Wood Stack Pizza Kitchen: top-notch pizza and cocktails in Pine Brook, NJ

Woodstack pizza pine brook-8

A short ten years ago, the only thought of Neapolitan-style pizza in NJ was the memory of Una Pizza Napoletana in Point Pleasant Beach, owned and operated by the incredible pizzaiola Anthony Mangieri, which had a run of a few years, and probably caused much confusion for the locals and bennies--"What, no slices? I have to order a whole pie? Why is it so small? Why is it moist? It's burned." It closed, and Mangieri moved his place to NYC to great acclaim. Then he moved to San Francisco, for more great acclaim.

But now, in our current world of open-mindedness and tolerance to ideas that differ from our own and our ability to have our worldviews and deeply rooted biases challenged, Neapolitan-style pizza can be all over our state, and even in some other states, if you can believe that. Many of these places do a very good job. Few combine excellent Neapolitan-style pizza with a full bar. And even fewer have a full bar and actually care about the booze they're offering. Wood Stack Pizza, in Pine Brook, is, indeed, exceptional in this regard, and others.

Wood Stack Pizza Pine Brook
Here's a tip: if they offer you bread, take it. They're baking their own bread here, as good pizzaiolo do, and it's excellent stuff. Served with softened butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt (they do things right here, I'm tellin' ya that much).

Their liquor shelves are well-stocked, and even have some stuff that I've never come across. The cocktail list is expansive, and there's a separate section for margarita-type drinks (tequila, and mezcal), presumably because they knew I'd be coming.  The gin, rum, whiskey, and tequila cocktails far outnumber the vodka drinks, thankfully. Good management is in place, it's clear, because the bartenders are jiggering their cocktails. Cocktails are all about proportions, and unless you're a very exceptional bartender, not jiggering can lead to unbalanced drinks. I prefer to see jigger use at a bar. It's a sign of professionalism and an attention to detail. Even I, I, use jiggers when making cocktails at home. Of course, I can free-pour pretty well, but why bother.

Woodstack pizza pine brook
Woodstack pizza pine brook
Woodstack pizza pine brook

The tap beers are all local, and seem to rotate pretty regularly. All from NJ as far as I can remember. All sorts of great beer is being produced in NJ, and you should start drinking it and supporting your local brewers. Otherwise those kids who make the beer are going to have to do the other things they'd be doing, like making awful music. Please drink their beer so I don't have to hear their awful music. 

Wood Stack does have some mass-produced swill in bottles, for the savages among us.

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Social Still: food and spirits in Bethlehem, PA

Social still bethlehem-4

The ol' restaurant-in-an-old-bank trick.  They're popping up everywhere. Bethlehem, PA, boasts at least two (Mint, is another, which is located in a 60s-style bank, a decidedly different vibe than the turn-of-the-last-century banks you typically see occupied by restaurants).

Social Still ups the game by not being not only a restaurant, but also a distillery. They're making gin, whiskey, vodka, rum, and not tequila. They're putting their spirits in some excellent cocktails, and on top of that, putting out some great, fun food.

Social still bethlehem
Social still bethlehem

Those cocktails include preferable ingredients like house-made bitters and fresh fruit juices. Some standouts were "The Herbalist" (House infused rosemary, thyme, and cucumber gin, lime, simple) and "The Jake" (rye, bitter orange liqueur, orange flower water, bitters, rye soaked cherries, pineapple). These cocktails may or may not be pictured here.

The menu tends to read toward the fun side of the spectrum, but I got the impression the team in the kitchen can indeed cook at a level beyond your expectations.

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We had a simple chopped salad, with marinated tomatoes, pickled red onion, and crispy chickpeas, and a chèvre vinaigrette. Notice I didn't say "tomatoes, onions, chicks peas, vinaigrette." They're doing things right here.

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Eating in Croatia: Oysters at Kapetanova kuca in Mali Ston

Kapetanova kuca mali ston oysters-9

When you're driving from Split to Dubronvik--and you should be driving from Split to Dubrovnik, and not sitting on a bus, or, not visiting Dubrovnik--you'll pass by a little town on a peninsula called Mali Ston. 

Mali Ston and Ston are well worth a stop. There's an incredible wall built some 500-600 year ago, which connects Mali Ston and Ston. And there are also oyster and salt beds. And where there are oyster beds, there are oysters. And where there are oysters, there's me with a glass of white wine.

Kapetanova kuca mali ston oysters-12Where the oysters are born

Mali Ston is a tiny little town situated right on the water. Incredibly clean and pure water. That's where the oysters grow. There are two restaurants right next to each other: Bota Sare, and Kapetanova kuca. We chose the latter, as Bota Sare has restaurants in both Split and Dubrovnik, two towns we'd be spending time in. And, the owner of the lovely Dominus Little Palace in Dubrovnik advised that Kapetanova has a "the best" black rice dish.

Once we got to town, there's a tiny little road took us around what appeared to be the remnants of a castle (and I wasn't sure if I was even supposed to be driving there) and dropped us off right in front of the restaurant. This was my first day on the road and I wasn't sure where to park. But cars seemed to be just sort of parked next to the water. So that's what I did. When we arrived at about 2 pm, the place was jumpin'. There's a very spacious outdoor patio that seats about 60 people. We grabbed a table and got right into it.

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Eating in Croatia: Restaurant Dubrovnik in Dubronvik

Dubrovnik wall-2

Fine dining is something we often steer clear of when traveling. We made an exception when we booked Restaurant Dubrovnik, and I'm very glad we did.

Restaurant Dubrovnik has a stunning setting on a rooftop in the old city. Fully retractable walls and roof shelter you in the event of poor weather, poor weather being a thing that you likely won't see in Dubrovnik between April and, perhaps, April.

Restaurant dubrovnik croatia-5

Restaurant dubrovnik croatia-3
Restaurant dubrovnik croatia-3

We ordered a bottle of local red wine, with the help of the very informative server. I've said it before, and it bears repeating. The servers in Croatia on a whole were very knowledgeable of their local wine. Which helped me immensely, since Croatian wines rarely get beyond the Croatian border, and I've never had one.

An amuse-bouche was sent out. I'd be lying if I told you anything about this dish. I simply don't remember, but I'm sure it was a perfect way to start the meal. 

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My memory gets much more clear from the appetizer on. We started with the tuna and octopus tartare. I assume the octopus was cooked (not really tartare). This was a great dish with pleasant bursts of salt and ocean, and a variety of textures. Good stuff right here.

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Eating in Croatia: Uje Oil Bar in Split

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That first meal while traveling can go any number of ways, many of them bad. We're typically tired, bleary-eyed, confused, stinky, lost, and woefully unprepared with a plan for lunch when we arrive the first day.

The first day of this trip to Croatia in Split was no different.

Diocletian palace basement khaleesi
Diocletian palace basement khaleesi

After checking out where Khaleesi kept her dragons (the basement of Diocletian's Palace), we took in a few hours of sun and local beer on the riva. I loved the juxtaposition of the gorgeous, bright, wide-open riva, and the inside of the Palace walls, where narrow and seemingly endless alleys snake through the old city.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, I have to admit, a lot of the appeal of visiting Croatia came from seeing the various towns featured in Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik in particular was as awe-inspiring as it looks on the show, even with the show's CGI and post-production making it look even cooler. 

Back to food.

Some quick research led us to Uje Oil Bar. After checking out the posted menu, and seeing the lovely outdoor seating, we knew we were in the right place. It's nestled just far enough from the main squares that you're not being trampled by hoards of tourists with selfie-sticks. My God, people walk around all day with their cell phone 2 feet from their faces, taking pictures of themselves. When did this become "normal?" People of earth: you are ugly, your photos are awful, and no one wants to see them.

 

Uje oil bar split croatia-4

This was our first time ordering a Croatian wine. I asked the waiter if he could assist in some descriptions. He hesitated, and I figured he'd just make up some stuff that sounded good. Well, he asked what type of wine we typically like, and then suggested four, with lengthy descriptions of the flavor profiles, the grape, where they are grown, who made them, and more info than I needed quite frankly. We found most servers were well-versed in the local wines.

Indeed we found most servers were just fantastic all around. English is very widely spoken. In fact I was a little dismayed that there weren't more challenges with communication. That's one of the fun aspects of traveling to other countries: trying to figure it all out. In Croatia, everyone's English is quite good...aside from the cops at the police station, with whom I spoke for an hour. But that's another story.

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