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

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