Noir at the Bar NJ: at The Saint in Asbury Park, 12/2 8pm

noir at the bar xmas

I’ll reading with Jen Conley and others, some of whom appear in Trouble in the Heartland, a Springsteen-themed anthology.

There’s a $5 cover but some of us will be giving away books.

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.

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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.

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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.

The Christmas Empire Strikes Back

Yesterday I shared an anonymous letter that one of the residents of my building posted, about how the management was “torturing” us by putting up the Christmas decorations too early. Most of the ire returned to the anonymous protester was that s/he claimed to speak for all building residents, which is always a bad idea. If you say “we, the people” you had better be more than a handful of elites (waitaminute…)

Anyway, here are the very entertaining responses to the original letter:

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Baconfest!

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.

Goodnight to the “Bad Guy”… RIP James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini died at age 51 of a heart attack while on vacation in Rome. Best known for his iconic role as the modern mobster Tony Soprano, I first saw him as a gentle giant, a stuntman turned heavy in GET SHORTY. He played Bear, a quiet big guy who only cared about his daughter, and made some bad decisions while trying to support her.

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Our Fadda, who art in Holsten’s

Mr. Gandolfini actually had great range, if a voice as recognizable as Tony Curtis’s. He said he enjoyed playing blue collar roles because they are largely invisible, and when you have a blue collar accent, we are allowed to make fun of you (as in the mocking, “Da Castle of my Fadda,” which Curtis never actually said). He played one of the monsters in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. He sang WELL in ROMANCE & CIGARETTES (full review here). I didn’t recognize Gandolfini without his beard when he played the killer in TRUE ROMANCE, in a great scene in a movie full of great scenes. 

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James Gandolfini in TRUE ROMANCE

He was the best part of the recent adaptation of George V. Higgins’ Cogan’s Trade, the middling KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which was good, but confused. His scenes were solid and focused, a hit man falling apart. Like with his Tony Soprano, he brought humanity to a monster from our cultural mythology, brought life to a character type we visualize in shadows and silhouettes. I don’t think he reached his potential. I regret not going to see him onstage in GOD OF CARNAGE and hope a show was filmed. His latest project with David Chase, NOT FADE AWAY, about kids starting a rock band in the ’60s, fizzled away. I haven’t seen it, but that always happens when artists defy expectations.

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James Gandofini and Delroy Lindo in GET SHORTY

I never met James Gandolfini. I spent a half dozen years watching him in my home, on the Sopranos. He made me feel like I knew him. He inhabited the character in total. I recently ate ice cream at Holsten’s, where the final episode of the Sopranos was filmed. The house they filmed in is not far from where I live. The Bada-Bing is a few miles up the highway from where I work.  I’m sure Sopranos Tours will see a boost, but I’ll wait until that dies down and embark on a brief pilgrimage to Tony. You can argue that Tony wasn’t whacked in the final scene, but you can’t deny that he’s truly gone now.

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Kate Winslet in Romance & Cigarettes

My heartfelt condolences to Mr. Gandolfini’s friends and family. He is survived by his wife and teenage son, and millions of fans who rooted for his greatest creation to murder everyone who stood in his way.

The “Sopranos” booth at Holsten’s. They serve the best ice cream in our area. I still haven’t had the onion rings. I’d probably cry.

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The Story of O Street

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I have a story in a new collection to benefit victims of the Superstorm that smashed the coast last year, entitled “The Story of O Street.”  The book is Oh Sandy: An Anthology of Humor for a Serious Cause, and it collects an amazing roster of authors, including Gil Hoffs, Lynn Beighley, and Thomas E. Kennedy. If you need a laugh and want to help, grab the book. It is available for Kindle and in paperback, and all proceeds benefit charities supporting victims of the storm. The stories include comics, and fiction from all over the globe. I’m proud to be a small part of it, and if you want to read my tale of a surly general contractor meeting his match with a unique Jersey character, you’ll have to pick it up.

Unicorns and the Jersey Devil

Jersey Devil Press #40, cover: Heart of Darkness, by Matt Kish
Jersey Devil Press #40, cover: Heart of Darkness, by Matt Kish

“The fact that unicorn droppings sparkle iridescent doesn’t make them any more pleasant to shovel than regular old horseshit.”

My story “Spike,” which is all unicorns and rainbows, appears in the latest issue of that most New Jersey of literary journals, Jersey Devil Press. Issue #40 is their urban fantasy and myth issue, and  I’m in the good company of Tara Isabella Burton, Zarren Mykhail Kuzma, Chris Lewis Carter, and Rose Williamson.

It is available to read online and as a downloadable PDF to send to your e-reader.

Let me know what you think of Spike. My head movies don’t normally run to urban fantasy, but I enjoy these characters and wouldn’t mind writing more about them if there’s interest. Drop a line in the comments if you’d like to see more.