The Blue Collar Foodie Is Down With DTTB! Down To The Bone BBQ

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!

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.

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.

Alpha Dog

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!

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!

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.

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  Brisket Ball, this Brisket would be the Lebron James of that sport!

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?

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!

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.

BACON!!!!!!!!!!

BACON!!!!!!!!!!

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!

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!

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!

 

Down To the Bone on Urbanspoon

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Serves This Foodie Up A Slice Of Nostalgia Pie

If you are like most people, you probably enjoy nostalgia. It allows us to reminisce about times that we hold dear and memories that make us smile. Even though when you were living those moments you were inevitably thinking back to an even simpler time, ruminating about the past is always an amusing endeavor. This feeling of joy and serenity when recalling past occurrences is what makes Throw Back Thursday so much fun on Facebook. Well, that and the fact that your friend’s Mom constantly posts pictures of him at the age of 7, dressed up like Jem! #TrulyTrulyOutrageous!

A large majority of people tend to embellish and exaggerate stories from their past, even when discussing them with friends that were there as well. As the memory gets older the tale gets bigger and better, I call this phenomenon, Legend…wait for it…Darism. Think of a game of telephone, but everyone is in on it, slightly altering the story each time it is told, to make their past lives seem somewhat more epic.

Much like that abstract memory of the dude that ate his own dingleberry in college for a buck 25 and a loosie evokes the highest of high fives amongst friends, there are certain establishments from your past that will always arouse emotions of happiness. Unfortunately, these emotions are usually misguided by the aforementioned illness. That sandwich place with the best sandwich in the world when you were 18 was only good because it was two pounds of food for 3 bucks, and you were stoned; the band that you swore was going to be the next Beatles was called Sum 41, and that sentence sounds just as dumb now as it did back then; and the beer you drank in college was horse piss, and I don’t care if it won a blue ribbon in1893, it still tastes like the dingleberry our friend ate!

Rarely, however, you get the chance to return to an old haunt that exceeds your expectations of awesomeness, and this is what I experienced a few days ago. I was feeling nostalgic, so I suggested to Kat that we go visit our old watering hole that got us through college one beer at a time, The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse, located at 529 Belmont Avenue, Haledon, NJ 07508. Kat must have been feeling sentimental too because she instantly agreed, and we were on our way.

Welcome to the Shep!

Welcome to the Shep!

I am well aware that The Shepherd & The Knucklehead should have been posted on this blog a long time ago, since they have been making waves in the local craft beer market for a while now. With 90 microbrew taps, a menu that would make any foodie squee, and an atmosphere perfect for a laid back beer snob like myself, I have somewhat failed my audience and this establishment by taking this long to visit what was once my go to bar. My explanation for this monumental gaffe is quite simple; I was petrified I would not like it. I was nervous that the bar that existed in my head that was connected to so many wonderful memories was going to be tarnished by what the bar had become.

To make a long story short, I am an asshole. The Shepherd & The Knucklehead is not only as good as I remember, but it is even better. Their beer selection is second to none in this area, if not in this state. Did you read the sentence above? That was not a typo, 90 Mircrobrew taps that are constantly changing as they kick. The beer menu for The Shepherd & The Knucklehead is almost as thick as the menu for the Cheesecake Factory! Furthermore, the wait staff and the bar tenders actually know what they are talking about when it comes to craft beer, so if you can’t decide exactly what to drink, they will talk you down off the ledge and make sure you choose the right beer.

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Beer Taps

…And this ain’t even all of them people!

It took us some time, and some serious deliberation, but eventually Kat and I were able to choose our first beer. While we awaited its thirst quenching arrival we perused the food menu. The Knucklehead’s kitchen offers a variety of food options for the different social situations that could occur at a bar and/or a restaurant.   There are quite a few appetizers that are perfect for sharing amongst the table if you and your friends get a little noshy during your stint at the bar, such as the Knuckle-head sized Wings, The Shep’s Pork Poutine, or the Beer Mussels. If you are a bit hungrier, are a germophobe, or just a selfish twit, they have a myriad of soups, salads, wraps, burgers, and sandwiches, such as a Half-Pound Angus Burger, BBQ Pork Sliders, a Philly Cheeseburger Wrap, and even a Vegetable Curry Wrap for you veg-heads.

However, if like me, you were on a date of sorts and wanted to dine on something a little more refined, have no fear the Shepherd has you covered. After some serious hemming and hawing, I decided to order the Shep’s Paella which was described as Shrimp, Mussels, and Chorizo served over saffron rice; whereas Kat did not think twice about ordering the 12 oz. NY Strip topped with Bourbon-glazed onions paired with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli Rabe.

With our orders placed and our beers at the table, we were free to reminisce about the small hallway of a bar that the Shepherd and The Knucklehead used to be. Back in the day when we would open and close this small local tavern they had 20 taps and no food. Yet we kept coming back. Why you ask? The atmosphere was amazing. There were board games you could play, books that adorned the walls begging you to read them, a dart board, craft beer, and some of the nicest drunk people you would ever meet. It was a Hippie bar through and through, all the way down to the cardboard sign that hung on the wall that read, “If you yell or anything no coming for 2 months.”

NO YELLING

By the way this sign can still be found on the Shep’s website, which leads me to believe that they agree with the wise words of H2O, Don’t Forget Your Roots!

Funny thing about The “New” Shepherd and The Knucklehead was it felt the same, just larger and more spacious. There were still board games, books, craft beer, and great people, but now there was food and room to roam like the free range hippies we always wanted to be.

While Kat and I continued to go story for story about The Shepherd and our college years like prized fighters, we could not help but bask in the wonderful feeling of being home. You know the feeling I am referring to. That sensation you get after traveling for an extended period of time, when you walk through your door and are greeted by your animals and splash into your own bed. The calming and friendly atmosphere that we fell in love with at The Shepherd & The Knucklehead all those years ago, surprisingly is still alive and well. I was ecstatic to see that even though the walls have been expanded, The Shepherd still feels cozy.

Meanwhile, as Kat and I were bar dreaming, the kitchen was apparently working fervently to prepare our meals because in no time our meals were being placed in front of us. As the food was being placed down, the delightful aroma of our entrees sent food chills down my spine, which elicit similar symptoms to the douche chills you get from seeing Bryce Harper, but are much more enjoyable.  I almost could not wait to dig into my meal, but alas, I have to make sure to get the perfect food porn shots, and of course another beer had to be ordered. While I was snapping photos our waitress was kind enough to help us pair our dinner beers perfectly with our meals.

Knucklehead's Steak

Look at that sear!

After the obligatory photographs were taken, we slowly but surely devoured our dinners. I, of course, got to taste a portion of Kat’s entree because she is the best foodie wife ever! Not only was her steak expertly seasoned but check out the preparation. This masterpiece had the perfect cross pattern sear which gave the outside of the steak an amazing char broiled taste, while the inside… well see for yourself. I assure you it tasted just as good as it looks in this photo; it was juicy and absolutely delicious.

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Steak

I don’t care if foodies don’t like this word to describe food, this steak was f-ing moist!

I also was afforded the opportunity to try the side dishes that Kat ordered. The Broccoli Rabe was not immensely bitter but still had the tried and true minor bitter bite that a fan of the side dish looks for. Furthermore, the texture and seasoning of these veggies was spot on, and I am convinced the Chef must have had a Nonna that taught them to respect the Rabe. I will confess that I am a sucker for sweet potatoes. So, I may be a little biased when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Shep’s mashed sweets but Kat seemed to like them too considering her plate was clean by the end of the night.

Shepard And The Knucklehead Paella

Paella may be hard to spell, but this dish was easy to eat.

After taste testing Kat’s wonderful meal, I was nervous that I was going to have food envy. That is until I took the first bite of my Paella. Holy freaking flavor country Batman! The saffron rice was tender and extremely tasty thanks to the world’s most expensive spice, proper cooking, and the deliciously spicy chunks of magnificent chorizo that were floating around in this dish like savory depth charges. Furthermore, the mussels were some of the best mussels I have eaten in quite some time, and I have had some pretty serious muscles, my friends. Not only were they flavorsome, but the consistency was perfect, not a hint of rubber to be found. The entire dish was a fantastic marriage of flavor, texture, and aroma, so much so I forgot Kat’s dish even existed. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, her steak was freaking awesome!

I am pleased to say that my preliminary trepidation was completely unsubstantiated, and The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse remains a force to be reckoned with in the Craft Beer Nerd Realm. Furthermore, they have now broken into the foodie world as well. If you are looking for a serious Craft Beer spot with a menu to match, I highly recommend you come visit The Shep. The nicest thing about going there for dinner is when you are done eating; you can retire to the bar and have a nice nightcap without even stepping outside. Considering we live in the good ol’ Garden State, I feel obligated to quote Bon Jovi here, Who Says You Can’t Go Home!

 

 

Shepherd & the Knucklehead on Urbanspoon

Na zdrowie! The Blue Collar Foodie Raises His Glass To The Royal Warsaw!

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.

Na Zdrowie!

Na Zdrowie!

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

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

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.

Schabowy Cutlet

Schabowy Cutlet

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

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

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

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.

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!

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The Gastronauts + The Blue Collar Foodie = Food Porn²

Gastronauts_LOGOIf you missed my first post about the epic adventure eating club known as the Gastronauts, you may not be aware that I am a super fan of this organization. However, if you have ever visited my page, you are well aware that I love food porn almost as much as Luis Suarez likes to do his best Mike Tyson impersonation while on the pitch.

Since each and every Gastronaut event contains more food porn than a sixteen year old’s Reddit feed has actual porn, I decided that it was my duty to not only take pictures of these epicurean gatherings but share them with all of you. This post will contain the last two gastronomic happenings that I attended with this epicurean society but from this point on I will make sure to post each on separately as to not overload you with foodtography.

Back in May the Gastronauts invited its members to join them at Phayul located at 37-65 74th Street in Jackson Heights for a Tibetan feast. The menu for this event was intriguing because the descriptions were very vague, unlike the other meals that I have attended. Unsure and slightly nervous, my friend and I ascended the stairs that lead to Phayul and placed ourselves at the mercy of the Chef.

A Dinner at Phayul

Churu
Tibetan cheese soup

 Chele Khatsa

Fried beef spicy tongue

 Gyuma Ngoe Ma

Fried blood sausage with onions & green chilli

 Dropa Khatsa

Tibetan style beef tripe

Fried Momos

Tibetan Dumplings

Tibetan Spices

The first thing to hit our table was a caddy that held two vessels which contained two different, slightly scary, spice concoctions that caused some minor whispering throughout our table. All of us were curious, but we were also a little apprehensive since the predominant color of these potions were bright red, and we were under the assumptions that they were going to either kill us or destroy our taste buds for the upcoming meal. Eventually, one of us dipped our fork into the evil looking spices and tasted what turned out to be an extremely pleasant sauce with a subtle yet lingering heat that was not offensive at all.

Cheesesoup

Next up in this food orgy was the Churu, or Tibetan Cheese Soup. Steph, my fellow gourmand for the evening, and I discussed this dish in particular length during the arduous ride from New Jersey during rush hour. Both of us were somewhat uneasy about eating this dish because the internets was pretty damn useless when we tried to find out what this cheese soup was all about.   It turns out that we were concerned over nothing and not only was this soup straight up amazeballs, we now crave it like Piper Chapman yearns for affection.

Beef Tongue

After conquering our first, seconds, and thirds of the Cheese Soup, Steph and I were ready for the Chele Khatsa or the fried spicy beef tongue. This dish not only looked breathtakingly beautiful, but it tasted absolutely amazing.

Beef Tongue Close

The combination of the fresh vegetables and the fried beef tongue created a sublime texture contrast and the flavor of the dish was superb. I added a small amount of the aforementioned hot sauce and savored each and every bite.

Beef Action Shot

Relax food police, before I ate the last bite, I asked my fellow table mates. I know that when eating family style there are certain rules one must follow. Unless of course you are eating with your actual family, then to hell with the rules and grab as many pieces of yummy you can before your gigantic Uncle Morty eats all the Christmas Lo Mein.

Blood Sausage

The next dish to arrive was the Gyuma Ngoe Ma or the fried blood sausage with onions & green chilies. I am pretty sure the actual translation for this Tibetan dish is THE BEST BLOOD SAUSAGE YOU WILL EVER FUCKING EAT, EVER, but since that is not politically correct, they go with the one above.

Blood Sausage Close

I am a huge fan of blood sausage, and I must say that everything that I ever knew about blood sausage was absolutely wrong and I am an idiot for every thinking it. I was under the impression that there was always a slight metallic, iron-esque flavor to blood sausage, and this was just a minor imperfection that one who eats this delectable treat had to accept and get used to.

Blood Sausage With Pepper

This blood sausage did not taste metallic at all; it had every single wonderful quality that I crave in blood sausage and none of the flaws. It seemed like witchcraft to me at the time, and now that I think of it, it still does. Furthermore, now that I wrote this paragraph, I want some right the hell now!

Spicy Tripe

Following the blood sausage was not going to be easy for any dish, but none the less the Dropa Khatsa or Tibetan style beef tripe entered the eating arena. Since the supposed death sauce was less killy than I thought it would be, I disregarded the bright red flakes and rosy glistening hue that appeared on the plate in front of us. That my friends, I can tell you, was not the best idea. Don’t get it twisted, this dish tasted amazing, but I should have taken a much smaller first bite. The heat slowly built in my mouth and set up camp on my tongue. Being a seasoned, see what I did there, professional with spicy foods; I did not go for my water or my beer and just waited the heat out as it slowly dissipated. I then of course ate more of the tripe because I can’t resist a nice kick in the taste buds.

Veggie Momo

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat one more bite of this delightful Tibetan fare, out came the PARADE OF MOMOS! And what a parade it was!

Veggie Momo Close Up

Momos are basically Tibetan dumplings, and they come with a variety of fillings. The first one we got to eat was the vegetable Momo. These were filled with a combination of potato and diced veggies. The crispy and crunchy exterior was the perfect companion to the soft center that was bursting with flavor.

Beef Momo

Beef Momos graced our table next and, in my opinion, were the best of the Grand Momo Show! If there was a momo Oscar, these tasty bastards would win hands down, and they would not even play that music in the background during his acceptance speech to kick him off the stage.   Beef momo gets all the time he wants!

Beef Momo

Hiding in the center of these pan fried pouches of dough was a succulent and flavorful morsel of meaty goodness that I could not get enough of.

I remember a time that I was not a Gastronaut, I remember a time that I was not fortunate enough to share in the experience of eating these astonishing meals, I remember those times, and I do not like them. The Gastronauts should be commended for allowing foodies like us to eat, drink, and take a thousand pictures of food without all the normies in the world staring at us with discontent and dejection. So, join the Gastronauts and in the immortal words of the sideshow performers in the movie Freaks, become, One of us! Gooble Gobble, one of us!    

A Lebanese Dinner by Naji

Kibbeh Nayeh

Raw Goat Pate

Lamb brains and Lamb testicles

Brain Salad and Testicles Served With Hummus

Beef Tongue Fatteh

Toasted Lebanese flat breads mixed with a garlic yogurt sauce and Beef Tongue

Moughrabiyeh

Large-grain couscous, served with liver

Ashta dessert

Prepared similarly to sweetened cottage cheese, and topped with fruit and crushed pistachio.

After partaking in the awesome sauce that was the Tibetan dinner you drooled over above, I was yearning for the next Gastronaut event. I was just hoping that it would work with my hectic schedule of work, writing, and studying.   Lucky for me, and I guess in turn lucky for you, I was available on the night in question and without hesitation reserved two seats for the Lebanese Dinner at Naji located at 160 Havemeyer Street in Brooklyn, NY 11211.

I may have agreed to attend without hesitation but upon further research, like reading the entire email, I was able to find my uncertainty quite easily. I neglected to read the menu for the evening and missed the eating testicles portion of the event. I had never eaten testicles before and I was concerned about the texture, the flavor, the potentiality of liquid bursting from the center as I bit into them, and a myriad of other orb related issues.

With that said, my adventure eating partner, Steph and I embarked on our journey to Brooklyn to eat the testicles and brains of a lamb that I assure you is much less happy to be attending this dinner party than we were.

Lebanese Side Dishes

Our wonderful and exceptionally helpful waitress delivered a plate of side dishes that were to be consumed with the meal as per the instructions of the chef. Steph and I both agreed that we are always a fan of instructions when eating a cultures food that we are not familiar with, so we were happy to hear that we would be guided on when and how to eat the chef’s preparations.

The Kibbeh Nayeh

The Kibbeh Nayeh, or Lebanese Goat Tartar, is considered the national dish on Lebanon and is served at feasts and festivals throughout the year. When this dish hit the table, everyone was a little nervous about eating raw meat because we are Americans, and we all know that eating raw meat could potentially cause the outbreak of zombies thus destroying the world as we know it. Although, we decided that when in a Lebanese Restaurant in Hipster Ground zero, we should all act like a Lebanese Hipster… That does not work at all. I got it when in a… Never mind, you get the point.

Plated Goat

We ate the raw meat according to the instructions that were explained to us by the staff and guess what? No Zombies! I know, I was slightly disappointed too. To be honest though, I was way too far from my house and wife for a zombie invasion to work out well for me anyway, so I was okay with the lack of brain eating, for now anyway, according to the menu.

Goat With Beer

The instructions of how to eat The Kibbeh Nayeh were fairly simple and created a lovely hand held flatbread of tastiness. We were to spread the raw goat on a plate and top it with the most amazing garlic spread I have ever eaten and fresh mint leaves. Then you take the concoction, place it on a pita, and take a bite which is followed by a piece of either an onion or a scallion. Needless to say, this did not help our breaths at all, unless eating raw goat causes vampires instead of zombies, then the whole garlic breath thing might work out for us.

Brain Salad

Perhaps raw goat does turn us into zombies because all of us were pretty freaking excited to eat us some brains. Damn Center for Disease Control, being right all the damn time, what the hell? Although, it might have been the fact that the brains smelled absolutely incredible and did not look too shabby either that caused the mental salivation.  The aroma of this lamb lobe was hard to place at first until we tasted it. There was a distinct cinnamon or garam masala flavor that was tremendously enjoyable. The texture could have been a problem, considering brains tend to be as appetizing as lumpy cottage cheese in the mouth feel category, but the chef expertly prepared this dish as a salad with a slightly peppery salad greens that created a flawless union of taste, texture, and spice.

Lamb Testicles

The moment of truth was upon us. Apparently, what separates the men from the boys in the world of food happens to be balls, which is pretty accurate in the real world too. In this case though, these balls were going to be in my mouth instead of between my legs. Go ahead… Get it out… I realize that I just typed “balls” and “in my mouth” in the same sentence. I tried to get around it, but there was no way to avoid it. When you are done laughing out loud, I will see you in the next paragraph.Lamb Balls

I summoned all of my culinary testicular fortitude and stabbed a lamb testicle with my fork and placed it on my plate with a small amount of hummus, a pomegranate seed or five, and some greens and took the requisite photos. This time I did not mind the delay, I sort of needed it to psyche myself up for what was about to happen.

Balls on a Plate

With one swift motion, I brought a small piece of these rather large lamb testicles to my mouth and ate it. I should know by now that if the Gastronauts feed me something, it is going to taste stupid good, and these spheres were not the exception to this rule. Not only were these testicles not bad, they were freaking good! The texture was nothing like I thought it would be and resembled a somewhat undercooked meatball and much to my delight; no liquid of any kind was released from the center of these balls of yummy. I ate several more after cleaning this plate, and I would definitely order them again.

Beef Tounge

With a belly full of testicles…Dammit… Go ahead… The next course arrived at our table. I was impressed with the presentation of the beef tongue fatteh because the colors were spectacular. I mean seriously, this vibrant brew looked like it should be in an art museum, not in a bowl about to be consumed. I fought off my tablemates as long as I could to make sure I got the perfect photos before it was devoured.

Tongue Close Up

This dish’s praise was magnified because it contained one of my favorite “bizarre” meats, beef tongue. Not to mention the fact that the garlic yogurt broth it was swimming in tasted outstanding and was full of tasty goodness.

Couscous

If the fatteh was not enough to get your taste buds dancing like Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Chef also sent out a serving of Moughrabiyeh, which is large grain couscous. He decided to add a little liver to the dish to add a little Gastronaut style to the mix which only added to the already flavorful combination of the spices that were having a party in the bowl.

Ashta

For dessert, we were given Ashta, which was described as a dessert that has a sweet and aromatic flavor which is often compared to the atemoya fruit. This would have been a great description, if I knew what the hell an atemoya fruit was. The good news was that we were about to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert; I appreciated the subtle melon like taste combined with the small amount of crushed pistachios that were placed on top of this pudding like dessert.

I really cannot express to you how much fun it is to hop on board one of these culinary expeditions and eat your way into the stratosphere with the Gastronauts. There really are no words to describe the feeling of apprehension, realization, and relaxation that occur at these tables, it truly is something special.

Casa de la Trova Rocks Authentic Cuban Food In Fair Lawn, NJ

If you read my blog often, you should already know how I feel about restaurants serving their final dish. Opening an eatery requires a tremendous amount of hard work and Rocky Mountain Oysters the size of Dolly Parton’s best attributes. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that within three years of realizing their vision almost sixty percent of owners are forced to close their doors for good. If you are a foodie, this statistic should be seared into your brain like the flesh of a perfectly prepared filet mignon. This figure quite simply haunts my dreams because I realize that at any given time one or more of my favorite epicurean harbors could disappear overnight, much like Paula Deen’s career.

This depressing statistic is one of the main reasons I got into blogging in the first place. I have made it my mission to not only climb on a soapbox and promote the local restaurants that make my taste buds dance like Shakira, but to additionally place this soapbox on a rooftop called the internets and shriek louder than these goats in order to keep remarkable eateries from failing.

Welcome to Casa de la Trova

Welcome to Casa de la Trova

One such restaurant that recently moved into my neck of the woods, taking over the location of a quaint crêperie that could not gain traction in the fickle world of food that is Bergen County, is Casa de la Trova Restaurant. This charming authentic Cuban Restaurant located at 12-56 River Road, in Fair Lawn, NJ not only serves some of the tastiest Cuban Cuisine in the area, but the wait staff is warm, welcoming, and super friendly to boot. Casa de la Trova is indubitably an eatery that every gourmand in Bergen County should visit and endorse because restaurants like these are about as rare as a Soccer player without a douchetastic haircut.

Casa de la Trova, being the new girl in town, has been getting slightly busy recently, so Kat and I made a reservation, which I recommend in order to avoid a wait. Another piece of information that you should know prior to making your way to Casa de la Trova is that they are B.Y.O.B., which is always appreciated by this Blue Collar Foodie. If you are reading this on your way there, relax, I got your back. Less than a block away at 13-05 River Road in Fair Lawn is a well-stocked liquor store named B & B Liquors that offers a great selection of wines and some pretty serious craft beers. As for the wait, I would not let it scare you too much, worst case scenario you can sit outside at one of their few outdoor tables and people watch until your table is ready.

BYOB!!!

BYOB!!!

Since we were good little foodies and had a reservation, we were seated and handed our menus as soon as we entered the restaurant. Kat and I take food pretty seriously, if you hadn’t noticed, and ordering can be a painstaking and perilous process when we go out together. Choosing what to eat is not a sprint with us, it is a marathon, and in order to shave some time off this lengthy procedure we have taken to doing some light research prior to visiting a new restaurant. Thanks to the interwebs, 9 out of 10 restaurants have their menu located on their website which allows us to narrow our dinner choices down before we even enter the restaurant and barring any specials that blow us way we are usually able to make a decision in the time that it takes a normal human being to choose their food.

Even though we did our homework, we always take one more glance at the menu just to be sure we did not miss anything. I know we are crazier than the Gary Busey tripping face on peyote while huffing paint, but if we can accept it, so should you, you judgmental prick! Satisfied with our choices, we ordered the Plato al trovador as an appetizer which was described as Croquetas, Papa rellena, pollito frito, tamal cubano, chorizo gallego & Carne frita tostones y maduros. Now if you are anything like me, and by that I mean a unilingual Caucasian that has failed every language course he has ever taken, the description above meant about as much as the following sentence would mean to Paris Hilton; Capitulation propagated by undeniably bureaucratic socioeconomic processes undoubtedly precedes collegiate admittance. Lucky for us, our trusty waiter was there to not only translate for us but to also ensure us that ordering this item was a wise decision.

As for entrees, I decided to go with The Pargo al Caribe which was described as a whole Red snapper cooked in a pot with jumbo shrimp & mussels topped with homemade wine & vodka sauce, and Kat chose the Pollo al Ajo, which was described as chicken on the bone sautéed with Spanish seasoning and lime juice topped with a homemade garlic sauce. With our order on its way to the kitchen, I poured a drink for my date, and we proceeded to have polite, mature dinner conversation about anything other than food while we awaited the arrival of our appetizer… who am I kidding, we talked about all the delicious food that was about to hit our table followed by a few minutes of off-colored jokes.

Plato al Trovador

Plato al Trovador

Within minutes, our appetizer arrived, and we were not only impressed by the extremely generous portion size but also the astonishing aroma that was arising from what appeared to be a gigantic plate of fried awesomeness. With the methodical, somewhat obsessive-compulsive, precision of Dr. Sheldon Cooper , Kat and I split each portion of every item and tried them at the same time in order to compare notes. Some of the highlights for this dish were the Tamale that was expertly prepared in a corn husk and delivered the perfect combination of texture and taste. Then there was the Chorizo which was bursting with flavor and amazingly crispy. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Papa Rellena, which is a potato ball stuffed with beef, and the small fried pork nuggets that tasted even better when dipped into the garlicky sauce that was served with this wonderful dish.

Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Plato al Trovador

Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Plato al Trovador

This appetizer was absolutely brilliant. I could write a paragraph on every single succulent morsel that appeared on that plate, but then this post would be 3,000 words long and no one wants that. What I will say is that this dish could easily feed a table of four, and if you find yourself looking for an appetizer when you visit Casa de la Trova, this is the beast for you!

Pargo al Caribe Close-Up

Pargo al Caribe Close-Up

After we devoured our appetizer, our entrees were served shortly after. As my plate was delivered, I was taken aback by the beautiful presentation of the whole fish, mixed seafood, and salad greens. Upon seeing this plate, I could tell that Chef Juan Ayala takes pride in each dish he prepares, which in a world full of cookie cutter chain restaurants, is a welcomed change.

Say Hello To The Pargo al Caribe

Look at that fish!

Not only was this dish beautifully prepared and plated, it was cooked to perfection. The flavor was spot on, and the small slots that were cut into the snapper made it tremendously easy to eat. Plus, the addition of the shrimp and mussels just added to the personality of this dish, not to mention the value.

Casa de la Trova Pollo al Ajo

Pollo al Ajo

 

I was too busy paying attention to my plate to realize that Kat’s dish nearly looked and smelled as good as mine. If you ever meet my wonderful wife, you should thank her, not only does she edit my pieces before I throw them into cyberspace, but she also lets me try every dish she gets in order to properly review the eateries we frequent. I am pretty freaking happy that this rule exists because not only was the chicken damn near fall off the bone tender, the sauce was good enough to make a politician tell the truth.

Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice

Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice

Each of our entrees came with a rice of our choice and a small side of salad greens. The rice by itself was good, but considering we were in a Cuban Restaurant I expected as much. However, Kat had the excellent idea to pour her chicken sauce on the rice, and it stepped the side dish to a whole new level.

If it was not obvious, or you just skipped reading the words of this article and looked at the food porn, Kat and I enjoyed our visit to Casa de la Trova Restaurant. The employees were simply wonderful from the smile we received when we entered the door to the helpful assistance we received when we needed it throughout our meal. In addition to the staff, every bit of food that we tried at this establishment tasted as good as it looked, and it looked as good as it tasted.

So grab a few comrades, sorry I could not go an entire article about a Cuban restaurant without any communist jokes, and a couple of cold ones and find your way to Casa de la Trova. The more we as a foodie community support the local eclectic restaurants that move into our neighborhood, the more unbelievable restaurants will call the 201 their home!

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The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Chatni

I occasionally get asked why I am so passionate about the food that I eat. This question usually follows a zealous discussion or argument if you ask my wife, about all things foodie. I explain to my inquisitors that my passion may originate from the food that I ingest, but it is actually the unique cultural experience of the meal that fuels my creativity and produces my hunger to explore cuisine on a global scale. This explanation usually provokes some chuckling and some skeptical glaring from my comrades and cohorts. You see, to some of them, eating is a necessity of life as opposed to a necessity of living.

Not every meal I eat is a lavish celebration of artistic culinary ethos; I don’t have that kind of scratch. However, because I am lacking the resources to be a true elite gastronomic adventurer, I attempt to locate restaurants that are situated in close proximity to where I rest my rump that can take me on an epicurean exploration, one forkful of awesomeness at a time. These extraordinary eateries can be somewhat hard to find, but are well worth the quest if you can’t afford to visit Bangkok for Pad Thai, Hanoi for Pho, Moscow for Borscht, or Mumbai for Curry.

So, instead of boarding my private jet, I hopped into my 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and drove down Rt. 46 West taking in all the breathtaking scenery that Clifton, New Jersey has to offer. Clifton, however was not my destination, my goal was a town that is rapidly becoming a foodie haven in Northern New Jersey, Montclair. Brimming with restaurants, cafés, gastropubs, and hookah bars. If I was going to find an eatery that was going to teleport me to distant land using the power of gastronomy, this was definitely the town.

Kat and I turned down Bloomfield Ave. and began our search for the rare parking spot on the main drag. Have no fear, there are plenty of spots off the strip at the ample municipal parking lots that litter Montclair, but when you get that perfect spot downtown, in any city, you feel like you won something. As we were approaching our journey’s end, we almost gave up on locating the golden space, but like kismet, a vehicle pulled out right in front of the restaurant we were headed to and not to toot my own horn, but I parallel parked serendipity, yea we name our cars, like a boss!

 Chatni Patio

The restaurant that brought us to this Foodie Mecca is none other than Chatni, located at 381 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ. Chatni is an Indian restaurant that is not only in the heart of downtown Montclair, but also offers a large outdoor patio perfect for dining alfresco. Furthermore, to make this eatery even more alluring, Chatni is also B.Y.O.B which always makes this Blue Collar Foodie smile larger than the Cheshire Cat in the midst of mischief.

With a bomber of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, Double IPA in hand, we entered Chatni and were welcomed by the smiling hostess that offered us the option of sitting inside the beautiful dining room or venturing outside to the spacious courtyard. Kat and I debated this decision for a little bit because the dining room area was very inviting and looked extremely comfortable.   Ultimately, we decided to eat outside because not only was it the perfect night for an outdoor meal, but also because my food photographs come out so much better when being kissed by the setting sun.

Once we were seated, our waiter brought us two pint glasses for our delicious liquid appetizer, two glasses of refreshing water, and our menus. While I twisted the cage from the cork in the bottle, Kat opened the menu and let out an exclamation that I cannot repeat on this site, we are a family site after all, aren’t we? Wait a minute; that does not sound right at all. Never mind that. She said, “Holy Shit, there are a lot of choices.” After a quick glance around our table to ensure the lack of impressionable minds, I filled our glasses and took my own gander at the menu.

I soon realized that Kat was right and her choice of language was not unprovoked. We hemmed and hawed, sipped and swallowed, and discussed and deliberated for quite some time until we had hammered out the best possible foodprint we could use to fully experience our Indian food expedition.

If you have ever eaten Indian food before, you should know that it lends itself to plate sharing or family style eating, so this is exactly what Kat and I decided to do. To inspire our appetites, we decided to order the Fresh from the Garden Salad. Once the spark of hunger was glowing within our bellies, we thought two entrees would quell our craving. I ordered the Boti Saagwala with Lamb and Kat decided upon the Chicken Curry. As with any Indian food that I partake in, I had to order some garlic Naan as well.

To add to the variety that Chatni offers, each entrée can be served at a mild, medium, or hot spice level. We chose medium because we are always somewhat intimated of hot when that adjective is used to describe non-American cuisine.

Chatni Papadum bread

Chatni Papadum bread

Shortly after we ordered, our waiter arrived at our table with a basket of Papadum bread and a lovely triplet of sauces. If you follow this blog at all you know I am a sucker for sauces, and these fine specimens were each better than the last. Kat and I sat back in our chairs, embraced the long awaited spring air, soaked in the superb atmosphere exuding from Chatni’s patio, and devoured this crispy-crunchy bread-like cracker dipped in a trio of awesome… Wait for it…Sauce!

Chatni Salad

Garden Fresh Salad

Within minutes, our salad arrived, and it was dressed to impress. More often than not, when I order a salad these days, they are over dressed and end up being a soggy mass of green gelatinous goo. Not this salad though, it was perfectly dressed and with the addition of the lemon wedge, that it was served with, it tasted phenomenal. Not only was the array of vegetables crunchy and fresh, the portion size was just right for the two of us to start our eating engines.

With our appetizers merely a recent memory, the main event was on the horizon. I wish I could transfer the feeling that I get before a feast to the aforementioned inquisitors, because then they would never ask that silly question again. The combination of anticipation, expectation, and realization that accompanies eating innovative and stimulating food for me is only second to actually traveling to the distant lands that this food originates from.

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

The first entrée we dove into was the Chicken Curry, described as a traditional Indian dish cooked in savory tomato and onion sauce with the blend of Indian spices. With a layer of rice on our plates, we divvied up this thick and rich concoction that smelled as if it came from the land of Brahma, Ganesh, and Vishnu. This savory and somewhat spicy dish had immense flavor without kicking you in your, you- know-whats with heat. The chicken that was swimming in this delicious vat of yummy was fork tender and full of amazing.

Chatni Garlic Naan

Chatni Garlic Naan

As I was relishing in the rays of awesomeness that were emanating from the Chicken Curry and bouncing off my taste buds, I noticed the Garlic Naan was sitting on the table looking lonely, delicious and lonely, but lonely none the less. I reached for this appetizing slightly crispy disc of doughy garlic-ness and tore a small piece off, and dipped it right into the Curry. To bastardize the late great Jerry Lee Lewis, “Goodness, gracious, great balls of hot damn!” If the Curry was not tasty enough, the addition of the Garlic Naan as a garlicky canvas put this dish over the top.

Lamb Boti Saagwala

Lamb Boti Saagwala

Next up was the Lamb Boti Saagwala, which was described as tandoori baked lamb cooked with lightly spiced spinach in a cream sauce. I did not think the Chicken Curry could be out matched, I thought perhaps we had chosen the wrong one to eat first and everything else would pale in comparison. I was wrong! This dish was equally as spectacular! The sauce was well spiced but not over powering and the lamb was so succulent and juicy that at a point I questioned if Chatni had a chef in the kitchen or a sorcerer. Once again the Garlic Naan dipped into the sauce only added to the wonderfulness of this dish.

Chatni Meal

Chatni Meal

I know in some cultures cleaning ones plate can be construed as rude, but I could not think of wasting even a morsel of this fantastic fare, so Kat and I threw caution to wind and did not even google the etiquette before virtually licking our plates clean. I don’t want you to think that the portions were small or that we were still hunger which caused us to eat every speck of food that was presented to us either, we were full and content, yet we could not bear witness to this food failing to reach its ultimate potential of being eaten.

Gulab Jamun

Gulab Jamun

Even though we were satisfied, we simply could not say no to dessert. We opted to try something new and ordered the Gulab Jamun, which was described as a light pastry made of dry milk served in sweet syrup.   We were unsure what to expect but if the previous courses were any indication, we knew it was going to good. We were right! Imagine a lighter, not as sweet, zeppole swimming in a delectable simple syrup.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

To those of you who have ever been questioned about your foodie infatuation, I suggest that you forego attempting to argue with your interrogator, and merely invite them out to a restaurant such as Chatni. In a world saturated with places to eat, Chatni and its small group of equally astounding restaurants truly transport you to a far off land where burgers and pizza are not the only things you can order. Hope to see you there soon!

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Taco Santo Cricket Chips

One Small Bite for Me, One Giant Leap for My Foodie Street Cred

I am not the type of person who believes in fate. You see, I feel that the rudimentary idea of fate makes people lackadaisical and unmotivated. If I thought that no matter how hard I pushed myself I would end up in the same place in the end, I probably would not burn the candle at both ends and wake up each and every morning physically and mentally sore, ready and willing to fight the day once again. I prefer the word consequence to that of fate, kismet, or destiny. The term, consequence, has a negative connotation for many, but for me it merely means the reward or punishment for an action that you committed, thus taking back the ownership and responsibility for one’s daily decisions.

Sure, sometimes you must take accountability for the monumental fuck up that occurred seconds after you put your big boy pants on and made a choice, but conversely you also get to claim your achievements, with a big fat smile and a specific finger held high toward everyone who doubted you. This feeling of accomplishment is why I battle through each day and strive to be the best at everything I do, even if sometimes I fall flat on my face.

I am sorry for the philosophical tangent, have no fear, I did not change my blog to The Blue Collar Buddha, although… (The Blue Collar Buddha is now a registered trademark of the Blue Collar Foodie, and other such legal mumbo jumbo so no one can steal my slightly catchy and pretty damn silly idea.) As I was saying before I went on a tangent from apologizing about my tangent, this theoretical debate about destiny and consequence is one that I think about a lot. I want to be the logical, scientific, type that never, not once falls down the rabbit hole, that is believing in fate, however sometimes I can’t help but think, “Was this supposed to happen?”

I had one of these occasions back in February when I was writing an article for this very blog about a restaurant that I had visited. I love words, as you can see from my verbose posts, but I mean, I love words like Tebow adores Jesus. (Yea that was a Tebow reference, it is a throwback joke, if it is good enough for your Facebook feed on Thursdays, it is good enough for my blog, deal with it!) I ain’t talking about just the same mundane words that anyone can spew forth from their talking hole either, I want, no I crave, a diversity of linguistic linguine. Unfortunately, I spell like a baboon clutching a crayon, so I am constantly searching the googles for the proper spelling of words that I mangle so much, even the fine folks in the spelling department at Microsoft can’t decipher what the hell word I just typed. The word I was forced to hurl into the Googles on this particular day was Gastronaut, and the results that I got were foodie life altering.

Gastronauts_LOGO

I stumbled upon a website for an adventure eating club known as The Gastronauts, and they just happen to convene in the greatest city on the planet, NYC! I immediately abandoned my writing task and scoured their webpage to learn more about this group. What I found made me instantly get a food-on that lasted long enough that if it was produced by taking a small blue pill, I would have had to go to the hospital.

The Gastronauts is an eating club that was founded by Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker back in 2006 when they organized a small get together in Chinatown. Their vision was to allow people to gather at one location and enjoy the outlandish and authentic food that New York City has to offer.   We are not talking about disgusting food either, but rather somewhat eccentric food that is out of the normal American Cuisine comfort zone.

Curtiss and Ben’s small gatherings rapidly began to develop into something that was bigger than they expected. Soon enough they found themselves inundated with press requests and applications to join their now growing club of adventure eaters.   Today, The Gastronauts boast more than 1,300 members and are the largest club of this kind in the world.

The moment I followed the link to the Gastronauts site I knew I had a new goal in my foodie life, and that was to become a member of THE GASTRONAUTS! Lucky for me there was an application link on the homepage. Since this is a slightly exclusive club, their application process is not as easy as getting a Facebook page, one must put actual thought into applying to be a Gastronaut.

I put my writing hat back on and clicked and clacked at the keys like a chicken hopped up on Vitamin C and Cocaine. When I finished my application, I read it and reread it, edited it and reedited it. I wanted to make sure that it was perfect. I did not want to be rejected!

I was rejected… Within minutes of hitting the send button, I received a prewritten robotic message that stated that The Gastronauts exceeded their maximum limit of foodie rocketeers and were not accepting new members at this time. This news saddened me deeply, sadder than all these dogs in this video.

My sorrow however was only short lived, because several days later I received a follow-up email from the ‘Nauts. This time, the message contained wonderful news. Apparently, they reviewed my application, and I was accepted into the foodie cult of my dreams! Furthermore, there was an upcoming dinner in late February that I could attend thanks to my new status in the Gastronauts!   I have to say, I think I might have squeaked a little bit like these sloths when I read the news.

With my new credentials in hand, errrr, phone, I did what every 30 something year old American would do, I immediately posted about my triumph on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. I not only posted this foodtastic news to boast, although it was my primary reason, I also posted this to see if there was any interest from my friends in joining me on my first Gastronautic adventure.

You would be surprised how hard it is to find people that want to volunteer for an adventure dinner at an undisclosed location, that costs somewhere between $65.00 and $75.00 without seeing a menu, knowing that the food could potentially make them rethink the possibility of becoming vegan.   Fortunately, I have at least one friend that did not lose his testicles in the war, and he was on board with only a few questions asked. As soon as he agreed to accompany me to this experience, I bought two tickets before he could change his mind.

Taco Santo

Taco Santo here we come!

A few days before my first Gastronaut event, I received an email which contained the location, time, and price of this affair.  I have to admit, the clandestine, somewhat secret agent like aspect of this dining club only adds to their allure. The menu for this epicurean escapade was also attached to this email and it looked nothing short of Epic.

Menu line

A Dinner at Taco Santo

Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje
Homemade tortillas and chips
Mashed avocados topped with roasted crickets and guaje seeds

Stewed cow stomach menudo

Tacos Surtidos:
Goat head
Cow tongue
Pig skin
Assorted organ meats

And lots and lots of:
Micheladas
Pitchers of Beer
Flight of Five Mezcals

 Menu line

On the day of the event my comrade and I embarked on our train ride from New Jersey to Brooklyn with a few road sodas in hand in preparation of the drinking and eating that was soon to commence. We traversed the rivers that separate New Jersey and Brooklyn like Lewis and Clark and arrived at Taco Santo, located at 669 Union St, Brooklyn, NY with plenty of time to spare.

Skull Lights

Skull Light, Skull Bright, First Skull I Have Seen Tonight!

As we entered the venue, I noticed the decor immediately, shortly followed by the astonishing smell that was wafting throughout the quaint eatery. The Gastronauts had procured the entire restaurant for this event so we were asked for our credentials, again I was happy to show them off, and shortly after we were seated, the evening began.

Micheladas

Micheladas, making bad beer taste wonderful since the 1940’s!

Right off the bat I could tell I was going to enjoy myself being a Gastronaut, considering the first item that came to the table was a Micheladas, which is basically a beer mixed with lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, and peppers and was served in a chili-salt-rimmed glass. My friends, there comes a time and a place that everyone must admit when they are wrong, and for me, that time was the moment I drank my first sip of this Micheladas. I always thought that beer was perfect, a diamond encrusted golden flower that simply was the pinnacle of excellence. The spice and delicious flavor of the concoction that rested in the bottom of my glass when mixed with beer that I normally stay away from because it is bland woke my taste buds up and delivered the perfect pre-meal slap in the face that one needs just before they eat a feast. This delightfully spicy, effervescent cocktail, was the perfect beginning to the food orgy that was about to go down!

Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje

Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje

Since this is a dining club and our table was full of food loving strangers, I took this opportunity, while we imbibed our Micheladas, to begin conversing with our table mates.   While we were waxing poetically about foodie related topics ranging from the food we have eaten to the food we were about to, the staff was busy in the kitchen preparing our first course. Guacamole con Chapulines y Guaje, which roughly translates into homemade chips, with mashed avocados topped with roasted crickets and guaje seeds, or really roughly translates into a whole big pile of awesome topped with some tasty bugs!

Taco Santo Cricket Chips

Rabbit Season! Duck Season! Rabbit Season! Bug Season?

Not only was the guacamole prepared expertly and had the perfect texture, the roasted crickets brought this already remarkable green goo to a whole other level of amaze-balls. The crunch that these bouncy bugs added harmonized nicely with the homemade chips and led to one delicious bite after another.

Mezcal

All spirits distilled from the agave plant are Mezcal, which are made in seven states throughout Mexico. Tequila, the most popular variation of Mezcal, can only be distilled from Weber blue agave.

After our table devoured the bowl of Guacamole, I guess that the fine staff at Taco Santo along with The Gastronaut administration were under the assumption that we may have become to sober while eating the delightfully fried chips, and once again went to the well to add more social lubricant to the party. This time however, they were not messing around! They dropped an inhibition destroying bomb, in the form of a Flight of Five Mezcals.

Mezcal Flight

Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon, goodnight light and the red balloon, goodnight bears, goodnight chairs, goodnight kittens, goodnight mittens,
goodnight clocks and goodnight socks, goodnight little house and goodnight mouse,
goodnight comb and goodnight brush, goodnight nobody, goodnight mush, and goodnight to the old lady whispering “hush”,goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.

Now, Tequila and I get along about as well as me and Mezcal, which is to say that we like each other about as much as Itchy loves Scratchy, but you know what they say, when in Rome…errr… Mexico … err… Brooklyn. Even though I am not usually a huge fan of these intoxicating spirits, the flight went down somewhat smoothly, and I could tell this was not Jose Cuervo I was drinking.

Tripe Soup

This Menudo is so much better than the boy band from the 70’s!

Next up in the procession was Stewed Cow Stomach Menudo, A.K.A. Tripe Soup. Most people shy away from tripe because, well they know what it is and where it came from, but to that I say, Lobster! If you only ate things that looked and sounded appetizing, your meals would consist of the same 7 ingredients over and over again. I finished every last drop of this wonderfully aromatic meat gum stew, and I am proud to say that I would do it again.

TACOS!!!!!

TACOS!!!!!

After we polished off the tripe, it was time for the Main event, the moment all of us foodies were waiting for, the TACOS!!! By this time, I have to admit, my judgment may have been slightly impaired by the flight of Mezcal, but according to my notes, “Holy Hot Damn, these bitches were straight up fanfuckingtastic.”

Another Taco Santo Taco

These Tacos bring all the Gringos to Brooklyn
And they’re like, it’s better than ours!

The Goat Head surprised me and was not only chock full of flavor but amazingly tender. However, the fact that I loved the Cow Tongue Taco was no shock at all, considering my heritage, and the fact that I feel everything tastes better when wrapped in a shell. Furthermore, each and every one of these pouches of tacoey goodness acted as a canvas to the variety of sauces Taco Santo provided, and of course, I had to try them all.

What is a Taco without some color!

What is a Taco without some color!

Just when I thought that the caliber of this meal could not get any higher, Taco Santo took me to a place that only Cheech, Chong, Shaggy, and Scooby have ever been before. I rode to this whole new level of foodie enlightenment on rocket ship while holding a Pig Skin Taco in each hand thanks to my new foodie family The Gastronauts.

Pig Skin Taco

Holy UnKosher Taco Batman!

While all of us at our table began to hit the food wall that eaters and runners know all too well, we began to slow down our masticating and began to talk to each other once more. While we were discussing the finer points of the foodie culture and finishing up our cocktails, the last plate of Tacos arrived, and I was not about to let them go to waste. A few of us, “took one for the team,” and consumed the last few Tacos which were just as good as the first.

MORE TACOS!!!!

I really could not get enough of these things!

Even though I don’t believe in fate, destiny, or kismet, I do believe I was meant to be in that room surrounded by foodies just like me, all looking to not only taste food but to experience it. Groups like The Gastronauts and visionaries like Curtiss and Ben make events like this possible and should be applauded. I highly recommend putting in your application to become a Gastronaut, and if you know me personally, let me know when you want to go, as this will most definitely not be the last event I attend! If you do plan to attend a Gastronaut event you will need to know the ‘nauts golden rule, you have to at least try to try everything they serve you. I hope to see you all in the foodie stratosphere soon!

Thanks for the great time Taco Santo!

Thanks for the great time Taco Santo!

 

Taco Santo on Urbanspoon

The Blue Collar Foodie Celebrates the Happiest Hour at Rare The Steak House

There are 24 hours in each day and a few of these hours get special titles. Some of these designations symbolize the good times while others denote the bad. For example no one likes “Rush Hour”, except for of course Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Then there is the “Witching Hour”, which I tend to use to indicate the time of night when the bars are closing and all the drunks are out on the road. And the term “afterhours” used to be fun and exciting until I got old and now the mere thought of an after hour’s club makes me want to punch my 19 year self in the face.

However, some of these distinctive hours of the day are better than bad, they are good! One of these wonderful 60 minute blocks of awesome sauce is the Lunch Hour. Tell me you don’t walk into the office on a daily basis, open up the first email out of the 100 or so that have somehow found their way into your inbox, even though you were the last one to leave the office yesterday and the first one in that morning, and begin to calculate how many seconds until the holiest of hours during your eight hour shift.

Lunch hour may be the king during the day, but let’s be honest; anything that breaks up the monotony of your work day would reign supreme.   On the other hand, there is only one period of time that millions of Americans embrace every day to wash away the contempt and disdain that their normal daily activities produce within them. This magical interval allows us to rinse the hate from within us one pleasing pint at a time and is appropriately entitled Happy Hour!

Rare The Steak House

Happy Hour is a fairytale like time that combines the ending of the work day, cheap beer, and foodie friendly appetizers all rolled up into one enchanted time frame. And, since every fairytale needs a castle, I present to you, Rare The Steak House, located at 440 Main Street, in Little Falls, NJ 07424 and their epic Happy Hour specials.

Rare is actually pretty well known for their impressive dinner menu, featuring some unbelievable cuts of meat that are wet aged for at least four weeks before being grilled to perfection and delivered to your table. They pair these remarkable slabs of yumminess with an extensive wine list, and gourmet sides such as Rare Fries Tossed with Truffle Oil and Parmesan Dust. Just one look at their menu will clue you in that Rare The Steak House knows what they are doing when it comes down to supper, but the question is, does this knowledge and execution transfer to the very the different world of entertaining the Happy Hour crowd?

The Answer to this question is very simply, YES! I know I am usually exceedingly verbose, but if something acts like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you make Duck a l’Orange, not hasenpfeffer.

Welcome to Rare

Welcome to Rare

Rare has a great setup for Happy Hour because as you walk into the establishment the bar and the dining room are separated fairly well. Nothing is worse than lifting a shot of bourbon to the sky with your co-workers while Jim from accounting wishes an S.T.D. onto your boss, only to realize that the Smith family is celebrating Grammy’s 95th birthday at the table next to you, and she chose that phrase to be the one thing she hears that night. Furthermore, Rare’s in-house music is not loud enough for you to have to scream over it, but not soft enough so you can hear Bill from Human Resources chewing his food like a cow eating a bag full of big league chew.

Happy Hour is not just about shots, beers, and wrong decisions, it is also about food. Rare has you covered here too! On our trip there, we sampled some of the offerings that grace the Happy Hour Menu at Rare. Kat and I were reasonably hungry after a long, hard day at work, so we decided to order four things off the menu and split them between the two of us. For our first round of food, we ordered the Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings paired with a Roquefort Dip and the In House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze. We of course added two specially priced beers to our order as well, because…well…Happy Hour!

Since we were ordering the Spicy Hot Wings, we ordered two beers that I thought would pair well with that dish. I suggested a Stella Artois for Kat, and I went with the Radeberger Pilsner. Both of these beers are light and crisp which are perfect to pair with the spicy wings in order to cut through the heat and remove some of the spice from the palate.

Rare Bruschetta

Rare Bruschetta

With a beer in hand and a few sips in our bellies, we were offered a plate of complimentary bruschetta and bread while we waited for our appetizers to arrive. The bruschetta was light and flavorful which meant it was an impeccable amuse-bouche to prime our appetites for the food that was being prepared in the kitchen as we watched Sports Center on the large flat screen Televisions that adorn the walls of the bar.

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Shortly after we polished off the tasty bruschetta, the food we ordered arrived at the table. The moment the wings landed in front of me, I was drawn to them like a sunset to the ocean. In my mind, Chicken Wings are the quintessential Happy Hour appetizer. The primal aspect of eating meat off the bone while your fingers get stained with the sauce of the G-ds combined with the anxiety that at any time a juicy morsel might fall from the sky, destroying your shirt and tie, creates an air of freedom because you know you could never eat these spicy gifts from the heavens in the confines of your own personal hell.

Rare’s wings did not disappoint either. They had some actual kick to them unlike many other so called “hot” wings that you find at other establishments throughout the Garden State. For some reason New Jersey seems to the home to bland wing instead of the hot wing. When paired with the slight sweetness of the maple glaze and dipped into the fire extinguishing Roquefort dip which further amplified the sweet maple flavor, these wings sang a song of wingy goodness.

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

Next up for Kat and I was the In House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze. First off, I would like to state that I should recuse myself from judging this dish, considering that I love bacon more than most people love their pets. Relax people, I love my pets more than most people love their wives, and I love my wife more than most people love themselves, so please do not send me hate mail about that comment.

For me, there is just something special about bacon, and cured pork belly gets lumped into the category of salty, cured, strips of awesomeness so therefore I, of course, thought this dish was magnificent. The real test of Rare’s Pork Belly however was to see if they could bring Kat, who secretly doesn’t think bacon is all that wonderful, to the smoky dark side. Although she won’t be buying an “I love Bacon T-shirt,” anytime soon, she did admit that she liked this dish, which is quite an accomplishment for what amounted to a really thick slice of bacon. If you do order this slab of gooey greatness, do yourself a favor and eat it from the inside out in order to save the slightly burnt crispy ends for the last two bites.

With these items eaten, Kat and I once again set our eyes on the Happy Hour Menu to choose our next victims. We decided on the Steak Sandwich with Hot Peppers and Onions and the Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw.   Since we were ordering roasted and grilled meats for this course, Kat and I decided to order some heavier beers to stand up to the robust flavors that Steak and Short Ribs bring to the table. Kat ordered a Guinness whereas I ordered the Sam Adams Winter Ale.

Our very responsive and helpful waitress brought our drinks back almost immediately and Kat and I began to discuss the finer points of our day while waiting for the food to arrive. The atmosphere at Rare lends itself to being open and being able to converse freely. The décor is not overly pretentious, but not divey and dirty either, much like Goldilocks found the Baby Bear’s digs in the acclaimed fable, Rare is just right.

Cheesesteak Sliders

Cheesesteak Sliders

When this round of food hit the table my selection of which dish to attack first was much more difficult. They both looked and smelled spectacular, so it was a hard decision, but in the end, Kat’s South Jersey-ness came out and we dove into the steak sandwich first. Not only was the steak expertly seasoned, but it was tender enough to eat it like a sandwich without pulling all the meat out with each and every bite.  Furthermore, the fries were crispy on the outside and warm and mushy on the inside, exactly how a fry should be. At $6.00, this dish was by far the best bargain on the menu considering the generous portion size of both the sandwich and the French fries.

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

After demolishing the steak sandwich, we turned our attention to the Short Rib Sliders. These two juicy patties come with Cole Slaw that was neatly packaged in a cucumber slice. This attention to detail and plate appearance separates Rare from the Hooters of the world, that prepare each plate with about as much love as Michael Vick has for dogs. Not only was the plate pretty, but the Sliders were pretty freaking amazing themselves. The patties were smothered in a delicious tangy sauce that complimented the meat flawlessly. Not to mention, the buns were obviously fresh and high quality.

If you have ever been to Rare The Steak House, you know it is not your average Happy Hour establishment, but that is what makes it great. You are not going to have to deal with a bunch of 21 year old knuckleheads acting a fool doing body shots of Fireball. Furthermore, you get gourmet food at a superb price, everything on their Happy Hour menu is $6 bucks or less! To top it off, the atmosphere is sophisticated yet amicable, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. This Blue Collar Foodie highly suggests you give Rare a shot at being your Happy Hour headquarters!

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The Blue Collar Foodie Dines at Seasons 52 in Edison, NJ

I am not usually one to venture to chain restaurants. I am more of a mom and pop shop kind of foodie that enjoys the individuality and personality that usually goes hand-in-hand with these types of small town eateries. With that said, I am not one to discriminate. I feel that every establishment no matter how vast their empire has stretched has a story to tell, and I don’t think that their success on a national level should automatically condemn them to an existence chock full of foodie condemnation.   I am the type of person that is willing to go into any and all new situations with an open mind and open stomach, and this is exactly what I did when I was invited to the soft opening of Seasons 52 located near the Menlo Park Mall, at 217 Lafayette Avenue, Edison, NJ.

Seasons 52 Glass

Some people eat to survive; I eat for entertainment and therefore I have no issues traveling to stimulate my taste buds with something new and exciting that I cannot get in my neck of the woods. In college, I routinely would jump in my car and travel two hours to eat at Denny’s or Wawa, sure it helped that my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, lived down there in might as well be Alabama, New Jersey, but the food was always the mission and seeing her was a fantastic bonus. For some, driving to Edison from Bergen County after an arduous day of work seems daunting, but for me, it is what gets me through the day. I am always planning my next meal, and the thought of this next culinary adventure keeps me going.

This particular culinary adventure consisted of joining other food writers for a wine pairing extravaganza at the Seasons 52 Chef’s Table. Being that I am the Blue Collar Foodie and not the Burgundy Bourgeoisie Bon Vivant , I don’t have too much experience with being wined and dined at the Chef’s table, but I was pretty sure it was going to be a night to remember.

Before I discuss the food portion of the night and make all of you drool uncontrollably like a bunch of Pavlovian dogs at a performance of Carol of The Bells, I would like to discuss the atmosphere at Seasons 52. When we arrived at Seasons 52, it was a cold, icy, and blustery evening, so the complimentary valet parking was greatly appreciated. Furthermore, the heated walkway to the restaurant leading to that waiting area that was adorned with a regal gas fed fireplace created the perfect warming sensation that allowed us to forget about the unforgiving weather and begin to ruminate about our upcoming meal.

Being that this was a soft opening meal that was designed to show off not only the talents of the Chef, but the restaurant as a whole, we were met by a Seasons 52 representative and given a tour of the establishment. I have to say that I was quite impressed by what Seasons 52 had going on. We were shown several private dining areas that could be used for catered events such as baby showers or birthday parties, but also lend themselves to professional lunch or dinner spaces complete with presentation paraphernalia.

Furthermore, as we walked around the restaurant and entered the bar, I noticed an actual sentient keyboardist located behind the bar that was eloquently playing the music that was being piped into the entire restaurant. Before even entering the area that would serve us our Seasons 52 approved home base for the evening, I began to realize that Seasons 52 is not your average chain restaurant, and I had a sneaking suspicion I would not be eating Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers, Extreme Fajitas.

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

After are brief jaunt around the restaurant, we were escorted into the room that houses the Chef’s Table, which overlooks the kitchen area. The décor matched the entire restaurant and which was to be soothing, yet still modern and sophisticated. The piece de resistance of the room was the mural created entirely of spices that are used by the chefs at Seasons 52. Not only did this food art look amazing but the aromatics that wafted from it added to the lovely ambience of this secluded foodie play ground that was the setting for our evening.

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

After a brief introduction and some small talk, our first course arrived at the table.  Seasons 52’s first offering was a terrific twosome of flatbreads that were expertly cooked. The flatbreads that we were served were described as Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken featuring fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, and arugula and a Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese featuring cremini mushrooms, spinach, and caramelized onions.

Both flatbreads had just the right amount of crunch to give them the proper structural integrity but not that prison shanking crunch that we have all experienced after eating a spoonful of the Captain that was not sufficiently drowned in milk. The flavor was surprisingly delicate, with precisely the amount of spice as to not overpower the dish but to add a harmonious balance in each bite. To add to this course, the wine that accompanied it was spot on. The sweetness of the grapes paired well with the hint of heat, while the wine itself was not overbearing as to wash away the welcomed tingle.

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

With our palates alive and bustling with the flavor of the Flatbreads that served as the first course of this lovely foodie event, we all moved onto our second course. This second offering was an Amuse Bouche that paired fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish. This portion of the meal was a wonderful palate cleanser, while still having enough flavor to be memorable in its own right.

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

Next up was a Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino that shared a cedar plank and to be honest the spot light, with a Lemongrass Grilled Sea Scallop. Both of these wonderfully prepared sea dwelling morsels of tastiness were served to us with a side of yellow beets, asparagus, and carrots. In my opinion, and since I am writing this thing it is the only one that matters, #onlyslightlyjerky, this dish took best in show honors. The combination of the beautiful presentation, intoxicating aroma, and simply divine taste made this contribution to our meal the clear cut winner of this Seasons 52 food orgy.

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and Gorgonzola

As our stomachs began to fill, we were delighted to see the next dish was a salad course. We are not talking your average pizza place salad, full of left over toppings they could not sell yesterday. I am talking about a gourmet salad that combined Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola sprinkled with a sherry walnut vinaigrette. I will give you a second to go re read that sentence so you can take in all the awesomeness that is contained within this salad. The fresh and earthy spinach paired flawlessly with the pungent gorgonzola cheese, while the walnuts and the pears added texture while dancing with the vinaigrette as if it was choreographed by the likes of Jerome Robbins.   (Just so you all know, until today I had no idea who Jerome Robbins was. That is why you got to love the internets, making uninformed people look smart since 1969!)

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

After we all devoured the salad course, we then were brought a strikingly prepared Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli topped with harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, and a roasted onion jus. The brightness of this dish could not be fully captured by my point and shoot camera, but I assure you it was damn near radiating off the plate, just beckoning to be eaten. I, of course, obliged and found myself in wandering the plains of flavor country with each bite.

Being that everyone at this table was some type of foodie in one way, shape, or form, none of us wanted to throw in the towel before completing this lavish meal. We have trained for this you see, we are not sprinters, we are marathon runners that have hit countless walls in the past, so we bore down and welcomed the next course with open mouths.

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

This dish united a grilled Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail to form a foodie take on the age- old classic surf and turf. To enhance this already spectacular plate, the chef decided to team this juggernaut of a dish up with Brussels Sprouts and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes.   I am the type of person that saves the best bite for last, this was the type of meal that I had a hard time trying to figure out which bite to save. As I was eating, I felt the pressure of the decision weighing on me, much like when you say you are ready to order at a restaurant but you are not, and everyone is ordering, and your turn is coming but you can’t concentrate because everything that everyone else is ordering sounds so good. The waitress is coming ever so close to asking you that faithful question, “and you sir?,” yet you still have no idea. Want to know what I did, I cheated! I took a little piece of each scrumptious segment of this meal and made it all my last bite. To quote a very wise man I once knew, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying!”

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, our server Jason, who I will get back to, brought us a collection of Seasons 52’s award winning Mini Indulgences. You may not know this but dessert is my crack rock. I have a sweet tooth that would make most children cringe, so when this flight of awesome sauce hit the table I could barely contain myself. Each description of these sugary shot glasses of amazeballs made me yearn to eat every last one of them and leave none for the rest of my group. I was able to contain myself and calm the beast within just enough to only gobble down two of them and retain some of my dignity.   They were worth every single stinking calorie they contained times two! Yea, that is how good they were, trust me, I am an addict!

This Chef’s Table tasting is not only for food writers and bloggers; you too can experience this foodtastic event by contacting the Seasons 52 group dining liaison and booking this table. Now, sadly you will not have the pleasure of being captivated by the outstanding narration and delightful yarn spinning of the talented Jason from Georgia. Jason was our server during this gourmand gallivants, and he not only explained each dish but also described the wine for the pairings while adding amusing anecdotes along the way. You may be able to embark on one of these journeys with Jason, but you can take this trip with a server that was trained by him.

Cheers

Cheers

If you can’t get to Seasons 52 for the Chef’s tasting most of the items that I mentioned in this post can also be found on their regular dinner or lunch menu. I highly recommend taking a drive down to Edison, NJ and check out what all chain restaurants should be doing!

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Date Night at Tierney’s Copperhouse FTW!

To me the phrase “back in the day” used to be something that old people said when they were talking about 8-tracks, Blockbuster Video Stores, and a world without craft beer, ::Gasp:: Relax, craft beer is here now, and most likely will remain for a reasonably long time, so there is no reason to hyperventilate.   Nowadays though I find myself using that idiom quite often, in fact I am about to use it right now. Ready, wait for it… wait for it…

Back in the day, when I was in high school, a double date meant a trip to the mall in my mom’s mini-van with my girlfriend and another couple. We ate the most economical food we could find at the food court, smoked cigarettes outside entrance 1 while foot bagging, and went to the movies to watch whatever sappy rom-com was starring John Cusack. A little less father back in the day, during our college years our double dates consisted of us trying to cook a gourmet meal with Ramen noodles, a half bag of stale stolen dining hall cereal, and 1 ¼ boxes of wine, while we waited for a deep intellectual movie to download on Napster, so we could watch it and discuss why the world was broken.

Unlike the disgruntled old timers that believe that everything was better back in their day, I have no delusions about what era that I enjoy the most. Sure I occasionally long for the days when I was in High School and my biggest problem was the pimple on my nose and the upcoming football game. Furthermore, who doesn’t miss their college days where they worked part-time at a retail job so they could afford a few 30 racks of PBR and a carton of Marlboros for the week while they spent the rest of their time waxing poetic about the fascist government’s capitalistic ways?

Sure some aspects of those archaic times were decent, but as explained above a double date was not one of them. Today, as Mikey from the Goonies would say, it is our time! Sure date nights might take a little extra planning now in order to work around everyone’s crazy schedule, but they are leaps and bounds above their predecessors. A normal double date for Kat and I consists of a pre-game get together at someone’s house to have a craft beer or two to start night off, then we travel to a restaurant that would make my college-self die from a foodgasm, followed by a night at The Twisted Elm or some such Gastro Pub that serves craft beer that would make Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch give each other atomic wedgies for daring to allow the swill that they once canned to be in the same category of alcoholic beverage.

Tierneys Copperhouse

Recently, Kat and I were able to find an open Saturday evening that somehow worked for not only us but another foodie couple that we often dine with, Kristen and Brian. After some hemming, hawing, and flip-flopping at a rate that has not ever been seen outside of Washington D.C., we all decided that the epicurean aspect of our date night would take us to Tierney’s Copperhouse located at 4 Little Falls Road in Fairfield, NJ 07004. Might I add, that this was a better decision than anyone has made in our government since the Thirteen Colonies declared our independence.Tierney's CopperhouseThe night we chose to meet for dinner, Mother Nature decided to test our testicular fortitude and dropped a few inches of snow on the ground a few hours before we were supposed to arrive. Well Mother Nature apparently does not understand that we take our food quite seriously, and we are from New Jersey, not Atlanta, so it was going to take a Tony Montana sized mountain of white powdery stuff to cancel our plans!

Tierney's CopperhouseAfter sloshing and sliding our way to Tierney’s, we rushed inside to gain shelter from the blustery conditions. It may have been colder than Hoth outside but as soon as we entered the Copperhouse, the chill of the evening was merely a memory as we were greeted by a smiling hostess who brought us to our table. To add to the inviting warmth, there were two roaring fireplaces creating not only the perfect contrasting temperature but setting a wonderful mood for the guests of Tierney’s Copperhouse.

Slowly but surely the cold melted from our bodies as the snow melted from our shoes and within seconds of sitting down we were warm and ready to enjoy our stay. We were greeted at our table and handed the menus for the evening. After welcoming us once again, he asked if we would like to order drinks, which of course was answered with a resounding YES. Which may have been too loud, but it was snowing, we were cold (ish), and it had been a long day!

Upon inspection of the adult beverage section of the menu, I could tell right away that Tierney’s Copperhouse knew that Gastronauts like the Beastie Boys like their girls, CRAFTY! (See what I did there?) I am not only talking about their beer selection either, I am talking about their imaginative signature cocktails and their extensive wine list. Fear not my Oenophobic friends, the waiter will guide you towards a wine of your liking, all you need to do is click your heels together three times and say…, wait, that is not right, just ask; they will help.

With our drink orders in, we turned our attention to the most vital part of the evening, the ordering of our fare. Due to the diversity of the menu, we began discussing all the different options that tickled our fancy.  When our drinks arrived, our waiter informed us of the specials which he stated rotate on a weekly basis and told us that whenever possible Tierney’s uses locally sourced organic ingredients in the preparation of their food. This information was greatly appreciated, although the addition of the specials only added to the challenge of choosing a meal.

As we took the first sip of our well-deserved, delicious, beverages, we dove deeper into the menu which brought on some discussion about the possible options of both our main courses and the shared appetizer.   With our minds made up and our bellies growling, we signaled the waiter that we were ready and rattled off an order that would make Charles Darwin jealous. That’s right Mr. Darwin was a foodie, and he would have loved our meal; therefore by extension, Mr. Blue Footed Booby himself would like the hell out of Tierney’s Copperhouse on Facebook! By the way, you should too!

Pot Roast NachoAfter some light conversation and more than a few chuckles, our first course arrived at the table. We had decided on the Tierney’s Copperhouse exclusive Pot Roast Nachos.   These, flavorful, house made tortilla chips were topped with a generous portion of Pot Roast, roasted corn salsa, and a tangy chipotle aioli. The best part was that they were individual chips stacked with the perfect helping of yumminess. As a minor germaphobe, sharing a plate of nachos with even good friends makes me slightly uncomfortable and not to mention that most nacho appetizers are large enough to feed a small village, and therefore ruin anyone’s appetite before their meal even arrives. So, I was happily surprised when these single serving sized nachos arrived, and then I went from surprised to in love with one bite. These delectable, crunchy, zesty, and flat out scrumptious nachos are a must-try for anyone who comes to the Copperhouse.

Rack of LambShortly after the last bite of my nacho that I will have slightly inappropriate dreams about in the future, our entrees arrived at the table.  After a pretty serious internal debate, I decided on the rack of lamb with horseradish mashed potatoes, cipollini onions, topped off with a balsamic reduction.   The smell of this dish was intoxicating, and only quelled by the taste. Each component of this dish was extremely appetizing by itself, but when combined, they created a culinary Balrog that only Chef Gandalf could defeat.

Eggplant Special Kat decided that ordering a special was the way to go and chose the Stuffed Eggplant, which was bursting with zucchini, squash, fresh mozzarella, and topped off with a roasted red pepper coulis. This dish so artistically plated that Kat did not want to eat it at first, in order to preserve its beauty. However once she tasted it, she threw caution to the wind and devoured every last morsel. If the Mona Lisa tasted as good as this dish, it would not be hanging in the Louvre, it would be in Leonardo da Vinci’s belly!

Copperhouse Steak Brian has sunk his teeth into a Tierney’s steak once before, so he knew just how amazing they were before we embarked on this culinary escapade, and although several items on the menu tempted him, he could not force himself to stray. I understood why, I too have fallen under the spell of the Tierney’s meaty goodness, and so his selection of the 14 oz Filet on the Bone was no surprise. Like always, this steak was flawlessly prepared as he requested and joined with luscious mashed potatoes and vegetables. Take my advice, if you go to Tierney’s only once in your life, make sure that you at least try a small slice of this heaven. I assure you if you do, it will not be the last time you are within the confines of the Copperhouse.

CopperHouse BurgerLast, but certainly not least Kristen opted to dine on the Tierney’s Burger which is paired with Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions before being placed on a Kaiser roll. I know it sounds slightly silly to go to a restaurant such as Tierney’s and order a run of the mill hamburger, but truth be told, Tierney’s is actually very well known for their hamburger. Furthermore, I feel that hamburgers are viewed undeservedly as the red headed step child of the meat community. These patties of deliciousness are only looked down upon because no one ever orders them at a restaurant such as Tierney’s that will do them justice. I feel we should look at Kristen as a pioneer of food rights and recognize that she was willing to stand up for the lowly hamburger when the McDonald’s of the world are trying to beat them down, one dry dollar menu hockey puck at a time. One day Kristen, Hamburgers everywhere will rejoice in song on your birthday, shortly before being consumed by foodies all across this planet!

Copperhouse Bacon DessertWe all thoroughly enjoyed our meals and since it was date night we decided to tempt ourselves by taking a gander at the dessert menu. The first item on the menu, the Apple Doughnut, described as two apple doughnuts covered in a maple bacon glaze served with vanilla ice cream, made it impossible to say no.   So we followed the age old phrase, “go big or go home,” and ordered one of those paired with the Peanut Butter Souffle which was described as infused chocolate cake oozing with house made peanut butter served with vanilla ice cream.

Tierney’s Copperhouse CakeI don’t know which one of these desserts was better, but I can tell you that my life got a little better after I ate them. The Apple Doughnut had chunks of smokey bacon sitting on top the fresh made doughy delight which was chock full of actual apple bits. I thought there was no way that any sweat treat could possibly contend with this champion of desserts, but then the Peanut Butter Souffle kicked me square in the taste buds with its salty and sweet combination of gooey yumminess. I am sure their other desserts are good, but I think we made the right choice here, calorie counting be damned!

If you read the article above or even just looked at the food porn that I provided, you can tell that Tierney’s Copperhouse is slinging slamming modern American food to its customers on a daily basis. I highly recommend that you venture to this relatively new, established in 2012, eatery and let your inner foodie go wild.

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