Every time I google "best burgers in New Jersey," the same 10 places show up, many of which I've visited, and many of which aren't very notable (White Manna, I'm looking at you). It's getting a bit tiring. Fatigue be damned, I put myself through the same exercise a few days ago, and finally conceded that I should probably give the Trap Rock Brewery a shot.
Trap Rock is part of the Harvest Restaurants group, which includes a bunch of places that seem to be very similar to Trap Rock, and the Roots Steakhouses (auto-play warning), one of which is set to open in Ridgewood, NJ, in, what, a year or so? (Did they really think they'd get it off the ground by October? In Ridgewood, a town known for pain-in-the-ass inspections and bureaucracy?) From what I can tell from a few visits, their restaurants are well-run, their staff well-trained, and they do a competent job. My first visit to Trap Rock supported that theory.
You can review the menu online, but I was there for the burger. Trap Rock offers two burgers, one of which is made from grass fed beef, and seems to be their signature. Their other burger is "just a cheeseburger" I was told. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I went with the 'TR Local Grass Fed Burger' (the burger is not grass fed, but the steer presumably was). This burger is served with Red Dragon Cheddar (a cheese of Welsh origin, with ale and mustard seed), rosemary aioli, and caramelized onions. A lot going on there, and not much in the way of bright, crisp flavors and textures that I usually enjoy on a burger (raw onion, ketchup, good, ripe tomatoes). I ordered it as it's designed, and was pleased to see some raw onion and ketchup served along side. I put a bit of each on the burger, to hedge my bet.
The burger, served on a brioche bun, came out a bit more medium than the m/r I ordered. The cheese and aioli lent a rich, earthy flavor to the burger, and also made it a several napkin job. Not the juiciest burger I've ever had (although grass fed beef isn't as fatty as typical grain fed beef), but overall it was a pleasantly moist and messy deal.
The fries, while quite good, would have been better if they were a bit more crisp, and not served in a paper lined cone. Paper does nothing for the crispness of fries, and generally keeps in the moisture, leading to soggy fries. That's what happened here. Otherwise they were tasty, obviously fresh and not frozen, and nicely seasoned.
The place is beautiful. Trap Rock makes their own beer, and the vats are clearly visible when you walk in (had a very good IPA. There is some very nice outdoor seating, and at this time of year, when the leaves are turning, it's quite beautiful.
Music in the Pandora-style of playlists was going, with The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes making this guy very pleased.
The by-the-glass selections of wine thankfully included much more than the several flavors of new world Chardonnay that you see too often, with a prosecco and old world selections throughout all three colors.
They've got a bit of a cocktail program at Trap Rock, including the recently-all-the-rage barrel aged cocktails (where the entire cocktail is aged in oak barrels). I skipped the barrel aged selections and had a blueberry margarita, made with fresh, muddled blueberries. The cocktail wasn't shaken, which means that it wasn't cold enough. Had it been shaken it would have been a very good, refreshing cocktail. It was still quite enjoyable, but would have benefited from some proper dilution, and I'm sure a little fizz from the shaking would have been very nice as well.
I can't really comment on service overall, but the bartender was very friendly and competent, immediately explaining some of the items on the menu. <tommy:rants>Speaking of menu, the menu items, and even the cocktails, are price with the annoying ".95". Seriously, round up the prices to the dollar. The claim that pricing with 95 cents makes people think the items are less expensive than they are is ridiculous, especially at this price point. It's insulting, and quite frankly makes the menu that much more busy, and ugly. I urge the Harvest Restaurant management to go to any restaurant in NYC with similar aspirations and prices, and see if their menus have ".95" on them. I assert that they do not, and for good reason. Go to Applebee's and you will, however, see ".95." Which type of restaurant do you want to emulate???</tommy:rants>
Overall I enjoyed the burger, enjoyed the beer, enjoyed the cocktail, and enjoyed my visit. I'd return if in the area again. This visit also got me looking forward to the opening of Roots in Ridgewood (closer to home for me) to see what they will be doing (and if they price every single item on the menu with ".95").
Trap Rock Brewery : 279 Springfield Ave : Berkeley Heights, NJ : 908.665.1755