Another year, another 5 lbs sagging from my increasingly sore frame. And another roundup of some of the best dishes that contributed to those issues.
Looking back at this year's list, it's hard to not notice a theme of burgers, tongue, and pizza. And not a single salad. Who woulda thunk. Some of these dishes were found in New Jersey, which is good for you if you live in New Jersey and want to try them. But many were from some travels. As I've noted in the past in these year-end wrap-ups, it should come as no surprise that I'm eating stuff that I find exceptional when traveling. I mean, that whole idea of traveling is to eat exceptional things that you can't find at home. And maybe go to a museum or some shit. I'm not really sure.
On to the list, a list which is in no particular order.
Husk : Nashville, TN
Husk most certainly has to be one of the finest restaurants in Nashville. So fine that I found myself there twice during two trips. Only during the second visit did a Nashville-sized hangover lead me to order the burger. I had some hesitation when the bartender said they don't take a temp on it, but any concern was unfounded.
This is a double patty burger with gooey cheese and a monster sear on the exceptional beef. On a perfectly-sized bun. This thing is a work of art in its simplicity. Balance, salt, sear, fat. Every note was perfect.
Nashville Hot Chicken and waffles
Kitchen Notes in the Omni Hotel : Nashville, TN
And to think I'd never heard of Nashville hot chicken before 2017. And to think even KFC now has it.
I was able to sample Nashville hot chicken from several places (Prince's, Hattie B's, Acme Feed & Seed) during one visit. And they were all fantastic. I had low expectations for the restaurant in the Omni Hotel, especially with respect to this regional specialty, as you might. And that was wrong. Glorious hot chicken, a waffle, a perfectly cooked egg, pickles, a gallon of water, and a coffee. Holy cow did I need that on this particular morning. I returned the next day to have this again, but, alas, they weren't serving this dish that morning. This left a hole in my heart.
Tripe with long pepper and peppercorn
Joyce Chinese : River Edge, NJ
As I noted earlier this year on the blog,
"The flavor was intense. The heat was searing. The notes were herbaceous and fruity. Again, two elements I'm not used to experiencing in Sichuan food. The bowl was loaded with tripe, and Chinese celery, and bean sprouts, and pickled peppers, and ginger, and hot chili, and wood ear mushrooms. Textures swimming all around. I didn't know where to start, but didn't want to stop."
This was quite a dish. Not for the faint of heart. In fact, don't order it unless you are an expert like me.
Bee Keeper's Pizza
Talula's : Asbury Park, NJ
Long-time friend and tommy:eats reader "Curlz" turned me on to Talula's, when I asked her for some recommendations for good food and cocktails in the great city of Asbury Park. She sure led me to the right place.
Soppressata, hot honey. Tender crust, great char.
A wonderful little restaurant whose pizza is as good as Porta's, but with a smaller, more intimate feel. I remain impressed that they can produce this style of pizza with gas-fired ovens.
Woodstack : Pine Brook, NJ
Another pizza with meat and honey you say? I'll say.
We really, really like Woodstack. With its big long bar and thoughtful cocktail list and excellent pizzas and pastas that are as good as the pizza and great management and staff and did you have that bread and butter yet? I'm scratching my head as to why this place isn't more popular. Theirs is a recipe for expansion.
Roasted porchetta sandwich "Philly style"
All-Purpose : Washington, DC
Skip the somewhat mediocre pizza and get on this roasted porchetta sandwich. With sharp provolone, broccoli rabe and giardiniera, this sandwich doesn't look like much, but it delivers the goods. Take your favorite roast pork Italian from Philly, and include porchetta. That's right, that's right.
Bayou : Bethlehem, PA
We think this is a little gem in Bethlehem. Serving up food inspired by the cuisine of New Orleans. Don't skip the gumbo, which packed a healthy wallop of heat, with house-made tasso and smoked chicken.
Gourmet Express : Hawthorne, NJ
You wouldn't know this place existed unless you know it exists. You know what I'm saying? A tiny little mom-and-pop shop, with a steam table of great Dominican selections, and house-made empanadas that blew me away. Stop driving past it, and start stopping in for you empanada fix. Over 20 different selections should keep you stopping in again and again.
Nick's Laguna Beach : Laguna Beach, CA
I've never had a grown-up Big Mac as successful as this one. I'm not sure if that's what they were going for at Nick's, but that's what it is. And it's exceptional. The place is beautiful and airy, right on the PCH. They have a great cocktail list and excellent bartenders. Probably the best restaurant that we've visited in Laguna Beach. I drone on about it here.
Merrior Tasting Room : Topping, VA
I really didn't expect to eat very well during a visit to the sleepy boating community of Deltaville, VA. But just a few minutes away in Topping is a restaurant right on the water that blew me away.
Merrior Tasting Room is a small, mostly outdoor seafood restaurant in the middle of the operation of the Rappahannock Oyster Company. We had a few excellent dishes, but those local oysters, which were no doubt pulled from the water hours prior to hitting the plate, were a standout, and probably one of my favorite oyster experiences of all time. Served with the briny liquor intact, with views of the oyster guys doing their thing and Rappahannock River. Lovely service. What a wonderful spot. They also have restaurants in DC, Richmond, Charleston, and Los Angles. Well worth seeking out, I'd think.
Shrimp in hot oil
Antique Bakery : Hoboken, NJ
There's a real sense of "old Hoboken" at this restaurant, even if much of it is contrived in the way the decor of Hoboken memorabilia. But at the heart of it, this is still the old Antique Bakery, which I visited countless times for bread over the years. It's now a full service restaurant, with a big open kitchen (which contains several tables, putting you dead nuts in the center of the action).
This dish really made an impression. Head-on shrimp, lemon zest, hot oil, serrano chiles, herbs, finished with micro greens and wonderful charred bread. I tried to duplicate it at home and failed miserably.
Village Green : Ridgewood, NJ
I think the chef said these are made of crab and mascarpone, or some sort of creamy cheese. Doesn't matter. What matters is they are delicious little bites of crisp, crabby balls. I'd happily eat a dozen of them.
S. Egidio : Ridgewood, NJ
San Marzano tomato sauce, fior di latte, 'nduja, spicy soppressata, spicy honey. I initially thought the honey was a bit too heavy-handed, but it was a perfectly balanced pie. Executed flawlessly.
Bokeria : Split, Croatia
It's a rare event that I'll return to the same restaurant twice when traveling. After having the burger at Bokeria the first time, I knew I had to get back there. No easy feat as this is one of the most popular restaurants in Split. For good reason. This burger was simply outstanding. Both times. I mean just look at this friggin' thing.
Kapetanova : Mali Ston, Croatia
If you're traveling between Split and Dubrovnik, you'd do well to stop at the little town of Mali Ston and settle in to one of the restaurants on the blue water. I went on about this place here, and this is what I said about that risotto. I wasn't lyin':
"The risotto in squid ink came with a variety of seafood (cuttlefish, shrimp, mussels, etc.). It was super, as I was hoping it would be. Typically I'll tire of a dish after eating forkful after forkful. But not the case with this dish. I almost finished the entire dish. Almost."
Risotto with truffles and foie gras
Restaurant Dubrovnik : Dubrovnik, Croatia
A gorgeous open-air rooftop upscale restaurant in the old town. We don't typically eat at upscale places when traveling, but I'm glad we did. As I noted months ago,
"When I first saw that the truffle risotto included foie gras, I though "well, there's just gilding the lily now. Is a truffle risotto really going to benefit from the addition of foie gras?"
A resounding "YES" is the correct answer. Holy cow. OutSTANDING dish. My goodness. This was one of the finest dishes we had during the whole trip, and indeed the whole year to date."
New Jersey chefs: please note that there are things called "truffles." They grow out of the ground, and they are delicious. They do not come out of a bottle and taste like shit.
Soft shell crab
Oceanos : Fairlawn, NJ
We don't go to Oceanos nearly as much as we used to (or should), but when soft shell crab season (and wild salmon season) comes around, we make it a point to get over there. Peter is getting the biggest soft shell crabs that I've ever seen. Consistently outstanding. This year was no different.
Open face roast beef sandwich
Stockade Tavern : Kingston, NY
Not a trip near Kingston goes down without a stop at Stockade Tavern. A wonderful little bar with one of the most interesting cocktail lists I've seen outside of major metropolitan areas.
They have a very limited menu of little snacks, and during a recent trip we decided to order a little something. The roast beef is from Fleischers Butcher around the corner (which unfortunately has since closed at this location), served on toast with mustard, cheddar, and pickles. I'm not sure if it was the cocktail of cocktails flowing through my body, but this was a fantastic treat. I shit you not.
Hearth & Tap : Montvale, NJ
They're using some quality pepperoni (from Salumeria Biellese), and quality products make all the difference. Finished with some frizzled basil leaves. This is a pizza I crave, even though I'm not a "flat bread" type of guy. I do add one caveat: I've found that the dough gets a little more spring in the oven later in the day. Perhaps because it has more time to rise. I prefer this pizza when it's a little more airy and less dense.
Shumi : Ridgewood, NJ
No doubt the best sushi in Ridgewood, if not within 30 miles. I need to get back here for a proper omakase.
Crispy Pig Tails
Mabel's BBQ : Cleveland, OH
I've had pig tails a few times, but never like this. Like big, fatty, chicken wings, made of pork and pork fat. I though there would be a bunch of messy cartilage in these things, but they just melt away into your mouth. Holy cow. I'll take tails over loins any day. Simply outrageous
Southbound BBQ : Chestnut Ridge, NY
Lots of places are doing fried pickles, and many of those pickles suck. Southbound BBQ is doing them right. Thick slices of salty, acidic pickles with a cornmeal(?) crust. The cocktails and BBQ are also no joke. This place is great.
Beef and tripe
Shanghai Restaurant : Fort Lee, NJ
Pretty much any time I have a new and different version of tongue and tripe, it's going to make my list. When I posted about this restaurant, I mentioned that this version relied less on chile oil and more on toasted spices. And that's a #fact.
Beef offal in chile sauce
Shan Shan Noodle : Parsipanny, NJ
Do you remember what I just said about tongue and tripe? Of course you do. So don't be surprised to see it again. I don't think there was tripe in this bowl, but I'll take a bowl of tongue in chile oil any day and every day. This is a great spot with hand-pulled noodles and a lovely and engaged owner. Check it out.
OK, that's enough out of me. Eat well, be kind.