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?

Steve’s Sizzling Steaks: Blaze Burger

The Burger Battle of the Best continues…
Yeah yeah yeah. I went to a steak joint that is a Northeast Jersey institution and I ordered a hamburger! I’ve had Steve’s Sizzling Steaks many times and they are unique- marinated in Maggi sauce, the salty smokiness is not for everyone but I find it delicious. They don’t put that on the burgers, but next time I’m gonna ask them too. I had the Blaze Burger, a half pound of ground round on a soft Kaiser roll, many times as a child when my Dad took us here, and I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered. I was not disappointed.
Steve’s is an old hunting lodge turned bar that’s been around since 1936. The bar area is decorated with dozens of steins and hunting rifles across the ceiling, and every inch of the wood paneling is covered with a taxidermied critter, a fish trophy, a snakeskin, or a rack of antlers. What would you expect from a guy who fished with Ernest Hemingway? The hardwood is soaked with the testosterone of the golden age of manhood and merely drinking a beer here has been known to increase male fertility. In the old days they served steaks and burgers. That’s all. Now they have chicken, appetizers, and shrimp available. But when you go to a place called Steve’s Sizzling Steaks, you know cow is on the menu.
My stepfather and I had a few beers- they have Samuel Adams, Boddington’s and Blue Moon along with the usual tap fare- and ordered up. He got the New York strip. It comes with a good-size salad that made me wish I’d ordered one. But the meat came soon enough. The Blaze Burger, cooked on their fire grill, is charred but still juicy when ordered medium, as it should be. I got mine with Swiss and fried onions; the usual cheeses are available, as is bacon. You get steak fries and a few onion rings with your burger, and the lettuce, tomato & pickle on the side.
Before I get to the burger, let me say their onion rings are nice and crisp, good flavor. But their steak fries are some of the best. All too often steak fries are mushy and undercooked, but Steve’s has been cooking them for ages. They come with every steak, on the sizzling metal plate, soaking up the sweet juices. As I watched my stepfather dig in to his juicy steak I began to regret my order, but it was love at first bite. They make a good bar burger. I’d put this a hair above the Cloverleaf Tavern, which is my median for good burgers in the area, because the big roll keeps things neat and tastes good too. The burger has a good sear on it for flavor, and like I said, it isn’t dry or too firmly packed.
So if you go to Steve’s and don’t feel like having one of their 24oz. porterhouses or their juicy ribeye, you can safely grab a burger instead and you won’t be disappointed. They may not be in the top echelons of burgerdom, but they don’t slouch on it just because the signature is steaks. We’ll return here for steaks soon, the next time Firecracker gets the carnivorous urge. And I’ll tell you how damn good their FlatIron steak and Filet are. Steve’s is on Route 17 in Carlstadt:
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=steve%27s+sizzling+steaks,+nj&ie=UTF8&ll=40.848294,-74.080467&spn=0.011624,0.015836&z=14&iwloc=A&cid=7036650012876402577&output=embed
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The Shake Shack Shack Stack Burger

The Burger Battle of the Best continues…
The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park is known not only for their burgers ground from brisket but also the incredibly long line that they memorialize on t-shirts. I tried going on a chilly November evening once, and the line was so long I couldn’t see the place. Then I heard they were at the new Mets stadium, but I refuse to watch millionaires hit balls with a stick unless they’re hitting their own scrotes. So when Firecracker said they opened a new one on Columbus & 77th, we hopped a train and headed there forthwith.

Lookin’ all upper west sidey ‘n shit

It’s the perfect location to eat a cubic assload of delicious calories, right near Central Park so you can walk it off. I think you’d have to walk the circumference of the park 47 times, but it’s worth it. The Shake Shack burger is one of the best in the city.

It took us about 15 minutes to order and get our food; they offer a vegetarian option (full menu), a portabello mushroom cap stuffed with muenster and cheddar, breaded and fried. I said vegetarian, not healthy! And if that sounds awesome but you also want meat, you can get the Double Stack or the Shack Stack, which have 1 or 2 beef patties as well as the ‘shroom. They are massive and delicious. I did not eat for 7 hours after this meal, and even then, I picked.

I am Shack Stack, hear me burble

The Shack Stack is positively Presleyian in stature and flavor. I managed to hold it together even after the cheese magma began erupting from the ‘shroom patty. It reminded me of a Jucy Lucy (sic) from Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis, where they stuff two patties with cheese. They are painfully delicious. The Stack’s cheese was a bit cooler.
The ‘shroom patty about to explode

The Double Stack just has 1 patty and is more manageable. Firecracker had one of those. We couldn’t finish our shakes, they were so filling. The shakes are pretty good but very strong in flavor. She had a peanut butter one that was like drinking Jif. Not as good as it sounds. I had a black & white malt that had good flavor, a bit too thick to drink, and if you can believe it, too chocolatey. They’d probably have tasted better alone. Next time? Floats. They use Abita root beer.So good it’s worth eating outside on a bench

Their fries are very good too- crinkle cut, but the oil is immaculate and leaves them light and golden. The brisket patty is very juicy and while it lacked the full beef flavor of a Ray’s Hell, Les Halles, or 5 Napkin, it beats the Burger Shoppe and the Burger Joint handily. (I’ve reviewed all those here) The Shake Shack is a place we’ll definitely return to- but I will have one of their “plain ol’ burgers” next time. The Shack Stack conquered me, and perhaps was too much of a very good thing. Share one with someone you love.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=shake+shack,+nyc&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=49.490703,69.521484&ie=UTF8&ll=40.801726,-73.968029&spn=0.093203,0.135784&z=13&iwloc=A&cid=3740244163230744188&output=embed
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Hell Bent for Taters


I decided to make a spin-off blog for sillier stuff, media and jokes- Pluck You, Too! will remain primarily movie reviews, junk food worship, excursions, and so on. Hell Bent for Taters will be even nerdier, sillier, and stupider. Blue Meeny will have the road trips, and they’ll all be in the RSS feed window on the lower right.

See also Darth Milk’s blog Can’t We Go Beyond Thunderdome? which will have his own flavor of music, movie and Star Wars ephemera reviews when he’s not talking about doing crunches and eating chicken.

Lord of the Rings Extended internet nerd nitpicks

I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy, don’t get me wrong. Don’t revoke my geek cred. I still think the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, is the best of them, and that Peter Jackson created as nearly a perfect adaptation as possible for the times. He had to abide by certain Hollywood blockbuster rules, yet managed to stretch them enough to get his vision across. The extended edition of Fellowship is excellent and worth the immense running time. Return of the King is depending on how much you like the first two, but we’ll get to that later. I revisited all 3 films with Milky, belly-slapper general, to keep me from dozing during the slow bits (12 hours of walking!).

So let’s pick them apart!
1. Deus ex machina airlines

Whenever there’s trouble, the eagles show up. There are more Eagles in Tolkien’s books than on a ’70s light rock station. They save them in The Hobbit, they save Gandalf from Saruman, they save Frodo and Sam. Why didn’t they just have the eagles fly the ring into Mordor and drop it into Mount Doom, and drop bird dookie on Sauron’s Cadillac? I stole the “airlines” from Mark E. Rogers, The Adventures of Samurai Cat, a very funny spoof of Tolkien, Lovecraft, Kurosawa, Conan, and more.

2. no little people!
All those hobbits done with CG and perspective. The only “dwarf” was Gimli, the six foot plus John Rhys Davies. The CG does give the hobbits an other-worldly look, unlike the dwarfs in Prince Caspian, played by little people Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis. It’s unfortunate. Maybe if there were more dwarfs in the story, they could have upscaled little people to be bigger than the hobbits. I’m hoping that for Guillermo del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, they do something like that for the dozen dwarfs. Let’s hope CG doesn’t make it harder for little actors to get a job, dammit. Prince Caspian may have sucked, but it wasn’t because of the little people.

3. Saying the titles

Actually this was probably an in-joke, and is sort of funny that way. Remember when movies felt like they had to say the title in the dialogue, if it was high concept, so people would “get it?” Man, I’m getting tired of all these star wars! Riggs, you’re acting like a lethal weapon of some sort! And we shall call you, the fellowship… of the ring!

4. Frodo’s slo-mo agony face

Hilarious TBS commercial, “Sucks to be Frodo!”

I think Elijah Wood is a good actor. Not great, but a good one. But Peter Jackson sure loved doing slow-motion whenever he suffered his myriad injuries, such as the Morgul blade, the spear from the cave troll, Shelob’s stinger, and when Gollum cavity-searched him for his precious. Watch the movies all in a row, and it will be burned onto your retinas.

5. Surfin’ Legolas


Charlie (and Legolas) don’t surf!

Seriously, what the flying orc was Legolas doing surfing all the time? First he surfs on a shield down the steps at the Battle of Balls Deep, and then again down an Olyphant’s trunk during the final battle. I mean, just because he has long blond hair doesn’t mean he’s one of the Beach Boys. It was silly and unnecessary- we knew he was the paragon of Elven agility when he stood on the snow everyone else was sunk in, or climbed the arrows he shot into the Olyphant’s hide. Maybe the surfing was to sidestep the obvious “light in the loafers” joke about him not sinking in the snow?

6. “Swords are no more use here”

Except for killing the Balrog, of course. At the end of Fellowship, Gandalfini tells the gang to “fly, you fucks!” when the Balrog from the depths of the earth bars their way, because “swords are no more use here.” Then in Two Towers, we get an awesome battle with the Balrog, and Gandalf kills it with Glamdring (a sword). This is probably an in-joke meant to catch over-analytic nerds, but it amuses me. Of course, Gandalf can come back from the dead, so he can probably kill balrogs with a sword up the ying-yang where anyone else would be stomped into something resembling a wet prune.

7. Goofball Gimli

It’s much funnier sped up.

Did we really need Gimli to be comic relief most of the time? He’s actually pretty bad-ass in battle. I like when he snaps the orc’s neck in Two Towers, and the battle with the cave troll remains one of my favorite fantasy combats in film. But stuff like the drinking contest was just a bit much. I know that he and Legolas really did try to kill more orcs than the other, and the movie handled their rivalry and eventual friendship really well. The rest of the stuff- “nobody tosses a dwarf!” and its payoff in the second movie, and boring Eowyn to tears when he tells her about dwarven women- is good, but the drinking contest always brings me out of the movie.

Well, those are the 7 things that bother me. What do I love best? Taters. They really handled the Sam-Frodo-Gollum substory well, including the parts like Stewed Rabbit that I thought might be left out. Sean Astin did a great job as Samwise Gamgee, but will forever be known as “Hell Bent for Taters” in my memory.

Oh, the Extended Editions are all out of print by the way; probably in prep for a big Blu-Ray release.
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Best BLT in New York?

I don’t normally return to a restaurant so quickly, but Dinosaur Bar-B-Que intrigued me with their offering of a BLT with house-cured bacon, fried green tomatoes, and their tangy remoulade in place of mayo. I had to try it. So Tommy Salami’s li’l posse of Beast, Milky and Firecracker converged at Dino’s instead of our usual brunch haunt- Blockhead’s at 107th and Amsterdam. We were not disappointed.

Once again, reservations are a must. At noon on a Saturday we waited 40 minutes for a table, and the bar was full. It was after noon, which is beer o’clock round these parts so I tried a tasty Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale, which was rich and chocolatey. The Brooklyn Brewery gang has done it again. My other favorite here if you prefer a lighter beer is the Hook & Ladder Ale, which has a fruity aroma and a crisp refreshing taste. They also make kick-ass Bloody Marys, better than the Brooklyn Ale House’s mix in my opinion (and they are one of NYC’s best). It was tangy, spicy and smooth, but not at all watery, garnished with a green olive. I would have liked one of their drunken boiled shrimp on a skewer, but you can’t always get what you want. But it never hurts to ask- I will next time.

Once we got a table the service was at a good clip. My crew got their usual pulled pork sandwiches, which are excellent, and tried out all the sauces. Our consensus is that the Wango Tango smoky habanero sauce is the best. It’s not as hot as their hottest Devil’s Duel sauce, and still has plenty of flavor while also providing good bite. It never drowns out the meat either, so slather it on. But you wanted to hear about bacon, didn’t ya? Their BLT comes in two flavors, regular and “ultimate.” the Ultimate has their appetizer fried green tomatoes in the “T” slot, and they slather it with a generous helping of their tangy remoulade. It is quite a sandwich.

They cure their bacon in-house, and you get thick chewy slices. I prefer my bacon crisp, but I enjoyed this anyway. It was much more filling with a few slabs of thicker bacon. And the fried green tomatoes- crisp and crunchy, never mushy- were the perfect accompaniment. As you can see, they get a bed of shredded lettuce- I’d prefer green leaf or butter lettuce- and a solid sesame seed bun. You get two sides- I chose the mac ‘n cheese because it’s excellent, and the BBQ beans to try ’em out. They’re smoky sweet and delcious, a little thin but with plenty of pork bits in there for flavor. If you don’t want their best side- the salted ‘taters- try the beans, you won’t be disappointed.

To conclude, this is one of the best BLT’s I’ve ever had. It is definitely on the rich side, and it makes for a great hangover cure. With 2 sides it is quite the satisfying meal, and the melange of smoky chewy bacon, crisp tomato and the sauce’s rich tangy topping makes for a memorable BLT experience. Now we all know NYC restaurants love to sling pork belly, foie gras, truffles and “Kobe” beef like it’s going out of style, especially now that Wall Street fucknuts have all that bailout bonus money to spend- so I ask you, who makes the best BLT in NYC?

I like simplicity, so give meripe heirloom tomatoes, crisp salty bacon without extra flavors, fresh green lettuce and maybe fresh-made mayo on crunchy wheat or tangy sourdough bread and it’s perfection. Maybe a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper on the tomato, or Niman Ranch bacon. But I wouldn’t mind trying something ridiculously decadent, as you can easily assume. So let’s hear it, who can top the Ultimate BLT at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que?

For a review of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s ribs, pulled pork, sausage, brisket, appies, beers and sides, check out my earlier review here.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

Red Robin is a gourmet burger chain – and they do a decent job. Here it’s all about the toppings- the burger itself is a good-sized beef patty but tastes a little average. But oh, the choices. Hell, they even make grilled chicken taste exciting. And that brings them up a notch. Me & Milky went to the Clifton location- located next to a La Quinta hotel on Route 3, right before the offramp to 21- eager to have burgers. We’re burger aficionados. And yet when we eyed their menu, we both decided on chicken. Madness? No, this is Red Robin. Like Island Burger in NYC, which lets you make a chicken churrasco out of any burger they make, Red Robin has a fine selection of juicy grilled chicken breast sandwiches. I opted for a Chicken Bruschetta Burger, pictured above. It has provolone cheese, bruschetta and pesto sauce on a thick juicy chicken breast, and a ciabatta roll. It’s garlic-heavy but heavenly- juicy, spicy and rich.
Their onion ring tower, as you can see, is a terror to behold. They go the Yankee route of thick onion slices in crispy breadcrumbs. Milky opted for the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Burger, which he loved. That one has cheddar cheese, whiskey BBQ sauce, and crispy onion straws. I’ve had the burger version, and it is quite good- mixing tangy sauce and the crispy onions works well. My favorite burger here isn’t even a burger- it’s the pot roast sandwich. It comes and goes on the menu, so try it if they have it. It’s tender pot roast in sweet onion gravy on an onion roll with cheddar cheese and horseradish sauce, and it’s fantastic- the perfect mix of flavors, comfort food on a bun with a little tang to it.

They also have a decent beer selection with Sam Adams seasonal and Blue Moon on tap, plus milkshakes, malts and floats to quench your thirst. Comparing them with Burger DeLuxe, I like the Robin’s better selection. But DeLuxe makes a better float. Red Robin’s burgers may be on par with Fuddrucker’s- which is no insult- but their menu is broader and it’s a nicer atmosphere if you don’t have kids to wrangle. And don’t be embarrassed to get chicken or the pot roast burger- they’re more memorable than many of their burgers. They also offer endless steak fries, which is always a plus. Milky even took his second helping home!