Cloverleaf Tavern: Best of Essex

The Burger Battle of the Best continues…

I feel like I ought to write about the Cloverleaf Tavern, because it is one of my favorite local haunts. It’s been around since the ’30s and was a men’s club for a short time, giving it some old time cred, like a speakeasy. Today it’s my favorite beer bar in New Jersey, offering up a solid selection of bottles and drafts, along with a memorable pub menu. They are currently in the running for several awards in the Best of Essex county competition, and I think they are definitely the winner for best tavern.

The All-American Burger with Trail Cut Fries

Best Burger is a tough one, though burgers are what first drew me here. Years ago, my Uncle Paul recommended the Cloverleaf and Tierney’s of Montclair for bar burgers, and of the two, the Clover is definitely the winner. Tierney’s makes a decent small bar burger but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it. Their beer selection is limited and I haven’t gone back since. At the Cloverleaf, I’m working on my M.B.A.- Master of Beer Appreciation- a rewards club where you get a $15 gift card every fifteen beers you scratch off their list of craft, exotic and classic brews. When you complete all 45, you get a shirt, and your name on the brass plaques on the wall. And you can begin your PhD, of course.

The Country Bourbon Burger

They have a nice burger selection, from tasty sliders to their classic All-American burger, and their flagship, the Country Bourbon Burger, which has Maker’s Mark Gourmet BBQ sauce. They are both fine burgers, topped with crispy or caramelized onions, quality cheese, and placed on their signature brioche bun toasted on the grill. The Black Jack – Cajun spiced with Pepper Jack cheese- is my favorite. They make their burger patties by hand and they are good and juicy. They offer a Buffalo burger if you want a leaner, beefier flavor. They are above your average bar and diner fare, and while I’ve had better burgers at gourmet establishments, for the price you get something much better than expected. I’m just spoiled. I almost always get a burger here, so that tells me they are doing something right!

Their fries are worth talking about. They make the usual waffle fries, but the trail cut- the little wedges pictured- are excellent. Crisp and tasty outside, tender within. They also make the best sweet potato fries I’ve had, managing to keep the outside crispy. They use fresh oil so your fries are golden and never over-browned. The pickle and cole slaw staples are tasty and worth eating. You’ll have a clean plate if you get a burger here.

Shrimp Po’Boys and Sweet Potato Fries

Their specials vary from local faves like steamers, to their version of a shrimp po’boy- tasty enough but so far from the original that I’d skip it. Their signature appetizer, their bubbling crab dip, is one of the best I’ve had. Creamy and rich, but the crab isn’t overwhelmed. The chilled oysters are a bit pricey and nothing to write home about, but the other appetizers never failed to please, and the portions are admirable. I haven’t had a steak here yet but will try one, as they are nominated for best steak. The only disappointment I’ve had was the meager Rueben sandwich, which could have been more filling. I should have gone for their Bourbon Chicken, which I know is satisfying.
I’ve spoken of their beer selection, but it bears repeating. They have a nice row of taps that feature local brews like Flying Fish and Ramstein- including their maibock and Oktoberfest brews- plus a rotating selection of classic and craft beers. Abita, one of my fave breweries from Louisiana, got featured here this month. They also have their own tasty Alt Bier that I like a lot. Special seasonal brews like ale brewed in Calvados barrels, or Imperial Cherry, or Creme Brulee Stout are always available for the adventurous. They have a well-designed website and announce special events on Twitter, so check them out. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them a gastro-pub but they do have a great kitchen and may surprise you. Besides, what’s a great beer without something to wash down?

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