Burgers

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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The Black Pig: Ohio City: Cleveland, OH

Black pig exterior

Update (2014/10/21): The Black Pig will be moving to a new location at 2801 Bridge Ave), where they plan on reopening mid-November, 2014.

As we finished up lunch, I mentioned to the bartender that if people eat and drink this well in Cleveland, then I want to move there.

The Black Pig was our first stop during a recent trip to Cleveland, and, as it turned out, the best. The Black Pig was such a standout that we couldn't help but want to return to again. It's just as well that we couldn't make a return visit happen, because I wouldn't want to tarnish the memory of a near-perfect meal during that one lunch.

Black Pig interior1

A more welcoming and comfortable restaurant you'd be hard-pressed to design. Great stools, lots of leg room at the bar, hooks under the bar for your bags, soaring ceilings, original artwork on the exposed brick walls, two great big mirrors framing the booze, an open kitchen overlooking the dining room, and outdoor deck seating as well. 

I got the vibe of good management and training, which is so refreshing. A chef-driven restaurant with a good, strong, supporting cast is a combination that can lead to magical results. The Black Pig illustrates this.

Black Pig corpse

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Shake Shack: Paramus, NJ

  Shake shack burger

The backlash was inevitable, wasn't it?

Whenever something rises to mythical levels, people line up to tear it down. In mobs. Usually on Yelp, and almost always using the curious phrase "over-hyped," which is apparently universally loved by lazy writers, and those who don't understand that some people like things and others don't.

I'm not one to jump on backlash bandwagons, as that type of behavior is for sheep. But after a recent meal at Shake Shack, I can't say that I walked away very excited. Indeed, I may now, as of this moment, be a part of the backlash.

The fries.

Many words have been typed into the internet regarding those twice-cooked fresh-cut fries of theirs. Mostly negative words. It seems that people like the frozen crinkle fries better. I can't recall the frozen crinkle fries from my meals at the original Madison Square Park location, but I can imagine that I would like them better than these here fresh-cut fries.

Shakeshack fries

But, BUT, that's not to say they were objectively bad, or cooked improperly. They were actually executed quite well. I couldn't help but think they would be delicious next to steak au poivre, soaking up some creamy peppery sauce. They'd be right at home on that plate. But next to the burger, for some reason, which I cannot explain, they just don't work very well. Maybe it's that I'm looking for more of a fast-food type of fry. You know, frozen. See, the thing is, there's nothing wrong with frozen french fries--although many will disagree.

Some burger places have taken to offering 2 sizes of fries: huge and extra-huge. The smallest size at Shack Shack is clearly a serving large enough for two people. I would really, really like the option of a smaller order, because the fact of the matter is I will mindlessly eat them all. This is not preferable.

But what the hell is with this burger?

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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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Holsteins: Las Vegas, NV

Holsteins burger1a
When I put the question of "where should I eat in Vegas" out to the internet, one reader got back to me with a place with a shit ton of booze and dry-aged burgers. I think you know what happened next.

Of course, the place immediately shot high up on my list of must-tries. The place is Holsteins. Or, more completely, Holsteins Shakes and Buns. See, they apparently have shakes. And they put booze in those, too, if you want. I guess this is what makes Holsteins an "exciting new burger concept," as they say on their website. Can we stop with the "concepts" and just call ourselves "restaurants" going forward? Thanks.

Anywho, what's important is the food and the drink and the service. All of which were spot on at Holsteins.

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