehensive and grandiose, the Morris Tap & Grill’s beer menu or there dinner menu, but one thing is for certain, they both can make a Blue Collar Foodie salivate like a German Shepard at Pavlov’s B&B. Since, I knew that I was attending Morris Tap & Grill and was already their friend on Facebook, I launched a pre-emptive attack on my ever-wavering entrée contemplation, and asked the MTG what they suggest I eat to fully experience their Chef’s culinary modus operandi. Much to my surprise, Chef Eric, himself wrote me back and suggested a few dishes that he felt a Blue Collar Foodie, such as me would enjoy.   Chef Eric recommended the following dishes; the Trio of bacon, the Pork Shank, any of the Burgers, particularly the Baconeater, the Southwest, or the BBQ, The Shrimp cannelloni, the Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, and finally the Avocado “Fillet.” If you follow this blog at all you know damn well which dish I chose! Chef Eric Sir you had me at Trio of Bacon. My beautiful wife, Kat spun the gastronomy roulette wheel and it landed on the Short Ribs, which she is drawn to like a teenager to a sparkling vampire. Mr. Jabre decided to stick to the Chef’s recommendations which was also highly indorsed by Katrina and went with Twisted Chicken Pot Pie where as his lovely lady also chose off the Chef Eric approved list and decided upon the BBQ burger. We also ordered a Spinach Artichoke Dip for the table to prime our stomachs for the meals that were forthcoming.

Morris Tap & Grill Spinach Artichoke Dip

With most of the decision making behind us, we were able to absorb the overall atmosphere of the Morris Tap & Grill. I felt quite at home within the rustic yet elegant confines of this eatery and as we lost ourselves in conversation our appetizer arrived at the table. The Spinach Artichoke dish that arrived on our table carried with it such a heavenly aroma that I was barely able to take a picture of it before everyone at our table was jockeying for position to dive into it. As I dipped my first chip into this diptastic concoction, I could tell the texture was just right. Firm enough to stay on the chip, but forgiving enough to not break this conveyance vessel. This potion was not only the right consistency but the flavor was spot-on as well, let’s just say that once it landed on our table, it was not long for this world. After polishing off the Spinach Dip, we ordered another round of drinks from Katrina, and shortly after their arrival the entrees made their appearance.

Morris Tap & Grill Bacon

The Trio of Bacon consisted of Mustard & Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin, Bacon Baked Beans, and Grilled Pork Belly. From the shear looks of this dish, I could tell right away that I had made the proper choice. I first tried the hearty Baked Beans which had a thick palatable sauce which smothered the copious amounts of bacon that were swimming with the beans. The beans packed quite a flavor punch, and I found myself eating bite after bite, before moving on to the Pork Loin, which was expertly cooked, causing the medallions to be not only delicious but tender as well. Lastly I picked up a piece of the Grilled Pork Belly with my fork and brought it to my mouth slowly with anticipation. You see, in the healthy world we live in now, eating Pork Belly is tantamount to calling the Queen of England a, well let’s just say a word that rhymes with punt and starts with a C, shall we. Yet these tasty morsels of piggy goodness are what my stomach’s wet dreams are made of, and I cannot thank Morris Tap & Grill enough for affording me the opportunity of savoring every last bite of these perfectly cooked cholesterol loaded pork gems.

Morris Tap & Grill Rib

Kat was generous enough to allow me a small taste of her short ribs so I could experience, in her words, all their beefy magnificence. After I tasted her dish, TWSS, I completely understood why she wanted me to try it. First off, the ribs were cooked in such a way that the meat literally fell apart, as Kat gently poked them with her fork. Furthermore, the meat was so tender and the sauce so tasty that I had to eat another piece of my pork belly to stop from distracting Kat, and stealing another piece off her plate.

Morris Tap and Grill Twisted Chicken

I was also afforded the opportunity to try Mr. Jabre’s Twisted Chicken Pot Pie and Ms. Berners-Lee’s Burger. The Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, consisted of all the standard ingredients of chicken pot pie, but instead of being in a pie crust, Chef Eric stuffs those ingredients inside the chicken itself. I find normal chicken pot pie to be rather hum-drum so this inventive twist was a welcomed changed. It also helped that it tasted better than any pot pie that has ever graced my well versed spoon. As for the burger, it was perfectly cooked and chock full of flavor.

I am not one for dessert right after my meal. I would much rather allow the flavors that I just assaulted my taste buds with to loiter a while, and I feel that dessert hinders this effect. With that said, while perusing the MTG menu one particular item caught my eye, and I felt that I would be doing every one of you a disservice if I did not at least try it. Morris Tap & Grill offers something that I have never heard of before, listed as beer cocktails on the menu. I was so intrigued by this concept I simply had to order one of them.   I opted for the one that utilized Left Hand’s Nitro Chocolate Stout as its base, and rolled the proverbial dice. This drink consisted of the Stout, Espresso Vodka, Godiva Vodka, and Chambord, topped off with a Chocolate Drizzle. When this creation hit my lips I was forced to rethink everything I ever claimed to know about beer and liquor, so much so that I had to memorize a new rhyme. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear, Beer before liquor you will never be sicker, Liquor in beer and Holy shit that’s good! Alright I am still working on the Rhyme, but you get my point, order one, you will thank me.

Morris Tap & Grill Beer

I, for one enjoy the almost ironic, albeit Alanis Morissette irony not actual irony, feeling of eating proper foodie fare in a pub like environment paired with a craft beer, instead of wine. This duality is the exact reason that I love Gastro Pubs! These wonderful establishments, Morris Tap &Grill included, embody the very essence of being a Blue Collar Foodie. Sometimes I wish I was not a foodie, my life would be easier if I could stuff my craw with bland mush and tasteless chops, but then I visit places like Morris Tap & Grill and with one forkful, edible enlightenment this notion is whisked away and replaced with yet another blissful epicurean memory.

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Central Kitchen Opens In Englewood Cliffs

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

Welcome to Central Kitchen

Welcome to Central Kitchen

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

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

Central Kitchen Interior

Central Kitchen Interior

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

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

Brick Oven Margarita Pizza

Brick Oven Margarita Pizza

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

Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Appetizer

Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Appetizer

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

Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay

Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay

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

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli

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

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

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

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

Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli

Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli

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

Tiramisu Served in a Glass

Tiramisu Served in a Glass

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

Cheers From Central Kitchen

Cheers From Central Kitchen

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

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

 

The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Morris Tap & Grill for a Beer Paired With a Side Of Awesome

If there is one specific type of eatery that exemplifies the Blue Collar Foodie movement that I have been trying to showcase throughout my blogging career it would have to be the Gastro Pub.  These establishments combine good old fashioned blue collar elements with a twist of foodie flair causing epicurean adventurers like myself to flock to them like Charlie Sheen to a dysfunctional twenty- something with daddy issues.  Since this movement is catching like wild fire, it is hard to keep up with all the Gastro Pubs that are popping up faster than a New York Mets fan gives up on the season, but one specific Pub caught my interest a while back and I vowed to pay them a visit.   I am referring to none other than Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 Route 10 West in Randolph, NJ.

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill has been on my radar since they damn near slapped me sober with foodie brilliance at the Morris Town Beer Fest.  Since that day I knew I needed to make the trek down to Randolph to try the full MTG experience.   So, Kat and I made plans to meet with another Gastro Centric couple, Brian and Kristen, who are from those parts and head over to Morris Tap & Grill for a fun-filled evening of tempting vittles and libations.

When we arrived at the Morris Tap & Grill, I was surprised to hear the harmonious hums of a live band jamming out in the bar area.  Much to my delight the band was playing at the perfect level as to add to the ambience of the restaurant but still allow pleasant dinner conversation at a normal speaking tone.  If you are anything like my past self you may have just shot the computer screen a derision-laden glare in response to that comment, and most likely thought of me as an old fuddy duddy who does not like his music loud anymore.  I assure you, I still feel there is a time and place for loud music, but while I am trying to eat dinner is not one of them, so I was very happy that the Morris Tap & Grill were savvy enough to take that into consideration.

Upon reaching our table and meeting up with our fellow foodies, we were almost immediately welcomed by our server Katrina who offered us our Menu’s and whole hearted greeting, which was appreciated immensely.  I seem to be able to tell a greeting that is laced with contrived emotions, but Katrina honestly seemed like she enjoyed her job and was happy to help us, which instantly set the mood for our dining experience.

Beer Flight

Beer Flight

My first mission when I visit a Gastropub is the challenging task of picking my first beer of the evening.  If you have never been to a Gastropub, you may not have ever had this issue, but once you venture down the rabbit hole that is craft beers you will find that sometimes selecting a beer can be as hard as catching the white rabbit.  So, if you are an over analytical beer fanatic like me and you find yourself staring at an extensive and impressive beer list the likes of the Morris Tap & Grills,  this process could take several minutes and some arduous decision making, which may cause your wife and friends to stare at you with an ominous ire as their stomachs grumble.  Fortunately, Morris Tap & Grill has once again thought of this problematic situation before you even walked in the door, and are nice enough to offer what is known as a flight of beers as the solution.   For anyone that has never had a flight of beer, it is quite simply, four small beers instead of one big beer, which allows you to taste multiple beers instead of only choosing one.  With the knowledgeable assistance of Katrina, I was able to piece together my beer flight and our drink orders were on their way to the bar.

With our first undertaking considered to be success we moved onto our next imperative task of the evening, our meals.   I am not sure what is more comprehensive and grandiose, the Morris Tap & Grill’s beer menu or there dinner menu, but one thing is for certain, they both can make a Blue Collar Foodie salivate like a German Shepard at Pavlov’s B&B.  Since, I knew that I was attending Morris Tap & Grill and was already their friend on Facebook, I launched a pre-emptive attack on my ever-wavering entrée contemplation, and asked the MTG what they suggest I eat to fully experience their Chef’s culinary modus operandi.  Much to my surprise, Chef Eric Levine, himself wrote me back and suggested a few dishes that he felt a Blue Collar Foodie, such as me would enjoy.   Chef Eric recommended the following dishes; the Trio of bacon, the Pork Shank, any of the Burgers, particularly the Baconeater, the Southwest, or the BBQ, The Shrimp cannelloni, the Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, and finally the Avocado “Fillet.”  If you follow this blog at all you know damn well which dish I chose!  Chef Eric Sir you had me at Trio of Bacon.  My beautiful wife, Kat spun the gastronomy roulette wheel and it landed on the Short Ribs, which she is drawn to like a teenager to a sparkling vampire. Brian decided to stick to the Chef’s recommendations which was also highly indorsed by Katrina and went with Twisted Chicken Pot Pie where as his lovely lady also chose off the Chef Eric approved list and decided upon the BBQ burger.  We also ordered a Spinach Artichoke Dip for the table to prime our stomachs for the meals that were forthcoming.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Spinach Artichoke Dip

With most of the decision making behind us, we were able to absorb the overall atmosphere of the Morris Tap & Grill.  I felt quite at home within the rustic yet elegant confines of this eatery and as we lost ourselves in conversation our appetizer arrived at the table.  The Spinach Artichoke dish that arrived on our table carried with it such a heavenly aroma that I was barely able to take a picture of it before everyone at our table was jockeying for position to dive into it.  As I dipped my first chip into this diptastic concoction, I could tell the texture was just right.  Firm enough to stay on the chip, but forgiving enough to not break this conveyance vessel.  This potion was not only the right consistency but the flavor was spot-on as well, let’s just say that once it landed on our table, it was not long for this world.  After polishing off the Spinach Dip, we ordered another round of drinks from Katrina, and shortly after their arrival the entrees made their appearance.

Trio of Bacon!

Trio of Bacon!

The Trio of Bacon consisted of Mustard & Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin, Bacon Baked Beans, and Grilled Pork Belly.  From the shear looks of this dish, I could tell right away that I had made the proper choice.  I first tried the hearty Baked Beans which had a thick palatable sauce which smothered the copious amounts of bacon that were swimming with the beans.  The beans packed quite a flavor punch, and I found myself eating bite after bite, before moving on to the Pork Loin, which was expertly cooked, causing the medallions to be not only delicious but tender as well.  Lastly I picked up a piece of the Grilled Pork Belly with my fork and brought it to my mouth slowly with anticipation.  You see, in the healthy world we live in now, eating Pork Belly is tantamount to calling the Queen of England a, well let’s just say a word that rhymes with punt and starts with a C, shall we.  Yet these tasty morsels of piggy goodness are what my stomach’s wet dreams are made of, and I cannot thank Morris Tap & Grill enough for affording me the opportunity of savoring every last bite of these perfectly cooked cholesterol loaded pork gems.

PORK BELLY

PORK BELLY

Kat was generous enough to allow me a small taste of her short ribs so I could experience, in her words, all their beefy magnificence.  After I tasted her dish, TWSS, I completely understood why she wanted me to try it.  First off, the ribs were cooked in such a way that the meat literally fell apart, as Kat gently poked them with her fork.  Furthermore, the meat was so tender and the sauce so tasty that I had to eat another piece of my pork belly to stop from distracting Kat, and stealing another piece off her plate.

Short Ribs

Short Ribs

I was also afforded the opportunity to try Brian’s Twisted Chicken Pot Pie and Kristen’s Burger.  The Twisted Chicken Pot Pie, consisted of all the standard ingredients of chicken pot pie, but instead of being in a pie crust, Chef Eric stuffs those ingredients inside the chicken itself.  I find normal chicken pot pie to be rather hum-drum so this inventive twist was a welcomed changed.  It also helped that it tasted better than any pot pie that has ever graced my well versed spoon.  As for the burger, it was perfectly cooked and chock full of flavor.

Twisted Chicken

Twisted Chicken

I am not one for dessert right after my meal.  I would much rather allow the flavors that I just assaulted my taste buds with to loiter a while, and I feel that dessert hinders this effect.  With that said, while perusing the MTG menu one particular item caught my eye, and I felt that I would be doing every one of you a disservice if I did not at least try it.  Morris Tap & Grill offers something that I have never heard of before, listed as beer cocktails on the menu.  I was so intrigued by this concept I simply had to order one of them.   I opted for the one that utilized Left Hand’s Nitro Chocolate Stout as its base, and rolled the proverbial dice. This drink consisted of the Stout, Espresso Vodka, Godiva Vodka, and Chambord, topped off with a Chocolate Drizzle. When this creation hit my lips I was forced to rethink everything I ever claimed to know about beer and liquor, so much so that I had to memorize a new rhyme.  Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear, Beer before liquor you will never be sicker, Liquor in beer and Holy shit that’s good!  Alright I am still working on the Rhyme, but you get my point, order one, you will thank me.

Chocolate Beer Concoction

Chocolate Beer Concoction

I, for one enjoy the almost ironic, albeit Alanis Morissette irony not actual irony, feeling of eating proper foodie fare in a pub like environment paired with a craft beer, instead of wine.  This duality is the exact reason that I love Gastro Pubs!  These wonderful establishments, Morris Tap &Grill included, embody the very essence of being a Blue Collar Foodie.  Sometimes I wish I was not a foodie, my life would be easier if I could stuff my craw with bland mush and tasteless chops, but then I visit places like Morris Tap & Grill and with one forkful, edible enlightenment this notion is whisked away and replaced with yet another blissful epicurean memory.

Morris Tap and Grill on Urbanspoon

The Blue Collar Foodie Keeps It Classy At The WineMaker’s Cellar

For the most part, my definition of refined is drinking a craft beer with my pants on. In other words, for me, sitting at a gastro pub imbibing a beverage with my pinky out and discussing the finer points of Fantasy Baseball, without cursing every third word, is generally, as classy as I want to be. Now everyone knows that every rule has to have at least one exception in order to prove said rule, right. So, every now and again, I don a shirt with at least 2 buttons, slacks instead of jeans, and even take off my baseball hat to enter the wonderful world of wine.   Although quite foreign to me at first, I have become somewhat of a novice scholar of wine, and it is all thanks to wine tastings and food pairings like the one I attended at The WineMakers Cellar, located at 1050 Goffle Road, in Hawthorne, NJ recently due to a Living Social Coupon that I stumbled upon.

Welcome To The WineMaker's Cellar

Welcome To The WineMaker’s Cellar

The first thing to note about the WineMakers Cellar is that they are not a restaurant, nor are they a liquor store; they are actually a full-fledged wine making facility. With that said, they offer something that other vineyards, wineries, restaurants, and liquor stores simply cannot, the option to create your own wine from scratch. This process involves crushing the grapes, pressing the grapes, racking the wine and of course everyone’s favorite, bottling, and the knowledgeable professionals at The WineMakers Cellar will walk you through each process, imparting some of their wisdom to you along the way.

The event that my wife and I attended was described as an evening of educational entertainment that will help the attendees diversify their palates in a relaxed and comfortable environment, whilst learning about wine and the wine making process.   With a description such as this, I probably would have been more than slightly interested, but then the gracious hosts at The WineMakers Cellar also included two glasses of wine per person, live music, gourmet cheeses, crackers, hot hors d’ oeuvres, a dinner catered from Justin’s Ristorante in Hawthorne, NJ, and two bottles of complimentary wine to take home at the end of the evening.   Considering everything that this deal encompassed, Zoe and I could not say no, and we bought our tickets immediately, unfortunately so did half of Bergen County so it took quite some time to acquire a table to one of these exclusive events.

Not knowing what to expect on our first adventure to the WineMakers Cellar, Kat and I drove to Goffle Road in Hawthorne, NJ. Since this establishment is on my way to work, and I pass the sign every day, I knew that the actual site of the WineMakers Cellar is somewhat clandestine, so if you plan on attending one of these events keep your eyes open as soon as you exit the highway for the small sign that will point you in the right direction. After turning into the parking lot, driving down a slightly narrow one lane, yet two-way road, we found ourselves in the parking lot of an industrial park which is the home of The Winemakers Cellar. To be honest, Kat and I caught the nervous giggles for a second or two as we arrived. But, we have learned to not judge a book by its cover more times than I would like to admit, so we did not let this establishment’s shabby exterior taint our evening’s promise.

While we slowly walked to the front door of the facility, we noticed a quote on the sign that hung above the entrance which read, “Enter as strangers…Leave as friends,” which seemed to sooth our uneasiness for the moment. As we entered the building, the small amount of apprehension that still existed in us, melted away, due to the delightful interior décor of the WineMakers Cellar. The first section of the large warehouse like structure was sectioned off from the rest of the building and decorated as a small bistro complete with its very own bar, which Kat and I headed straight for.   With a glass of Red in our hands we decided to explore the expansive structure that is The WineMakers Cellar.

Say Cheese!

Our first stop was the appetizer tables where we helped ourselves to artisanal cheeses, gourmet crackers, and assorted Hors doeuvres that were each better than the last one we tried. We then took our glasses of wine and plates full of food to the area of the building that was set up with tables. There was no assigned seating, and we chose a table at random to call ours for the evening. The room we were in was full of barrels of all different sizes, presumably full of wine that had been created by inexperienced folk such as ourselves under the watchful eye of The WineMakers Cellar Staff. As Kat and I talked amongst each other and the other individuals that had arbitrarily selected our table we were serenaded by the wonderful eclectic stylings of Jeff & Karen, which was a delightful addition to the ambiance of this event.

Cheers

Cheers

After finishing off our first glass of The WineMakers Cellar house blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc which was damn near celestial, Kat and I procured another glass of red before the presentation commenced. With our learning juice in hand, we were ready and willing to be educated. One of the experienced owners of the WineMakers Cellar approached the front of the room and began to speak to us about wine. To tell you the truth, Kat and I were expecting the hard sell approach about what The WineMakers Cellar offers but that was not the case. The presentation complete with a fancy Power Point slide show, consisted of the history of wine, the terminology that wine aficionados use, the different types of wine, the actual wine making process, and a quick and easy wine tasting lesson.   I was pleasantly surprised that this educational lecture felt more like a community college course than a time share offer.

Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting

After the learning was done, our glasses were empty, which was perfect because the wine tasting was up next. We all had the opportunity to utilize the information that we had just absorbed and taste four different wines that were made on site, at the WineMakers Cellar. As we sniffed, sipped and swallowed the wines that we were given, we discussed the complex flavors of each of the tasty potions.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Just when we thought that this enjoyable and informative evening could not get any better, dinner was served.   I have been to Justin’s Ristorante a few times before, and I was really excited when I heard that they would be catering this event. I was not disappointed by the tremendous spread of Italian food that was supplied by this often under rated local eatery. The offerings included Chicken Parmesan, Meatballs, Eggplant Rollatini, Penne in Vodka Sauce, and a hearty salad all served buffet style. As we ate this truly fantastic Italian smorgasbord, we continued to discuss the wine we had tasted throughout the evening with our table mates as if the 15 minute lesson that we had just been privileged to sit through made us wine experts.

As the night winded down and dessert was served, I thought back to the sign above the entrance of The WineMakers Cellar, and I understood why it was placed at the hearth of this establishment. All of us entered the building as strangers but in a few short hours we found ourselves saying good bye and honestly wishing our tablemates a good evening. There are only a few things in this world that can create a bond amongst strangers such as sprits and food, and The WineMakers Cellar completely comprehend this. On our way out the door, we were presented our two bottles of wine for the road and exited the building with full bellies and smiling faces. After attending this event, I do believe a Blue Collar Foodie wine may be an option all thanks to the fine folks at The WineMakers Cellar.

 

The Blue Collar Foodie Goes Round For Round With The Duke at Charlie Blood’s

Occasionally the fact that I have a food blog comes up in conversations and when it does I typically get mixed reviews, pun intended.   Some people respond to this statement as if I just told them that I kick dogs for fun, while others reply as if I had told them I write for the New Yorker.  Although, I tend to enjoy the latter as opposed to the former reaction, by far my favorite response is also the most common; “That is, (Insert Favorable Adjective Here), you should really check out, (Insert Restaurant’s Name Here).”

This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago while I was at my local watering hole, The Twisted Elm, and ran into a few old friends.  One of them was unaware that I write this blog and as soon as I mentioned it she instantly began throwing names of restaurants out faster than I could digest them.  As I fervently tapped on my phone with my giant clumsy thumbs, trying to capture all the potential Blue Collar eateries that were being hurled in my direction, one seemed to stand out amongst the crowd, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Not only was the name appealing but the way she described this joint lead me to believe that it was right up my alley.  She may or may not have used the phrase Dive Bar a few times.

Charlie Bloods

Charlie Blood’s Restaurant

The following night Kat, our friend Rory, and I embarked on our culinary quest to Charlie Blood’s, which is located at 147 Frederick St., in Garfield, NJ.  As we pulled up to what I assumed was the front of the building, more on this later, I could feel the blue collar vibe emanating from this establishment.   The yellow brick of the building illuminated by the welcoming glow of the neon beer sign in the window attracted Rory and I like a tween to sparkly vampires.

Upon entering Charlie Blood’s Restaurant we were whisked away to a wondrous world of wood paneling and draught beer, that I lovingly call DiveBaria.  This extraordinary land is a lot like Narnia from the acclaimed novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except that the Wardrobe is a bar, the Lion is food, and instead of a witch there is beer.  Come to think of it, there are really not any similarities between these places, except of course, they are both magical.  Once inside, we grabbed a table adjacent to the bar, ordered a round of drinks, and asked for a few menus.

Inside Charlie Bloods

Inside Charlie Blood’s

While we swigged our first round, we discussed the menu and conversed about the astonishing selection of food that this seemingly unimposing tavern has to offer.   Even though Charlie Blood’s offers a wide variety of Italian American fare, my mind was made up the second I picked up the menu and saw “The Duke’s” face staring back at me.  The Duke is Charlie Blood’s Famous 24oz Ribeye Steak and I felt obligated to my readers to conquer it, especially since it was only $17.95.  Kat opted to attempt to keep her girlish figure, which this blog does not help at all, and ordered the 12oz steak for $11.95, while Rory went with the Seafood platter, which is described as Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, and Baked Clams for $14.95.  To add to the affordability of this spot, all of our meals came with a house salad and fries as well.

After the hardest part of the evening was over and our food ordered, we took our beverages in hand and drank in all that this restaurant has to offer.  The walls of Charlie Blood’s restaurant are covered from floor to ceiling with local sports memorabilia and hometown heroes.   I am not talking about the kind of crap that is draped all over the walls at your local Applebee’s, that was clearly professionally framed and placed there by a decorator either, I am talking about  the genuine article.  A large poster of this establishment’s namesake, Charlie “Blood” Benanti, hangs in the bar alongside this memorabilia.

Charlie Blood's Logo

Charlie Blood’s Logo

According to the Googles, “Charlie gained his nickname “Charlie Blood” at a young age from his reputation as a street tough fighter during his school days. He began professional boxing at the age of 16 to aid his family in the pre-depression years. Many of his fights were held in Garfield, Jersey City, and Paterson.  He gained the New Jersey Lightweight crown in 1928. With a winning record of 65-5, he retired in 1931. In 1940, Charlie took over a tavern in Garfield from his father-in-law and is now owned and run by his son Sal Benanti, and his family.”

Our salads arrived and I have to say I was impressed by the portion size.  That is not to say that the salads were over sized but they were not overtly petite either.  To paraphrase a famous blond girl who broke into a bears house, it was not too big or too small, but just the right size.  The actual contents of the salad appeared to be fresh and as far as a dinner salad goes, it did its job flawlessly.

The Duke

Charlie Blood’s Famous 24 oz. Ribeye Steak

With my appetite intact and properly primed, I was ready to go round for round with The Duke.  As this 24oz beast of a steak came to our table the theme song from Rocky was playing in my head.  I have never met a steak I could not finish and I was determined to make sure that the Duke was not the first.  So far Charlie Blood’s Restaurant was not disappointing this blue collar foodie, but as the first forkful of steak was slowly approaching my craw, I knew that the moment of truth was upon us.  For, a cheap bill is not the only requirement for a restaurant to be Blue Collar Foodie approved.   But alas Charlie Blood’s Restaurant did not dissatisfy, it was love at first bite.

The Duke

The Duke’s Close-Up

This colossal slab of cow was perfectly cooked, medium rare, and seasoned just enough to enhance the natural flavor of the meat.  This was one of the best steaks I have had in a long time, and I could not believe that I was having it at a place like Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Kat and Rory seemed to be enjoying their meals too, considering the conversation that we were having when the food arrived had not only stopped but was only a distant memory.  As I finished my steak, I found myself sopping up the juices with my French fries so I would not waste any of the deliciousness.

Seafood Melody

Seafood Melody

All in all, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant is the perfect two punch combination, it is affordable and the food is terrific.  This is yet another establishment that makes you hear your wise mother’s voice urging you not to judge a book by its cover, in that motherly tone that we all love to hate.  These hyper local Blue Collar foodie havens are difficult to find and get harder and harder as the years drag on.  There is something extremely comforting about Charlie Blood’s, a Cheers’esque’ quality, that is sadly endangered nowadays.

There are a few notes about Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I wish I knew before we visited that I will now share with you.  This blue collar foodie find, much like many others, only takes cash.  They do have an ATM on site, but if you want to save the fees stop at the bank before you head over.  Furthermore, if you are not into eating at the bar, I have been told that there is a full service restaurant side to Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I will be checking out on our next visit.  The entrance to the restaurant is apparently around the corner from the door we used to get in.

Judgment:

Overall:                          4 out of 5

Taste:                             4 out of 5

Presentation:                3 out of 5

Value:                             5 out of 5

Charlie Bloods on Urbanspoon