Watch out, John Taylor… there’s a new pork roll in town

For a century, pork roll in New Jersey has gone by one name, despite competitors: John Taylor.

IMG_20141123_092808Our beloved “Taylor Ham,” or pork roll, we can argue about what it’s actually called, but let’s agree that our unofficial state Mystery Meat is delicious. The spice recipe is a well-guarded secret, and because it is a type of sausage, we know not to look too closely as to how it is made. So I’ve drastically cut down my consumption, as processed food products, especially those with nitrites, have become a health concern.

Well now there’s a grass-fed, pasture raised and antibiotic-free contender in the ring, from Vincenza meats. Available in New Jersey at Whole Foods, in the deli, I first learned of them in a Saturday Star-Ledger article, and immediately walked up Bloomfield Avenue to my local Whole Paycheck. I had to scour the store; it’s not packaged, it is a deli item. I ordered mine a little thin because I like mine crispy, but forgot this is “deli thin” so normal thicker slices might have been better to mimic the packaged pork roll slices.


They cook up nicely in a little butter. They have enough fat to not need butter, but why not? I didn’t slice the edges to keep them flat, because I thought they’d fry more like salami, but they still puffed up like the classic. You can see the spices once they start cooking.I let the edges get crisp and then flipped them, and because I don’t have rolls, I simply fried up some tomatoes and eggs to go with.


The taste? Like good pork roll. Nothing unique or different, which was the idea- to make it taste like classic Jersey pork roll. It has some tang to it, thanks to the fermentation, and the article states they put a little port wine in the mix, but it doesn’t taste fancified. So, if you’ve been looking for a pork roll made from humanely raised pigs, Vincenza pork roll will satisfy your conscience. At $14.99 a pound (versus $7.49 for John Taylor pork roll) it’s twice the price, for about the same taste. I haven’t been able to verify the ingredients, if he adds nitrates, whether from celery juice or not.

Next time I’ll do a side by side test with kaiser rolls and Land O’ Lakes American cheese.

Crime Writers Kitchen

Holly West started Crime Writers Kitchen with Kristi Belcamino and myself, out of our shared love for good food and murder. Drop by for my recipe for a pesto burrata breakfast sandwich, and to view my collection of headhunting knives.

Crime Writers Kitchen


Two-Ton Tommy and his criminal cohorts

I’m not a fan of Gatsby parties and all that, really. But when my favorite pub celebrated its 80th anniversary with a ’30s themed party, I spiffed myself up into my best and joined friends in joining the Cloverleaf Tavern‘s octogennial festivities. The Cloverleaf was opened by George Dorchak, Jr in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition. It holds the first liquor license in the town of Caldwell, New Jersey, best known to outsiders as the town Tony Soprano lived in. 

I found the ‘Leaf when my Uncle Paul said he heard they had a good burger, back in ’98 or so. The burger was memorable enough that when I began dating my wife Firecracker, I took her there for a burger and a hefewiezen. And a romance was born. (Between us and the Cloverleaf). Now we are both Triple PhDs in their beer loyalty programs, which means every draft we order comes in that bucket in my hand they call a stein:

tommy fedora

They had a hand-typed menu that evening with 80 cent sliders and pigskins- pulled pork topped potato wedges- plus $8 Clo-Vermontster burgers (a maple infused burger with maple bacon, which was a tad odd, but tasty) chicken in a basket, fish ‘n chips, and five 80-cent brews: Ballantine, Schmidt’s, Piel’s, Carling Black Label and Pabst, I think… we didn’t get that far! My stein’s full of Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere IPA, great stuff. They also had a cigar roller on the patio, and I partook of a mild one. I haven’t smoked in years, but it felt right. Here are some photos of my friends Kim, Gabi, Mike and Dave hamming it up in their duds.





PS, my criminal nickname is a tip of the fedora to showboat boxer Two-Ton Tony Galento. One of these days I’ll write about him:


The Big Eat – Senorita’s Mexican Grill

For this week’s The Big Eat, I drop by Senorita’s Mexican Grill for plates of pork chipotle, fresh guacamole, margaritas and burritos.

Senoritas Burrito


Sorry, you missed baconfest. But I went for you, so your cholesterol count is safe.

baconfest piggyZeppelin Hall, a Jersey City biergarten with tons of space for outdoor dining, added a one-night baconated menu to their usual spiel of currywurst, spaetzle, pretzels, and blau speck burgers:

Candied Applewood Smoked Bacon with Pecans.
Bacon skewers with caramelized onion & bourbon dipping sauce.
Steakhouse bacon, a grilled slab of pork belly.
Bacon-wrapped shrimp. Bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
Bacon Mac & Cheese. Bacon Meatloaf. BLTs.
The Elvis Presley Bacon sandwich, peanut butter, bananas and bacon!
The Bacon-Bacon Cheeseburger!
Bacon French Fries! (Okay, they had Bacon Salt on them)
and… Chocolate Covered Bacon!

baconfest burgers

Now pair this with a beer hall serving 144 taps (albeit maybe two dozen or so beers on those taps) and you have a night to remember. It was my friend Mike Dross’s pre-birthday, and the only thing he loves more than bacon is bacon. So we baconed him up.

With a beer mug the size of an artillery shell in hand, we sailed the seas of bacon and enjoyed killing our hearts and livers at the same time. My favorites? The chocolate covered bacon and the BLT, which was appropriately overladen with delicious, crisp bacon.

bacon being saucy!
bacon being saucy!

The chocolate bacon was twirled around a skewer and then coated, with a cherry on top. They did a good job. Zeppelin Hall is no gastropub- they serve down-home German specialties like wienerschnitzel and authentic currywurst well, if a tad pricey, but they also serve the biggest beer in the region. They aren’t my #1 choice, but in Jersey City, they are a great choice for beer lovers, who want space to breathe and enjoy good food. They also have plenty of parking, something rare in the JC area. And they made a damn decent burger, a memorable one with a good sear and beefy flavor, solid bun, properly cooked to order.

The Bacon-Bacon burger was good, if not quite the amazing Baconeator Burger served at Morris Tap & Grill. I could’ve eaten the bacon skewers all evening, but the Elvis was a sad sandwich, thin, with only a few strips of bacon that seemed like the thin, microwave variety, and barely a spread of peanut butter. I ordered it late, so maybe they’d run out of the great bacon I had on the skewers.

So is there such a thing as too much bacon? Maybe there is. But there’s never too much beer. They serve Oktoberfest brews all year round from Hofbrau and Hacker-Pschorr, and I really enjoyed the Commodore Perry IPA from Great Lakes brewing as well. Great Lakes is becoming one of my favorite breweries.

69, dude! The Coney Island hotdog eating contest

Joey Chestnut ate 69 Nathan’s Famous hotdogs in 10 minutes yesterday, in the 98th annual Coney Island hotdog eating contest. Sonya Thomas ate 36 and 3/4 in the women’s competition.

nathan's famous hot dogsI’ve eaten two Nathan’s Famous hotdogs in one sitting. They are not the best in America- but they are damn good, with great snap and savor. The Coney Island location treats them with the proper respect, and also serves nice crispy fries. Plus, Coney is just a place worth visiting. I can think of few places that distill the essence of American culture, good and bad, as finely as Coney Island. The rampant entrepreneurs, the hucksterism and showmanship, the chaotic tangle of buildings old and new, the crazy rides that probably haven’t been properly inspected by an ungreased palm in years, the gorgeous freaks at the Coney Island freak show, and jumble of cultures old and new. The Russians in Brighton Beach, the oldest pizzeria (Totonno’s), it’s the bottom corner of the Brooklyn chex mix bag where all the flavors are compacted into sharp, overpowering little pebbles. The neighborhood has an energy, and if there were American warrior shamans who could leech magic from the soil, this would be an epicenter of enormous power.

The Texas Tommy at Big Daddy's
The Texas Tommy at Big Daddy’s

That power fueled Joey Chestnut to breaking his world record this year. Last year he ate 68. If you really want to watch someone gulp down that many hot dogs, here is a video.


For the record, my top hot dogs:

Ripper with Relish, Rutt’s Hut, Clifton NJ

The Spicy Redneck, Crif Dog, Lower East Side, NYC

Chicago Dog loaded, Wiener’s Circle, Chicago

Rahall’s Red Hot Weenie, Hillbilly Hotdogs, Lesage WV

Pink’s, Los Angeles, CA

Chili Cheese Dog, Hiram’s Roadstand, Fort Lee, NJ

Nathan’s Famous, Nathan’s, Coney Island NY.

The Texas Tommy, Big Daddy’s, Park Ave, NYC.

The Big Eat: Meals for Meat-Heads!

Drop by Devil Gourmet for a tour of eateries friendly to the iron-pounding carnivore. Huge platters of seared meat ahead…

The Big Eat: Meals for Meat-heads

Meatstravaganza at Stamna, a Greek taverna