Burgers

Momma's Boy Burgers: A Shake Shack-ish place in Wayne, NJ

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It's beyond evident that Shake Shack was an inspiration for the people who opened Momma's Boy, a burger/hot dog joint in Wayne, NJ. It's clear right down to the wood/metal interior and the logo. And who can blame them for taking some cues from a place like Shake Shack. Shake Shack does a pretty damned good job at selling hamburgers and fries.

The people behind Momma's Boy were certainly paying attention when they pulled this place together.  The burger is very similar to the burger at Shake Shack. Same griddled potato roll, same style of "special sauce" (may0/ketchup-based), same type of melty American cheese, and the same size. But all of that means nothing if the burger meat isn't tasty, and the execution is flawed. Do they pull it off?

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Novo Mediterranean: Ridgewood, NJ [CLOSED]

Update (2017/7): Novo had been sold and closed. A bit loss for Ridgewood's dining scene.

North Jersey has no shortage of restaurants focusing on what might be considered "Mediterranean cuisine." Ridgewood alone boasts several, ranging from good (Lisa's Mediterranean and Mediterraneo), to cookie-cutter (casually glances at It's Greek To Me). So when I saw another restaurant billing itself as "Mediterranean" was opening on Chestnut Street, I wasn't overcome with anticipation. In fact, I was only vaguely interested in the prospect. I'm here to tell you that I was a moron.

After my first meal at Novo Mediterranean, I proclaimed it "excellent," "one of the most exciting new restaurants in the area," and noted that it "has potential to become a favorite." 

After the next meal I upped the ante, stating "Chef Kahlon is a stone cold killer," and "serious effing business here."  It took me a while, but I am no longer (as much of) a moron. Novo is, indeed, irrefutably, one of the most exciting new restaurants to hit North Jersey in a long time. After three meals it is, without a doubt, a favorite. I cannot imagine ever tiring of Chef Kahlon's cooking--although his dashing good-looks are starting to grate on me.

I should talk about the food.

Novo bread

The first thing that hit our table was a loaf of house-made bread. A steaming log of olive oil coated, airy bread, sprinkled with sea salt. The bread alone is reason to return. I can't imagine how good a sandwich made with this stuff would be. Throw some ham in there and call it a day. If at the moment that bread hits the table you don't realize that you're in the hands of an excellent chef, you'll only have consider the punch of flavor packed into house-made za'atar to be convinced. I couldn't figure out what was in it, and I don't care; some things are too good to ponder. 

I'm bloviating enough as it is, and I know you people have a very short attention span, so I'll just move on to some photos and brief comments.

Novo salad

This salad was popping-bright, with crunchy, fresh vegetables, appropriately dressed, and adorned with fried chickpeas and shaved cheese. This dish may very well encapsulate Chef Kahlon's approach to cooking. Lots of exciting acid, herbs, fresh ingredients, and textural contrast. He cooks like I like to eat.

Novo ravioli 2

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Lunch: at Peter Luger: Brooklyn, NY

Luger steak

It was eleven years ago that I first experienced Peter Luger. A memorable late lunch on a weekend. At the time I described that experience as "one of the better if not the best experiences at a steakhouse that I've ever had." Indeed, Luger became the high water mark to which all other steakhouses should aspire.

Since then I've aged, fatted, and taken several trips across the Williamsburg Bridge, mostly for boozy, manly affairs pre-show or pre-debauchery. I've also eaten a fucklot of very good steak. It comes as no surprise that my recent lunch was certainly not the transformative experience that the first was, but it was quite good.

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Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern: Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ

Burger hohokus inn

Ho-Ho-Kus Inn continues to amaze me. In a "why did I return" way. A recent visit (to the "tavern," not the formal dining room) proved baffling and frustrating on too many levels.

Let's start with a cocktail.

The cocktail list consists of maybe four or five drinks. Hopefully you're not too concerned with money, because there are no prices. You'll just have to guess. We ordered something billed as a Tequila Old Fashioned. Ostensibly, this would be an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of whiskey. Good in theory I suppose.

An Old Fashioned, to my mind, is simply whiskey, sugar, and bitters. Perhaps a garnish of fruit. Yet in this version, there's lime juice.  When I saw "lime juice" in the list of ingredients, I knew I had to ask if it was fresh lime juice. The friendly bartender said that she could put fresh lime in the drink if I wanted. Now I was really curious. "What would you put in it if I didn't ask?" She showed me this plastic bottle of neon green lime juice cordial from the rail. Good grief, why does a place of the level of Ho-Ho-Kus Inn even have that stuff, much less use it in one of their featured cocktails. Why? Because it's amateur hour here. Twenty-four-seven.

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Jockey Hollow: Chris Cannon's mansion restaurant in Morristown, NJ

Jockey hollow exterior

People had me convinced that I was supposed to know who Chris Cannon is. I had no idea. I read an article about this NYC restaurateur in the New York Times some months back, but didn't commit the information to memory. By the time I got around to sitting at one of the three bars at Jockey Hollow, I had forgotten that Cannon was a partner at L'Impero--one of my favorite NYC restaurants back in the day. Frankly, who cares. The restaurant is either good, or not good. While I can't judge a restaurant on one lunch visit (and not even in the dining room), I got the feeling that they're trying really hard at Jockey Hollow, are capable of producing some fine food, but have room for improvement.

How do you get in this place?

I don't know if it was the snow and the cold and the lack of visible signage, but the whole shebang looked desolate and closed when I pulled up. I knew there was a parking garage in the back of the mansion, so I figured that was a good a place to start as any. From the garage a quick elevator ride took me right to the Vail Bar, where I was greeted by a friendly bartender and a surprisingly bright and cheery space. My fear of dark woods and a clubby, stuffy bar melted away.

The Jockey Hollow complex has three bars. The front of the mansion, which is where the main entrance is, houses a dining area and the Oyster Bar--a sleek, modern space with a long bar displaying lots of wine (and oysters). The Vail Bar, just behind the Oyster Bar toward the back of the mansion, is a bit more casual, a bit more prohibition-era, with a long bar displaying lots of booze. I like looking at booze almost as much as I like drinking it, so I advised my girlfriend to meet me there. (The third bar, in the basement, is the Rathskeller, a space for private parties, which I'm told is also open to the public on Friday and Saturdays.)

Jockey hollow vail bar

Refreshingly, menus are presented on iPads. This means that everything you need to know is right in your hands. No dicking around asking for the cocktail list. No having the bartender recite the beer list (if I never have to sit through "Bud, Bud Light, Yuengling, Sam's Summer..." again in my life I'll be grateful). All of the information. In your hand. What a concept. Everything, with the exception of the quite wide and deep wine list. The wine list is printed and separate. The wines-by-the-glass, I would argue, should be on the iPad as well. Maybe they'll figure that out at some point.

While we're on wines-by-the-glass, I will note that the selection is long and varied. So much more than your too-standard three flavors of New World Chardonnay that most restaurants seem to implement (if I never hear the words "I'll have a Chardonnay" again in my life I'll be grateful).

The menu is broken down into sections, as you might expect, including crudo, raw bar, appetizers, entrees, salumi/cheese, and a prix fixe. Lots to choose from here, and more than a few things read really well.  We landed on some crudo and entrees.

But first, a cocktail...

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B Spot Burgers: Michael Symon's place in Cleveland, OH

B spot wall

We're big fans of (Iron) Chef Michael Symon. He makes us laugh when we watch The Chew. His humor is at times juvenile, and he cracks up at the most ridiculous stuff. This is very entertaining to us (probably because I exhibit the same qualities). Motivated only by this fandom and curiosity, and a hangover, we took the 20 minute drive to B Spot, his fast-casual burger chain. Not the one in downtown Cleveland, since that one is in a depressing-as-ass casino, but rather one of the ones in the suburbs of Cleveland. Way out somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

B spot neighborhood

Did I say nowhere? It could have been anywhere. We pulled into a complex that was designed in a boardroom, presumably to resemble Mayberry-in-Hell. Think "The Truman Show." Or "Long Branch, NJ." Or anything that refers to itself as "Shops at the Promenade." At least there was valet parking on this crappy, dreary, raining day.

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Mill House Brewing Company: Poughkeepsie, NY

Mil house brewery exterior

While I received some excellent recommendations from readers for a restaurant in the Rhinebeck/Kingston area, we landed on this newish brewpub in Poughkeepsie, which we found via google. Off we went.

Mill House Brewing Company is in a beautifully restored mill, with lots of exposed brick, a private room upstairs, a large bar, and outdoor seating on the second floor. And a parking lot, which is nice. A really sharp looking place. Take a look at what it looked like before:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 4.08.04 PMImage courtesty of Google

Greeted by a large and bright bar, we grabbed two stools by the window and started reviewing the menus, with “We Built This City” on the soundsystem in the background. How the band that recorded that God-awful dreck is even remotely related to the band that recorded “Miracles” is beyond me. Thankfully the 80s music that was on quickly segued into excellent stuff like Squeeze and Dexys Midnight Runners and INXS.

Mill house brewery bar booze copy

While I fully expected to see a focus on beer, what with this being a brewpub and all, I was a surprised to see such a thoughtful cocktail program. The selection of booze was well beyond that of an average restaurant. It was exceptional. Fresh juices, infused syrups, barrel aged cocktails—someone gave the cocktails deep consideration. And I'm not one to let that attention to the good stuff go to waste. Those beer-drinking heathens don't know what they're missing.  We got right to it...

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Eating in Hudson Valley: Boitson's Restaurant: Kingston, NY: burger and cocktails

Boitsons bar1

We were spending the weekend "in Woodstock," but in reality we spent much of our time in Saugerties and Kingston--two towns within 15 minutes of each other, and Woodstock.

We found Kingston to be a lovely old town, one which is certainly in the middle of a renaissance. The Stockade district is filled with beautiful Dutch-influenced architecture, restaurants, bars, shops, and feels very much as exciting as any part of, I dunno, let's say Brooklyn. It's also, perhaps, a bit less hippie than its neighbor Woodstock, which can be a good thing, depending on your feelings about hippies (I've always been more of a punk than a hippie, so, you know, draw your own conclusions about how I feel about hippies).

Within a few minutes of checking out the town we knew we were going to be going back at some point. Our cocktails at The Stockade, an awesome speakeasy with excellent cocktails, pretty much solidified that (more on The Stockade later). And dinner at Boitson's was no slouch, either.

Boiston's was recommended by a friend, and after seeing a small, focused menu filled with comfort food, and a cocktail list with more gin, tequila, and whiskey than vodka, it went to the top of the list.

Boitsons deck

It's a beautiful, casual restaurant, with a long bar running down the narrow room. We didn't know it until we arrived, but they also have a great outdoor deck which includes another bar. Down we sat.

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Habit Burger: Fair Lawn, NJ at the Promenade

Habit burger burger

The burger build-out continues. The latest entry into the increasingly saturated market here in north Jersey is Habit Burger-- a California-based chain, poised to compete squarely with Shake Shack, Smashburger, and the other upscale fast-casual blahblahblah burger joints.

When we I saw a photo of the burger on BoozyBurbs's twitter feed, well we I just knew we I had to check it out--even though he they opted for avocado as a topping (actually, we I made fun of the burger on twitter for a while before we I thought to try it--busting his their boozy balls is a favorite past-time of ours mine). How does this burger (without avocado) stack up against the competition? Pretty well, we I think.

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Hot Diggity Grill: Hawthorne, NJ: Great burgers!

Hot diggity Grill burger fries

I was driving through Paterson today, and for some reason I started wondering how Smashburger serves their burgers so darned hot. They really are hot, and stay hot. Like magic. I'm a big fan of Smashburger. It was close to lunchtime so I figured I had to get a burger, from somewhere.

Smashburger was a bit out of my way, and luckily I recalled a reader telling me that Hot Diggity Grill in Hawthorne has a good burger. I was skeptical when I heard this, and was still skeptical when I recalled this, but I shot into Hawthorne to give them a shot. Glad I did.

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