Category: Reviews

Minetta Tavern
New York, NY
2016

Cypress Tavern
Miami, FL
2016

Posh burger, squash burger blah, blah, blah…. Yes, I’m back after an all too lengthy absence to fill these pages with opinions, rants and hopefully things that will give you a laugh while making you salivate a bit too.

Aren’t you all tired of the “faux” gourmet burger movement?!? We all know of the places to which I refer. Just because they’re better than the Red-nosed Clown Burger doesn’t make them good. Ok, I’ll admit that there are a far greater number of establishments serving truly elevated burgers than there were ten years ago but those aforementioned just don’t make the cut. However, I’d like to tell you about a couple of my favorites that do.

If I’m in NYC or Miami and Jonesin’ for a ground beef fix fortunately I have my friendly neighborhood cholesterol pushers. The Minetta Tavern-this piece of old New York Greenwich Village is truly a classic. Dark and wooden but warm and welcoming at the same time. First stop the bar, where I proceed to get just slightly lubricated-well, it was cold out and the old bones needed a little grease. One very powerful Manhattan later it was time to transfer ourselves to the table. What to order? Appetizers aside there was only one choice, the Black Label Burger. This “grandfather” of the modern high-end burger movement never misses. A perfectly ground blend of what appears to be 8-10oz. of purportedly dry-aged rib eye, skirt steak, brisket and short rib. Softly packed, not over charred and cooked just as ordered-yes, medium-rare here actually means medium rare. Simply accompanied by caramelized onions and served on a Balthazar bun. It’s everything a burger should be. Is it expensive? Yes but worth all $32.00. As to the fries, they’re fine but not really my style. Correctly cooked and crispy with just enough salt but nonetheless a bit thin for my taste.

It was the best of times and the best of times

 

It’s way too cold for me in the northeast, I’m heading south. After a day of doing not much of anything, I started to crave…… On the edge of the Design District a quick ride but a million miles away from the touristy throngs of South Beach is the Cypress Tavern. A recent incarnation of the former and more formal Cypress Room, this place feels like it’s been on the scene for a long time. What appears to be Cypress paneling and vintage pictures of Miami gives the room that “old shoe” feeling- Sorry if I’m wrong on the wood species but I didn’t have my copy of Hugo Cuttindown’s A Lumberjack’s Field Guide to North American Trees- Dining alone that evening I planted my ass at the bar and ordered a Fashionably Late. What is a Fashionably Late? Well, that’s kind of an ongoing commentary on my punctuality or lack thereof but in this case think of it as rum Old Fashioned with a couple of different bitters and what was said to be all-spice simple syrup. Damn good! Time for the burger. At $22.00 it’s a real bargain. This offering I was told is made from chuck and one or more cuts of dry aged beef. Again in the 8-10 oz. range and perfectly cooked with a mouth-feel that is neither too coarse or fine nor too fatty or dry. Complimented by Jasper Hill Landaff, onion marmalade and thrice cooked fries-now that’s a burger and fries.

It was the best of times and the best of times

Do I have a preference between these two? Not really, other than Cypress Tavern has better fires and is a better deal- I’m guessing staying off the beach saved me at least eight bucks. This level of burger nirvana is rarely achieved. Enough so to perhaps turn Ebenezer Scrooge into Mr. Fezziwig.

Until next time Happy Eating and Drinking…….

Hungry Uncle’s House

October 26, 2015

As your never very humble Bard of Barbecue most readers of these pages know that I’m rarely at a loss for words. This is no exception.

Did you ever wonder what I do on weekends? Well, probably not but I’ll give you a glimpse or two regardless. As it is on most there is food, wine or other imbibing and  gluttonizing.

At the very strong urging of Hungry Uncle’s Better Half I decided to leave the cooking to others. Probably a good idea since cooking for a group of ravenous friends and family usually prevents me from fully enjoying the gathering and inevitably ends with an artful tapestry of obscenities emanating from the kitchen-and you thought skillful weaving of that magnitude reached its apex with Joseph Marie Jacquard. Being an accomplished cook in no way qualifies you to prepare multiple dishes for more than twenty people. Somehow I always make it through without too many scars but it ain’t easy-hats off to all the guys and gals who do it every night!

What was the impetus for this past weekend? Reverse gears to the month of May. I had just left several hours of eating and drinking in Chicago at an event organized by Vibrant Rioja and produced by  the Taste Network  www.tastenetwork.com . “Vibrant Rioja is a partnership between the governing body for wines from the region of Rioja, Spain called the Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja (now, you know why we simply say “Vibrant Rioja”) and Wines From Spain, under the auspices of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX). Our goal is to introduce the extraordinary wines of Rioja to American wine lovers, both to those with a new interest in wine and to experienced wine drinkers. At the same time, we want to introduce you to the region of Rioja, its scenic beauty, welcoming people, extraordinary architecture and wonderful cuisine.”-from their website.  As a long-time lover and collector of Rioja I had looked forward to this event since it had been announced several months prior. While I had left, the event still had another hour or so to go but a  visit with some local cousins took precedent. About two minutes after walking out the door I received a call from my girlfriend telling me that I must return as I had just “won”. “Won what ?” was my reply. Unbeknownst to me every attendee was automatically entered into a drawing for one of each of the 130 plus bottles that had been poured that day. I returned, participated in the PR photo shoot and then back with the cousins. Of course the food and drink didn’t end that night but continued with local friends for another day or two. It was then decided to use the weekend as inspiration and have our own miniature celebration of Rioja and Spanish food using -of course- the victor’s wine.

First problem, getting the wine back to New Jersey.  Driving from Chicago to New Jersey is about as exciting and intellectually stimulating as watching Public Access TV or even worse the hosts of “The View”. Since shipping via air is absurdly expensive, bring on the boredom. There was however one great diversion. While driving across the flatness of Ohio my traveling companion suddenly blurted out, “did you see it? We just crossed under Fangboner Road.” That’s right, Fangboner in Freemont. Yes, this is extremely sophomoric but just the name alone not to mention the perfect alliteration of Fangboner in Freemont did provide more than momentary comic relief and for a minute made me forget I was in Ohio which isn’t such a bad thing now is it 😉 For those of you who find this too low brow, loosen up it’s just freakin’  funny! Ok, diversion over.  Problem two, coordinating schedules. After several failed attempts, all agreed on October 24th.

Unfortunately this is where the story must end. They’ll be a couple of pictures below but they will only provide a glimpse into the food and wine. To post anything else might result in swift retribution from the FCC, ATF or God knows what other three-letter Federal or State agency; agencies that I’m sure we’d all be happy to describe with one or more four-letter words. Was it really that out of control, maybe/maybe not? I can only promise that there was no injury to human beings or domestic animals. As to the crustaceans, swine, poultry, grapes and other produce I plead ignorance…. Cheers

From may to October

Hungry Uncle’s Kitchen

October 13, 2015

I know it’s been a while since my ramblings have graced your screens and for that I’m truly sorry. Perhaps it’s left a void in your life? Well, give me a little credit. I like to think that I provide greater enjoyment than being overrun by those babbling idiots we call our elected officials and oh yes-the equally as inane talking heads of the mainstream media who try to inundate every minute of our day.

And don’t forget with the soon to be upon us national elections it will only get “better”. Yes, I know, you’re all feeling as fed up as I am. With all my hostility towards politicians building what have I done to stay calm? I’ve spent even more time in my secret test kitchen working on the newest BBQ sauce that I first brought to your attention this past summer.

Creating a tasty concoction that’s not only good for barbecuing but can also be used for roasting, grilling…..is no easy task. Not only do I have to create something that will have broad taste appeal but it has to be composed of ingredients that are readily available, take well to cooking in large batches and is as “clean” aka free of artificial preservatives  as possible. In addition, the cost to produce it must be kept under control. What good is a sauce if you need a second mortgage to by a bottle? No, my products aren’t the $1.29 items of the mass-market food world but they do seek to offer a balance among value, quality and taste. Part of creating this balance involves a lot of experimentation in the kitchen. Just when I thought it was ready for production an issue would arise. The latest was related to one of the base ingredients. While most sauces used for BBQ, roasting or grilling start with a simple base such as ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce or mustard this one doesn’t. Despite having the flavor and consistency right where I wanted them, the cost element threw up a major road block. I spent weeks trying to find a suitable alternative to no avail. Finally luck prevailed but only briefly. I found what on the surface appeared to be a winner-readily available, reasonable priced, and devoid of artificial preservatives-unfortunately the taste was simply put, foul. Back to the internet and the phone. Ok, now this one appears to be an option. Again, no such luck.  Not difficult to source and economical too but it was even more flawed. It contained chemical preservatives which in my mind turned it into nothing more than purportedly edible toxic waste. After summarily striking out in my search for this elusive product I was left no choice. I must create it myself.   Having to go through this process will certainly slow the launch of this sauce and require countless additional hours behind the stove. That’s Ok too; creativity doesn’t like to follow a time line and inevitably has many ups and downs. For those of us who truly love to cook this can be part of the appeal. In end when you’ve developed something that can be enjoyed by many or just a few it is all then worth it.

Now that I’m pretty close to solving my big problem in the kitchen maybe I can figure out a way to deal with our current political landscape. Hmmmm, since reconstituting the likes of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin is quite unlikely, all can do is take some small solace in the words of Will Rogers, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for….”

 

THE CREATIVE ROLLERCOASTER

BBQ Zone – Clifton NJ – August 10, 2015

We’ve all heard the hackneyed old saying “never judge a book by its cover”. I’ve always tried to keep that in mind when trying a restaurant for the first time.  I was meeting a close friend and regular dining companion for dinner and as usual we tried to find a locale with taste bud exciting food. There would no compressed wheat germ cakes on a bed of pea shoots with a dressing of ionized carrot juice emulsified with cod liver oil and reverse osmosis apple cider vinegar….God, that sounds really foul; kind of like rabbit food meets medieval medicine-where did it come from? I have no idea. Strange things must be afoot in the brain of this writer.

Located in a small non-descript strip mall, you are greeted by an un-cramped space that can be best described as “upscale fast food restaurant”. Clean and bright with a counter for ordering and a couple of self-service beverage coolers. I looked at the menu and something stuck me as a little odd. Touted as a BBQ restaurant, the place seemed to have a rather “un-barbecue-ish” menu. Yes, there were the classic options of chicken, brisket and ribs but also many non-typical choices such as burritos and beef/chicken shawarma.

They also had a create your own salad area which my friend told me turns out some tasty, fresh options. We both chose the ribs. One with a classic BBQ sauce and the other with a garlic butter type dressing. We’re the ribs good? Oh yes quite so.  In fact, I’ve been to very few hardcore barbecue only restaurants that could come close to these. To be fully transparent, I usually prefer a smokier than not rib when eating BBQ. These may not be of that variety but it in no way detracts from the enjoyment. Flawlessly cooked full spare ribs with an outstanding crust. There’s nothing quite like biting into a fall off the bone rib to be met with a frim charred exterior “bark” followed by succulent, juicy pork meat with just the right amount of fat.  Despite being full, I continued to devour the ribs until my stomach put up a closed for business sign. I boxed up the rest and had enough left for lunch the next day. All this for $14.00, you’re hard pressed to find a much better deal.

Hungry Uncle - Normal

It would have been easy to have skewed my opinion of BBQ Zone based on it having an atypical menu for something touted as a barbecue joint. That would have been a big mistake. This concept may be a bit unusual but it works. It is a place where you can eat quickly and without being subject to the toxic waste known as fast food. From their website, “We now live in a world where people live very hectic lives , eating on the go is not so much of a choice as it is a necessity. BBQ zone will meet that need with a healthier alternative to your typical fast food restaurant. While maintaining comparable prices we aim to make BBQ zone a cornerstone of the neighborhood.” To the McRib sandwich….may you R.I.P once and for all…Lazarus doesn’t need any competition.

July 17, 2015 – Memphis Pig Out – Atlantic Highlands NJ

The great Garden State. So much to love…expensive housing, exorbitant taxes, high cost of living, corrupt politicians, anti-business environment, generally lousy weather…. Now that I’m done venting, there are a lot of great things…proximity to NYC and Philly, countless cultural options, some of the world’s greatest produce and the Jersey Shore-to name just a few. With 130 miles of coastline and countless miles of river and Bayfront there is something for everyone. One interesting spot is the historic town of Atlantic Highlands. Perched at Sandy Hook where the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay meet, this borough of about 4,500 is the highest spot on the Eastern seaboard south of Maine. Sorry, this is where the information train stops. If your curiosity is piqued I suggest you visit www.ahhistory.org

One thing you’d never expect to find in this small artistic haven is an “authentic” down n’ dirty Memphis BBQ joint or should I say how many would envision it. Dimly lit, long bar, plaid plastic table cloths and in a perfect touch of kitsch an old school salad bar replete with small bowls, cottage cheeses, baby corn and many other vestiges of the 1970s. No, I don’t really think there’s anything Memphis or barbecue about this but I love it. It makes me think of after school cartoons that were always punctuated by such gems as Conjunction Junction, what’s your Function and I’m just a Bill on Capitol Hill – and you wonder why my generation is so screwed up??? About two minutes after being seated we were joined by a family gathering of parents and children at the adjacent table. Suspecting that after too much smoked meat and alcohol we might not be on our best behavior we asked to be moved away the Brady Bunch. Firmly situated at our new table we ordered our “imbibations” and then soon after our food. Despite having read several reviews about the servers being “less than friendly” I found it to be anything but the case. The copious portions arrived. Two of my dining companions ordered ribs, one a burger and I, the human garbage disposal, opted for the unnecessarily caloric pulled pork and rib combo.  I‘ve eaten a lot of BBQ in my life but what stood out here was the intense smokiness of the meat. Being a big fan of anything smoked, this meat coupled with their well-balanced barbecue sauce made me a happy man. I‘d be remiss if I failed to mention that the French fries were unexpectedly good too. Feeling that a food coma was imminent we brought the evening to a close.

Well, the evening may have come to a close but not this writing. Why do “We Never Go to the Beach”? I’m not sure but in Jersey when visiting that sandy area by the ocean or bay we only go “down the shore”. Not “down to the shore” or any other such variation… just “down the shore” in one flowing statement-everyone practice aloud now.  Hey, it’s a Jersey thing. You gotta’ problem with that!?!?!?!?!

Memphis Pig Out

April 17, 2015 – Miami Smokers-Miami, FL

Ah yes, the much maligned cardboard food package. For too long it has lived in ignominy of what filled its hollow inner core. Those less than enticing creations of the white-faced clown and the little red-headed girl took refuge inside and even after being freed by their executioner left a greasy reminder of their sordid past. For time immemorial this humble vessel has been unfairly targeted simply because it was the unwilling recipient of less savory edibles or should I say barely edibles. Is that fair, just or right? It is not I proclaim! Culinary justice must be served.

Upon walking through the door of Miami Smokers, your senses immediately come to attention.The wonderful aroma of smoked meat fills the air without being at all overwhelming-just for the record, I don’t think there is ever too much when it comes to smoked or cured meats. Whether you like your pork smoked, cured, roasted or as sausage, this small establishment which had its grand opening in February should be a stop. Cleary they are focused on take-out as there is just one communal table by the front window. I placed my order for the Beer Brat which was described as an “All pork brat. Wynwood La Rubia. Beer onions. Pink kraut. House beer mustard” After a little mix up, someone else at the table ended up eating my sandwich, the time had come for me to take a bite. It was well worth the wait. The perfectly cooked link was moist and loaded with the ever-wonderful sausage “juice”. That indescribable combination of salty and seasoned meat juices, fat and in this case beer-it’s truly amazing how few places can cook a sausage without making it explode and loose of all the liquid goodness inside. The accompaniments to the sausage were right on target, the sharp coarse grain mustard had just enough pop and the pink slaw had a balanced level of acidity.

After finishing, I had the opportunity to speak with the proprietors, Andres Barrientos and James Bowers. Clearly passionate about what they do and worthy of support. Based on the experience I couldn’t leave without a package of Bacon Jerky. Yes, that too was equally as good. Being able to reach for a slice of ready to eat chewy bacon meat with melty fat is a like Manna from Heaven -I’m not so sure many cardiologists would agree but oh well, their loss…..Do I have any criticisms of Miami Smokers? Yes, just one. They were completely out of men’s t-shirts-not surprising though. Doesn’t everyone want to walk around wearing a picture of a cigar smoking pig?

While opening my car door, I realized that all was right with the world. A simple construction of wood pulp would no longer be relegated to housing sub-standard tenants. Unlike Rodney Dangerfield it finally would get some respect. As to you, hamburger with a crown, I have sage advice…ABDICATE or be smoked out.

 

FROM A CARDBOARD CONTAINER’s POINT OF VIEW

FROM A CARDBOARD CONTAINER’s

April 5, 2015 – Hungry Uncle’s Kitchen

While I certainly don’t lay claim to the notion of roasting an entire head of this nutrition packed veggie, the recipe will provide a different twist.

Remove the leaves and cut the bottom from a head of cauliflower so it sits flat in an (oiled) baking dish. In a bowl combine about a cup of full fat-yes you heard me right FULL FAT-Greek yogurt with three to four heavy pinches of sea salt, a pinch of ground black pepper and half teaspoon each of onion powder and garlic powder…..and you knew it was coming, Hungry Uncle’s Bajan Barbeque Sauce. Two heaping tablespoons. Using a spatula coat the entire head (other than the bottom). Bake uncovered at 425 degrees for an hour to an hour-and-fifteen minutes depending on the size of the cauliflower-for a browner and crustier outside let it cook for a few extra minutes. Remove from the oven. Let cool for five minutes. Cut into wedges and serve. You’ll probably have some let over yogurt mixture which makes a great dipping sauce.

Healthy and tasty…will miracles never cease?!?

FUN WITH CAULIFLOWER

March 26, 2015 – Tartine-New York, NY

Ladies and gentlemen, if you will please direct your attention to the center of the midway. Here in front of your very eyes you’ll experience a creature seen by few. After years of searching, we found him hidden deep in a remote Moldovian cave…Prince Dragomir, decedent of Vlad Dracula…cut off from contact with the outside world and existing solely by biting the heads off live chickens and drinking their blood. Have no fear, as he has no taste for human blood- Yes, I surmise that I would have made PT Barnum proud.

This early master of the sideshow was known to instill awe and fear with the presentation of these “geeks”. Yes, boys and girls that is today’s history lesson. A geek was originally a circus sideshow performer who engaged in excessive or extreme acts like biting the heads from live chickens. How this morphed into today’s geek, nerd or dork is not clear but a good guess is it involved the common thread of being excessive or out of the main stream….just my theory. Where am I going with all this? Patience my dear readers, we will soon be there…….

Despite being a somewhat chilly, drizzly night I looked forward to the evening’s dinner with anticipation. I was meeting Evan McCormack, Wine Manger of New York City’s PJ Wine. It was a chance for us to sit down and let our inner wine geeks fully emerge. Old wine, unusual wine, there would certainly be ample opportunity for palate exciting vinous beverages. Yes, there was food too. Tartine offers a good range of well-prepared French Bistro dishes without the expense of a liquor license. A Manhattan BYO, certainly not an everyday find.

Broiled Escargot- garlic, parsley and anise butter. Grilled Saucisson -garlic sausage, warm new potatoes, shallots, chive dressing. Louis Rodriguez, Vina de Martin, Os Pasas. This crisp vino blanco was a perfect compliment. Light to medium body, clean lemon-lime nose, strong but not overpowering citrus on the palate ,think lime zest-thank you Evan- with some chalky/licorice overtones and honey finish. A native grape blend of Treixadura, Albariño, Torrontés and Lado from Galicia’s Ribeiro DO in Northwestern Spain.

Thyme Roasted Salmon -English & sugar snap peas, Brussel sprouts fingerling potatoes truffle mushroom dressing. Unionville Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Clone 5. This single vineyard New Jersey Pinot Noir is a Burgundy-style classic. A slick palate loaded with fresh strawberry, herbs, dark fruits and nice earthiness in the background. A great marriage to the salmon. While New Jersey is known for its produce it certainly isn’t a household name in wine making despite having roots going back to the mid-1760s. A majority of the state’s 48 wineries may not have yet achieved this quality of production but it’s an industry and craft rapidly on the rise.

Beef Mignonette-au poivres & French fries. Mario Perelli Minetti, 1981 100% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. From a time before California’s current “modern” wine age. Clean with a true mid-heavy body. Soft tannins and fruits but not at all over extracted or jammy.  A most enjoyable wine with or without food. There is balance and elegance in this wine and not even a hint of the overpowering style of so many of today’s California Cabs.
TOO MUCH WASN’T ENOUGH

Yes, there was some room for desert. Don’t miss Tartine’s outstanding Crème Brulee.

After outlasting all of the other customers and most of the staff, we brought this three hour “gathering” to a close. Good food, great wine and opportunity to get excited when talking about wine aged in cement tanks, the year’s pending arrival of Ameztoi’s Rubentis Txakolina and glory of the King of Pork, Spain’s Jamon Iberico.
……..ok poindexter, gimme’ your lunch money.

October 3, 2014 – Cape May Olive Oil Company-Cape May NJ

Peter Shields Inn- Cape May NJ

Despite being a New Jersey resident for almost my entire life, I have to admit I’ve neglected Cape May which is one of the treasures of the Garden State. This first of America’s seaside resorts is located at the southern end of the Garden State Parkway about three hours from NYC. Beautiful and surprisingly unspoiled beaches, colorful Victorian architecture, and a broad fascinating history are just a few of its draws. Fortunately there are ample culinary options as well- from beach-side bars to fine dining to unique food retailers.

Not knowing much about the town, I had the urge to wander. Pulling my girlfriend through the front door of another specialty food store met with the usual look. I knew all too well what she was thinking…she would find it fun for about ten minutes while her food obsessed boyfriend (aka me) could spend at least an hour with her trying to drag me back out the door every five minutes. In a small victory, it turned out to be as much fun for her as it was for me. No, this was by no means the place to indulge in buying rare and expensive olive oils and vinegars from around the world. In fact the origin of them was scarcely promoted. It seemed to be more focused on a broad range of infused products such as lemon olive oil, chocolate vinegar, specialty salts and the like.  After tasting countless items I finally settled on a smoked variety of salt called Durango and the rather pungent full flavored Alea from Hawaii. No oils or vinegars as my pantry is already overflowing with them. It was a fun 45 minutes in the store-well laid out, unfussy with a friendly yet unobtrusive staff.

Salt Tasting

Salt Tasting

Olive Oil Display & Tasting

Olive Oil Display & Tasting

Jam Tasting

Jam Tasting

After spending the next few hours getting well lubricated on samples from a few of New Jersey’s nearly 50 wineries, it was time for a nap as the night’s dinner was approaching with great anticipation. Sorry to all of you in the land of earthquakes, mudslides and fires, there is very good wine made in other states too-yes, shocking and perhaps even inconceivable I know but actually true….quick, alert the media!

Pulling up to the Georgian Revival Peter Shields Inn really sets the stage for what’s inside, a formal yet relaxed, sophisticated yet “beachy” restaurant and small inn. We walked into an entrance parlor complete with live piano music and were greeted by an engaging young lady who asked if should could take our wine and bring it to the table –oh thank you as always New Jersey for your ridiculous and antiquated liquor laws, you have saved me thousands over the years. We were seated in what appears to have originally been a porch but has since been enclosed to create a dining area. After about five minutes our water was poured and we were given menus-you have a choice of selecting your own or going with the chef’s tastings. The variety of options was broad enough no matter what your inclination. Fish, seafood, poultry, meat with many selections being seasonal and local. My girlfriend started with Jumbo Lump Crab Salad, Smoked Salmon, Mache, Almonds, Basil Aioli. Everything worked quite well together. You could clearly taste all the components of the dish without any of them dominating. I had the Cape May Salt Oysters, Champagne Ice, Paddlefish Caviar. The little cubes of champagne combined with just a touch of orange juice was much more interesting than a standard mignonette and really brightened the flavor of the classic briny earthy New Jersey oyster. The entrees were equally as satisfying.  Local Golden Tilefish, Cauliflower Puree, Wax Beans, Haricot Verts
​Applewood Smoked Bacon, Chanterelles, Potato Gnocchi, Red Wine. It may seem like too much was happening in this dish but it wasn’t.  The tile fish was moist and perfectly cooked and its mild flavor was not overshadowed by the other strong flavors on the plate. They complemented each other well. Crispy Duck Breast, Sweet Potato Puree, Braised Kale, Pancetta, Cherry Duck Jus. A classic straight ahead full flavored dish. I’m happy to note that the Cherry Duck Jus was a balanced combination of savory and sweet unlike the overly thick, cloying sauce that often accompanies dishes of this type. To be completely honest, the temperature of the duck was the one small misstep of the dinner. Despite ordering it medium-rare, it was undercooked enough to warrant a return to the kitchen for a few more minutes under the heat. Being thoroughly stuffed we decided to split one desert, Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brûlée, Fresh Berries, Chocolate Twist-creamy, not too sweet and a perfect  brûlée. I was really craving the Warm English Date Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream, Caramel but calmer heads prevailed. As for the evening’s service, it was everything it should be. Attentive without being overbearing, very professional but relaxed at the same time. All the staff seemed to be enjoying their work and it was reflected by satisfied diners throughout the restaurant. The time at the Peter Shields Inn was memorable. No faults of any significance. Just a smooth completely satisfying experience from an establishment that truly “gets it” on every level.

 

Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brûlée

Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brûlée

 

Peter Shields Inn

Peter Shields Inn

 

Local Golden Tilefish, Cauliflower Puree, Wax Beans, Haricot Verts

Local Golden Tilefish, Cauliflower Puree, Wax Beans, Haricot Verts

 

Cape May Salt Oysters-Champagne Ice, Paddlefish Caviar

Cape May Salt Oysters-Champagne Ice, Paddlefish Caviar

The next afternoon, our weekend in Cape May was winding down. It was time to leave this place we had both unexpectedly fallen in love with. If you’d like to experience a little piece of America how it used to be, take the time to visit this place affectionately called “Exit Zero”.

 

September 18, 2014  Tautog – Virginia Beach VA

Sometimes things just all fall into place and everything works correctly. It’s even more pleasing when this happens in an unfamiliar environment. I had occasion to travel to Virginia Beach. I must tell you that the drive from central New Jersey is so boring that even the most sane might be found having a conversation with themselves. There is however, one fun distraction along the way. Tiki Murph is a roadside stop on the northbound side of Route 1 in Milford DE. This homage to Polynesia allows you to outfit yourself with an array of carved Tikis, Tiki Bars and huts-pretty cool stuff ………….    …………………………… Sorry my mind wandered, I must have taken a trip to tropics. Back to the subject at hand.

After checking into my hotel and admiring the beach from the balcony I set out to find a place for dinner. Searching the usual online sources I found what seemed like numerous options…hmmm, which one to choose? Actually the decision was quite easy. After six plus hours in the car the last thing I wanted to do was get back behind the wheel. Past the obligatory t- shirt shops, tourist focused eateries and Ben & Jerry-God help us if a tourist town doesn’t have one- I arrived at what looked a simple old beach house. Good, looks like place for the locals . My initial impression was not wrong. Although there was clearly a mix of locals and tourist this was truly an establishment with a sense of place. Comfortable, old and worn but in the best way. It was real. Nothing appeared to be there just to appeal to a preconceived concept of what the place should be. Whether it was the bumper stickers on the ice maker, the pictures on the wall or the semi-cramped  space itself, it all worked. After waiting about ten minutes I was able to find a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of Riesling from a reasonably priced wine list with enough selections to keep you happy.  On to the menu,  fish and seafood focused but offering a few meat and chicken selections as well. The food didn’t disappoint. Nothing unusual but they made the dishes a little more interesting than standard fare-a large Caesar salad and Mahi Mahi over a red pepper coulis with dill sour cream. This was really quite good.

While I left satisfied with my meal, it was the place that left the impression. Friendly and welcoming, good conversation with some regulars- based on the interaction among patrons and staff there seemed to be a lot of them-a restaurant not interested in trends or artificiality. Simply put it all just worked. I’m glad I found Tautog’s. The thought of eating at a themed restaurant with some clown dressed in a fish outfit singing to screaming kids is a nightmare I can’t imagine….kind of like a demonic Charlie the Tuna!