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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmmmmmmmm Beer!

She’s Crafty and just my type!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohhhh Crispy Carrot Threads You My Only Friend!

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

Fire it up!

Fire it up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!

Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!

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

Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!

Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!

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

Sweet, Sweet Porky Goodness!

Sweet-Sweet Porky Goodness!

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

Chef Eric's Decadent Masterpiece

Chef Eric’s Decadent Masterpiece

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

Beautiful and Edible

Beautiful and Edible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Evolution Of Morris Tap & Grill

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

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

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

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

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill

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

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

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

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

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

Wasabi, Truffle, and BBQ Oh MY!

Wasabi, Truffle Butter, and BBQ Oh MY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Smoke ’em if you got ’em!

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

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

Mmmmmmm Buttery!

Mmmmmmm Buttery!

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

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

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

I could marry this dish!

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

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

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

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

So sweet and yummy!

So sweet and yummy!

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

MTG Mirepoix

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

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

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

Morris Tap and Grill on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

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

Pizza Pi from The Twisted Elm

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

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

Blaze3.14

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

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

Blaze Pizza Topping Bar

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

10299759_412003035627966_614392422_n

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

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

Blaze Pizza on Urbanspoon

The Ultimate 2015 NYC Restaurant Week Survival Guide

NYC Restaurant Week

Well, it is that time of year again folks. Old man winter is being his normal douchebag self and the rich folk are hibernating or vacationing. We can all put on our Grumpy Cat sweat shirts, hunker down in our houses, and hate them as hard as Yankee fans will soon hate A-Roid or we can embrace one of the few perks that accompanies this frigid season.

Since this is a food blog it should be quite obvious that I am referring to the bi-annual event known as Restaurant Week. From February 16, 2015 until March 6, 2015 we, the commoners, can dine like royalty for a fraction of the normal damage that these heavy-weight gastronomic contenders would normally do to our wallets.

Instead of bills that are larger than the New York Mets budget for 2015, if you visit one of the 340 restaurants that are participating in Restaurant Week this year (The most ever by the way), you will only pay $25.00 for Lunch and $38.00 for Dinner. To make things even better, those prices include an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert.

As with everything else in life, you should always be wary of deals that sound too good to be true, and there are a few things one should know before you venture out to the great city of Gotham, in search of foodie gold.

1: Friends Don’t Let Friends Binge Drink and Dine

This ain’t college anymore Jockey Mc. FratPants. At this fine establishments the hooch is expensive and the fare is skillfully seasoned. If you still answer to a nickname such as Drunk Tom, The Slutbuster, or Senor Tequila, this event may not be for you.

Furthermore, if you are from New Jersey you are probably used to BYOB establishments that help alleviate the cost of dining out at most local restaurants. In New York, however, liquor licenses are easier to get than the internet clap from a torrent file. The liquor bill at these eateries can quickly and inadvertently surpass the price of the food, thus negating the savings you expected. I suggest meeting your party at a local bar in the neighborhood for a little pregame, drinking a moderately priced wine with your meal, and then finding an inexpensive night cap location before heading out of the city.

2: Do Your Homework

With 340 restaurants to choose from, follow the phrase, “know before you go.” A restaurant that is participating in Restaurant Week but does not display a menu on their website is not an automatic no, but it does raise a red flag. Think of your Tinder account here guys, would you meet that random horny cougar without at least seeing her slightly blurry, ten year old photo that was taken from an angle that only the Hubble telescope could actually capture. In other words, do your research and you will not be disappointed.

3: Suit-Up…Maybe

A lot of these establishments have a dress code and these rules are strictly enforced. You are not going to White Castle after a Tigerman show at the Clash Bar. Always check the website of the eatery of your choosing to find out what the required level of dress is for both males and females. I love jeans and a t-shirt, but nothing is worse than arriving at one of these restaurants with your lovely significant other in tow and being turned away at the door because you are rocking the wrong gear.

4: Arrive On Time

Most of the participating restaurants add extra tables and bring on additional servers for this epic event because they are booked solid for the entire duration of Restaurant Week. This means if you are late for your reservation they will give your table away without a second thought. The excuses that normally work at most eateries, simply won’t fly. Telling a New Yorker you got stuck in traffic will get you as much sympathy as telling your girlfriend that you cheated on her because you were drunk, and you thought you were playing the bongos on her ass. Do yourself a favor and get a late reservation so your on-time arrival is guaranteed and you can get your pregame on properly.

5: Eat Outside Your Comfort Zone

Restaurant Week is all about expanding your culinary aptitude and foodie street cred. This is not the time to order a safe meal that you can acquire at any old eatery. In other words go big or don’t go at all. I assure you, everything you eat at these restaurants is going to taste good, so why not try the grilled octopus instead of the Caesar salad or perhaps order the Foie Gras as opposed to the French Onion Soup. Your Instagram followers and your belly will thank you.

Since the number of restaurants that are involved in Restaurant Week can be slightly intimidating, I have decided to do you a solid. I have scoured through this year’s participants and have chosen what I consider to be the best of the best. The following are The Blue Collar Foodie’s Top Picks for each most of the culinary styles that appear on this massive list. This is by no means an all inclusive list and if you are a seasoned NYCRW veteran, I urge you to explore the directory on your own. However, if you are new to this game these are a few of the restaurants that will impress even the most persnickety epicurean.

American New

Park Avenue Winter

Park Avenue WinterWhere:

360 Park Ave. South (Park Av So/26 St)

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-644-1900

http://www.parkavenyc.com

Why:

This trendy eatery changes its name, design, and menu along with the seasons. Even if you were to eat at this spot four times a year, you would never get bored.

What:

Appetizer: Steak Tartare Rossini Foie Gras & Black Truffle ($5 supplement)

Entrée: Everything-Crusted Branzino with Smoked Cream Cheese and Pickled Onions

Dessert: Salted Pistachio Sundae with Orange Marmalade and Dark Chocolate Caramel

American Traditional

21 Club

21 ClubWhere:

21 West 52nd Street

New York, NY 10019

(212) 582-7200

http://www.21club.com/

Why:

Once a Pimp Ass speakeasy, this now upscale restaurant is not only celebrated but it is a celebrity favorite as well. If you are a TMZ fan, this one is for you. Some of the A-listers that have dined at this spot include; Harrison Ford, Bill Fucking Murray, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bo Jackson, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank Sinatra. Hell, the last time I ate at the 21 we were sitting two tables away from Geraldo Rivera and his super stashe.

*DRESS CODE: No jeans or sneakers. Jackets are necessary for gentlemen.

What:

Appetizer: Head-On Maya Prawn – Tomato Eggplant Chutney, Picholine Olives, Lemon Preserve, Chili Oil

Entrée: Lamb Bolognese – Garganelli Pasta, Roasted Tomatoes, Basil, Chili Flakes, Manchego

Dessert: Caramel Banana Sundae – Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, Whiskey Caramel, Banana Slices

Asian Fusion

Spice Market

Spice MarketWhere:

403 W. 13th St. (13 St/9 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-675-2322

www.spicemarketnewyork.com

Why:

This Meatpacking District gem focuses on Asian inspired street food the Chef fell in love with while traveling throughout South East Asia.  

What:

Appetizer: Soy Cured Salmon with Cilantro Crème Fraiche

Entrée: Roast Pork Steamed Buns with Yuzu Pickles and Chili

Dessert: Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Pomegranate and Condensed Milk

Brazilian

Fogo de Chão Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse

Fogo de ChaoWhere:

40 W. 53rd St. (53 St/6 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-969-9980

www.fogodechao.com

Why:

Fogo de Chão is a Churrascaria. In English, that roughly translates to MEAT! Holy Hot Damn, MEAT Everywhere! With unlimited trips to the salad bar, bread and side dishes served at the table, and endless cuts of Sirloin, Leg of Lamb, Pork Sausage, Pork Ribs, Pork Loin, and Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon you better wear your buffet pants.

What:  

EVERYTHING YOU GLUTTONOUS BEAUTIFUL BASTARD!!!!

Chinese

Hakkasan New York

Hakkasan New YorkWhere:

311 W. 43rd St. (43 St/8 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10036

212-776-1818

www.hakkasan.com

Why:

It is one of only a few Restaurant Week Participants that is rocking a coveted Michelin star.

What:

Appetizer: Hakka Fried Dim Sum Platter – Sesame Prawn Toast with Foie Gras, Crispy Fried Prawn Dumpling with Plum Sauce

Entrée: Tofu, Aubergine and Shiitake Mushroom Clay Pot with Chili Black Bean Sauce

Dessert: Mango Parfait – Pink grapefruit & Szechuan Sorbet with Coconut Dacquoise

Continental
Petrossian

petrossianWhere:

182 W. 58th St. (58 St/7 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-245-2214

www.petrossian.com

Why:

If you are looking to impress, this is the spot to take that someone special. Quiet, extravagant, and romantic are adjectives that have been used to describe this French influenced foodie haven. I am usually against a large supplement cost but Petrossian is so well known for their Caviar, I suggest you shell out the extra $12 bucks and eat some serious Fish Eggs.

What:
Appetizer: Transmontanus USA farmed caviar 12 g presentation ($ 12.00 supplement)

Entrée: Pan Roasted West Coast Sturgeon with Cauliflower Ribs, Zucchini Pearls, and Stewed Eggplant

Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake

French

Benoit Restaurant & Bar

BENOIT NYCWhere:

60 W. 55th St. (55 St/6 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

646-943-7373

www.benoitny.com

Why:

Since most of us can’t jump on our G6 and float over to Paris any damn time we want, we rarely get to experience an authentic French Bistro. That is until Benoit opened its doors in 2005. The highly touted Chef Alain Ducasse is in charge of the Kitchen and each dish prepared in this classy joint illustrates his immense skill and training.

What:

Appetizer: Escargots

Entrée: Roasted Pork Loin with Creamy Polenta and Prune Sauce

Dessert: Soufflé glace a l’orange

Greek

Kefi

Kefi NYCWhere:

505 Columbus Ave. (Columbus/85)

Manhattan, NY 10024

212-873-0200

www.kefirestaurant.com

Why:

With two huge culinary names involved in this venture, Chef Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia, you know Kefi is going to deliver some serious eats. This is one of the few restaurants I will recommend without seeing the Restaurant Week Menu because that star power holds weight!

What:

Game time decision.

Indian

Junoon

junoon nycWhere:

27 W. 24th St. (24 St/5 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-490-2100

www.junoonnyc.com

Why:

Junoon means passion and after one visit to this sophisticated Indian restaurant you will understand why they named it that. Junoon is not only gorgeous but it very well may serve the best Indian Cuisine in NYC. Not to mention the fact that it is also a Michelin Star recipient.

What:

Appetizer: Murgh Bhut Jolokia – Chicken Tikka with Spaghetti Squash, Pistachio, and Ghost Chili

Entrée: Kashmiri Rogan Josh – Lamb Shank with Cashew Yogurt Gravy

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Ras Malai Terrine

Italian

Trattoria Il Mulino

Il Mulino Trattoria Where:

36 E. 20th St. (20 St/Park Av So)

Manhattan, NY 10003

212-777-8448

trattoriailmulino.com

Why:

Leaving New Jersey for an Italian joint is like exiting New York City to score a slice of Pizza. If you are however in the mood for Italian, I highly recommend this trendy Trattoria with an industrial twist. This may not look like Uncle Sal’s corner eatery; but this hip, edgy spot knocks out the classics, just like Nonna used to make.

What:

Hipsters don’t post Menus!

Japanese

Nobu Next Door

Nobu Next Door Where:

105 Hudson St. (Hudson/Franklin)

Manhattan, NY 10013

212-334-4445

www.noburestaurants.com

Why:

Much like its sister restaurant Nobu, the fare served at Next Door is world renowned and delightfully prepared. The design and environment of Next Door adds a dash of culture to the overall meal experience that is well worth the wait.  You can try to call ahead but they rarely take reservations.

What:

Appetizer: Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce

Entrée: Assorted Sushi

Dessert: Chef’s selection dessert

Korean

Bann Restaurant and Lounge

Bann NYCWhere:

350 W. 50th Street

New York, NY 10019   (between 8th & 9th Ave)

Phone: (212) 582-4446

http://www.bannrestaurant.com

Why:

You will notice that there are two Korean restaurants that landed on this list. I honestly could not decide which one of these jaw dropping spots to suggest so after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I decided to declare the battle a draw.

Bann, the first of the two, is a unique and interactive restaurant that calls upon your skills as a Chef by allowing you to cook your own meals on their smokeless tabletop grills. Of course, if you are reluctant to participate in this endeavor the actual Chef will prepare your meals for you, because you are lame. The cook your own option at Bann adds an element of fun to your evening and may even cause the members of your group to actually put their cell phones down at the table.

What:

Appetizer: Bossam Bun – Roast Pork Belly, Spicy Daikon, And Sweet Soy on Steamed Buns

Entrée: Korean Barbecue

Dessert: Carrot Cake – Asian Spiced Carrot & Yuja Pineapple Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

Gaonnuri

GaonnuriWhere:

1250 Broadway, 39th fl. (Broadway/32 St)

Manhattan, NY 10001

212-971-9045

http://www.gaonnurinyc.com/authentic_korean_restaurant_nyc/

Why:

Gaonnuri is located in a 39th floor penthouse in Koreatown and offers awe-inspiring views of the greatest city in the world. To be honest, Gaonnuri could serve  McDonald’s in a dining room like this and still make a killing.  However, they choose to serve some of the best Korean Food in the city, only adding to the appeal of this spot.

What:

Appetizer: Bossam – Braised Pork Belly with Kimchi made with Octopus, and Perilla Leaves

Entrée: Duck Breast BBQ

Dessert: Chef’s Choice

Mediterranean

Taboon

taboon NYCWhere:

773 Tenth Ave. (10 Av/53 St)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-713-0271

http://www.taboononline.com/

Why:

Taboon combines the vibrant spices of the Middle East with the alluring flavors of the Mediterranean to create innovative dishes that will awake your taste buds.   This may not be the most expensive restaurant on the list, but the food they are cooking in their wood fire oven is equal if not better to the big dogs.

What:

Appetizer: Black Tuscan Kale with Feta Cheese, Shaved Fennel, Cucumber, Apple, Sunflower Seeds, Lemon juice, Olive oil and Sumac dressing

Entrée:   Pressed Lamb Belly Moussaka with Tomato and Eggplant Puree, Fingerling Potatoes, and Kashkaval Cheese

Dessert: Silan – Vanilla Ice Cream layered with Puffed Rice and Date Syrup, sprinkled with Caramelized Pistachios & topped with shredded Halva

Mexican

Empellón Taqueria

Empellon TaqueriaWhere:

230 W. 4th St. (W 4 St/10 St)

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-367-0999

www.empellon.com

Why:

Empellón Taqueria opened their doors in 2011 with the intention of treating tacos with a high level of respect and serving them in a fun environment. They have accomplished that mission and then some. If you are a Taco lover, like my wife Kat, this is the spot for you. For all the haters that are reading this thinking, “Tacos can’t be classy,” stuff a burrito in your pie whole and check out the sick menu they are offering for Restaurant Week.

What:

Appetizer: Ceviche – Octopus, Parsnip Pumpkin Seeds, and Salsa Papanteca

Entrée: Shortrib Pastrami Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Mustard Seed Salsa.

Dessert: Milk Chocolate Flan

Pan-Latin

Yerba Buena

yerba BuenaWhere:

23 Ave. A (Av A/2 St)

Manhattan, NY 10009

212-529-2919

http://www.ybnyc.com/media/yerbabuena.html

Why:

I had a rough time choosing a Pan-Latin representative for my list because I have not visited very many of them in the city. Then I read the menu that Yerba Buena is offering for Restaurant Week and my belly had a foodgasm. I dare you to read the menu and not hit this Latin inspired eatery up… Go ahead, I will wait… Told you so!

What:

Appetizer: Empanadas de Pato – Duck Confit Tinga, Salsa Mexicana, Crema, and Queso Fresco

Entrée: Lechon – Suckling Pig Carnitas, Habanero-Orange Salsa, Cactus Salad, and Chicharron

Dessert: Tres Leches – Crema de Cajeta, Tres Leches Sauce, and Vanilla Ice Cream

Seafood

The Sea Grill

The Sea Grill NYCWhere:

19 W. 49th St. (49 St/5 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10020

212-332-7610 | fax: 212-332-7677

www.theseagrillnyc.com

Why:

The Sea Grill is another prime example of how Restaurants are a lot like Real Estate. Location, location, location! If you are looking for some relationship points, bring your beau Ice Skating at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink before walking hand in hand to this absolutely stunning seafood eatery. Watch as they Instagram the night away and each LIKE those filtered photos garner you will earn you one more cool point! You’re welcome!

What:  

Appetizer: Montauk Baby Calamari a la Plancha with Patatas Bravas and Chimichurri sauce

Entrée: Maine Monkfish ‘Osso Buco’ with Creamy Polenta and Wild Mushrooms

Dessert: Vanilla Caramel Panna Cotta with Valrhona Chocolate Sorbet

Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse Where:

261 Water St. (Water St/Peck Slip)

Manhattan, NY 10038

212-277-0020

www.markjosephsteakhouse.com

Why:

Restaurant Week is usually not the best time to visit a Steakhouse in NYC.   The truth is, if you want a slamming steak in the Big Apple you normally have to bite the bullet and pay out the nose. However, MarkJoseph Steakhouse is the exception that proves this rule. They are offering a 20 oz. sirloin or an 8 oz. Filet Mignon on their dinner menu.  Get your meat on!

What:

Appetizer: Sizzling Canadian Bacon

Entrée: Sirloin Steak 20 oz.

Dessert: Cake

Vietnamese

Le Colonial

Le ColonialWhere:

149 E. 57th St. (57 St/3 Av)

New York, NY 10022

212-752-0808

www.lecolonialnyc.com

Why:

Le Colonial was once a bustling haven for OG foodies in the NYC area and then for some reason lost its place in the culinary pantheon of Gotham. Instead of closing up shop and admitting defeat, however, this restaurant found a new Chef that seems to have set Le Colonial back on the path of Gastronomic greatness.

What:

Appetizer: Suon Nuong – Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Lemongrass and Sweet Soy

Entrée: Bun Trio – Grilled Prawns with Beef Brochettes & Cha Gio Herbed Vermicelli Salad

Dessert: Banana Tapioca Pudding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish is a dish best served cold!

Fish is a dish best served cold!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!

No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheese + Cake = Happiness

Cheese + Cake = Happiness

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

Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!

Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!

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

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

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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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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