If you are a foodie, and I would imagine you are, you most likely have heard of the acclaimed PBS show The Mind of a Chef. If you have yet to watch this Foodographic program, you should immediately jump onto your hipster cable network, use whatever Netflix account you “borrow,” and commence what will become a serious binge watching session. This is not a Netflix and Chill show either, you are going to want to pay attention to it, so hands off, Handsy McPerv Pants, and watch, as you enter the Mind of a Chef.
Don’t sue me PBS, I am giving you free advertising!
The first season of this unique epicurean show follows, Chef David Chang, an American restaurateur, author, and promising television personality as he gallivants around the globe talking to other awe-inspiring Chefs about what goes on in their both food centric and eccentric minds. Chef Chang is known to most of us, as the brilliant mind behind the Momofuku Restaurant Group. (No I did not just call you a lover of someone else’s mother, that is an entirely different combination of the letters M and F.) After watching the complete first season of The Mind of a Chef, in a matter of few short days, I was craving Chef Chang’s ramen more than Lebron James yearns to be loved.
Luckily for me, I don’t live in one of the fly over states, sorry-not-sorry Kansas, so an epic plan was set in motion. The New York Mets happened to be in town last Friday, battling the Milwaukee Brewers and it was Free Shirt Friday to boot. So Kat, Alex, Steph, and I decided to not only visit Citi Field and root-root-root for the home team, but to hit up the Momofuku Noodle Bar afterwards for some late night Ramen with an added nightcap.
Sorry for the tangent, but I like Mets a lot, like almost as much as I like food and beer, and that my friends is saying something. Where was I, Oh yes!!! Momofuku! The Noodle Bar which opened its doors in 2004, was the first of now, many restaurants that make up the Momofuku Restaurant Group. For those of you that are keeping score, that is well before the recent ramen rage, making Chef David Chang the Ice-T or, Schoolly D for those of you in the know, of the NYC Ramen scene. You know, minus the illegal activity and mad fat beats, he is straight up OG… errrrrrrrr… OC…
Before we arrived at Momofuku, located at 171 1st Avenue, between 10th and 11th Street, New York, NY 10003, we stopped at a local bodega to grab a few pre-dinner IPAs because the wait for this awesome eatery can sometimes reach a sobering 1 hour mark. With our road sodas in hand, in paper bags of course, we are not animals, we approached this utopian Ramen Shangri-La and amongst the bustling noise of noodle slurping, kitchen clanging, and customers Instagramming, we placed our names in the queue. Luckily for our bellies the wait was only 30 minutes, which conversely was unlucky for our livers, which now had to process our, damn near 8 percent, IPAs much quicker than we anticipated.
As we sipped from our discreet vessels of hops, barley, yeast and water we perused the menu that the hostess was kind enough to provide when we checked in. Just when our bottles were empty and our bladders were full, our names were called and we took a seat at one of the shared wooden tables in the dining area.
We were greeted by our server, with a smile and menus. Three of us ordered another round of beers and one of us, the responsible one, ordered a Coke because she was driving. (Thanks by the way, because I was celebrating the Mets win and Ramen, so I was going to be in no condition to drive.) Next, we ordered our meal for the evening, and even though the menu is small, it was not an easy choice. In the end, we decided on the Beef Tartare and the Chicken Meatball Buns as appetizers, and 4 bowls of Ramen with a kicker of Kimchi for our entrees.
While we nursed our beers and conversed the anticipation of finally eating at a Chef Chang establishment slowly built. We were like a hot water heater on Mythbusters, the pressure was building with each and every minute. Fortunately, even though the place was crowded, the service was actually quite quick and our appetizers arrived in no time at all.
Meet the MEAT!
The first dish to make an appearance at our table was the Beef Tartare. For those of you that are not extremely well versed in the language of cookery, the word Tartare is usually synonymous with raw, and this was no exception. This particular dish featured finely diced high-quality raw beef, seasoned with brown butter and herbs, served with rice crackers. Alex and I are huge fans of Beef Tartare, which means that we are also pretty tough critics when it comes to eating it, but IMHO this dish was the real the deal. The beef was not overly salted, the texture was spot on, and the brown butter added just the right amount of nutty notes to the meat, without overpowering its rather delicate flavor that the raw form tends to have. Furthermore, when we added the tangy SSam sauce, which is placed on every table in the restaurant, this dish went from a 9 to a damn near 10.
That Ssam-I-Am, That Ssam-I-Am, I do indeed like that Ssam-I-Am
While we were polishing off the Tartare, the Chicken Meatball Buns arrived. ***I failed to take a picture of this dish because I was in awe of the Tartare. Sue me! No wait don’t sue me, this is America, and you would probably win. The bun was the star of this dish because it was the perfect consistency and did not fall apart, as we split them in half. As a supporting cast the Chicken Meatball and the Paprika Mayo did just fine, no Oscar nominations, but a solid performance which elevated the leading role. The meatball itself was moist, which was nice, considering Chicken dries out if you look at it the wrong way. (Suck it moist haters! I find this word descriptive and I like using it. I find your hatred of this word to be offensive and linguistically racist!)
The moment of truth was almost here. A bowl of Chef David Chang’s Ramen was on the horizon and I could not wait to dive into it like Scrooge McDuck into a building full of gold coins. Every bowl that exited the kitchen distracted me from our ongoing conversation. I was like a freaking gold fish! As I followed the wait staff around the dining room with my eyes, one waitress scooped up two bowls of brothy goodness and headed directly for our table. I was giddy, I was happy, I was excited, I was scared. What if I didn’t like it? Would I be exiled from the foodie community for not loving Chef Chang’s bowl of accolades and awards?
Behold! The Holy Grail Of Ramen!
The moment my Ramen hit the table all my anxiety disappeared like the Matt Harvey fans in 2016. (Don’t worry Matt, I still got your back! To hell with those fair weather fans!) For those non-baseball fans, they melted away like Frosty the Snowman, in the very-very short and ill-conceived film, Frosty Takes Hawaii. Just look at the gorgeous composition of that souptacular bowl of temptation. This bowl of Ramen could be the cover girl for the little known adult-themed food fetish magazine, known as Penthouse Forum: The Slutty Kitchen Edition.
I was in love at first slurp with this brilliant bowl of amazeballs. The broth was extremely flavorful with a hearty dose of pork, the slow poached egg was done to perfection, and the noodles…don’t even get me started on the noodles. I tried each element of this dish separately before going in for the kill and mixing it all together like a savage. I am not sure if that is proper Ramen etiquette but it felt like the right thing to do. The sum of all this dish’s parts coming together was tantamount to the combination of the five astronaut’s ships that created Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Just when I thought this meal could not get much better, I added a few dashes of the SSam sauce to the party and I was in Ramen Nirvana.
Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!
Since Kat is awesome or because I gave her the sad puppy dog face, or perhaps a combination of those things, she let me give her meal a whirl. She and Steph decided on the Hozon Ramen Bowl, which incorporated Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions. I was extremely surprised when I tasted the broth of the Hozon Ramen. It was not just the same broth that was ladled into my bowl, it was completely different, but equally as complex. Furthermore, as you can see from the picture above, it was also a stunning dish that was plated…errrrrr bowled, flawlessly.
Suck It Dunkin’ Donuts!!! Just kidding, I love you. Please don’t take my coffee away!
Even though we were well-satiated, to say it lightly, we felt obligated to try at least one dessert to share while we were at Momofuku. This was a necessity because the desserts at Momofuku are provided by the always impressive Christina Tosi, the founder of Milk. We ordered the Birthday Cake Truffles because we were told they would be easier to split and to be honest how could those not be fantastic. These little Munchkin looking bastards make Dunkin’ Donut’s Munchkins taste like cardboard covered in sawdust. They were the perfect ending to our Momofuku experience!
In summation, get your arse to The Momofuku Noodle Bar immediately! No check that, faster than immediately! Go steal THE friggin’ DeLorean right now from Doc Brown and go yesterday. Don’t wait for a special occasion, make Momofuku THE special occasion and then hang out in the city until you can’t hang no more. Believe me this restaurant is worth the astronomical bridge and tunnel fares and the Kal-if-fee that will ensue while you attempt to find parking.
“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” There is a solid chance that we have all heard this idiom at one point in our lives. As impressionable adolescents, wayward teenagers, or “struggling” college students, some “wise” old kook uttered this to us, in hopes of mending a wound that would eventually heal itself. This phrase rattles inside all of our heads, like the lub-dubbing of the old man’s heart that tells a tale, every time we compromise on a life goal. Gradually making us all believe that by not achieving this unrealistic and naïve goal, we somehow failed the main objective of this choose-your-own-adventure book we call life.
I happen to believe that this supposed failure is simply not the case, and this common expression is dead wrong. I feel that once you make something you love your job, you will begin the slow painful descent towards loathing something you once got great joy from. If you happen to have an influential role in a young person’s life, I implore you to throw out clichéd and quixotic advice such as this and stick to achievable goals based on real life experiences.
In place of this wide-eyed expectation, I tend to follow the rule of; working to live, as opposed to living to work. I love to eat and I love to write, however I also love my freedom and integrity. This is why I thoroughly enjoy being a freelance food blogger as opposed to being a professional food writer. I have no deadlines, I have no allegiances, and most importantly, like Bernie Sanders, I can’t be bought! My 9-5 affords me the opportunity to do what I love, and that is the reason I will never cease to adore it. Furthermore, I have created a virtual foodie militia via various social networks that recommend eateries all over the East Coast that they believe will make my epicurean soul smile.
The anticipation was killing me!
Recently, I was bombarded with messages from copious amounts of gastronomes singing the praises of the recently christened Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar located at 90 Washington St. in Bloomfield, NJ. I can’t visit all the establishments that are recommended by my culinary constituents, however, when a whisper turns into a clamor, which builds into a roar, effectively shouting a restaurants name from the top of the internets, I take notice.
Welcome to Essex Junction.
Since the webernets was all abuzz about Essex Junction, I decided to make a reservation for Kat and I, as to not risk a longer wait to see what all the hubbub was about. Good thing we did too because when we arrived at 7:30 P.M. on a Thursday, it was jumping. We walked in and skipped ahead of the line, due to our forethought, and were seated in the dining room.
Before we even had menus in our hands, Essex Junction was racking up brownie points left and right. First off the décor is… Listen, I could google some asinine decorating style like, modern industrial shabby chic, that in turn you will have to google to decipher its meaning, or I could tell how awesome it was in seven simple words. It was like dining in Gotham City! That is right, I felt like I was Bruce Wayne eating dinner with some reporter/Model that I will eventually hook up with just before she gets kidnapped and her life is threatened for the rest of the movie. Come to think of it, dating Bruce Wayne is about as safe as Tindering in Detroit, I wouldn’t recommend either of those adventures ladies… Just saying.
Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!
Adding to the ambience of the urban design scheme, we noticed a large movie screen on a wall in the dining room that was playing Bettlejuice! That is right, YOU HEARD ME… BEETLEJUICE! We were so intrigued by this concept that Kat and I actually sat on the same side of the table, so we could watch a bit of the movie while we perused the menu. Don’t judge us! You would do the same thing! It was freaking Beetle…, better not say it three times, just in case.
Our first mission was to choose a drink to quench our thirst while we decided what to dine upon. This was not an easy task, considering Essex Junction offers 15 draft lines full of rotating Craft Beers, a variety of beer and wine bottles, and their selection of Local Legend Cocktails. We were in a beer mood, as it was Thirsty Thursday, so I chose a Boulevard Tank 7, and Kat went with a Dogfish 90 Minute. However, next time we visit, we will have to dive into the Local Legends, because not only are these inventive cocktails created with New Jersey Celebrities such as, Kevin Smith, Queen Latifah, and Steven Colbert, in mind, but 50% of the proceeds go towards the Bloomfield School System. (As long as you hashtag the restaurant and @ The Celebrity via twitter after taking a selfie with it.)
As stated above, this hobby, turned part-time job has transformed into an obsession, so when Kat and I take a new restaurant for a test drive, we do more than just kick the tires. In other words, we order a crap ton of food in order to get an accurate representation of the Chef’s repertoire and then we try to eat it all before the gluttonous guilt sets in. This occasion was no exception to our rule.
We ordered four small plates to start; Sweet and Spicy Wings, Smoked Pork Belly, Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese, and Fried Brussels Sprouts. Being the hedonistic mongrels that we are, we then ordered two large plates; the Bone-in Rib Eye and the Pork Chop. Excited about the feast that was about to rain down on our table like dollar bills falling from MC Chris’s fat stacks, we sat back and sipped our hoppy goodness while we awaited the boom.
BACON ON BACON!!!!
The first plate to make an appearance was the Smoked Pork Belly served with Pickled Vegetables and Candied Bacon. I am not going to lie, this dish was getting a gold star no matter what in my book because the crazy bastards at Essex Junction essentially decided to put bacon on bacon, and that my friends is the type of decadence that I love to reward. Furthermore, the dish was perfectly balanced and full of depth thanks to the sweet candied bacon, salty pork belly, and vinegary vegetables all playing off each other. Not to mention the juxtaposition of the soft belly and the crunchy bacon created a stupendously unique mouthfeel.
I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?
As we were just getting over the recent demise of our Pork Belly dish, Mr. and Ms. Sweet and Spicy wings arrived to offer their condolences. These saucy behemoths were cooked to flawlessly and had the perfect meat to fat ratio. Not to mention, that when paired with the blue cheese sauce these pub food Privates were promoted to Sergeants at Arms…errrr…Wings. You get my point!
Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh
Next on the food train was the Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese served with a Béchamel sauce. I will reiterate, I am all about decadent food pornography and this dish gets is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner in the food world. No! Not because it has balls, you sick SOB, get your mind out of the gutter. The luscious Béchamel sauce combined with the rich savory awesomeness of the duck meatball makes this dish a scrumptious win. On a side note, they use my favorite noodle in this dish, Bucatini, which marries Ziti and Spaghetti to form the most flawless sauce carrying implement known to man.
To paraphrase Rick James, “Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! “
Last but most certainly not least, the Fried Brussels Sprouts in Sweet Soy, Sriracha, served with Shallots, and Garlic arrived. Kat and I were nervous about ordering these, not because we buy into the horrific PR nightmare that Brussels have suffered through over the years, but because we envisioned an over-battered ball of Brussely sadness. WE WERE WRONG! This was by far our favorite small plate of the night. These delectable, lightly fried, crack-like morsels of amazeballs were chock full of Umami goodness. The ingenious process of first pan frying and then baking them in a small crock with the Sweet Soy and Sriracha concoction created an exceptional texture and flavor tag-team duo that could whoop The Legion Of Doom’s ass. Do yourself a favor and dig all the way to the bottom of the crock when you order this. There is where you will find the brown bits, that are covered in this damn-near mythical sauce that conveys such supernatural flavor that one can only assume that Chef Justin Caldwell must have created it with the happy tears of Unicorns.
While we were waiting for our main course, our server Mike stopped by to inquire about a second round of drinks in preparation of our impeding meal. Mike not only remembered what we had ordered (+1 point), but offered a few suggestions that would pair nicely with our entrees (+1,000,000 points). This is commendable in a restaurant that is well established, but in a new spot like Essex Junction, this is extraordinarily impressive. His suggestions were spot on too, so we ordered a second round.
Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!
As my Bone-in Rib Eye was approaching, I noticed just how lovely it looked sporting a duck egg like a yarmulke whilst sitting next to a basket of Parmesan Frites. My first impression was that this steak was large enough to justify the price point. I then cut into the flesh and realized that it was not just properly cooked, but it was cooked with the precision of a master. A flawless sear on the outside and a deep pink core on this inside. Finally, I dipped a slice of this mega steak into the bordelaise sauce, and transported to my mouth, and it was love at first chew. My apparent fullness from the previous courses melted away as this delightful meat treat melted in my mouth. (TWSS)
This little piggy went to my belly!
After seeing my dish, I thought the bar for beauty was set fairly high, but Kat’s Pork Chop served with Spicy Jicama Slaw, Brussels Sprouts, and topped with a Vermont Lardon drizzle sank my meat ship. Her dish looked as if they stuck a Chef’s hat on Zombie Claude Monet and forced him to create food art. Not only did her dish look amazing, it tasted just as good. The slaw added a crunch and a kick that danced well with the sweet Vermont sauce that was drizzled over the scrumptious pork, while the lardons kicked this dish into 5th gear.
If my ferocious verbosity paired with the filthy food porn you just were witness to does not make you visit Essex Junction post haste, I don’t really know what I can say in these final words that will convince you. Every detail of this establishment was not only taken into consideration but tediously worked on so it looks and runs like a shiny new machine. The hostess greeted us with a smile, the wait staff took excellent care of us, and Chef Justin Caldwell delivered dish after dish of phenomenal food that not only looked fantastic but tasted even better. In the restaurant world this trifecta is like meeting a down to earth Supermodel that cooks gourmet meals and does keg stands. If you don’t want to feel like Batman, while imbibing a craft beer and watching a freaking classic movie, then maybe you should stay home. Then again maybe you should get your head examined, because Essex Junction was all kinds of epic!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!”
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!
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!
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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…
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!
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!
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!
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!!!
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!
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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!
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: 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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/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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
Cheese Cloth: Enough to cover each of your baskets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Seats: What are you going to do? Stand up for 12 hours?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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: 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!
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.
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.
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 GO: Time is of the essence!
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.
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.
Throw the chunks of wood on top and around your stones.
Put the baskets on top.
Place the Cheese Cloth on top of the baskets.
Throw some dirt on the sides of the pit to protect your stones from touching the layer of burlap that will go on top.
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.
Add some more dirt to the pit and fill it up about half way.
Add the second layer of burlap.
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.
Place the last burlap sheet on top of the hole and exchange several high fives.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sit your ass down to a true New Zealand Maori FEAST!!! You are fucking welcome!
Our Hangi Slideshow
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 Hole. Chef 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.
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!
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 Sandiegoand 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.
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!
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!!!
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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!
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
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 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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, “I Brake For Animals?” Well, I have decided that I need to create a bumper sticker for my car that reads, “I Travel For Food.” Most people create this imaginary 10 mile radius around their house and refuse to venture outside of it when it comes time to grab a bite to eat, but I call shenanigans on that mentality. As my now trademarked bumper sticker will eventually read, I TRAVEL FOR FOOD!
I don’t mean one town over either folks; I am talking, “pack a freaking snack, because we are going over the river and through the damn woods to munch on the best Taco, Slice of Pizza, or BBQ that the Tri-State area has to offer.” Hell, I will even travel to different states to feast on the local fare if a foodie friend of mine tells me it is worth it. This approach to eating food, drinking adult beverages, and life in general has taken me down innumerable trails and created countless memories. This zeal is also to blame for my sometimes hectic, but always adventurous life.
Now depending on your age, you may already know that as you get older, your small tight knit circle of friends begins to expand like the paint on a Spirograph. After college, some of them choose the convenient yet somewhat costly suburbs, others yearn for the excitement of the uber expensive city, and others will choose the wildly inexpensive yet slightly inconvenient rural areas of the State.
Once these decisions are made, they are not always final, but I will assure you they will cause some tension in your group. No sane human being leaves the 4 A.M. last call, no need for a car, bar on every corner, City Life to come to the suburbs to hang out. Furthermore, the Suburbanites refuse to admit that they need to enter the city to have fun because they have everything the city has offer; they don’t, but they won’t listen to reason. Lastly, the rural folks were hornswoggled by low property tax and much bigger houses which convinced them that an hour drive to their nearest friend that did not join the cult of the cow, won’t be an inconvenience but some fantastic alone time where they can clear their head; it isn’t, it sucks, and they will soon figure it out!
Luckily though, most of my friends are foodies and follow the same aforementioned principal that I do, so it is somewhat easy to “trick” them or me into hanging out after not seeing each other for quite some time. All one of us has to say is, “Dude, you have to try this (Fill in the Food Here), it will change your friggin’ life!” Works every time, and we all know it, but as Spiderman once said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” so we are careful not to abuse this power.
While at Eleventh Hour Rescue’s Puptoberfest we happened upon a table that was giving out free samples of pulled pork. As I did not want to lose my ‘Merica card, I walked up to the table and tried some of this sauce laden miracle meat. My taste buds rejoiced as I devoured the shot glass of meat and asked the supplier of this magical concoction where I could purchase some of this magical pig. It turned out that Mr. Jeff Feldstein was working the table that day, which happens to be the mastermind behind Down To The Bone, located at 1594 Rt. 10 & Sussex Turnpike in Randolph, NJ 07869. Jeff saw the delight in my eye and simply said, “If you enjoy that, you have to visit my restaurant, Down To The Bone because our food will blow you away.”
I have to admit, I was slightly skeptical about the bold statement that Mr. Felstein just tossed my way. The pulled pork that I had just consumed potentially could have secured a spot in my Top 5 in the Pulled Pork category, but Jeff seemed confident in his claim.
A few days later, Jeff’s statement haunted my foodie day dreams, shut up you are reading a food blog, you know you have them too. Soon I knew that I had to visit Down To The Bone, and see if the food that they were serving at the brick and mortar was really that much better than the pulled pork I chomped on at Puptoberfest. I put my plan into action and contacted a couple that Kat and I have not seen in a while and said, “Dude, you have to try this (Insert obscenity) BBQ Joint, it will change your friggin’ life!” Whamo-Bammo a date was set and my food shakes were finally at ease.
Welcome to Down To The Bone!
When we pulled up to Down To The Bone, we were slightly confused because this particular restaurant is attached to The Clubhouse Golf Center. Do not let this peculiarity scare you away though, in fact we found it to be a bonus, and vowed to return when the sun was out and work up an appetite with a rousing game of mini golf.
This is where the magic happens and that right there is the magician.
When you enter Down To The Bone, the fantastic aroma of smoked meats is wafting through the air and instantly causes you to salivate. When we were seated, we were offered our menus as well as any glasses that we would need for the adult beverages that we brought with us. This establishment is a “bring your own bottle” restaurant, and I highly recommend that you bring beer; because, well beer goes with BBQ like bacon goes with everything.
I said a hip hops, Hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hops, and you don’t stop, a rock it!
As the frothy head of this bold IPA slowly dissipated, we perused our menus to decide what magical meats would grace our plates this evening. I should probably preface this review by saying that I am not a rookie when it comes to BBQ by any means. I have traveled quite extensively and feasted on a plethora of slow cooked meats, and if there is any specific genre of food that I would consider myself an expert of, it would be the glorious gastronomic classification of Barbecue.
A Divine Plate Of Swine!
It did not take long for me to come to a decision, which is rare, but I tend to follow the same basic rules the first time I dine at a BBQ joint. Firstly, I find the largest combination of meats that I can order; in this case it was a Three Meat Combo, then I order the three things that every BBQ place worth the wood it is burning should be able to make. Ribs, Brisket, and Pulled Pork. In my opinion, any spot that can’t make these three staples of the BBQ world shouldn’t be allowed to sully the name of BBQ!
This was more like corn cake than traditional corn bread which I found surprisingly tasty!
As for side dishes, I also have a few select items that I use to judge a BBQ joints worth. These sides should be, and most likely are, on every BBQ menu from here to Texas and back, and I want to try every last one of them. My go-to sides are none other than, Baked Beans, Collard Greens, and Corn Bread. The rest of our contingent followed my lead and ordered a combination platter as well. My BBQ brother from another mother went with the three meat combo; whereas our daintier, and slightly less gluttonous, wives opted for the two meat combination.
There is something delightfully Southern about a bowl full of greens.
We ordered our meal from the owner/waiter/host Jeff Feldstein and after he relayed our order to the kitchen he came to our table to officially welcome us to his restaurant. I want to stress that he had no idea that I was there to review his establishment; he merely wanted to talk to his customers. His passion for not only the food that he serves, but the charitable events that he participates in, was immediately apparent. He spoke to us about the history of his restaurant, his homemade sauce, which he allowed us to try (spoiler alert, it was awesome), and invited us to come back on November 2, 2014 for The Wing Challenge that will benefit local charities.
If there was such a thing as Brisket Ball, this Brisket would be its Lebron James!
When are food arrived at our tables, I, of course, took the photos that you have been drooling over for about four paragraphs. That drool is not misplaced my friends. As I stated earlier, I am no BBQ Virgin, I am like the Paris Hilton of BBQ, if you get me, so I don’t just throw compliments around all willy-nilly when it comes to smoked yumminess. With that said, the brisket that Down To The Bone placed in front of me is hands down the best friggin’ brisket that has ever melted in my mouth and traveled into my belly.
Eating this chicken can cure any fowl mood. See what I did there?
Don’t get it twisted, everything was spectacular, even Kat’s chicken which is not always my favorite dish at barbecue places, but holy hell, the brisket was good! I mean, I still have dreams about it good. The chicken was extremely flavorful with a perfectly crispy skin and the meat wasn’t the slightest bit dry. Dry meat is the scourge of BBQ, and unfortunately Chicken tends to fall into this trap all too often when cooked using the traditional barbecue approach. Furthermore, Kat had the brilliant idea of dipping her chicken into Down To The Bone’s Homemade Buffalo Sauce which only enhanced the already tasty chicken’s flavor.
There ain’t nothing wrong with a bowl of swine!
I will once again mention that Down To The Bone’s pulled pork potentially could be in my top five pulled pork dishes of all time, but that would necessitate a blind taste test, an excel spreadsheet, and ain’t nobody got time for dat, so let’s just say it was damn good! The tender and succulent meat was left rather chunky which made for an excellence texture. The sauce that these tidbits of divine swine were tossed in was simply heavenly; a perfect melody of tangy and sweet leaving me wanting more after each and every one of my bites.
Not only were the main dishes tender, juicy, and downright delicious, the sides did not disappoint either. The beans were chock full of delightful bacon nuggets as you can see above. The bacon was sharing this vessel with expertly prepared beans, and they both were swimming in a slightly sharp sauce that made B&M Baked Beans taste like someone forget to place the ampersand in between those two letters. (For those of you that are slightly slow, that was a poop joke.)
Furthermore, the Mac and Cheese that Kat ordered had tremendous depth of flavor and was the perfect texture, not too gooey but not too firm. It tasted as if fifty different types of astonishing cheeses from all over the world attended a love-in, invited some noodles, and this was the epic offspring. I probably stole too much of this from Kat, but she loves me and luckily did not stab me with her fork.
What they say is true, once you eat this mac, you will never go back!
We all literally demolished our plates, leaving nothing but a graveyard of rib bones, cornbread crumbs, and empty plates with finger smeared sauce lines. After our meal was complete, Jeff once again visited our table, and we pelted him our praises. It appeared that this was not the first time Jeff was told that his food was absolutely amazing because he took the approval in stride. When we were done complimenting his fare, he made mention of the damage Kevin and I had done to our Three Meat Platters and informed us of The Epic Down To The Bone eating challenges. If you win said challenge, you win a Down To The Bone T-shirt and a place on the now empty Hall Of Fame!
Now that is a sandwich!
I understand that food in general is all about personal preference. To promise that Down To The Bone makes the best BBQ that you have had, or will ever have, is a foolish thing to guarantee. I will not make that hubristic mistake, however, I will state that it is now MY GO-TO BBQ. I feel that this endorsement should be at least enough to make you visit this relatively new restaurant. If you are a regular reader of The Blue Collar Foodie, you know that I have reviewed several BBQ joints that are much closer in proximity to me than Down To The Bone and loved each one of them for their own reasons, but I will now travel close to 45 minutes to sit my butt at Jeff’s tables and devour whatever he places in front me. I TRAVEL FOR FOOD!
When most gourmands speak of exotic food they are usually referring to Tibetan, Ethiopian, or perhaps even Lebanese fare, but not the Blue Collar Foodie. The problem with the stereotypical foodie is that they ooze pretentiousness like a beached Chris Christie, mid-August, secreting perspiration. This is one of the sad but true realities that cause a large percentage of tremendous eateries to go unrecognized in the epicurean realm. This lack of apparent gastronomic flair causes a chain reaction which results in the general public not seeing the delightful offerings from restaurants that don’t add Truffle Butter or Kale to every dish on their menu, which is of course printed on recycled paper that has been shat out by organic compost eating worms.
I, however, pride myself on attempting to never judge a book by its cover. I stress the word “attempting” in that previous sentence because to be honest, if a restaurant looks and smells like a Frat House on a Friday Morning, one is allowed to pass a quick and fatal judgment before exiting immediately. Barring any catastrophic foodie faux pas though, I will seriously try anywhere and anything at the very least twice before I come to a conclusion on whether or not I am a fan.
This method of hardly ever saying, “no,” to the phrase, “Dude you wanna go try (fill in the blank restaurant) tonight?” has allowed me to taste, savor, and appreciate dishes that some self-proclaimed connoisseurs will never get the chance to chew on. This has been my motto since I was young, and when a friend of mine brought up a restaurant by the name, Royal Warsaw, located at 871 River Drive, in Elmwood Park, NJ, that I had not been to in a while, I of course followed my foodie decree.
The Royal Warsaw serves Polish food. I know you are not a child, and if you are, stop reading this immediately, I curse like a drunk who stubbed his toe on another drunk. Since you are not 7, I assume that as you read the name of this restaurant you immediately knew it was a Polish restaurant, but I need you to think to yourself when the last time you went to a Polish restaurant actually was. No, Stanislaw the last time you went to your Babcia’s house does not count.
For most of us, the answer to that simple question is either never, or very rarely. Polish food is not the type of fare that brings the hype like some other highly sought after cultural culinary styles. However, I must inform you that if you have never been to an authentic Polish restaurant, you are missing some serious grub.
The Royal Warsaw has ample parking which wraps around the entire building, but that is not to say the parking lot does not fill up quite quickly. Even though you may have never heard of this joint, I assure you that the rather large Polish population of towns like Elmwood Park and Garfield sure have, and they tend to convene at this establishment regularly to taste a small bite of home and perhaps even knock back a pint or three. Furthermore, the Royal Warsaw also offers an outdoor patio so during the spring and summer; one can eat al fresco and usually avoid the somewhat long waits for a table in the main dining room.
On our journey to the Warsaw, we decided to dine outside because we had a group of six and were rather famished from our Sunday activities. Once we arrived, we did not wait at all, and we were ushered into the garden area where we were seated and handed our menus.
Here, my friends, is where the fun begins. First off, the menu is extensive and has a crap load of options so the first thing you are going to want to do is order yourself a beer. Not a domestic beer either you twit, order something that sounds or looks Polish. Now, hopefully you brought some friends with you so you can spend the next few minutes trying to pronounce half the things on the menu. This part is always hysterical considering that I am under the impression that I would have to rip out my tongue in order to pronounce some of the things that appear here. Don’t believe me, here is the test, pronounce this; Przekladaniec Zakopianski. Seriously, that is a thing!
After chuckling at the horrible pronunciation attempts of you and your friends, the next step in the ordering process at the Royal Warsaw is to read their English translations of the dishes they offer, which they are generous enough to provide.
Most likely your beer has arrived by now and the waiter is asking if you are ready. Take this opportunity to ask him any questions you may have about the menu and ask if there are any specials, you will thank me for this later, and then ask for a few more moments to decide.
Now just like our group, you will have all the knowledge you could possibly want to order the perfect item off the slightly intimidating menu at the Royal Warsaw.
We decided that since we were ever so hungry, an appetizer was in order, and went with the Polish Style Plate which consists of Potato Pancakes, Russian Pierogies, and Grilled Kielbasa. With the appetizer out of the way, we one-by-one carefully selected our meals, with the occasional assistance in pronouncing the dish provided by our trustee waiter.
With a cold Warka or Zywiec in hand, my friends and I told stories of the weekend as if it was a battle, and we were the lone survivors. As we were joking and laughing about the hectic recent past, the kitchen staff was working feverishly to create our Polish Style Plate which zoomed out of the Kitchen at a speed that the Enterprise would be jealous of. Yes, that was a Star Trek joke! You got a problem with that?
Polish Style Plate
Behold in all of its glory the Polish Style Plate, well one-fifth of its glory because the damn dirty apes that I was feasting with could not wait for me to take a picture before they started to dismantle this dish with their filthy paws. I highly recommend this appetizer for a group because it is the perfect portion size to tantalize your appetite when shared, without filling you up before your entrée even arrives. Not to mention the fact that each item on this dish tasted better than the next. I mean, how could you possibly go wrong with eating Pierogies and Kielbasa at a Polish Restaurant? The answer is you can’t, and that is why you need to order this plate of freaking yummy!
After demolishing the Polish Plate, we set our sight on the entrees that our waiter assured us would be out momentarily, after he of course filled our mugs with more tasty beer. Shortly after our waiter left, he returned with our meals in hand. I reminded my table mates that I am trying to inform you wonderful people about the amazing food that The Royal Warsaw offers. I further explained to them how intricate my food porn was to these articles. They were nice enough to afford me the opportunity to take one photo of their meal before they began eating.
Plate a la Warsaw
I started with my wife’s plate because, well, “Momma didn’t raise no fool,” and Kat gets pretty Hangry sometimes. That comment is not going to go over well, but hey these are the sacrifices that I make for my readers. My wife’s dish, which was lovingly named the Plate a la Warsaw and contained Stuffed Cabbage, Polish Sausage, Mixed Pierogies, and Hunter’s Stew. The star of this dish was the Hunter’s Stew which is an amalgamation of sauerkraut and mixed meats; Mmmmmmmmm mixed meats! I suggest if you order this dish using this pleasant Polish porridge as a dipping sauce of sorts for every bite you take.
Tara ordered the Schabowy Cutlet which basically translates to Breaded Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Polish Salad. The presentation and aroma of her dish was utterly magnificent, and the flavor was nothing short of fantastic. The crispy exterior gave way to the tender meaty insides while the sauce blended everything together in style. This was hands-down one of the best pork chops that I have ever tasted, and for only $13.95, the portion size was out of control.
Polish Style Grilled Keilbasa with fried sauerkraut, onions, and garlic bread
Next up was Steph’s Polish Style Grilled Keilbasa with fried sauerkraut, onions, and garlic bread. We already discussed how amazing this hot link of pig meat is, but I will further state that if you enter this restaurant and don’t at least try some Warsaw Keilbasa, I may have to rethink our entire blogger to reader relationship.
The Royal Warsaw Escargot
Steph believes in the theory, “go big or go home,” so she paired this monster meat stick (TWSS) with an order of Escargot. I know what you are thinking, what the hell does Poland know about snails. Well smart ass, if you look at a map, you will notice that Poland is only one former war mongering super power away from the capital of terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs, France. These snails were the perfect combination of buttery, garlicky, and… ummmmm… snaily… deliciousness.
Schabowy Moskvian Style
Marco decided to rock the Schabowy Moskvian Style which was described as Breaded Bone-In Pork Cutlet served with mashed potatoes and fried sauerkraut. This picture does not do this pork chop justice because there is nothing to use as a scale, but I assure you it was impressive. Once again the crispy outer coating was the perfect companion to the tender juicy pork that it was protecting. When this flavorful chop was paired with the lightly fried sauerkraut, it was a duet that Disney would have been jealous of.
I have accepted my short comings as a food journalist and so should you! Pretty picture though right.
Lastly, I photographed my wonderful dish. Unfortunately, by this time I was three Warkas in, and I had only ingested a fraction of the calories I had expended playing baseball that day. Due to the combination of sun, hunger, and inebriation I forgot to write down what the heck I ate actually was. I remember it tasting like it was sent from the heavens and shit it looks beautiful, but I have no idea what the hell it was. My fellow bloggers might chastise me for even including this dish in my post, simply stating that I could have easily rewrote the day and stole a friend’s dish as my own. To them I say, why? The only reason I can’t remember exactly what the dish was is because it was a special, and I remember it tasting and looking amazing so I felt that it was my duty to include this dish in my review.
The purpose of this post is to remind you to open your mind when it comes down to selecting your meal destination. Sure, you look awesome posting those photos of Fried Cambodian Spiders or South East Asian Snake Wine but sometimes this leads to the classics getting over looked. The Italian restaurant that is still making its own pasta, the local seafood joint that travels near and far to procure the freshest seafood, and the local Polish restaurant that believes in the philosophy of using, ”meat from healthy breeding, fresh field vegetables, garden fruits, and fish from clean waters to produce cuisine that is honest and simply tastes good,” need your praise and business too. I highly recommend that any foodie located near Bergen County follow my advice and hit up The Royal Warsaw for a great meal and a few drinks!