As I press onward through this daft adventure called life, I find my palate is slowly getting more and more discerning. I am further compounding this issue by actively endeavoring to hone it like a Shun blade in a feeble attempt to become a better foodie. Due to my hobby, turned unpaid part-time job, I feel it is my duty to be able to dissect a dish mentally, and pick out even the subtlest of flavors. This process has consumed me. With every article I write, dish I cook, beer I sip, and plate I eat I fall farther down the rabbit hole, and I have now realized that I can get out.
Like a naked picture of your grandma that you find stashed in the attic in your grandfather’s army foot locker. There are things you can’t un-see… or in my situation un-taste. Since I started this blog I have sought out the best tasting food and drink that I could find, and as an unfortunate by-product my brain, belly, and taste buds have all united against me. They not only crave this inspiring flavor, but they damn well expect it.
I no longer can rock a gas station taco and chug an Old E 64, before suiting up to play a baseball game in the hot July sun. Call it getting old, call it selling out, or call it becoming refined, I have lost my love for almost as many foods as I have found over these years.
However, there is one particular food item I will never turn back on, no matter how much foie gras and Farmhouse Ale I consume. Usually, and lovingly described as lips and ass stuffed inside the small intestine of a completely different animal. This description should, but hardly ever does, scares anyone away. I am of course speaking of the pride of American cuisine, the mother F’in HOT DOG!
With that said, when a new hot dog establishment sets up shop in my neck of the woods, I begin to salivate like one of Pavlov’s puppies. My imagination begins to run wild, pondering the possibility of finding my new favorite dog. Will they fry them, boil them, or grill them. Will the cover them with chili and cheese, or will the dog bark for itself. The prospects are seemingly endless; which leads to a fixation, that becomes a hankering, which turns into a craving, and finally manifests itself as an obsession!
Welcome To The Dog House
As if my beer soaked cerebral cortex was following the Fight Club Penguin’s wacky ass recommendation, my mania caused me to slide into a momentary lapse of Hot Dog dementia. I rode this metaphorical pork fat laden slip and slide all the way to Broadway Dog House, located at 27-03 Broadway, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
Can I take your order?
From the moment I walked into Broadway Dog House, I knew I was going to love it. Memories of all the hot dog joints that I traveled to in the past gently washed over me. The smell of the fryaltor alone was enough to conjure warm fuzzy recollections of Texas sauce, family meals, homemade relish, and long Sunday drives. In short, if Broadway Dog House was on Tinder, I would swipe to the right so hard and fast that the app itself would file a restraining order on their behalf.
As I mentioned earlier, my roots are at Rutt’s, so I tend to favor dogs that have been bathed enthusiastically in sweet-sweet glistenin’ oil, as the lord intended. Luckily for me, this is an option at Broadway Dog House. However, unlike the old school joints that tend to treat boiled and fried like the dark side and the light side of the force, Broadway Dog House is all about the compromise. Meaning, that since my heathen of a wife is not on team fried goodness, she was able to order her hot dog cooked in the more traditional, albeit wrong way.
Normally, the first time visiting and establishment like this, I would keep my order very simple because I want to taste the dog itself. If an establishment uses sub-par pups, I am out. However, as I was pondering my order, one specific menu item grabbed my attention and when it was my turn to order I opened my mouth and there was nothing I could do but speak its name… The Deep Fried Bacon Dog! Kat followed the ordinary plan and requested a basic hot dog, but opted to add Broadway Dog House’s secret sauce instead of her usual ketchup. We also ordered a Chili Cheese Dog, cooked heretic style, so Kat and I could share it.
Look at that sweet-sweet beautiful bastard!
In true Hot Dog joint form, our order was ready in no time and we were able to dive into our dogs. Listen, I fully understand I am an easy mark. I am like a wide-eyed Wisconsinite walking through downtown Paris near the Eiffel Tower, when it comes down to this particular fare. With that said, because I love this shit so much, I know a good dog when I bite into one, and this my friends is a good damn dog!
Let’s discuss why, shall we. A strong hot dog is like a solid house, it all starts with the foundation. In the Hot Dog world that means good bread equals a good start. Broadway Dog House apparently knows this decree, and have chosen the perfect bun to house their delicious meat stick. The bun cannot be too large or the purveyor risks detracting from the flavor of the dog. It can’t be too small either or the weight of the dog and the toppings could compromise the bun’s structural integrity leading to what we in the business call a dog-gone tragedy. Alright, no one calls it that, but I really love puns, so freaking deal with it!
Working from the ground up, the next stop on this Hot Dog train of knowledge, is the Hot Dog itself. NOT ALL HOT DOGS ARE CREATED EQUALLY! Depending on how the dog will be prepared and what style you are going for, the choice of the dog is some pretty important shit. Since Broadway Dog House rocks two distinct styles they had to choose their dogs wisely, and once again they excelled in this category. The dogs were packed with flavor and even the one that was not fried had a solid snap to it when bit into.
The final element that must be discussed when constructing this illustrious snack is of course, the toppings. This is where the magic happens people. Assuming that one has heeded the aforementioned caveats, we should now have the perfect canvas to create a glorious meat monument. If a structurally sound, fresh bun seamlessly snuggling a high quality, properly cooked, Hot Dog, doesn’t arouse your inner Bob Ross, you may very well be dead inside. Whether, you are a simple Ketchup or Mustard type like Kat, or a balls-out topping fiend like me, there is something quite enjoyable about the customization of this amazing treat.
I digress… My diatribe about the perfect pup may be coming to an end, but I still have a bit to say about the Dog House on Broadway. I did not confirm my suspicions and I don’t want to accused by our president for being fake news; but I believe Broadway Dog House actually uses two different brands of hot dogs in an attempt to achieve hot dog nirvana. One for frying and one for the ones that are cooked wrong.
Even when they are cooked wrong they taste right!
I, of course had to steal a bite of Kat’s before she finished it and I was glad that I did. The secret sauce is very similar to Big Mac sauce, just fresher, and I assume without the crack-cocaine that is obviously put in all the food served at McDonald’s. I will admit the hot dog itself was pretty damn tasty, I mean I am still on team Deep Fry, but I no longer despise those who are not. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but I think this Hot Dog might have saved our marriage! Okay, of course, I mean to be hyperbolic, I am a writer, that is what we do.
Here Chili, Chili, Chili
As for the Chili Dog, I usually don’t cheat on my true love, the Texas Dog, with its meatier more voluptuous cousin, but as they say, chunky sauces need lovin’ too. The key to a good Chili Dog is simple, respectable chili. It appears that Broadway Dog House grasps this basic concept because they did not just spoon some Hormel on top of their artfully prepared Hot Dog. It seems they are using what I believe to be homemade Chili, or at the very least a high quality knock off.
Broadway Dog House sells other things than hot dogs of course. Sliders, sandwiches, and traditional sides are a few of these items, and I am sure I will eventually eat them all. However, one thing is for damn sure, every time I walk through their door I will be ordering at least one, DEEP FRIED DOG! In my opinion, Broadway Dog House is a serious contender in the battle royal that the New Jersey Hot Dog scene is, and from my perception, always been.
Before I begin this post, I feel like a disclaimer is in order. I am tired of receiving hate mail that uses phrases that would make Tyrion Lannister blush. I am fully aware that the name of my blog is The Blue Collar Foodie and normally I attempt to stay in the great food at a great price wheel house. However, there are a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is Valentine’s Day.
Most people would not guess it, but I am a hopeless romantic. I literally, love…love. The whimsy, the intensity, the nervousness…Oh hell, the whole damn idea of it. Therefore, even though I am cognizant that Valentine’s Day is a B.S. Hallmark, made-up Holiday; I thoroughly enjoy going all out and trying to wow my wonderful wife each and every year.
What does this entail you ask? Ladies and Gentleman I present to you The Blue Collar Foodie’s Guide to winning Valentine’s Day!
Step 1: Send Flowers to Your Loved One’s Workplace: I know they are expensive and I know they will die in a week, but suck it up Buttercup, today is not the day to think that way. Every other day of the year, I am all about Shoprite Tulips and Gas Station Roses, but that just won’t do on V-Day. When you get flowers delivered, you are sending a message and that message is clear and concise. Dear Loved One. you are worth the forethought and the expense of these dying, colorful capsules of allergy laden dust.
Step 2: Get a gift: I know what you are thinking. I just spent $60 bucks on flowers, I thought that was the gift. Wrong! I am not saying you have to go out and get your Bae a diamond necklace or anything; I mean unless that is how you roll, then by all means you do you Baller. I am simply saying that a small thoughtful gift with a personal touch will be appreciated and truly show you care. I feel like these should not have to be said, but since I know my audience all too well. NO SEX COUPONS! Get your ass to Etsy and do some searching for a great inexpensive gift.
Step 3: Put Pen to Paper: I know we are not all William Shakespeare or Robert Frost but for heaven’s sake do not give your significant other a Valentine’s Day card with the stock message and some X’s and O’s. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, if you write it, they will come! See what I did there… I assure you, even if you write the worst poem ever, the fact that you tried will be enough to set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Step 4: Where you eat counts: I know I don’t have to explain this to most of you, considering you clicked this link because you were promised restaurant suggestions for Valentine’s Day. Where you eat and what you eat will go along way to set the mood. For Kat and I, it is the single most important decision and also the single greatest contributor to our quarrels. So, on this day in particular after spending so much time and effort in attempting to create the perfect day for my wife, choosing our eatery is a taxing task that I do not take lightly.
As I mentioned above today is not the day to hem and haw about prices, and lord help you if you whip out a Groupon. Valentine’s Day is all about the ambience and charm of an establishment. The story behind the restaurant can aid in the allure almost as much as the food. Not to mention, it is the perfect excuse to drop some money on a wonderful meal that you don’t often get to experience. So without further ado, I present The Blue Collar Foodie’s top 12 North Jersey Restaurants for Valentine’s Day:
You have heard of farm to table, well Ninety Acres is quite literally a table at the farm. This palatial establishment is located on the Natirar Estate which has spent the last 100 years being a private residence, a convalescent home for women, and even the vacation home of a Moroccan King. In true farm to table form the menu is always evolving with the seasons, but have no fear, you will never be disappointed. The food served here is equally as beautiful as the grounds of the estate.
The Deal: Exclusive Offering of Special four-course Prex Fixe menu with options for each course: $125 per person, $175 with wine pairings.
This intimate and always impressive eatery is located in a historic decommissioned horse and buggy fire house in the heart of Rutherford, NJ. Their garden has been called enchanting in the spring and summer, but their interior dining experience is almost equally as charming. The menu at Café Matisse is stacked with stunning dishes that have depth of flavor that is rarely seen outside of the most esteemed New York Eateries.
The Deal: Three Course (2 savory/1 dessert) – $75 per person, Four Course (3 savory/1 dessert) – $95 per person, or Five Course (4 savory/1 dessert)- $115 per person, plus tax and gratuities.
Note: Café Matisse is BYOB
Battello: 502 Washington Boulevard, Jersey City, NJ 07310
If fine dining with a remarkable view is what gets your motor running, Battello is the place for you. This epic eatery serves inspired fare with a side of a majestic view of the New York City Skyline. ( The Best Skyline in the World) The dining area is often described as luxurious and lofty, and exudes romance. The food is almost as breathtaking as the view!
The Deal: A Three-course prix-fixe menu, offered at $85 per person complemented by an optional wine pairing at $25 per person ($50 for reserve)
This well-regarded establishment is located in the lavish Vail Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey. The dining space itself is exquisite and makes you feel like royalty from the moment you walk in. The fine dining area which radiates luxury and class, is a must for this special occasion. Jockey Hollow is a haven for couples that truly love food and want to experience dining in a relaxed yet sophisticated environment.
The Deal: Four-course prix fixe experience where guests select three savory courses and finish with one sweet course for $81 or a six-course, seasonal $108 chef’s tasting menu for the entire table for $108.
Restaurant Lorena’s is considered by many in the foodie world as the best kept secret of the North Jersey culinary scene. Over the past ten years this quaint eatery has quietly amassed quite a few awards for their awe-inspiring dishes. The menu is heavily influenced by French Cuisine and the Chef’s attention to detail shines in every dish. If you and your beau are looking for an intimate and romantic night out, this very well may be your spot.
The Deal: Three course Prix Fixe for $150.00 per person, Oysters included
For those of you that have Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams but are on a budget, this wonderfully romantic local establishment is perfect for you and your sweetheart. Don’t let the amazingly affordable price tag fool you either, Pearl offers magnificent cuisine made with the finest meats, fish, and vegetables that are selected daily. Pearl is the best value on this list by far, as their fare is comparable to establishments where I have paid triple the price.
The Deal: Three Course Prix Fixe Menu for only $ 26.95 per person
Since we are in New Jersey and it is safe to say that at least 70% of my following is probably Italian, I would be remiss to not include my absolute favorite Italian Restaurant. Not only is the food spectacular and each dish painstakingly prepared as if it was a piece of art, this astonishing establishment is located in a refurbished 260 year old farmhouse. The moment you walk into Scalini Fedeli you feel at home, and the service is impeccable. I seriously love this place and I am sure you will too! Come hungry!
This sophisticated eatery is located in the center of downtown Ramsey, New Jersey and has been a staple of fine dining in Northern New Jersey for over 30 years. The Chef focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients that become the star of each dish. Café Panache is a great place for the couple that has everything in common, except the type of cuisine they love, due to their wonderfully eclectic menu. You don’t exist in the restaurant world for 30 years unless you are doing something exceptional and that is exactly what Cafe Panache is doing.
Common Lot’s website sums up their establishment too perfectly to paraphrase, “The surroundings are elegant but unpretentious; comfortable but handsome — an expression of our personalities and our commitment to the dining experience.” At Common Lot they have truly created a relaxed eating environment that allows us commoners to enjoy fine dining without feeling as if we are out of place. Not to mention their plates are full of internationally influenced cuisine that are both creative and bursting with flavor. Common Lot is for the couple that enjoys the finer things in food, but buys their clothes off the rack.
This restaurant occupies an old industrial building, circa 1876, and the historical splendor of this establishment glimmers in every room. The Frog and The Peach offers several areas to dine in and each exhibits their own charm and uniqueness. Their menu offers American Cuisine with a refined flare created with only the best locally sourced ingredients.
The Deal: A special prix fixe menu for the annual Feast of Love Three Courses $85
The Chef at Laurel and Sage has had quite a few gigs in restaurants during his illustrious career. These restaurants specialized in Farm to Table, Asian, Mediterranean, and American fare to name a few. His experience is on display at this delightful neighborhood restaurant, in each dish that he creates in his kitchen. You never know what you might find at this eclectic eatery and that is why I love it. Couples that can never decide where they want to eat will do well at Laurel and Sage.
The Deal: 4-course menu with options for $65 per person
Before fine dining was hip, hell before hipsters existed, The Saddle River Inn was churning out some of the best food North Jersey had to offer. Since 1981 this rustic, yet romantic establishment has been located on the William Packard Estate along the Saddle River. Although the original owners of this long established eatery have recently called it quits, the new owners seem to have hit the ground running and are still creating wonderful French dishes.
The Deal: Chef’s Season Tasting Menu described as a culinary journey including height of the season ingredients. Four course $80, Five Course $90, and 6 Course $100
I consider myself a nomadic gastronome, meaning that although I truly heart the Garden State, I will forever roam the planet in search of amazing regional fare. Not just by car either people, I have been known to base entire vacations around a particular type of food, that I could seriously have delivered to my house in 15 minutes, simply because the internets says it is better in some random state. I understand it is a sickness, but I hope they never find a cure, because my wife and I have had some amazing adventures bouncing to and fro from unheralded eateries, roadside stands, established restaurants, dive bars, and on one startling occasion a chance encounter with a gas station mini-mart that served us a hamburger that I still have wet dreams about. To paraphrase the proclaimers, I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles, to chow down at some random store.
With that said, during my gastronomic walkabouts I tend to catch a craving that can only be quenched by my beloved home state. New Jersey may smell like death and cheese and have more D-bags per capita than most states in the union, but there is one thing that we do right in Dirty Jersey, and that my friends, is Breakfast. I ain’t talking about the B.S. that the fly over states call breakfast either, with their Denny’s and their IHOPs. Denny’s might be America’s Diner but that is only because they don’t’ got what we got, and it ain’t corn. Jersey is peppered with classic Diners, mom and pop pancake shops, and eclectic Cafés that serves the type of breakfast that makes you want to take a nap shortly after finishing your 12th cup of coffee.
When I return from an extended epicurean exploration, I long for a true New Jersey breakfast like musicians yearn for a time before American Idol. Recently, I went on a Ramen bender, which lasted longer than I would like to admit, and included three states. Full of broth, salt, and embarrassment, I reentered New Jersey with breakfast on my mind. A simple diner would not fix my sodium-laden, yet bourbon driven hangover. I knew I needed something special, and then it hit me. I felt the need, the need for Missy’s!
Missy’s Main Street Café is located at 181 E. Main Street in Rockaway, New Jersey. Missy’s is the type of place that once someone declares their intentions to go there, there is no discussion. Everyone just accepts they are going and finds themselves driving in a car dreaming about the glorious food that they are about to cram into their talking holes.
Trust me, the food is amazeballs, but we will get back to that. I feel like I must first discuss the ambiance and atmosphere of Missy’s Main Street Café to explain just how remarkable this place really is. When you enter this establishment you feel like you have gone back in time, and not in the holy crap dinosaurs, kind of way, but in the warm, fuzzy kind of way. Missy’s has a home town feel that chain restaurants try to imitate but simply can never duplicate, no matter how many pieces of fake local high school memorabilia they can nail to their walls.
The Wall of Fame
The best part is, Missy’s exudes this charm, without seeming like they are trying to. From their smiling servers that never come off phony to the picture wall that portrays their regular customers, Missy’s simply is a home town café, which is why it feels like one. Not to mention that once a week they select a customer to create and name a special that will be featured at the restaurant.
Get it… Get it… Come On!
First off, Missy’s Main Street Café’s Menu is chock full of word play, which I find hilarious. Veloci-Wrap-Tor! Get it! Get it! Come On… Screw you… that is funny. Stupid Internet… Anyway, if there is one thing I like better than a good pun it is food, and this joint has that too. On this occasion I decided to get the Doc’s PB&J French Toast with a side of Bacon, Kat went with a Western Omelette paired with home fries and our friend Rory went with a breakfast wrap from the specials menu. How about, Gansta Wrap… Still nothing… I hate you guys.
While we awaited for our food we soaked in the scenery, chatted with our waitress, people watched and even though Missy’s was bumping, we relaxed and enjoyed our Sunday Morning. Something about this quaint café just allows you to forget about the chaos that is happening all around you and ponder the most important things in life, like wondering how many strips of breathtaking bacon will Missy serve me today!
When our food arrived, my train of thought was derailed by the fantastic sight that was my meal. The plate that was placed in front of me exemplified why states like Minnesota can never beat New Jersey in a Breakfast brawl. Sorry, Minneapolis, but Rockaway just pulled out a shiv made out of French toast, peanut butter, and jelly and made Saint Paul an only child.
Holy Hot Damn!!!
Look at that decadent pile of awesomeness and ask yourself why the hell you have never had this in your life. It was not as sweet as it looks, which was a surprise, but it was as tasty as it appears. The toast was toasty, the peanut was peanut buttery, and the jelly was straight up legit! All together these components teamed up to make a sandwich that was not only memorable but damn near orgasmic.
When Kat ordered her dish, I thought that it was kind of Katish, I mean with the menu this place is rockin’ an omelette is one of the last items I would choose. However, this was a serious omelette! It was a flawless combination of fluffy, flavorful, and scrumptious. Every bite was chock full of ingredients that were hand picked to not only be appealing but delivered an explosive appetizing experience with each and every forkful.
Wrap it up B!
Rory went with a special, which is the usual method to my madness so I respected his gumption and he appeared to make the right decision. Although I did not get to try taste his meal, because it would have been weird to ask, it looked amazing and he seemed to like it a lot considering there was none left by the time our breakfast was over.
And then… Then there is the bacon. Bacon so perfectly crisp and delicious that one would think there is a farm behind Missy’s. Where this salty, fatty, yummy comes from may be a mystery but I assure you that it is magical. So magical that one might think these angelic strips of crazy come not from pigs but from the last blessing of unicorns that roam this wonderful planet.
Missy’s Main Street Café serves lunch as well, which I also thoroughly enjoy, but TBH it is their breakfast that keeps me coming back, time and time again. Not to mention that visiting this fancy as fuck greasy spoon is like eating at Grandma’s house. That is, if my Grandma knew how to cook like a boss and had a shit ton of bitchin’ tattoos.
If you are a true foodie, seeing a new and interesting restaurant open its doors in your neighborhood probably makes you about as happy as a trippin’ hippie at a Dead concert. The other day I was driving home from work and took an unexpected detour to avoid a huge accident, thanks to my navigator T-Pain on Waze, and I passed a sign I did not recognize. My foodie radar began to ping and the bleeps, sweeps, and the creeps directed me to further investigate this new eatery. As I drove past I was able to catch the name of Fair Lawn’s newest establishment, Kimchi Mama, and I knew I would be eating there in the near future.
A few days later Kat and I were tired and hungry after a long hike in the Ramapo Mountains and we decided that we needed to eat something before we continued the rest of our day. After a brief discussion it became apparent that Kimchi Mama would be the perfect restaurant to fill the void in our bellies and we were excited to give it whirl.
Welcome to Kimchi Mama
Parking is slightly rough because Kimchi Mama is located at 7-09 Fair Lawn Ave., Fair Lawn, NJ and there are several other businesses that are located on that stretch of the road. However, since we had our pups in tow and it was stupid hot that day, Kat stayed in the car with them, so I could park in the Chase parking lot, across the street.
As I entered Kimchi Mama I noticed that there was no seating in this restaurant, so plan to take your meal home with you or drive a few blocks to the park and chow down alfresco style. I was greeted immediately when I entered by, who I can only assume, is The Kimchi Mama, and she was very personable and welcoming.
Furthermore, she was extremely knowledgeable, considering there were a few things on the menu that I not only could not pronounce but I would have had to google the shit out of to find out if they were vegetable, animal, or mineral. She was very good at recognizing that although I was adventurous, I needed some assistance throughout the ordering process, and she was patient to boot.
After speaking to her for a brief period of time, I contacted Kat and like a coach devising a plan during a timeout, we quickly mapped out our meal. By the way, I want a white board with the outline of a belly on it so at a restaurant I can huddle up my friends and devise a true food play. Patent Pending, don’t steal my ideas you jerks!
We decided to rock Dukbokki, Pork KimBap, and a Vegetable Pajeon Pancake for our appetizers and a large order of Dwaeji Galbi (Korean Spare Ribs) for our main meal. Since it was our first time there we were unaware of the portion size and we had the hike hunger, so we decided to go big. Don’t judge us! Think of our gluttony as your research!
We knew we were ordering big, but we did not realize just how big. The amount of food that was handed to me from THE Kimchi Mama was unexpected and extremely appreciated. When we arrived home we began to unpack the two bags of food that were wafting a wonderful smell throughout my house. I had to fight the urge to attack the first thing out of the bag with a fork with a determination that few have ever summoned.
Doo-Dads, Whazits, and Awesome Sauce!
Not only did we receive all the things we ordered but there were several small containers of pickled doo dads and spicy awesome sauce, scattered throughout the bag. Not to mention the rice, Miso soup, and of course the Kimchi that also made an appearance. Altogether, Kimchi Mama hooked us up with quite a spread for under 40 bucks, and that is how we like to Roll!
Pancakes… Pancakes…Pancakes! The Rockland Boulders fans know what I am talking about.
We decided to take the pancake for a test drive first. If you like the Scallion Pancakes that are on the menu at your local Chinese Take-Out spot, you need to order this immediately. The texture was a perfect combination of crunchy and chewy, and the heaps of vegetables contained in the pancake added a wonderful roasty and earthy flavor. When paired with the sauce that we believed it should be dipped in, a dark soy-like liquid, all the flavors melded together to create an umami grenade of sheer delight.
Porky…Pork…Pork… I love Pork!!!
Next up, in our marathon of eating was the Pork Kimbap. Basically, this tasty treat is a pork sushi roll, but have no fear the pork was cooked. As you can see from the picture above this dish was beautiful, what you can’t tell, is just how tasty this treat was. Stupid future, get on that stuff, Edible 3-D Printing, make it happen.
As our bellies began to fill, we decided to clean our palates and take a breather from solid food before continuing this ambitious feast. We slowly sipped our Miso Soup and discussed our battle plan to destroy the rest of the food that littered our table. The soup was a wonderful intermezzo and was on par with most Miso that one could procure from a high-end Chinese Food Restaurant.
When in doubt…Try it out!!!
We moved on to the Dukbokki, and with limited knowledge on what we were about to eat, we deiced to forego the Googling and dive right in. I fell in love at first bite! On the menu this dish was described as Rice Cakes, Fish Cakes, and Onion stir fried in a sweet and spicy Korean pepper sauce. This cup of amazing, was slightly fishy, slightly spicy, and when poured on top of the rice was all sorts of awesome. Each forkful brought new flavors and interesting textures that made this dish my favorite thing we tried, thus far.
Adam would have never given up one of these ribs! #SorryEve #NoMoreHumans #MoreRibs4Adam
I had to put the stipulation of thus far in the paragraph above because we tried our main course directly after the Dukbokki, and holy hell I was impressed by these meaty bone-in tidbits of yummy. By themselves they were tasty, but when wrapped in the provided lettuce and slathered in the sauce we were instructed to pair them with, they entered a whole new level of flavor country. A region of savory that I do not believe I had ever visited before. It was as if Kat and I were Lewis and Clarke, and this dish was 100 miles west of the Mississippi River. If you venture to Kimchi Mama, and you should, make this dish your first choice and I guarantee you will return.
The moral of this story is, when T-Pain tells you to make a left, you make a damn left, because you never know where the road may take you. My detour directed me to Kimchi Mama and for the foreseeable future, I will be taking this detour quite frequently. The service was wonderful, the food was amazing, and you can’t beat the price point. “In a quarter of a mile, Amaze-balls!”
Kimchi Mama’s menu can be found on their Facebook page and on GrubHub.
“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” There is a solid chance that we have all heard this idiom at one point in our lives. As impressionable adolescents, wayward teenagers, or “struggling” college students, some “wise” old kook uttered this to us, in hopes of mending a wound that would eventually heal itself. This phrase rattles inside all of our heads, like the lub-dubbing of the old man’s heart that tells a tale, every time we compromise on a life goal. Gradually making us all believe that by not achieving this unrealistic and naïve goal, we somehow failed the main objective of this choose-your-own-adventure book we call life.
I happen to believe that this supposed failure is simply not the case, and this common expression is dead wrong. I feel that once you make something you love your job, you will begin the slow painful descent towards loathing something you once got great joy from. If you happen to have an influential role in a young person’s life, I implore you to throw out clichéd and quixotic advice such as this and stick to achievable goals based on real life experiences.
In place of this wide-eyed expectation, I tend to follow the rule of; working to live, as opposed to living to work. I love to eat and I love to write, however I also love my freedom and integrity. This is why I thoroughly enjoy being a freelance food blogger as opposed to being a professional food writer. I have no deadlines, I have no allegiances, and most importantly, like Bernie Sanders, I can’t be bought! My 9-5 affords me the opportunity to do what I love, and that is the reason I will never cease to adore it. Furthermore, I have created a virtual foodie militia via various social networks that recommend eateries all over the East Coast that they believe will make my epicurean soul smile.
The anticipation was killing me!
Recently, I was bombarded with messages from copious amounts of gastronomes singing the praises of the recently christened Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar located at 90 Washington St. in Bloomfield, NJ. I can’t visit all the establishments that are recommended by my culinary constituents, however, when a whisper turns into a clamor, which builds into a roar, effectively shouting a restaurants name from the top of the internets, I take notice.
Welcome to Essex Junction.
Since the webernets was all abuzz about Essex Junction, I decided to make a reservation for Kat and I, as to not risk a longer wait to see what all the hubbub was about. Good thing we did too because when we arrived at 7:30 P.M. on a Thursday, it was jumping. We walked in and skipped ahead of the line, due to our forethought, and were seated in the dining room.
Before we even had menus in our hands, Essex Junction was racking up brownie points left and right. First off the décor is… Listen, I could google some asinine decorating style like, modern industrial shabby chic, that in turn you will have to google to decipher its meaning, or I could tell how awesome it was in seven simple words. It was like dining in Gotham City! That is right, I felt like I was Bruce Wayne eating dinner with some reporter/Model that I will eventually hook up with just before she gets kidnapped and her life is threatened for the rest of the movie. Come to think of it, dating Bruce Wayne is about as safe as Tindering in Detroit, I wouldn’t recommend either of those adventures ladies… Just saying.
Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!
Adding to the ambience of the urban design scheme, we noticed a large movie screen on a wall in the dining room that was playing Bettlejuice! That is right, YOU HEARD ME… BEETLEJUICE! We were so intrigued by this concept that Kat and I actually sat on the same side of the table, so we could watch a bit of the movie while we perused the menu. Don’t judge us! You would do the same thing! It was freaking Beetle…, better not say it three times, just in case.
Our first mission was to choose a drink to quench our thirst while we decided what to dine upon. This was not an easy task, considering Essex Junction offers 15 draft lines full of rotating Craft Beers, a variety of beer and wine bottles, and their selection of Local Legend Cocktails. We were in a beer mood, as it was Thirsty Thursday, so I chose a Boulevard Tank 7, and Kat went with a Dogfish 90 Minute. However, next time we visit, we will have to dive into the Local Legends, because not only are these inventive cocktails created with New Jersey Celebrities such as, Kevin Smith, Queen Latifah, and Steven Colbert, in mind, but 50% of the proceeds go towards the Bloomfield School System. (As long as you hashtag the restaurant and @ The Celebrity via twitter after taking a selfie with it.)
As stated above, this hobby, turned part-time job has transformed into an obsession, so when Kat and I take a new restaurant for a test drive, we do more than just kick the tires. In other words, we order a crap ton of food in order to get an accurate representation of the Chef’s repertoire and then we try to eat it all before the gluttonous guilt sets in. This occasion was no exception to our rule.
We ordered four small plates to start; Sweet and Spicy Wings, Smoked Pork Belly, Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese, and Fried Brussels Sprouts. Being the hedonistic mongrels that we are, we then ordered two large plates; the Bone-in Rib Eye and the Pork Chop. Excited about the feast that was about to rain down on our table like dollar bills falling from MC Chris’s fat stacks, we sat back and sipped our hoppy goodness while we awaited the boom.
BACON ON BACON!!!!
The first plate to make an appearance was the Smoked Pork Belly served with Pickled Vegetables and Candied Bacon. I am not going to lie, this dish was getting a gold star no matter what in my book because the crazy bastards at Essex Junction essentially decided to put bacon on bacon, and that my friends is the type of decadence that I love to reward. Furthermore, the dish was perfectly balanced and full of depth thanks to the sweet candied bacon, salty pork belly, and vinegary vegetables all playing off each other. Not to mention the juxtaposition of the soft belly and the crunchy bacon created a stupendously unique mouthfeel.
I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?
As we were just getting over the recent demise of our Pork Belly dish, Mr. and Ms. Sweet and Spicy wings arrived to offer their condolences. These saucy behemoths were cooked to flawlessly and had the perfect meat to fat ratio. Not to mention, that when paired with the blue cheese sauce these pub food Privates were promoted to Sergeants at Arms…errrr…Wings. You get my point!
Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh
Next on the food train was the Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese served with a Béchamel sauce. I will reiterate, I am all about decadent food pornography and this dish gets is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner in the food world. No! Not because it has balls, you sick SOB, get your mind out of the gutter. The luscious Béchamel sauce combined with the rich savory awesomeness of the duck meatball makes this dish a scrumptious win. On a side note, they use my favorite noodle in this dish, Bucatini, which marries Ziti and Spaghetti to form the most flawless sauce carrying implement known to man.
To paraphrase Rick James, “Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! “
Last but most certainly not least, the Fried Brussels Sprouts in Sweet Soy, Sriracha, served with Shallots, and Garlic arrived. Kat and I were nervous about ordering these, not because we buy into the horrific PR nightmare that Brussels have suffered through over the years, but because we envisioned an over-battered ball of Brussely sadness. WE WERE WRONG! This was by far our favorite small plate of the night. These delectable, lightly fried, crack-like morsels of amazeballs were chock full of Umami goodness. The ingenious process of first pan frying and then baking them in a small crock with the Sweet Soy and Sriracha concoction created an exceptional texture and flavor tag-team duo that could whoop The Legion Of Doom’s ass. Do yourself a favor and dig all the way to the bottom of the crock when you order this. There is where you will find the brown bits, that are covered in this damn-near mythical sauce that conveys such supernatural flavor that one can only assume that Chef Justin Caldwell must have created it with the happy tears of Unicorns.
While we were waiting for our main course, our server Mike stopped by to inquire about a second round of drinks in preparation of our impeding meal. Mike not only remembered what we had ordered (+1 point), but offered a few suggestions that would pair nicely with our entrees (+1,000,000 points). This is commendable in a restaurant that is well established, but in a new spot like Essex Junction, this is extraordinarily impressive. His suggestions were spot on too, so we ordered a second round.
Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!
As my Bone-in Rib Eye was approaching, I noticed just how lovely it looked sporting a duck egg like a yarmulke whilst sitting next to a basket of Parmesan Frites. My first impression was that this steak was large enough to justify the price point. I then cut into the flesh and realized that it was not just properly cooked, but it was cooked with the precision of a master. A flawless sear on the outside and a deep pink core on this inside. Finally, I dipped a slice of this mega steak into the bordelaise sauce, and transported to my mouth, and it was love at first chew. My apparent fullness from the previous courses melted away as this delightful meat treat melted in my mouth. (TWSS)
This little piggy went to my belly!
After seeing my dish, I thought the bar for beauty was set fairly high, but Kat’s Pork Chop served with Spicy Jicama Slaw, Brussels Sprouts, and topped with a Vermont Lardon drizzle sank my meat ship. Her dish looked as if they stuck a Chef’s hat on Zombie Claude Monet and forced him to create food art. Not only did her dish look amazing, it tasted just as good. The slaw added a crunch and a kick that danced well with the sweet Vermont sauce that was drizzled over the scrumptious pork, while the lardons kicked this dish into 5th gear.
If my ferocious verbosity paired with the filthy food porn you just were witness to does not make you visit Essex Junction post haste, I don’t really know what I can say in these final words that will convince you. Every detail of this establishment was not only taken into consideration but tediously worked on so it looks and runs like a shiny new machine. The hostess greeted us with a smile, the wait staff took excellent care of us, and Chef Justin Caldwell delivered dish after dish of phenomenal food that not only looked fantastic but tasted even better. In the restaurant world this trifecta is like meeting a down to earth Supermodel that cooks gourmet meals and does keg stands. If you don’t want to feel like Batman, while imbibing a craft beer and watching a freaking classic movie, then maybe you should stay home. Then again maybe you should get your head examined, because Essex Junction was all kinds of epic!
In the restaurant world there are a plethora of accolades that establishments can earn. Most of these awards originate from local newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers, and good old-fashion cook-offs. These trophies, plaques, and certificates adorn the walls of many an eatery. The most coveted of these honors is known as the Michelin Star and in order to obtain this prestigious praise a restaurant must be something quite special.
I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!
You may be asking yourself, what the hell does a fat man made of tires know about food and why does his recommendation catapult a restaurant into the highest level of gastronomic notoriety. The short answer is the Michelin Guide has been around since 1900 and each and every year this prominent guidebook reads like the who’s who of the culinary world. Most of the epic eateries that are found in this cookery compendium are located in large cities like San Francisco, Paris, London, and of course the greatest city in the world, New York, which to some is expensive and inconvenient.
However, what if I told you, you can experience all the straight-up awesome sauce of a Michelin Star restaurant, without exiting the fine state of New Jersey. Where in New Jersey you ask? You might think the answer to that question would be Hoboken, Morristown, or maybe even somewhere down in the might as well be Alabama part of New Jersey, like Cape May, or Wildwood. You sir, would be wrong. The town that this restaurant resides in, is none other than Wallington, NJ.
There it is!
That is right, Wallington, New Jersey. Don’t lie, some of you just had to google where that is! Others just uttered the phrase, “what the fuck is a Wallington,” out loud, making your co-workers tilt their head like a confused puppy. Let me save you some time people, Wallington is a one square mile town in Bergen County, which is best known for its Bowling Alley. That is until now. Wallington is now home to a restaurant with a Michelin Star and after you read this post you need to get into your car and enter 209 Paterson Avenue, Wallington, NJ into your GPS and drive your ass to Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant.
Welcome to Lan Sheng!
To be honest, I have been eating at Lan Sheng for quite some time now and I loved it since the moment I walked in. The reason I have yet to post about the amazing food that can be found at this modest eatery off the beaten path, is because I had a brief but justified internal conflict. One side of me wanted to climb on top of the Internets and shout the praises of this establishment as loud as my blogospheric voice would allow me, while the other side wanted to Gollum the hell out this precious establishment and keep it all to myself. Finally, I decided that I needed to share Lan Sheng with the world, and this post is the byproduct of the winning punch that knocked Sméagol out cold.
Have a seat…
Lan Sheng isn’t overly extravagant like some opulent eateries that I have frequented, but it is classy in a subdued way. Not sophisticated enough to force you to rock a suit and tie, but cultured enough that one should not recite dirty limericks while waiting for their waiter. When you enter Lan Sheng, you will be greeted by a host or hostess and promptly seated at a table. The menus will land, water will be poured, drink orders taken, and then you are left to peruse the insanely diverse and eclectic pages of their food bible.
This ain’t your Grandmother’s Chinese takeout either! Choosing what to grace your taste buds with is a struggle and the struggle is real. There are way too many options to list them all, but some of the highlights are the Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, Spicy Rabbit, Hot and Spicy Frog, Hot Spicy Mix Pot, and the recently rare and highly sought-after Sliced Conch. By the way, if you do end up visiting this joint ask for the Conch each and every time you visit. The two reasons for this request are; A: If you score it your mouth with have a flavorgasm, and B: If everyone asks for it, they might offer it all the time, and thus you pass along that flavorgasm, like a STD in an old folk’s home.
I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.
The way we like to experience Lan Sheng is family style and I recommend this to you as well. This way you can try a variety of dishes as opposed to trying to narrow your selection to just one tasty treat. Furthermore, I love dining this way because I can sneak in an out of the ordinary dish like Spicy Duck Tongue, Beef Tar Tar, Sichuan Spicy Dry Pig Feet, or Chongqing Style Pork Blood Curd.
The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.
However, if you happen to be less adventurous than me and mine, Lan Sheng has you covered as well, you can pass on the Julienne Jelly Fish Appetizer, which is real and particularly tasty, and order something like Chengdu Wontons in Broth paired with an order of Volcano Beef , Tangerine Chicken, or Spicy Chicken and you’ve got yourself an epic meal that won’t make you squirm.
Did someone order the Spice without the weird.
As I am writing this post I am starting to salivate and I hope you are too, but I know a lot of you are thinking, “WTF BCF, these dishes sound not only incredible but incredibly expensive. Therein lies the rub faithful readers, Lan Sheng is pumping out quality grub at reasonable prices on a consistent basis, and in the restaurant world that is the Unicorn. Hence why I contemplated not writing this post, if word gets out about this impressive establishment it could be flooded with people, and then I would have to wait longer to shovel their miraculous fare into to my talking hole. However, if word does not get out, and they fold, I would never forgive myself!
Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.
The dishes that I have mentioned above are a mere fragment of the selection that Lan Sheng offers its customers. Furthermore, the Chefs at Lan Sheng have never, not once, disappointed me, and we have ordered quite a bit off the extensive menu. Each and every dish is seasoned to perfection, cooked expertly, and served beautifully.
A big ol’ pile of the other white meat!
All the ingredients that are precisely positioned on the dishes that Lan Sheng serves are not only prepared properly but they are exceedingly fresh. The color, texture, and flavor almost make you believe that some of these fixings are being grown in the backyard in some type of clandestine enchanted farm. I know we are known as the Garden State, but something tells me that when the Public Relations department of New Jersey came up with that slogan, Wallington was far from their minds.
Damn that is pretty!
I am not talking about lettuce and tomato here either people, which Boston freaking Market can get fresh. I am referring to the likes of Bamboo Shoots, Shanghai Choi, Chinese cabbage, Lotus Roots, and something called a Garlic Bolt. Not to mention the countless elements that find their way into the obscure dishes that I order, that I can only identify as Yummy 1 or Yummy 2.
Green can be good too!
More so, if it is labeled as spicy, it is! Not burn your face off, can’t taste anything through the fire spicy either. The kind of piquant that sits on your tongue for a minute or two and challenges your taste buds to a duel, yet ultimately dissipates leaving a palatable aftertaste, which in turn leaves you longing for another bite.
Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.
You know I love BYOBs, and unfortunately Lan Sheng is not one of these money saving honey holes. However, if you are feeling adventurous, they have some tantalizing specialty cocktails like a Lychee Martini. You can conversely go the traditional route and treat yourself to a Tsingtao or a Sapporo, which may not be the best beer in the world, but when in Rome, right.
Lan Sheng is the perfect combination of affordable, approachable, and appetizing blending dishes with tremendous depth, attentive service, and adventurous eating. These components have made this restaurant my new go to joint when Kat and I are having a hard time deciding on where we should dine. It has come down to, if one of us invokes the name of this spot, it is an automatic, the foodie trump card, if you will. If you were ever thinking about trying Szechuan or if you love it already, I highly recommend this extraordinary restaurant!
Once a year, on International Bacon Day, instead of attending food or beer festivals, I host one. Not just any old fiesta either, a tiny subversive underground shindig one can only attend if invited by me or mine. This event is entitled Bacon Fest and this year we celebrated our fifth anniversary in style.
Bacon Fest is comprised of 13 amateur chefs preparing their favorite bacon concoctions and presenting them, pot luck style, to be judged by our guests. The competition is fierce, and the prize, simple bragging rights. Well, that and the coveted Cup of St. Anthony, who happens to be the patron Saint of Bacon. This Trophy, much like the Stanley Cup, is only borrowed for the year, because the following year, the winner must bring it back and present it to the next Bacon Fest Champion.
This event features some of the most whacked out, innovative, and straight up fucking delicious bacon dishes I have ever sunk my teeth into; and that is saying something friends because I like bacon, like Jared likes jailbait. However, that is not the only reason we throw this salty soiree. Each year we donate not 10%, not 50%, but 100% of the proceeds of this cured meat jamboree to a charity of our choosing.
Since you have all obviously clicked this link to see the filthy food porn and read descriptions of bacon preparations that would make Ron Jeremy blush, without further ado I bring to you this year’s Bacon Fest entries. We will get back to the trivial details a little later:
A – “The Bloody Wilbur”
How could one conceivably improve on the quintessential brunch cocktail, The Bloody Mary, you ask? Add Bacon and Guinness of course! This invigorating concoction unites the traditional essence of the Bloody Mary with the velvety goodness of Guinness and the smoky flair of Bacon Infused Vodka. This “boarish” libation should be imbibed utilizing the provided handcrafted candied bacon straw.
Brunch served in a glass!
2 – “Fall Fest”
Baked sweet potatoes topped with sautéed apples and bacon, reminding you of your grandmother’s apple pie…but with bacony goodness! Swallow down with a mouth full of delicious, cold Oktoberfest!
Apples, Bacon, and BEER! OH MY!
3 – “Three Drunken Pigs”
Imagine three pigs from three different nations sat down with a bottle of bourbon then finished with a nice rich breakfast gravy.
This gravy would make a southern girl swoon!
4 – “Chicken Ba-Bombs”
Jalapenos filled with cheese, stuffed in chicken, and wrapped lovingly in bacon. These delicious Ba-Bombs are exploding with all sorts of cheesy, salty, and meaty flavor.
Like the Turducken of Bacon Fest!
5 – “S’more Bacon Please!”
Your favorite campfire delight, but with bacon! This is a bacon s’mores no-bake cheesecake with bacon bits mixed into the graham. Complete with a marshmallow, cool whip, and cream cheese layer plus a bacon chocolate layer on top. This delight has an added layer of bacon bits topped with a roasted marshmallow on a stick. This is the best way to end the summer!
Who needs camping when you have this delightful treats!
6 – “Xun Rou Bao (Bacon Buns)”
Inspired by the delectable dim sum treat, these dense, soft buns are filled with a sweet & savory BBQ bacon filling. If these were on the dim sum cart, the old ladies would never have to resort to the hard sale.
MMMMMmmmmmmmmm Dim Sum!
7 – “Breakfast for Dessert”
Espresso Chocolate Mousse with bacon fat and bourbon, caramelized bananas, fresh vanilla bean whipped cream and bacon sprinkles in a flaky crust. Bacon sprinkles are for winners and that is what this dish is.
You had me at Bacon Fat and Bourbon!
8 – “Did someone say Tots?”
This Cheesy Tater Tot breakfast bake combines all your morning faves! Sausage, tots, cheese, eggs, and of course BACON! So, stick your fork in it and take a bite… cause it’s 5 A.M. somewhere.
This was better than if you replace the O with an I…
9 – “Scuttlebutt Bites “
This Ebelskiver or traditional Danish pancake is prepared with fruit butter and Applewood smoked bacon before being topped off with a bacon glaze for good measure. Everyone will be talking about these tasty treats!
Even though I can’t pronounce them, I sure as hell with eat them!
10 – “Backels”
As the leaves change colors and fall from the sky certain edibles are simply irresistible. This is one of those wonderful treats, only these caramel apples are bite sized and chock full of bacon, chocolate, and nuts.
Caramel Apples with Bacon? Damn Straight!
J – “All American Poppers”
Beer battered and fried, these balls of freedom are part homemade mashed red skin potatoes, part cheddar cheese, and part bacon, but I assure you they are 100 percent ‘merica!
‘Merica, FUCK YEA!
Q – “Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Pork Roulettes”
Nothing goes better with bacon than a nice pork cutlet. Especially, when it is pounded thin, layered with stuffing, rolled up and then wrapped in the salty temptress.
Pig Wrapped in Pig PEOPLE!!!
K – “Ice Cream for Breakfast?”
Maple flavored ice cream with candied bacon and Amaretto liqueur, served on a homemade chocolate chip waffle. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and now it includes bacon, booze, and ice cream!
Fifty Scoops Of Awesome!
You may have noticed that in front of each of the food descriptions above, there is a number or a letter. If you are slightly smarter than the hog that was transformed into the bacon that is celebrated on this most joyous occasion, you may have put two and two together and got something that resembled a four. This inkling would be correct, those symbols reassemble the ones in a deck of cards. There is a reason for that, in order to level the playing field, each Bacon Fest judge receives five playing cards that correspond with the dishes that are being served and judge only them, without knowing who prepared them. After about an hour, all the votes are in and the leftovers are devoured by the hoard of bacon lovers.
Bacon, Bacon, and more Bacon is not the only thing that is consumed during Bacon Fest! We of course have to provide something to wash that bacon down with, and I will give you all just one guess as to what that fine fucking liquid would be… Did someone say, Craft Beer? You are correct sir! This year we delivered libations fit for a king, Founders All Day IPA and Troegs Sunshine Pilsner. Not to mention a sweet ass souvenir cup complete with the Bacon Fest Slogan, “Peace, Love, and Bacon.”
When all the votes were tallied and our Stomachs were chock-full of Bacon, Barley, Hops, and Happy, Kat delivered unto me the final standings. A hush fell over the crowd as I delivered the standings:
Third Place: “Chicken Ba-Bombs” Second Place: S’more Bacon Please! First Place: Scuttlebutt Bites
Before I close this ode to Bacon Fest out, I would like to genuinely thank everyone that attended, especially the Chefs because without them this bacon bash would not be possible, and not only would our taste buds suffer but the selected charities would too. If you have ever planned a wedding you understand how annoying the details are, yet how rewarding and magical the outcome is. Now imagine planning a union between Bacon and Beer, every year… That my friends is the fairy-tale of Bacon Fest!
Once a year, in the backwoods of Sussex County, an invite-only Pig Roast occurs that is so fucking epic it is known throughout the State as “The Pig Roast.” This soiree is an underground four-day foodie fiasco that includes bands, pot luck style dining, drinks of all kinds, a gigantic Pig roasted on a spit, and experimental food preparation.
I have had the distinct and greatly appreciated privilege to attend this event for the past two years. This year, however, my connection to the gathering wanted to prepare something special for the party and asked me if I wanted to assist him in this endeavor. Attending this affair is one thing, but cooking, on a large scale, is a whole other level of crazy. You see, some of the best and most eclectic amateur and professional chefs in the area ascend the mountains of New Jersey to concoct dishes that are not only tremendously appetizing but also prepared in exotic and daunting techniques, so when my cohort dropped the bomb that we might cook, I was wondering what the hell he was smoking.
With a smile on his face, he asked me bluntly, “What do you know about Hangi?”
Thinking my friend was in trouble, I immediately asked him if he smelled burnt toast. He retorted that he was not having a stroke, and that Hangi was the New Zealand method of cooking in an Earth Oven.
I was intrigued, fascinated, damn near titillated about this unique cooking method, and I immediately signed onto the google machine to find out more. Sure as shit, Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Māori (Indigenous New Zealanders) method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a damn hole in the ground.
From that moment on, we began to hash this plan out over the course of the next month. It seemed like every time we had a pint in our hands the conversation would switch to Hangi. We read articles, watched Youtube clips, scoured the internets, and even asked Reddit for help in the form of a post on R/NewZealand. It appears the old adage, “the best ideas are imagined in the minds of the sober, but it takes some lubrication to implement them,” is correct.
What started as half a joke, had now consumed us. We were going to put down a Hangi at The Pig Roast, and we were going to do it fucking right!
Listen closely as this is as close as I get to a disclaimer. I am a fucking American, so this is in no way a definitive guide to Hangi. Furthermore, if any of you try this at home, please use common sense considering not only are you playing with fire, but you are playing with fire, next to a hole full of 1200 degree bricks! With that said, I hope this illustrated guide will give you a general idea of what cooking with an Earth Oven is all about. A huge thanks to the many Reddit users that assisted me in this endeavor, especially MurrayMcScurrilous.
The following is a list of the materials you will need for this endeavor, and I will explain each one in detail so you don’t fuck shit up! Pay attention, some of the details will make the difference between meat that gives you an orgasm and meat that gives you an organism. Don’t worry after the list of shit you need, I will explain how the whole thing comes to together.
Meat: There are a few things to consider here. How much meat you will need will of course depend on how many freeloading friends you have invited to your shindig, and whether or not they eat like birds or Joey Chestnut sitting outside a Nathans.
Another very important element is the type of meat that you choose to bury in your pit of awesome sauce. We did two Pork Shoulders, two Beef Rump Roasts, and two Whole Chickens. Honestly, you can throw what the fuck you want in the hole, but I would stick to boneless meats that contain a lot of collagen.
*Note (Even though we tried the Chicken, and it wasn’t half bad, it was not the best and was slightly under cooked, requiring us to cook it further on a grill. Since the whole idea of you reading this fucking thing is to learn from our stupidity, do yourself a favor and replace the chicken with Boneless Lamb, you and your guests will be happier.)
Vegetables: To be honest, no one walked past our table that night and said, “Oh shit look at those vegetables” or “Dude, I want to dip my balls in those carrots.” However, it is tradition in New Zealand to cook vegetables with the meat when putting down a Hangi, so if you want to experience the whole shebang, you should use the likes of potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Stay away from anything that would disintegrate in say a stew or a chili.
Cabbage: This is used in place of the traditional banana leaves because it is what we can find in the states. You will use it to wrap the meat and to line the baskets so buy enough to do both jobs. Shit, buy some extra fucking cabbage it is $0.59 cents a pound, you cheap fuck.
Aluminum Foil: My Comrade and I had delusions of grandeur of rocking the Hangi ol’ school until we talked to some real life Kiwis. They told us that we would be dumber than a sheep in heat, if we did not use Aluminum Foil to wrap our meat rather than the traditional plant leaves and mutton cloth. Neither of us were 100% sure on the meaning of this insult, but we understood the context clues in the sentence enough to know that we would be wrapping all of our food in this food science wunderkind and so should you.
Baskets: Considering if you are reading this you are from the States, you will most likely have the same issues as we had in acquiring Hangi Baskets. Apparently in New Zealand, you can run to the corner store and buy these fucking integral apparatuses, but here in America, you will have to be industrious and build your own. These baskets will have to hold all the meat and vegetables and will have to withstand a tremendous amount of heat so don’t skimp. We fashioned ours out of Chafing Dish Frames and NON-GALVANIZED Chicken Wire.
*Note (Notice the CAPITAL LETTERS IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE. For all of you that are internet disabled, that means I was yelling those fucking words. Galvanized metal will make people sick, and you don’t want to kill any of your friends, so don’t be a douche and buy the right chicken wire.)
Hole/Pit/Earth Oven: Most people think the first step to laying a Hangi is crafting the hole that will act as your Earth Oven. HEY YOU! STOP! COME BACK HERE! Damn A.D.D. generation. Don’t just grab a shovel and rip up your Wives’ begonias… that right there is how divorces happen. In this case, much like penises, SIZE MATTERS!
Your Hangi hole size should be directly proportionate to the size of your baskets, the amount of food you are making, and the size of your stones. The larger the Ho’ the harder it will be to heat it. According to my extremely helpful New Zealand Hangi brethren, a solid hole should be deep enough to fit the Hangi Paraphernalia listed above, as wide as the bottom of the baskets and slightly flair out to the sides, similar to a wok.
Location: The pit should be on flat ground for the safety of both the meat and yourselves. Remember, you are going to be maneuvering/running around it carrying scolding hot bricks and eventually reaching into it to retrieve heavy stuff. Pay attention to the wind in the area of your pit too, rain is tolerable, but wind is the enemy of your Hangi.
Shovel: I suggest at least three of these bitches, unless you want to do all the heavy lifting yourself. You will need this ever important tool for digging the hole, carrying the stones, burying the meat, and unearthing your buried meat treasure.
Fire Bricks: THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! You will be heating these sons of a bitches to well over 1000 degrees, and if you do not pick the right stones, they will explode sending white hot shards of stone in every direction if you don’t want a money shot full of lava, pay the fuck attention!
One is supposed to lay down a Hangi using volcanic rocks and in New Zealand finding these is like finding a douche at the Jersey Shore. Unfortunately, we have douches a plenty, but we lack volcanic rocks. Once again we had to improvise. We decided to use fireplace bricks which are designed to endure a massive amount of heat without making us all look like JPP’s mangled hand stump.
Fire: I am not talking about a tiny little city fire either! I am talking about a ragin’, big ol’, country fire. This fire will have to fit all of your stones and burn for about 3-5 hours.
Wood: You are going to need more wood than Ron Jeremy on a four day binge of snorting Cialis and Viagra so act like a Boy Scout, and Be Fucking Prepared!
Burlap: You can find spools of this material at Walmart or Home Depot. It is used to separate the layers of the Hangi and to add moisture to the mix.
Cheese Cloth: Enough to cover each of your baskets.
Bucket: You will need at least one bucket to soak the burlap sheets in which will allow the burlap not to burn and add extra moisture to the process.
Garden Hose: This is optional, but you will need to moisten the Hangi hole one way or another, and a source of water is never a bad thing to have handy when you are playing with fire.
Seasoning: Since you found this page, you have no doubt been bouncing around the interwebs in search of guidance on how to season the meat that you are about to bury in the earth. I was surprised to find that most websites simply don’t talk about this element of the process. However, upon speaking to many people that have participated in Hangi before I soon found out why. New Zealand has some weird ass herbs and spices that you or I have never fucking heard of. For example, Piko Piko, Piri Piri, Kawa Kawa, and Horopito.
Furthermore, we found that most Hangi meat is simply seasoned with a little bit of canola oil, salt and pepper. We decided to add a little ‘Merica into this bitch, and concoct seasoning rubs for each of our meats that we felt would not only taste fantastic but give a slight nod to the Maori people by adding as many fresh herbs and spices we could get our hand on.
Marinades: We toiled and labored over the keyboard to find the perfect marinades for our meat, only to find out that wet marinades are horrible for Hangi, which makes sense since we are essentially cooking with steam. However, not to be deterred, we decided to use injectable marinades instead, which we did the night before, and let the juices sink into the lovely meat overnight while chillin’ out maxin’ and relaxin’ in the fridge.
Friends: In New Zealand they are called Mates, in America we call them friends, and you are going to need a lot of them. Putting a Hangi down is a social\team event from start to finish, and believe me, the more the merrier!
Foreman: Most likely if you are reading this, you have already assumed this role, but this is a must for a successful Hangi. This does not give you the license to be a dick, but as I will explain the last step, putting down a Hangi is intense and time sensitive. Decisions will have to be made that will affect the outcome of the food, and these decisions should not be questioned because those questions will eat away precious seconds.
Seats: What are you going to do? Stand up for 12 hours?
Beer: Every single guide I read and person I talked to clearly stated that beer in some quantity or style was an absolute must when you are laying down a Hangi. Be responsible though, you are playing with insanely hot shit and the fate of the food lies solely on your shoulders.
Gloves: Holy Fuck the fire pit gets hot, and you are going to need some gloves. Not gardening gloves either you wanker. Get yourself some diesel BBQ gloves or even better Fireman gloves!
Sauce: I love sauce like Ron Burgundy loves Scotch, so I put sauce on EVERYTHING. If you are looking for a traditional sauce, I will include an amazing recipe at the very end of this tutorial; however, you can use any sauce that you think will taste good with the meat you selected.
Wheel Barrel: This will hold the dirt that you remove from the ground, so you can dump that shit back in the hole when the time comes. Remember time is of the essence, so this will come in handy later.
Mesquite or Hickory Wood Chunks: These pieces of wood will be added to the whole after the bricks to add a bit of good ol’ fashioned smoke flavor.
The Meetup: Wake up really fucking early and meet up with your Hangi Homies. Make sure you have all your gear, a box of Joe, a cooler full of solid craft beer, and set up your seats.
The Fire: This ain’t Naked and Afraid, and the fire needs to be hotter than Ronda Rousey and bigger than Chris Christie so use as many fire starters as you need. To paraphrase Jim Morrison, come on baby light your fire.
Can You Dig It: While a few of your mates tend the fire, grab a few others and start digging. By now I hope you have already scoped out the location of the pit and planned the dimensions, so this should be as simple as scooping the dirt out of the ground and into the wheel barrel.
Burn Those Bricks: Strategically place your bricks or stones into your now hopefully roaring fire. Your friends always said that all those years of playing Tetris instead of banging chicks and getting drunk were a waste of time, but now is your chance to show off your skills. BE CAREFUL!!! Use gloves and tools if necessary to stack the bricks in the fire. Now that your bricks have been placed in the hell fire you created, drink some beers, and take a breather. You need to get the bricks stupid hot, so they will sit in the fire for between 4 to 6 hours depending on the stones and the size of your fire. Just remember to tend the fire and make sure your bricks don’t fall out.
Basket Weaving 101: Now that your hole is all holey and your bricks are on the barbi, it is time to turn your attention to your meat holders. If you found something that will work without any tweaking, more power to you, but if you need to build the DIY version, now is the time. All you have to do is wrap the chicken wire around the Chafing Dish trays and connect the two of them by folding the end of the wire over the frame. *NOTE* You might want to use gloves during this step too, Chicken Wire is sharper than your douchey cats nails, and you will poke yourself a lot.
Peel Out: When you have about an hour left of cooking time on your bricks, you should start peeling and cutting your veggies. Before you start peeling them though, remove your meat from the fridge and place it to the side. Peel everything and cut the vegetables into large chunks, not too small so they fall apart, but small enough to allow them to cook. I know that is pretty fucking vague but stop your whining, I told you this shit ain’t scientific, you are cooking in a hole for fucks sake.
Rub Your Meat: Unwrap your meat and rub it down like a 16 year old that just found porn hub. Make sure to cover every square inch of your fleshy dead animal.
Wrap it up: Pretend you are about to score with a Las Vegas hooker and triple bag your meat and Veggies. Wrap it first in your cabbage leaves and then in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Don’t be a fucktard and use some bull shit off brand aluminum foil either! Remember the foil will protect your food from the pile of earth you will throw on it in about 15 minutes so don’t be cheap!
Soak Your Sacks and Wood: Throw your large burlap cuts, your cheese cloth, and your wood chunks into a big pot of water and let them soak for approximately one beer.
Meat and Veggie Jenga: Place your meat on the bottom of the baskets and the veggies on top. Make sure that everything is stable because you will have to maneuverer these bitches in the hole and then out again.
Final Preparation: This shit is about to get real and now is the time to go over your plan one more time with your team and bring everything over to your Hangi hole. This is your last chance to make everything just right before you take the first stone out of the fire and the clock starts ticking, so don’t fuck shit up.
GO TEAM GO: Time is of the essence!
Use a hose or a bucket to wet the hole slightly. Don’t make a puddle, you are not making soup, just add enough to dampen the dirt.
Transfer all the bricks into the pit faster than an eight ball disappears during a bachelor party. Use your shovel and your gloves because those stones are going to be hot as fuck, and don’t just throw them in all willy-nilly either, you are going to need a flat surface to place your baskets on.
Throw the chunks of wood on top and around your stones.
Put the baskets on top.
Place the Cheese Cloth on top of the baskets.
Throw some dirt on the sides of the pit to protect your stones from touching the layer of burlap that will go on top.
Place a layer of wet burlap on top of the baskets. Don’t let the burlap touch the stones or it will burn and ruin the flavor of your Hangi.
Add some more dirt to the pit and fill it up about half way.
Add the second layer of burlap.
Pile the dirt into the hole and seal it up tight. The rule here is, NO STEAM CAN ESCAPE! Keep adding dirt until you no longer see any steam wafting from your Hangi Pit.
Place the last burlap sheet on top of the hole and exchange several high fives.
Mind the Gap: Now that your food is in the pit, the craziness is over. Stay close though because as your food cooks you may need to tend to the Hangi Hole. As the magic happens, the dirt in the hole may shift, and some steam may try to escape. If this happens, immediately cover that spot with more dirt.
Low and Slow: As I stated earlier, I am just a stupid American, and I have only done this once so as far as cooking time goes, your guess is as good as mine. I let mine cook for about five hours, and it came out awesome, I checked each cut with a thermometer, and I suggest you do the same. Best case scenario, everything comes out epic. Worst case scenario, you have to throw your Hangi in the oven for a few to complete the cooking, but at least everyone will be alive at the end of this experience.
Make the Sauce: If you are making the sauce I mentioned earlier, and you fucking should because it is pretty damn amazing, now is the time. Follow the directions and improvise as you see fit.
Dig up Your Buried Treasure: The nice thing about the burlap cuts is that you can slowly lift them out of your hole to remove layers of the dirt that you threw on top of your baskets. Be careful stabbing your shovels into the ground as you don’t want to hit your meat. Ruin your Hangi at this stage would be a catastrophe. Once you hit pay dirt, use your gloves to remove the baskets from the hole and bring them to your carving station.
The Moment Of Truth: Unwrap your first cut of meat and stab that bitch with a thermometer. If you are rocking a Hangi I assume you are not a novice chef, so make sure your meat is cooked to a safe temp and then start carving. Carve and plate all the meat and the vegetables.
Sit your ass down to a true New Zealand Maori FEAST!!! You are fucking welcome!
Our Hangi Slideshow
Our Hangi Video
The Maori Sauce Recipe
2 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Onion
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Chili Sauce
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 ½ Teaspoons Garlic Powder
½ Teaspoon White Pepper
¼ Cup Pineapple Juice
1 Small Bay Leaf
¾ Cup honey
1 Cup Tomato Sauce
½ Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 ½ Teaspoon Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon BBQ Spice
1 ½ Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1 Tablespoon White Vinegar
Sauté onion in vegetable oil until golden brown. Combine with remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Makes three cups.
For numerous years I have been an avid fan and participant of the NYC Restaurant Week movement. I know there are hundreds of haters that disagree with the savings, despise the menus, and talk shit about the service, but I am not one of them. If you are, kindly piss off and save your hate mail for some other blogger. However, if you are trying to choose an interesting restaurant to venture to this year please continue reading.
If you are like me and this is not your first time rocking Restaurant Week you are tired of the regular RW haunts. If you are a virgin to the Restaurant Week game this post is really not for you. Please go to the NYC GO website and do some research, I assure you it is totally worth it! However, if you are tired of eating where Frank Sinatra punched Elvis in the junk, where Edgar Allen Poe wrote some words on a napkin that he blew his nose in, or at a spot that used to be hostel for starving artists that you have never heard of, this is the post for you!
This year my top 15 really has nothing to do with history, decor, or prominence. My methodology was simple. I scoured the menus that were available for every restaurant on the RW list and picked out the ones that gave me a food boner. Feast your eyes and get ready to hide your erection because without further ado, here are my selections for the summer session of the 2015 Restaurant Week!
Burke & Wills: This Australian eatery ain’t the fucking Outback! It is the real deal and they serve actual Australian Cuisine. Their menu for this RW session offers the likes of Kangaroo, Octopus, Lamb, Veal Sweetbreads, and Prawns. In other words, if you are looking for a little down under strange, this is the place to visit!
The Cecil: In the immortal words of Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.” The Cecil is described as New York’s first Afro-Asian-American brasserie and it serves some exceptional dishes. The highlights from their Restaurant Week Menu include Crispy Squash Blossoms served with Shrimp and for a ten dollar supplement you can sink your teeth into a Grilled Lamb Saddle topped with a Spicy Tomato Peanut Sauce. Make sure you also sample a beer direct from Africa if you stop by the Cecil!
DBGB Kitchen and Bar: This downtown hot spot is what you get when a French brasserie meets an American tavern, has one too many and slips one past the goalie. Normally, I would not recommend a burger during Restaurant Week but one look at their menu and I was dreaming of The Frenchie Burger, which is described as a 7 oz beef patty topped with confit pork belly, arugula, tomato-onion compote, and morbier cheese all served on a peppered brioche bun. Not to mention DBGB offers 25 taps and 75 bottles of beer to wash down that behemoth burger.
Inakaya: It is true that not all sushi is created equal but for the most part great sushi is all pretty comparable. Inakaya not only boasts remarkable sushi, which you can find on their RW Menu, but they also provide a show while you eat. Inakaya uses the traditional method of Robata-Yaki, or Grilling Around a Sunken Hearth. In other words the Chefs play to the crowd while they grill each dish in their open kitchen, using only the freshest ingredients they can find.
Junoon: I am a sucker for Indian food, so I knew at least one of them would end up on this list. The aroma, the depth of flavor, and the occasional heat not only intrigues me, but entices me like a bag o’ blow speaks to Charlie Sheen. Junoon won me over the second I viewed their menu and saw the Bhut Jolokia which is described as a Ghost Chili Yogurt served with honey and 65% Chocolate. Sure they have several great appetizers and entrees as well, but who cares… GHOST CHILI YOGURT!!!
Kin Shop: Kin is the Thai word for eat, and at this casual yet hip establishment that is exactly what you will want to do. In a sea of Thai restaurants that are popping up faster than pimples on a teenager, Kin Shop really is one of the Stand Outs. What caught my eye of this menu was the Steamed Bouchot Mussels that are served in a Siamese Curry Sauce and the Braised Hampshire Pork served in a Panang Curry. Deal with it, I am a curry whore!
L’Ecole, The Restaurant Of The International Culinary Center: Ever wonder where tomorrows top chefs hone their skills? Question no more, L’Ecole is the culinary world’s Minor Leagues and some of these powerhouses are ready to be called up to the Bigs. I am a storyteller, as you can tell, so the chance to eat a dish prepared by a Chef that potentially could be the next James Beard is just too good to pass up. Not to mention, their menu is quite extensive! If my ass lands in one of their seats I will be dining on the Country Pate with Truffles, Pistachios, and Cornichons and The Roasted Duck Leg served with House Made Pappardelle. I don’t care what Daffy says, for me it is always Duck Season.
Le Colonial: Both the decor and the menu serve as a “tip of the hat,” to a forgotten time when Southeast Asia was colonized by France. The fare is generally traditional Vietnamese but possesses a French flair that adds a subtle, yet wonderful uniqueness to each and every one of their dishes. If you choose this spot I recommend the Suon Nuong: Grilled Baby Back Ribs served with Lemongrass and a Sweet Soy Sauce paired with The Trio: Grilled Prawns, Beef Brochettes, and Cha Gio Herbed Vermicelli Salad.
Miss Lily’s: My Boxador, half Boxer and half Labrador, is named Lilly, so I immediately checked this restaurant’s menu out when I saw it was participating in Restaurant Week. Furthermore, ever since I got back from the Caribbean I have been craving Jerk, just about anything. Enter Miss Lily’s, bringing Jerk BBQ Ribs, Jerk Grilled Corn, and Jerk Chicken to the RW world. To top it all off their is a Curried Goat dish that needs to be in my belly immediately!
Mr. Chow’s: This ain’t your corner Chinese Restaurant! The menu is not delivered to your door, nor is it depicted by 1970’s photos on a giant back lit rectangle that hangs above the counter. The menu at Mr. Chow’s is comprised of a combination of old Beijing cuisine and original recipes that have been delighting New York’s fashion and music elite for damn near 30 years. The name of the game here is Family Style Dining, so bring people that like to share, and don’t miss the Famous Mr. Chow Noodles.
Park Avenue Summer: Talk about trendy! This epic eatery not only seasonally changes their menu but they change the entire decor as well. P.A.S. makes my top 15 due to the amount of choices they offer on their Restaurant Week Menu. Most places offer a very limited selection but Park Avenue Summer is offering 6 different options for both the appetizer and the entree portion of the meal. If you are looking to hit up RW with a semi-large group, I assure you that everyone will be able to find something that tickles their fancy. However, if someone doesn’t order the Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs you have failed Restaurant Week and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Raymi: Raymi is an upscale Peruvian Restaurant that blends the flavors and culinary traditions of Spain, Japan, Chinese and Peru itself. The star of Raymi’s Menu is the Ceviche that captures the savory yet elegant taste that only this delicacy can deliver. Not only can you score some of this amazing seafood but you can pair it with some Carapulcra, or Roasted Pork Belly. If you are not into Ceviche, I suggest you rock the Pulpo Meloso, or Charred Octopus, which I might suggest Kat gets when we go, so I can try both.
Root and Bone: No food sticks to your bones like Soul Food, and even though it is summer time I simply can’t say no to this Uber comfort food. If you enter this restaurant and don’t order the Award Winning, Fried Chicken and Waffles you are no longer allowed to read my blog, so lucky for both of us it is on the RW menu! I am sure the other items are solid but FRIED CHICKEN AND WAFFLES!!! As a bonus, if you are ginger and eat here enough, you might acquire a soul… I kid, I kid, there is no way for gingers to get a soul.
Smorgas Chef: Raise your hand if you knew a Scandinavian Restaurant resided in the Big Apple. Keep it up if you can tell me what the hell Scandinavians eat. Unless your name is Thor or Dag I doubt you are well versed in the viking way of life. Well one night out of this establishment and you can school all your friends about this obscure cuisine. I highly recommend The Classic Smorgasbord from the menu simply because I can’t pronounce half the items that are on it and that is how I roll! Furthermore, I am like 80% sure it will taste as good as most Scandinavian ladies look.
Yerba Buena: Yerba may be somewhat small compared to other restaurants in NYC, but their flavors are gigantic. Not to mention their menu had me drooling all over my keyboard. They are dishing out Duck Confit Empanadas and Suckling Pig Carnitas during this session of Restaurant Week and if that doesn’t make you wanna jump on the Subway right the fuck now, I feel like I don’t know you anymore.
That is my list ladies and gentleman! Remember, Restaurant Week is all about exploring the greatest city in the world and sampling the amazing culinary treats it has to offer. The summer session is running from July 21, 2015 until August 15, 2015 and I highly recommend not only stepping out of your comfort zone while dining at these establishments but leaving it so far behind you that you never think about stepping into it again.
Being a foodie is not just about stuffing your face with the latest food trends, posting pictures on Instagram, and writing copious amounts of Yelp reviews, blog posts, and comments. A true foodie should always be on the lookout for epicurean adventures that transcend basic consumption and craft a memorable experience.
I am not talking about Medieval Times or the Renaissance Faire either. Not that eating a giant turkey leg wrapped in bacon, chugging a beer from a leather skin, and saying “Ye’ old” all day is not a fantastic freakin’ time, but I don’t consider them to be food centric. These types of attractions tend to focus almost exclusively on the spectacle of the affair, and therefore, the food is merely an afterthought.
I am referring to the type of gastronomic experience that begins as a seed in a talented Chef’s mind and blossoms into an edible journey unlike any other. One such experience can be found at Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 NJ-10, Randolph, NJ. This magnificent foodie find is the brain child of Chef Eric LeVine, and is known as the Kitchen Bar.
Kat and I were recently invited to join Chef Eric, literally in the kitchen, of Morris Tap & Grill for a meal that we would not soon forget. If you have ever worked in the food service business, you are aware of the chaotic rush that occurs behind those dangerous swinging doors that act like sentinels for the kitchen. For those of you that have never had the opportunity to don an apron, memorize the specials, and get a 2% tip from a jerk in a Jaguar, your table is waiting at Morris Tap and Grill.
I have to admit, it has been a while since I was behind the scenes at a restaurant, so I was extremely excited to be in the thick of it once again. Not to mention, I knew that Chef Eric and his team of culinary wunderkinds were going to drop a foodtastic bomb on us unlike any other, and that just added to my enthusiasm.
As we entered the restaurant we were escorted to the kitchen where a private table for two was set overlooking Chef Eric’s pristine kitchen. We were seated at once and handed drink menus that showcased the impressive beer selection that I have come to love and expect from Morris Tap & Grill. While perusing the effervescent offerings, our waitress introduced herself and placed a basket of homemade seven dust chips on our table complete with a dipping sauce.
She’s Crafty and just my type!!!
After a brief discussion about the rare gems that littered the beer menu we placed our drink orders with our server who was extremely knowledgeable about the extensive beer list. Upon finishing the order I apologized for asking so many questions. Our server informed me and wanted me to inform you that they enjoy conversing about the libation menu at the Morris Tap and would rather you choose the right drink to pair with your meal, than choose the wrong one and have a bad experience. Cheers to that!
Crispy fried slices of fantastic wonder, covered in the seven spices that fall from the sky in nirvana.
We then turned our attention to the basket of Seven Dust Chips which are leaps and bounds above any loaf of bread that you receive at most restaurants. Bursting with flavor, these crispy-fried-slices-of-fantastic wonder tasted even better when dredged in the chipotle dipping sauce that made my mouth happier than a crooked politician in New Jersey.
As we were enjoying the first of many courses that we would see that night, Chef Eric arrived at our table and welcomed us to his Kitchen. He confirmed that Kat and I don’t have any food allergies or any aversion to specific types of food. After we verified that we would eat just about anything that he could possibly place in front us, we began talking about that evening’s agenda and beyond.
The Kitchen Bar experience is unlike your normal dinner out on the town. Chef Eric contacts you via email and discusses the menu with you before your reservation. Although, you won’t know exactly what you are having, which is half the fun, the Chef will create a meal that is specifically designed for you and your group. The only catch is that the whole table has to commit to the same meal prior to your arrival. In other words, if you choose to bring a vegetarian, Chef Eric will create a vegetarian meal that will convert most carnivores, but all of you will get no meat.
Sushi ain’t got nothing on this perfect summer dish!
While members of the staff danced around the kitchen as if Fred Astaire himself created the choreography, Kat and I watched intently as Chef Eric was diligently working on our next course. The Chef plated and delivered a beautiful and remarkably flavorful Tuna Tartare Flatbread dish. The peaceful tuna tossed in a slightly tumultuous Ginger Scallion Sauce served with a downright boisterous Wasabi Mayo created a dish with levels of depth that made the Grand Canyon look like a Hāngi Hole. Chef Eric and the staff allowed Kat and I to enjoy each course before removing the plates from our table and starting to prepare the next. As we savored each bite of the Tuna, we listened to the clamoring of the kitchen, complete with a soundtrack of orders being barked, food being prepped, and pans rattling.
Ohhhh Crispy Carrot Threads You My Only Friend!
Shortly after we were done with the Tartare, Chef Eric once again delivered a plate to our table. This time we were gifted with a Tempura Battered & Lightly Fried Asparagus & Broccolini served with Crispy Carrot Threads and a Soy Scallion Ginger Sauce. This dish is bar none of our favorites at Morris Tap, and we were very happy to see it. The true star of the this dish are the Crispy Carrot threads, which according to Chef Eric, not a lot of people even eat because they think they are a garnish. If you do ever find yourself at Morris Tap & Grill, even in the normal dining room, do yourself a favor, order this app, and promise me you will eat the whole damn thing!
Fire it up!
While we were demolishing the tempura dish, Chef Eric began to work on our next course, and he said it was a special one. Kat and I were both filled with intrigue and wonder as he prepared the dish merely feet away from us. We were trying to peer over his shoulder and use all of our senses to make an educated guess on what our next gastronomic dish could be. We channeled everything we ever learned from watching Where in the World is Carmen Sandiegoand we were only able to decipher that he was prepping raviolis of some sort. Unfortunately, the exact variety was still a mystery.
The Ravioli Revolution will not be televised, so I will be sure to Blog the hell out of it.
However, the moment the plate hit the table, I instantly knew that these stunning stuffed pockets of pasta were none other than Chef Eric LeVine’s world renowned Lobster Ravioli. Not only do these ravioli house an extremely generous portion of actual lobster meat, they are topped with a Chipotle Shallot Shrimp Sauce that boasts more shrimp than George Constanza could eat in a two hour long meeting.
If you don’t order this you should go directly to the Jerk Store!
As we relished in the sheer awesomeness of this course, Chef Eric discussed his most recent project, Chef Eric’s Ravioli Revolution. Although this revolution will not be televised, it will bring these glorious pasta pouches, as well as other varieties to grocery stores all across New Jersey and, hopefully, the country. In other words, on the nights you can’t get to the one of Chef Eric’s bad ass eateries, you can still enjoy these marvelous morsels.
Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!
Even though Kat and I were approaching the food wall, we could not let any of those luxurious raviolis go to waste. Chef Eric and his staff recognized our dilemma and automatically decelerated the pace of our meal. This reduction allowed us to interact with the kitchen staff a little, and Chef Eric took this opportunity to introduce to us the key players that keep the kitchen running like a well-oiled machine and allow him to bounce around from Paragon Tap & Table to Morris Tap & Grill like an errant beer pong ball.
Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!
After some brief introductions and a much needed hiatus from the conveyor belt of yummy, we were ready to jump back into the ring and see what else Chef Eric had in store for our feast. Next to arrive was the House Made Chorizo on Corn Pudding paired with Smoked Oxtail which is served on Herb Crostini. Although the oxtail was expertly prepared and was melt in your mouth tender, the show stopper on this plate was the corn pudding paired with the Chorizo. The spicy kick of the chorizo balances the sweetness of the corn pudding creates a combination that is straight up perfection. Not to mention it is almost as gorgeous as my wife. Relax, I said almost!
Sweet-Sweet Porky Goodness!
Our appetites were once again satiated, but as soon as the next course hit our table, we were instantaneously hungry. One of the main reasons that Kat and I do not own a pig is because we love pork to damn much to give it up, so when this pork tenderloin dish was served I knew it did not have a chance. To make its chances of survival worse it was paired with risotto, which happens to be another weakness of ours, because I make Risotto like Joffrey from Game of Thrones makes friends…Spoiler Alert… Poorly!
Chef Eric’s Decadent Masterpiece
The Kitchen Bar experience includes a dessert unlike any other in the world. That is because it is created while you watch while Chef Eric himself and no two are ever quite the same. It is the perfect way to finish this unique foodie voyage that breaks down the fourth wall of the restaurant business for all to see.
Beautiful and Edible
Chef Eric has deemed this distinctive dessert, The Dessert Scape, and it is created on your table top from various syrups, cakes, toppings, and candies. As with actual artwork, pictures just don’t do it justice. Watching it being constructed might be half the fun, but the temptation to eat it before it is finished is stronger than the Schwartz that is contained within Yogurt.
Ohhh Myspace angles, you can even make dessert look better.
The wait however is well worth it; because once this masterpiece was completed, eating it was as rewarding as sneaking a selfie at the Sistine Chapel. Each sauce dollop and syrup smear, when combined with the pastries that were strewn about the table, created a new and exciting forkful of amazeballs. Although I was slightly sad to destroy Chef Eric’s craftsmanship, I did not feel bad enough to stop eating every last bite of his sweet-sweet sculpture of yummy.
Chef Eric LeVine could build a fortress with all of his accolades and from this stronghold watch as his multitude of projects prosper. However, that is simply not how Chef Eric LeVine rolls. He is one of the hardest working Chefs in the business, and is constantly looking to cultivate innovative and exciting business ventures. In other words, Chef Eric LeVine only has one speed, and that speed is Ludicrous Speed!