River of Beer: fantastic gastro pub in Bloomingdale, NJ

River of Beer Bloomingdale-9

Just when I'm convinced there's little hope for New Jersey bars and restaurants, a gem like River of Beer falls into my lap from the internet.

As usual, our usual Sunday morning routine here at t:e headquarters involved the missus googling for restaurants that look interesting, good, and most of all, don't serve some sort of crappy "brunch" menu. F&cking pancakes and waffles and syrup and eggs, people. What, are you 12!??!?!? We weren't coming up with much, until:

missus: "Have you ever heard of a place called River of Beer?"
me: "No. Sounds awful. Where is it." (I'm a real pleasure in the morning)
missus: "Bloomingdale."
me: "That sounds far. And awful. I have no idea where that is and I know everything."

Some quick googling led me to the realization that Bloomingdale is pretty damned close to Bergen County. A review of the menu led us to the thought that this is a gastro-pub type of situation,  serving a bunch of craft beers, and that they put some thought into their food and menu. THAT, is exactly what I want to see. Off we went, to this strange land called "Bloomingdale."

River of Beer is a good-looking bar, set in an old two-story building. There's a bar on each floor, an outside seating area with picnic tables and a fire pit, and apparently just beyond that there's seating down by the river. I felt like I was on vacation, visiting a far-away place.

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Stella: Italian Restaurant in Ridgewood, NJ

Stella Ridgewood-2

A reader was kind enough to point me to a photo on something called "instagram" --which as far as I can tell is for people who have a camera but no thoughts--from Stella which showcased a fine-looking burger. Described as

"The Stella Burger: steakhouse blend, fontina fondue, applewood smoked bacon, “beefy” onions, & HB’s homemade sesame seed bun. Limited to 12 burgers per day!"

 Sounds pretty damned good to me.

I really wanted to run down there quick-like, where I assumed I'd find the only good burger in Ridgewood (and the area for that matter). But other plans got in the way and I had to wait almost two whole weeks.

Stella has been on my radar for a while. I went for breakfast once when it first opened, and was really impressed. It was clear they're working on simple, authentic cooking inspired by Italy. House-made pastas, grilled meats. Everything sounds good on the menu. I had no idea my first non-breakfast visit would be for a burger.

Let's get to that burger.

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Huong Viet: excellent Vietnamese in Nutley, NJ

Huong Viet nutley-3

Back around 20 years ago, when we lived in Hoboken, we'd get in our car every single weekend and drive out to Nutley to have lunch at Little Saigon. Without fail. I can't imagine how many times we went to that place. And then we moved, and kind of moved on to different routines. And then Little Saigon burned to the ground in 2003. It was a big loss for the area, what with it being one of maybe two Vietnamese places around (and the best, I'd say). 

Fast forward a few years, and the owner, Nghia, reopened Little Saigon in a much larger space in Montclair. We enjoyed a few meals there, but it never seemed the same.

Fast forward a few more years, and Little Saigon suddenly closes, and reappears back in Nutley as Huong Viet. Happy days.

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Heritage breed pork in New Jersey: at B&M Market, Park Ridge, NJ

Heritage breed pork NJ (1 of 3)

Look at that marbling!!!!!

In much of America, your food options are painfully limited to absolutely unexceptional meat (and cheese). Nothing like Europe and other parks of the world, where animals actually have flavor. We've bred all of the character and fat out of our meat, and the crap that we feed them doesn't help.

Good-quality and interesting beef is becoming more the norm, with dry-aging coming back into vogue, and grass-fed meats hitting the markets. And that's great. But quality pork hasn't gotten much traction. We are still largely stuck with mass-produced, factory-farmed, bland, unexceptional pork chops.

There are a few farmers who have taken to the heritage breeds (the ones with flavor), and are giving them the diet that they need to yield a tasty product, but they are few and far between. Retailers who carry that stuff are even more difficult to find.

Thankfully B&M Market in Park Ridge is carrying some excellent heritage breed pork (from Ossabaw Island in Georgia).

As soon as I heard about this, I ran over to the place, and picked up two gorgeous pork chops. I could hardly wait for dinner. In my mind it was going to taste like the exceptional pork I've had in Spain and Italy. With tons of flavor, fat, and character. While it didn't quite hit that mark, these were some of the finest pork chops I've had in the states. 

I set the sous vide device to 140 degrees, and let 'em rip. After an hour or so, I put them in a screaming hot cast iron pan with some butter and olive oil to get some color and sear.

Heritage breed pork NJ (3 of 3)
Heritage breed pork NJ (3 of 3)

The pork ate like steak. It was tender, it was juicy, the fat actually had flavor. It was an eye-opener.

There is simply no reason to eat supermarket pork again. This is my new spot for pork. Now, if I can just get them to dry-age the beasts, I'd be getting closer to what I've had in Europe. That would be sweet.

B&M Market : 192 Kinderkamack Rd : Park Ridge, NJ : 201.391.4373

 


Soup Dumplings Plus: super Shanghainese in Fort Lee, NJ

Soup dumplings plus fort lee-3

For a good long while, there were only two Shanghainese restaurants in North Jersey (or at least there were only two that people could find): the late, great, China 46, and Petite Soo Chow in Cliffside Park.  While I never warmed up to Petite Soo Chow, I almost cried when China 46 closed. It was truly an exceptional restaurant.

I missed those soup dumplings especially, with their delicate, thin skins. Fast forward to 2018, and soup dumplings are everywhere. But, too often they have thick, doughy skins. I'm pleased to report that the soup dumplings at Soup Dumplings Plus in Fort Lee are as good as any I've had. And the rest of the stuff seems tops, too.

Soup dumplings plus fort lee

We started with an order of Braised Fish Shanghai Style. The server warned me that it was on the bone, which of course is fine with me. I was hoping it would be challenging in some respect. Kinda wish the server would have also noted that it's served cold. Well I wanted something different and I sure got it. The fish is braised in a slightly sweet sauce, and was quite enjoyable if you're into that sort of thing.

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Up next was the Pancake with Sliced Beef. Basically a scallion pancake stuffed with beef flavored with Chinese five spice (or similar). Really super, and quite filling.

The soup dumplings, as noted above, were outstanding. Thin skins, that big pork meatball in the middle, oh man. All wonderful. There's black vinegar on the table and they give you a shallow bowl of ginger. Marry those two things and go to town.

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One of my favorite Chinese dishes is the simple yet delicious beef with hot peppers. A simple stir-fry of tender beef, some soy sauce, some sugar, maybe some ginger/garlic, and sliced hot peppers. They're summer peppers (summer hot, some not so hot), and add a wonderful, fruity heat. I've been thinking about this dish since we had it.

The menu has pictures of most of the dishes, which is quite helpful. Usually that's a bad sign, but not in cases like these. And it was filled with all sorts of dishes that I wanted to try.

Service was pleasant, with tea being refilled several times. The place was filled at lunch time during the week.

Soup Dumplings Plus is my new go-to for Shanghainese food.

If you go: The entrance is in the mall (no entry from the sidewalk-facing door), and there's a small parking lot below the little mall.

Soup Dumplings Plus : 1550 Lemoine Ave : Fort Lee, NJ : 201.944.0901