NJ: Bar dining

Roots Steakhouse: Ridgewood, NJ: First look

Curiosity got the best of me so I popped into Roots in Ridgewood during opening week to take a peak peek.

Service was friendly, there were a few open spots at the bar, so I made a night of it. It was pretty good, so I figured a quick few words would be in order. I do this, for you. Unfortunately cell phone photos follow...

There was no cocktail list at that point, although I was told one would be coming. I suspect it won't be all that exciting.

The bar and restaurant are beautiful, as one would expect from The Harvest restaurant group. There are hooks under the bar, and perhaps even more exciting, no TVs. I'm not sure how the type of people who I think will want to go here are going to feel about no TVs, but I think it's great. Unfortunately the music was absolutely horrible. Just atrocious. Was it Muzak? It was completely out-of-it, not hip, not interesting, completely lacking in any taste, soul, heart or imagination. I've heard better music at the dentist.

Roots intererior2

The kitchen is open with the broilers visible from the front dining room and bar. The bar area has a few high-backed booths for two, along with two large tables at the front windows. The back room holds another dining room, and a third which may be used for private parties.

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Roots in Ridgewood: set to open

Roots

Update: We made our way over to Roots for a first look. Here are some details of the meal (click me!)

Update: Roots has opened, per The Booziest of all the Burbs.

A sign on Roots Steakhouse's door notes that it is planning on opening June 9.

I took a peak inside and see that they designed the front room just as I had wanted. A long bar on the left wall, almost from front to back, and a very sophisticated loungy vibe. I'm not sure what they did with the back rooms.

Bartender

I spied a silly looking fellow with a handlebar moustache rocking this bold look at his ankles walking through the parking lot. I was hoping he was applying for a bartending job, as handlebar mustaches are a sure sign of a proper cocktail program. But he went into a coffee shop--which would have been my second guess.

So the opening is upon us. Buckle up for the Park West Tavern-Roots Steakhouse showdown, and don't get too used to the relatively easy parking that you've been enjoying in Ridgewood since Blend closed.

Roots Steakhouse : 17 Chestnut Street : Ridgewood, NJ

 


Chakra: Paramus, NJ

Boy oh boy, I can sure hold a grudge.

I was an early supporter of Chakra (shit music autoplay alert), the large, square, windowless "romantic" restaurant on Route 4 in Paramus, when it opened 10 years and several owner/chefs ago. Unnnnnntil. During one visit in 2004, we finished up our dinner, and wanted to take dessert home to enjoy on the couch in front of the TV. Here's what I wrote about this back then:

"we were a bit fatigued by the end of the meal, but we wanted to take home dessert to have with some sherry on the couch. i asked the waiter if we could take home dessert, and which ones would travel for 5 minutes, and we made our decisions. he came back and said he was sorry but "the chef won't do take-out."

i asked him if he told the chef that we had dinner and ordered wine and the whole deal, and he assured me that he did but the answer was "no." he then said that if we wanted to order dessert for the table, he could then wrap anything that we didn't finish, effectively suggesting that we order it, he brings it to the table, he then brings it back and has it wrapped to go. i told him to "tell the chef that i don't want to play games." i can appreciate "rules," but this one seemed to be applied without a consideration for customer service. tsk tsk."

For some reason I begrudgingly returned two additional times, each getting worse than the previous. I didn't return to Chakra, largely based on that chef's handling of that situation, and the rest of the ensuing kitchen and management issues, for many, many years after 2004. He simply did not deserve my money or support.

Under the latest chef/owner, Thomas Ciszak, I did visit once a few years back with a large group, and more recently about a year ago solo, but wasn't compelled enough to return. I think the above transaction was still in the forefront of my mind, tainting my opinion of the place, even though it was under a different chef and management. In fact there's no denying that's the case. Not to mention the spicy margarita was much too spicy, and the tuna tartare had an unpleasant bitter flavor.

Fast forward to Chakra's recent 10 year anniversary party, when local bloggers/media and regulars were treated to a Monday night party in celebration of the dance of receiving free meals for publicity, in the case of the media/bloggers, and being regulars, in the case of the regulars--as I sat at home making Chinese food, completely not invited. Intent on tempering the water of any gushing reviews coming out of this warm oil massage of an event, Chakra went back on my list.

More importantly, a few people whose opinions I trust are regulars and tell me that they're really, truly, doing a good job at Chakra, even when you have to pay for the food. Based on this recent visit, I can largely agree, with the exception of a few missteps.

But first, a cocktail.

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Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza: Fair Lawn, NJ

Anthonys coal fired pizza

Curiosity got the best of me. I sorta knew that Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza wasn't producing the type of pizza that I'm interested in, but something about a sunny 68 degree day and hearing about a bar that opens to the outside motivated me to give it a shot.

You will likely be greeted by a full restaurant. Filled with families, anti-social loners like me, and groups of young professionals from the surrounding offices. To say it was doing a brisk business at 12:15 on a Thursday would be an understatement. The place was really jumpin'.

For good reason. I got the sense the place is run well and managed well. A very welcoming restaurant.

I was greeted at the door, both on the way in and out. There are several TVs all around the dining room, which has a view into the pizza-making kitchen. The restaurant is cheerful and comfortable. Music was on the sound system, at just the right volume. The classic rock selections seemingly from a page out of a WNEW playlist from the early 80s. A large communal table in the bar area separates the dining room from the rowdies, and some outside tables--along with half the bar seating actually being outside--make for some interesting seating options. Certainly this is a family-friendly restaurant, but with just enough sophistication and stimulation to maintain a crowd of couples and groups of friends.

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The Counter: Burgers in Clifton, NJ

Counter burger2

As I sat at the bar, looking around, commiserating with other customers who were feeling just as neglected and baffled as I was, I tweeted:

I was debating whether or not to post about this place. The experience was horrible. The burger, conversely, was quite decent. But now that I see that The Counter extended special invites to local bloggers (and possibly Yelpers), from which positive "reviews" will very likely come (that's the dance, folks--positive press, bought and paid for), I figured it would be a good idea to temper the water with the experience of a paying customer. You know, someone like you. Someone who didn't have special treatment, special access, or free food.

Back to that experience.

I sat at the bar for 5 minutes (I timed it, because I could immediately sense things weren't going to go well), completely ignored by the bartender, who was of course standing only 3 feet away, before I got up to ask the people at the hostess stand if I was supposed to take one of those paper menus that they have there. I wasn't. They gave me a regular menu and I sat back down at the bar. Another 5 minutes went by before I was acknowledged.

"Five minutes, well huh that's not a lot of time, Mr. Important-pants" you say. Any business owner, or business-minded individual, will tell you that 5 minutes (well, 10 minutes in this case, technically), is quite a long time to not acknowledge a customer. At a bar, especially.

A cocktail list exists, which I suppose is a positive, and that was as good a place to start as any to. Yowza. It's populated with concoctions that would be best consumed by 22 year olds. Sweet, horrible-sounding drinks they seemed. The Counter is certainly not trying to appeal to people who are even vaguely interested in cocktails. With the exception, perhaps, of the "Margarita Fresca" (Sauza Hornitos, agave, lime juice, per the menu). Aside from not containing triple sec, and therefore not actually being a Margarita, in the "Fresca" style or otherwise, it was certainly the obvious choice for me, and the best-sounding on the list. I also figured I should watch it being made, just in case things went south. They did.

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The Monk Room: Newark, NJ [CLOSED]

Pizza1 monk room

Update: The Monk room closed at the end of September, 2015.


A visit to Porta in early 2013 yielded some information that just about floored me: the Porta people were looking to expand, big time, and some locations in the works were Newark and Jersey City. Hey that's near me!

Fast forward a few short months and The Monk Room opened in Newark right by the Pru Center, and the opening of a Porta in Jersey City has been announced, slated to open in probably just a few months. Look for a multi-level space, with music and a lively atmosphere.

I was really keen on getting to The Monk Room to see what was doin', so I hussled down 21 during their first week of operation for lunch. I walked away very pleased indeed.

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Notable dishes of 2012: the 2014 edition

File under: better late than never?

Try as I may to muster the energy to leave the warm, cozy house on this freezing cold day, I'm finding there are many obstacles. Not least of all being screwing around on the computer, looking through some old photos. I noticed that I have a couple blurry pictures of food, and figured "Hey, why waste these beauties on just me. I'll make another list!"

I kinda like putting together lists. Any sort of non-list post takes a lot of effort, although you probably wouldn't believe it if you read any of mine. The list-oriented posts are super easy, because let's face it, people have low to zero expectations with a list. They just want to see the list. And I have very low expectations for a list. Just show me the list. Most importantly, I'm a navel-gazer from way back, and lists provide a vehicle to look deeply into the glory that is me.

So here's the list of Notable dishes of 2012: the 2014 edition:

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Mapping: the eats

Don't forget, there's a nifty map of restaurants/retailers covered in this blog. This might make it easier to focus on a particular area, for example. 

It's accessible via the menu bar above, or here: http://tommyeats.com/tommyeats/te-map.html

I should add that this Google map doesn't seem to work with Google Chrome, so you have to click on the link for the larger view. You should probably do that anyway.


View t:e restaurants in a larger map


Trap Rock Brewery: Berkeley Heights: The Burger

TR-burger-at-Trap-Rock
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.

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Destination Dogs: New Brunswick, NJ

Destination-dog
When the organizer of a friend's bachelor dinner sent out an email saying that we'd all be meeting in New Brunswick at what I assumed was a hot dog place, my first reaction was: "Good grief, that's an hour away, and that's far." My second reaction was: "A hot dog place??!? Really? I'm not 24 and I'm slightly less broke than I was then so, like, WTF?"

These concerns melted away once I booked a hotel in NB, and took a closer look at Destination Dog's website. This is no hot dog place.

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