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Archive for the ‘New Jersey’ Category

And next, in our Meals on Reels series is a scene from Napoleon Dynamite, a movie with many fascinating characters.  But, to me, one of them really steals the show: Uncle Rico.  Played by John Gries (who also, by the way, played Roger Linus in one our of favorite shows, “Lost”), Rico is simultaneous villain and hero, evoking sentiments of pity, humor and disgust.  All of Rico’s scenes are brilliantly hilarious.

Of particular and relevant hilarity (this is a food blog), is the scene in which Rico grabs Kip’s steak, with his bare hands, and hurls it at the cycling duo of Napoleon and Pedro, smacking the former right in his grill and knocking off his glasses, which is followed by Rico’s how-you-like-me-now type celebration, and Kip’s “that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

And speaking of steak, the fam and I were recently at Sammy’s Ye Old Cider Mill, in Mendham NJ.  In terms of Jersey steakhouses, this is really my favorite option, despite the influx of quality, chain operated steakhouses popping up in the surrounding area such as Ruth’s Chris and Roots.  Those other joints just don’t compare to the intangible qualities that Sammy’s brings to the table.  (But if it’s suits, unoriginality, and cheesy, wall mounted, gold plated Ronald Reagan quotes you desire, it’s best to stick the latter mentioned joints).

Let me first qualify this review with a slight bias: My family and I have been coming to Sammy’s since I could walk (and perhaps maybe even before then).  So there is undoubtedly a nostalgic benefit that I receive from Sammy’s that others may not.

But nostalgic bias aside, this place has so much character.  Sammy’s offers a unique dining experience:  you order right when you walk in the door.  When your order is placed, you wait downstairs at their bar, with old video games (such as Pac Man, Centepede, and Pinball) until a holler from the bartender, who might as well be Coach from Cheers, alerts you that your meal is ready. 

After games, drinking and mingling, it’s up to the old, never-modernized dining hall you go, complete with dull green, landscape painted walls from decades ago – which was done as payment from a former patron who could not pay his restaurant tab.

At your table awaiting you is the greatest red wine vinegar salad I’ve ever tasted.  With iceburg lettuce and chopped onions, this “salad” probably holds zero nutritional value, but who cares?  If you’re calorie counting, you’re not in the right restaurant.  And you’re pissing me off.

The fam follows this up with a Sammy’s staple: The Vodka Pasta (for 4, in this case).

I’ve sampled vodka sauce from a good amount of places.  There is nothing, nowhere, nada that compares to Sammy’s Vodka Pasta. If I were receiving the electric chair tomorrow?  This would be my final meal.  It’s cheesy, salty, spicy (ahem!), and creamy.  It has bits of fresh tomatoes in it and rocks your world with every mouthful.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on each helping, and you’ve just put the finishing touches on an absolute masterpiece.

For an entree, I order the Surf (Lobster) and Turf (the strip), which thankfully comes with a bib.  I’m a slob as it is.  At Sammy’s, I’ve been known to take out cats two tables over with some errant lobster fluid.

The Strip (the above picture is actually the box’s filet) is lean, with some tastier streaks of marble towards the bone.  It is cooked as asked (medium rare) and perfectly salted, juicy, and tender.  The Lobster is meaty, sweet and substantial.  It doesn’t fall apart or get stuck in portions of the shell when I’m tearing into it. No digging into the dead lobster crevasses to uncover left behind chunks of meat; it all slides out as one piece.

Elana orders the shrimp scampi.  If I somehow survived that initial go around within the electric chair, and was given a second meal to ingest before my apparent death, I might go with the scampi.  Elana is generous enough to share some of hers, so I can be reminded of the greatness that is Scampi a la Sammy: jumbo, breaded shrimp bathing in a thick, potent, lemon garlic butter sauce.  The sauce alone can be eaten like soup, it’s so outrageously tasty.

All of this comes with Sammy’s signature fries, which are crispy and brown but also quite moist and flavorful. Sea salt is sprinkled about.  Much like the rest of the meal, steer clear of the fries should you be monitoring your cholesterol.  So.  Damn.  Good.

Marmo and Elana save room for some of Sammy’s satisfying desserts.

While I’m moaning and clutching my stomach from overeating for the 163,403rd time in my career, Elana checks out the bathrooms, which as she puts it, “like the dining room in that they are similarly outdated, but charming. The tiled floor is left-over retro-chic, and there are thankfully large mirrors. The only element that has always unnerved me is the western-saloon style doors to the stalls. I always feel kind of exposed when I’m behind them.”

A former speakeasy, there still is no sign out front and nothing about the place, not even the video games, signify an update beyond the 1980’s.  But its food, feel and experience make a timeless impression.  I never get tired of this place.

Overall Experience: Animal House

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Girls have a collection of chick flicks.  Guys have Field of Dreams.  Perhaps the only movie in which a fella can unashamedly admit to shedding a tear or two.  And when Ray Kinsella’s brother in law shows up to foreclose on the farm towards the end of the movie, things get a little intense.

At this point, the film has undoubtedly reached its climax.  All the known characters, dead and alive, good and evil, have essentially convened on or around the ballfield to await Ray’s decision on the farm.  Stay or Sell? “People will come” advises Ray’s daughter Karin, which then prompts Terry’s articulate speech about baseball and its historic qualities which, if marketed correctly, would easily make Ray a first ballot Hall of Famer in the unique but lucrative niche business of harnessing the dead’s talents for one’s own personal gain (like in the cases of Elvis, the Beatles, etc).  It would also provide Ray a way out from his more pressing financial woes.

But Ray’s at-the-time evil brother in-law isn’t having it.  Evil bro-in-law shoves Karin off of the bleachers, who falls to the ground and lies motionless.  What to do?  Call an ambulance is Annie Kinsella’s first reaction.

“Annie wait,” says Ray, the tension building with each precious second passing.  Ray’s appearance of nonchalance in the situation is anything but.  Rather, it is faith.  Faith that Dr. Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham (a real person, by the way) will forgo the remainder of his lifelong dream of playing in the big leagues and instead cross over that magical stone line, turn into an old geezer doctor and save Karin’s life. And Ray’s faith pays off.

And the scene that follows is absolute goosebump city. (<—- Click to watch)

Graham, played brilliantly by the late Burt Lancaster (the younger version of Graham is quite capably acted by Frank Whaley as well), saves Karin’s life by forcing out the hot dog which is lodged in her throat.  And the hot dog, boys and girls, is what this post will be about.

The other day, my boss Andrew and I were out on the road coming back from a client meeting when he suggested that we make a quick detour through Rutt’s Hut on 417 River Road in Clifton, NJ.  Andrew, a self proclaimed hot dog aficionado, insisted that my visit to Rutt’s Hutt would be time well spent.  He was right.

While no aficionado of hot dogs myself, I’m no stranger to a good ol’ dog.  When I was growing up, Dad quite regularly resorted to the practice of cooking up some juicily boiled dogs for dinner when Mom was out for the evening.  To this day, The Box maintains a rigid adherence to Thuman’s Pork and Beef frankfurters, which he claims have the best “snap” of all supermarket available dogs.  And I’m not scared to dive into a Grey’s Papaya after a late night in the City.  Long story short, I know a good dog when I see one.  And it’s not you, Toby!  (Elana’s dog…We have our differences).

But Rutt’s was a totally unique experience.  The scene inside is quite dated and bare.  A take-out counter with some standing tables and extended window ledges to chow down at.  My colleague Andrew shakes hands with who appears to be the owner (a friendly, blinged-out crucifix donning fellow named John) and orders me three particular kinds of dogs, all of which are more scorched than the next.  “We gawt a rookie here?” John says, nodding his head in my direction.

First up is what Rutt’s calls “The Ripper.” The least scorched (by veggie oil) of the three that I had, it’s still more charred than any dog I’ve had in recent memory.  Each chomp just about dislodges the skin entirely from the meat, so you are essentially eating two different foods with two totally different consistencies, simultaneously.  But it’s ultimately a successful exploration in wiener cooking science.

Second is what is termed “The Weller” which is a more aggressively charred frank.  In fact, it is so torched that the outer portions of the meat immediately beneath the skin have essentially been disintegrated into a thick crust of bacon-like flavor and texture.  The nucleus is still meaty, however.

And then there is the “Creamator” (above) which, in addition to being fried in oil, appears like it has been shoved into electrical sockets, struck by lightning, and screamed at by six hundred fire breathing dragons.  The entire diameter of the sausage has been completely, well, “creamated” into a semi-delicate shell of fat, salt and burn.  And it’s pretty “dog”garn tasty, to be honest.  It’s airy and crispy, like someone had rolled a few strips of bacon together and strategically placed them at the equator for a couple of months.

And as I successfully housed all the dogs in impressive time, and exited the establishment, I could have sworn John called out to me…”Hey Rookie…You were good.”  Like baseball and, indeed, the masterpiece that is Field of Dreams, Rutt’s Hut Hot Dogs is an American classic that should be enjoyed by men everywhere.  Ladies, on the other hand, just may not understand its message.

Overall Experience: The Big Lebowski

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This month’s Bathroom of the Month Award goes to Slice, The Perfect Food! While not the fanciest or most polished in terms of loo decor, I walked out of that bathroom feeling like I had visited 1 part carnival, 1 part artist studio, with a dash of wacky/artsy boudoir (see the red crystal chandelier). And with the renegade Muppet art, the only thing missing was this. The large mirrors, tidy appearance, and parquet ceiling sure helped too. But honestly, this bathroom is all about the experience. Go check it out, and while you’re at it, order a Miki.

And if you need other suggestions, let’s review our week’s adventures:

On Monday, it was Marmo’s Birthday, and we gave you a Marmo Special: Farfalle with Sausage recipe.

Tuesday was all about pizza, and we checked out John’s Jersey establishment.

On Wednesday, the Landmark Loews Theatre and Sapthagiri Indian Restaurant hit a home run double feature and make my millennium.

Finally, we hone our crane kicks for the Gramercy Tavern review on Thursday.

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Today we have a little treat for you – a Jersey City treat.

On a recent outing with some friends, our friend Justin waxed poetic about the Landmark Loews Theatre in Jersey City. He went as far as to say it was his favorite place in New Jersey.

Really?…

Well, it might now be one of mine. Opening its doors in 1929, the Landmark Loews is more “Movie Palace” than “Theatre”. It is a decorative masterpiece that seats over 3,000, complete with balconies and broad, winding staircases.

And they still show films there. You can check out the full schedule here, but I went for a viewing of Beetlejuice, which I haven’t seen in forever. Let me tell you, both Beetlejuice and the Landmark Loews have something in common: they stand the test of time. It was quite an impressive experience to watch Tim Burton’s 1980’s humorous horror flick in this film cathedral.

It even has a display case filled with vintage candy wrappers! Food, design, crazy decoration and 1980’s flicks all in one outing – I could barely contain my glee! In fact, I didn’t contain it, and was bouncing around the place like a child hepped up on old-school Root Beer Barrels.

Justin also mentioned an Indian restaurant in the vicinity that we should check out called Sapthagiri.

I will say two things:

1. I don’t know that much about Indian food.

2. I FRICKIN’ LOVED this place. And here is why:

All the food we tried was excellent: well-prepared, plated, and demonstrating a wide range of tastes from sweet and mild to spicy and tangy. And the people were incredibly nice. And I am referring to BOTH the waitstaff (who brought us bonus mango-yogurt drinks) and the patrons (a nice Indian family seated next to us offered to help us out with the menu and point out all the good stuff  – SCORE!).

Here are some stand outs:

The Dahi Poori: these were crispy little buckets of the thinnest dough filled with chana, potato, tamarind and mint sauce. Upon biting into them, the savory and sweet filling ran into your mouth – a fine combination of flavor and texture.

Onion Kulcha: White flour bread topped with onion, red bell pepper and cilantro and baked in a clay oven. This was like the Indian version of pizza. The dough was so soft and flavorful, I couldn’t get enough. And check out the char spots! Some Neapolitan pizzerias I know of should take note.

Mango Lassi: This was the mango flavored yogurt drink. I admit, I was skeptical of it at first. I don’t usually enjoy drinking yogurt. But I downed this thing mighty quickly. And would do it again.

The Experience: The Shawshank Redemption – The Happy Ending

In conclusion, take a trip to the Jersey side for the Landmark Loews/Sapthagiri double feature. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into those very helpful patrons to point out all the tasty stuff (hint: everything!).

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Today, we bring you a review of John’s Pizza, on 87 Sussex Street in the Paulus Hook neighborhood of downtown Jersey City.  After some thorough internet research prior to our trip, I did indeed confirm that John’s of Jersey City was an offshoot of sorts from John’s on Bleecker.  This excited Elana and I.

The Scene: We went on a Monday night, but even for a Monday, it was pretty quiet.  Hopefully this was not an indication as to the quality of the pizza. It’s a pretty large spot for a pizza joint, with wood and stone floors throughout, and an upstairs that didn’t seem like it was getting a lick of use.  They had a full bar with beers on tap and, indeed, what appeared to be a coal fired, brick oven. If it was not so dang cold out, John’s would have been most likely sporting their outdoor seating scene, which appeared like a charming option.

The Grub: Prior to the pie, Elana and I sample some of our kryptonite, fried calamari (NOT pronounced cal-a-mod).  And while we realize making a crisp fried calamari is not exactly rocket science, some restaurants can still manage to bungle up calamari.  But not John’s – it’s close to perfect.  It is crispy and tender throughout, not rubbery or soggy.  Also, the squid is of sizable portion.  (Although it didn’t include the tentacles, which I like).  We also ordered what were termed “fried mozzarella wedges”  (creative!) which I very much enjoyed. They had a snapping crust and had a moist, even consistency throughout.  Each appetizer has an accompanying bowl of marinara, in which there are bits of basil leaves and perfect levels of olive oil lightly swimming about.  Chunks of freshly peeled tomatoes lend itself to a very smooth taste.

Onto the pizza.  Elana and I both got personal pies.  I ordered the “traditional” which was your basic margherita pie, while Elana ordered a pizza bianca – which had ricotta and mozzarella.  Both pies missed the mark a bit.  The Traditional had a TON of cheese, which was stretching all over the place, and slightly distracting me from the otherwise stellar sauce.   It’s definitely the tastier of the two.

Elana’s Bianca was a little bland.  Just like the traditional, the cheese is heavily applied, but it’s not packing a serious or sharp enough punch.  Both pies are unfortunately not sporting the “as-advertised” effects of a well functioning coal fired, brick oven.  The dough is a little crunchy and tough, with a noticeable stiffness throughout.

The Bathrooms – Elana reported: “The bathroom was clean and orderly, but a touch outdated and well-worn. Large mirrors were appreciated, but the potpourri and soap could have used more attractive containers.”

Overall, I must say that I was a bit let down by John’s.  Although a purported descendant of John’s on Bleecker, the apple seems to have fallen a bit far from the tree in this instance.  We prefer Grimaldi’s and Dozzino in Hoboken should you be looking for artisanal, Neapolitan style pizza within an earshot of an NJ path train.

Overall Score: Vanilla Sky

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This week’s review is of the Light Horse Tavern, in downtown Jersey City on 199 Washington Street.  Elana and I felt like staying in Jerz for the night, yet with the nightmare that was Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day still fresh in our heads – we needed a change of scenery.  A short drive to the seemingly quiet(er) neighborhood of Paulus Hook achieved just that.

The Scene: The interior is vast and the energy is vibrant.  It’s a high ceilinged loft spot, with a porch like mezzanine providing a slightly more intimate setting for those patient enough to wait for a seat (which we were).  The tavern itself boasts a full bar (which was quite packed) and flat screen televisions for the sports focused patron. It’s dimly lit, with lots of wood, brass ceiling fans, and artwork.  Like the good looking love child of a sprawling law library and an Irish pub.  Elana and I waited about 20 minutes prior to being seated upstairs.

The Grub: We kick things off with a Seafood special (half portion) which was still a generous offering of Blue Point Oysters, Muscles, Shrimp, and Clams  – both little neck and cherry stones.   We loved the freshness and perfect salt levels of the oysters.  The shrimp were crisp and plump.  And my muscles absolutely stole the show; larger than normal and impressive under the hood.  As for the restaurant’s muscles… they were pretty glorious as well. (Hee hee)  The clams, particularly the cherry stones, Elana and I struggled with.  Very overwhelming and fishy – like I was making out with a sponge soaked in week old bay water.

We follow this up by splitting an appetizer of butter poached lobster gnocchi. The gnocchi was soft, yet had a great elasticity to it.  Our lone complaint about them was that they had not been ultimately rolled with a fork, and thus did not have those subtle grooves to lock in extra flavor.  But that’s just some Italian food snobbery, really.   The accompanying sauce was creamy (but not too thick) and the lobster was sweet and meaty.  The dish also included some mushrooms which delivered truffle-like taste.

For an entree, Elana ordered the Duck breast with a pear and fig shallot jam. The jam is a grainy glob of goodness. The duck itself is good; the middle section being a shade better than the ends, which were a touch tough. But the meat has a crisp skin, and a sweet tasting center.  And it’s a big piece of meat. Lean too, not fatty, and wading in a sweet wine reduction sauce.

And then, I sank my teeth into the Pork Belly, which was honestly so good, that it almost could not be processed with a normal brain. It sat there, in a syrupy wine reduction sauce, looking like a layered lasagna of cooked up meat fat – threatening to call in a Lipitor subscription at the nearest pharmacy upon its mere ingestion.  But I wasn’t scared.  And I’m glad I wasn’t.  It tasted like Bacon Filet Mignon, if it existed.   It had a burnt, buttery crust and was light in weight, yet had a powerful and perfectly salty taste.  When I go back, I’m getting this exact dish.  It was surrounded by some fluffy and crisp spatzle, mixed in with flaky, fried brussels sprouts.

As for the bathrooms, Elana took one for the team and checked ’em out: “the Pepto pink, multi-stalled restroom sported an interesting (note mannequins!) array of art and extra furniture. The facility was very clean and orderly, but could use a bit of an update to bring it into the 21st century of bathroom design.”

A word about the service here. It was very good.  Our waiter made excellent menu and beer recommendations, having a great familiarity with each.  Food arrival was prompt and we never felt rushed.  A definite plus.

For dessert, Elana and I  cross the street to Satis (a newer restaurant to the area) for their gelato.  Satis has an adjoining gelateria next to their restaurant which we scoped out earlier and vowed to try.  So we did.  The hazelnut and peanut butter chip gelato was smooth, creamy and not overly sweet.  But Elana’s “cannoli” flavored gelato was grainy and sugary.  The inconsistency among the flavors was puzzling, but we left feeling generally pleased (and we forgave them for using an ice cream scoop instead of a spatula to dispense our gelato).

Satis aside (the gelateria is pictured directly above), the Light Horse Tavern was a very pleasurably experience, consistent with the high praise I had been hearing for quite some time now from friends.  It really is like a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-all type joint, very suitable for the casual beer and high caliber meal alike.

Overall ExperienceThe Shawshank Redemption

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As Hoboken residents, Elana and I were actually tracking the opening of Dozzino quite intently.  It was a big moment for us – to have an artisinal pizzeria in our backyard – and Dozzino did not disappoint.  Sure, for an upscale pie, Grimaldi’s serves its purpose every now and then (and quite well), but there is something to be said about a boutique wood fired brick oven pizzeria, where the soul of the pizzaiolos is felt throughout your entire dining experience.  Such is the case with Dozzino.

Over the last couple of months, Elana and I have gotten a chance to know the owners of Dozzino, Marc and Rob.  These guys are truly obsessed with pizza.  And as we came to find out, their obsession spills over into a zany, friendly, and self imposed obligation to spread the joys of pizza, bread, and their own interpretation of simple, quality Italian fare.

The above is proof of this.

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