Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar Is Turning Heads, in Bloomfield and Beyond

“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!

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.

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!

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!!!!

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?

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

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! "

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!

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!

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!

 

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The Ultimate 2015 NYC Restaurant Week Survival Guide

NYC Restaurant Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2: Do Your Homework

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

3: Suit-Up…Maybe

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

4: Arrive On Time

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

5: Eat Outside Your Comfort Zone

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

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

American New

Park Avenue Winter

Park Avenue WinterWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-644-1900

http://www.parkavenyc.com

Why:

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

What:

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

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

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

American Traditional

21 Club

21 ClubWhere:

21 West 52nd Street

New York, NY 10019

(212) 582-7200

http://www.21club.com/

Why:

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

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

What:

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

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

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

Asian Fusion

Spice Market

Spice MarketWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-675-2322

www.spicemarketnewyork.com

Why:

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

What:

Appetizer: Soy Cured Salmon with Cilantro Crème Fraiche

Entrée: Roast Pork Steamed Buns with Yuzu Pickles and Chili

Dessert: Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Pomegranate and Condensed Milk

Brazilian

Fogo de Chão Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse

Fogo de ChaoWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-969-9980

www.fogodechao.com

Why:

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

What:  

EVERYTHING YOU GLUTTONOUS BEAUTIFUL BASTARD!!!!

Chinese

Hakkasan New York

Hakkasan New YorkWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10036

212-776-1818

www.hakkasan.com

Why:

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

What:

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

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

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

Continental
Petrossian

petrossianWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-245-2214

www.petrossian.com

Why:

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

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

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

Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake

French

Benoit Restaurant & Bar

BENOIT NYCWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10019

646-943-7373

www.benoitny.com

Why:

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

What:

Appetizer: Escargots

Entrée: Roasted Pork Loin with Creamy Polenta and Prune Sauce

Dessert: Soufflé glace a l’orange

Greek

Kefi

Kefi NYCWhere:

505 Columbus Ave. (Columbus/85)

Manhattan, NY 10024

212-873-0200

www.kefirestaurant.com

Why:

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

What:

Game time decision.

Indian

Junoon

junoon nycWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-490-2100

www.junoonnyc.com

Why:

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

What:

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

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

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Ras Malai Terrine

Italian

Trattoria Il Mulino

Il Mulino Trattoria Where:

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

Manhattan, NY 10003

212-777-8448

trattoriailmulino.com

Why:

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

What:

Hipsters don’t post Menus!

Japanese

Nobu Next Door

Nobu Next Door Where:

105 Hudson St. (Hudson/Franklin)

Manhattan, NY 10013

212-334-4445

www.noburestaurants.com

Why:

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

What:

Appetizer: Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce

Entrée: Assorted Sushi

Dessert: Chef’s selection dessert

Korean

Bann Restaurant and Lounge

Bann NYCWhere:

350 W. 50th Street

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

Phone: (212) 582-4446

http://www.bannrestaurant.com

Why:

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

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

What:

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

Entrée: Korean Barbecue

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

Gaonnuri

GaonnuriWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10001

212-971-9045

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

Why:

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

What:

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

Entrée: Duck Breast BBQ

Dessert: Chef’s Choice

Mediterranean

Taboon

taboon NYCWhere:

773 Tenth Ave. (10 Av/53 St)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-713-0271

http://www.taboononline.com/

Why:

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

What:

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

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

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

Mexican

Empellón Taqueria

Empellon TaqueriaWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-367-0999

www.empellon.com

Why:

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

What:

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

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

Dessert: Milk Chocolate Flan

Pan-Latin

Yerba Buena

yerba BuenaWhere:

23 Ave. A (Av A/2 St)

Manhattan, NY 10009

212-529-2919

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

Why:

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

What:

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

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

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

Seafood

The Sea Grill

The Sea Grill NYCWhere:

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

Manhattan, NY 10020

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

www.theseagrillnyc.com

Why:

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

What:  

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

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

Dessert: Vanilla Caramel Panna Cotta with Valrhona Chocolate Sorbet

Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse Where:

261 Water St. (Water St/Peck Slip)

Manhattan, NY 10038

212-277-0020

www.markjosephsteakhouse.com

Why:

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

What:

Appetizer: Sizzling Canadian Bacon

Entrée: Sirloin Steak 20 oz.

Dessert: Cake

Vietnamese

Le Colonial

Le ColonialWhere:

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

New York, NY 10022

212-752-0808

www.lecolonialnyc.com

Why:

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

What:

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

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

Dessert: Banana Tapioca Pudding

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Shep!

Welcome to the Shep!

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

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

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Beer Taps

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

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

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

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

NO YELLING

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

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

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

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

Knucklehead's Steak

Look at that sear!

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

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Steak

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

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

Shepard And The Knucklehead Paella

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

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

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

 

 

Shepherd & the Knucklehead on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

Welcome to Casa de la Trova

Welcome to Casa de la Trova

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

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

BYOB!!!

BYOB!!!

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

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

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

Plato al Trovador

Plato al Trovador

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

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

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

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

Pargo al Caribe Close-Up

Pargo al Caribe Close-Up

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

Say Hello To The Pargo al Caribe

Look at that fish!

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

Casa de la Trova Pollo al Ajo

Pollo al Ajo

 

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

Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice

Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare The Steak House

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

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

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

Welcome to Rare

Welcome to Rare

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

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

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

Rare Bruschetta

Rare Bruschetta

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

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

Spicy Hot Maple Buffalo Wings

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

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

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

House Cured Pork Belly with a Maple Glaze

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

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

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

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

Cheesesteak Sliders

Cheesesteak Sliders

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

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

Short Rib Sliders with Cole Slaw

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

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

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

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

Seasons 52 Glass

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

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

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

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

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

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

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

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

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

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

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

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

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

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

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

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

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

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

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

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

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

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

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

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

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

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

Cheers

Cheers

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

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Date Night at Tierney’s Copperhouse FTW!

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

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

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

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

Tierneys Copperhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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