Down by the River

American, Cuisine, New Jersey

The Battleground

River Grille, Chatham, New Jersey


The Contenders

Garlic and Herb P.E.I. Mussels vs. Blackened Cajun Catfish Sandwich

Mussels from the Isle of Prince Edward, bathing luxuriously in a broth fit for kings.

Legs:

I’ve spent more time (and money) at River Grille than I care to admit. Lots of evenings after work are spent with my friends who work there and the bartenders who have become my friends. Dive bars have always held a special place in my heart, and the hilarious, kindly collection of townies who gather here are sure to provide you with a fun time.

For all the time I’ve killed on their bar stools, my culinary adventures never really went past the wings, fries and onion rings (all of which are awesome). I’d heard tales of their award-winning mac and cheese, and my friends who work there won’t shut up about the mussels.

So mussels it is.

My favorite seafood buddies, mussels are just little nuggets of yummy joy. These ones came immersed in the most gorgeous white wine, lemon garlic sauce to ever be paired with seafood. Seriously, this broth needs to be made into a soup so I can shamelessly spoon it up. It’s that good.

The mussels themselves were good. Not a single bit of sand present. Not one. They were, however, rather fishy at times. About half were absolutely pristine, but the other half were just… ocean. Luckily I had my trusty garlic bread lifesaver to reel the mussels back into safety. Cheesy, buttery, garlicy, soft with a crispy crust… perfect. As an added bonus, it allowed me to eat more sauce!


“Blackened” Cajun catfish with lettuce, tomato, Cajun mayo, and provolone cheese. Served with fries at the top of their class.

Snax:

Walking into River Grille as an irregular with Legs always feels like being invited into a friendly yet secretive club. It’s a little loud and a little pricey considering the atmosphere, but I was still eager to try what this Zagat rated tavern had to offer.

I adore Cajun seasoning, so when my catfish arrived I was more than excited to dig in. That first brilliant bite brought all of the usual suspects in for questioning: paprika, salt, pepper, oregano, and the infamous outlaw cayenne. I didn’t get any char flavor despite its claim to be blackened, but the seasoning was lovely. Unfortunately the show was over after just a few bites as catfish and his posse were run out of town by Cajun mayo and provolone. What’s worse? The mayo wasn’t very Cajun inspired at all. Over dressing and an unnecessary cheese component turned what could have been a great sandwich into average pub fare.

Although the sandwich proved to be standard, the fries were anything but. Perfectly crisp, just the right amount of chew, and never oily, these guys make some of the best beer-battered fries around. If only I had some serious Cajun mayo on the side to dip these golden gods into. You can’t always get what you want.

I’m happy with my experience at River but this may be the end of the line for yours truly.


And the winner is… Legs!

✗Protein ✓Sauce ✓Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

Presentation is kind of a given when you have an entire bowl stacked with seafood goodness versus a sandwich. And my sauce… I’ll be dreaming about it for ages. Mind blowing. Seriously, it needs to be made into a soup.

I’ve demolished Snax these past weeks and am officially the winner of September and October! Tune in next week to see him shovel something nasty into his mouth as punishment.

September/October wins:

Legs: 4 – Snax: 1

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Haitian Sensation

Caribbean, Cuisine, Haitian, New Jersey

The Battleground

First Republic, Elizabeth, New Jersey


The Contenders

Beef Tasso vs. Chicken Piké

Beef Tasso served with a pillow of black rice and all the plantains your heart could desire. Scrum-diddily-umptious!

Beef Tasso served with a pillow of black rice and all the plantains your heart could desire. A full ramekin of pikliz was the real diva on the plate. Scrum-diddily-umptious!

Legs:

First Republic is a cute little place that knows exactly who it is. Unafraid to stand out from the crowd and be different, diners here are sure to have a great time. Whether you’re just stopping in to have a drink and chat with the world’s friendliest bartender, Dani, or you’re coming in for their Sunday salsa lessons, First Republic is your stop for a great Caribbean lounge.

My beef tasso was almost everything it claimed to be. These large, well-seasoned beef hunks were a pleasure to behold. The seasoning was not-quite-smoky, not-quite-spicy, not-quite-salty and all-around delicious. My only complaint is that the beef was a tad overdone and tough. But I like my steak rare, so perhaps other diners won’t be as let down.

Black rice. Wow. I’d never heard of it before and I don’t think my life will ever be the same again. Dani described it as rice cooked with mushrooms, but the mushrooms get taken out before the final product is complete. So the rice drinks up all that lovely, earthy flavor and color but retains its integrity as a grain. Although I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms, Dani seemed so excited about it that I decided to give it a whirl – I’m so so so glad I did.

The black rice came out soft and fluffy, like a down pillow fresh from a plumping. There was no distinct mushroom flavor, rather the rice had a lovely nuttiness to it with subtle undertones of earth. The smell wafting towards my eager nose was heavenly, eclipsed only by that incredible, unique flavor. It’s no wonder why the Haitians save this miraculous side for special occasions.

Amazing as that black rice was, the crème de la crème was the pikliz. This is, in my opinion, the greatest condiment on the planet. Cole slaw’s mature, spicy, sophisticated older cousin, pikliz is shredded and pickled veggies with not a hint of mayo and a whole overload of flavor. It paired well with literally everything on my plate. Everything. And it’s actually spicy!

I’ll be back.


Chicken Pike

Chicken Piké, served in a spicy boat of Haitian marinade alongside mixed veggies and fried plantains. All aboard!

Snax:

Celebrating my birthday at the National Apple Harvest Festival was a blast, but Legs insisted that a birthday dinner was in order at an arena of my choosing. I was feeling a bit Caribbean and decided to try something I haven’t experienced in ages; the joy of Haitian food.

Growing up I had a best friend, Nate, who was Haitian and still remember the smell of his mother’s cooking filling the house. Call it nostalgia or inexperience, but Nate’s mom made one of the best spicy wings I’ve ever eaten. Naturally when I saw chicken piké on the menu I had to go for it and try to recreate my first taste of Haiti.

The results? A resounding success. This chicken piké was everything I hoped it would be. It had the smoky sweetness that I expect from the Caribbean with a kick that lands squarely on the pleasure centers of the brain. The one-two combo of fall off the bone chicken and a commanding sauce had me KO’d from the start.

The chicken’s tag team partners mixed vegetables and sweet plantains kept the hits coming. Sautéed red peppers, onions, carrots, and broccoli had just the right amount of crunch to complement the perfectly tender chicken. Like all great fried plantains these were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. More importantly both sides carried the piké’s spiciness just a little longer. Every bite of this meal was a pleasure.

How could this meal get any better? With surprise tickets to the Book of Mormon from Legs, of course! I’m too overcome by joy to even care if Legs beats me this round.


And the winner is… Snax!

✓Protein ✓Sauce ✓Sides/Veggies ✗Presentation

The streak is over! My succulent chicken and breathtaking sauce were just too much for Legs’ beef to overcome. In fact, she kept coming back to my plate for sauce throughout the meal! This win finally puts me on the board and gives me an opportunity to tie. I can only hope to put together a streak of my own.

Once this month is out someone will face punishment and every month thereafter. Stay tuned!

September/October wins:

Legs: 3 – Snax: 1

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Adams Apples

American, Charity, Cuisine, Specialty Shops
In honor of Snax’s 25th birthday, we headed to the National Apple Harvest Festival in Adams County, PA for a beautiful autumn day full of food and fun. There were plenty of craft vendors and live entertainers throughout the day, and all the festival food you could eat. And eat we did.

An onion blooming around spicy Texas sauce. Yee-haw!

An onion blooming around spicy Texas sauce. Yee-haw!

As a rule, Snax and I try not eat junk food. But when we first walked into the fair and were greeted by a Blooming Onion sign, we threw caution to the wind and dove into junk head first. The spicy, creamy Texas sauce was an amazing dunking complement to those crispy onion petals. The whole thing was very well seasoned, if somewhat undercooked. As we continued to eat the breading started to fall off in glumps. (By the way, this was the only stand at the fair selling veggies: deep fried broccoli to be exact.)

glump (n): A clump of something that is also gloppy.

I spilled a glump of chili on my new white shirt!


PUMPKIN funnel cake with cinnamon sugar angel kisses.

PUMPKIN funnel cake with cinnamon sugar angel kisses.

Once we had the bloomin’ down the hatch, we threw caution to the wind. While listening to a great old-school country band play on the Cider Barrel stage, we espied a Pumpkin Funnel Cake cart. Why yes, don’t mind if we do.

Who doesn’t love pumpkin? Who doesn’t love funnel cake? Why the two haven’t been paired together before is beyond me. These wormy cakes of majesty came with choice of topping: cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or glaze. Pretty sure the cinnamon sugar topping was the most amazing decision I’ve made since giving Snax a chance. Tastes like pumpkin pie, eats like funnel cake, feels like a hug by grandma.


Adams County: America's premier orchard location. Photo cred: rlorchard.com

Adams County: America’s premier orchard location. Photo cred: www.rlorchard.com

To let all that fried food digest, we hopped a bus to take a free tour of the Adams County orchards. Rolling hills with orchards heavy with fruit abounded and it was absolutely idyllic. We were blessed with perfect autumn weather: cool and crisp but still with nice warmth. Riding around on a bus with the windows down and taking in nature was an incredible break from the festivities.


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Pit beef. Look at all that smoke. Need I say more? Pit beef.

But back to the food. The line for the pit beef sandwiches was HUGE. So we obviously figured we had to try it out. Look at it smoking and bar-b-queing away. Go on, look at it. It’s actually better than you’re thinking. The beef was thinly sliced and placed on a bun which we promptly topped with BBQ sauce. Seriously delicious stuff, that.

The best bite of the day, however, goes to the apple sausage adorned with apple butter. No photo, unfortunately. It was a bit too… phallic… to be photogenic. Sweet and savory combined in perfect harmony in this tender, tender stick of meat. An added bonus? All proceeds go to the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter of the MS Society. You can eat an incredible little meal while supporting a good cause.

We definitely had an amazing time at the Apple Harvest Fest.


A note from Snax:

Venison jerky, enjoyed Lady and the Tramp style.

Venison jerky, enjoyed Lady and the Tramp style.

I don’t really do much to celebrate my birthday other than the usual cake and inviting some friends over, but Legs wasn’t having it. I got to chow down on outstanding food, take in some great music, enjoy the beautiful vistas of Adams County, and spend the day wondering how I could be so lucky.

Seriously, who comes up with a road trip to this little slice of paradise for a birthday? Only the best.

You too can visit the festival for their last weekend on October 11th and 12th. You won’t have as good of a time as I had but you can try.

P.S. I got piglet kisses at the petting zoo!!
( I lured him with hay. No shame.)

 

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Kari Chameleon

Cuisine, Malaysian, New Jersey, Thai

The Battleground

Penang, East Hanover, New Jersey


The Contenders

Kari Sayur vs. Kari Mee

 

Kari Sayur Edit

Kari Sayur – a salad bar’s worth of veggies, tofu and the spicy curry sauce of your wildest dreams. Love at first bite – I’m head over heels!

Legs:

There are not enough adjectives in English to describe how much I love the food at Penang. Once I got a dish I didn’t love, but it was still pretty good. Other than that one fluke, the food here is sure to blow your mind.

My Kari Sayur was apocalyptic. This hearty dish was served with a freaking ladle, the better to shovel food directly into your mouth with.

The “mixed vegetables” in my menu description included okra, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, cabbage, onions and peppers all stewed together and absorbing that gorgeous broth. Penang has once again performed culinary magic and managed to keep the texture of the vegetables in tact despite their stewing process. Crisp and refreshing, these vegetables broke the mold. My fried tofu was also delicious, as expected. True to tofu form it acted as a flavor sponge and soaked up as much spicy curry broth yumminess as it could.

Spicy curry broth. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Chili, lemongrass, curry and coconut milk come together in this tomato-based sauce to leave you breathless and begging for more. As you eat the flavors build, crescendoing to a beautiful and trusting relationship. Just as intimate friends begin to share the dark corners of their lives with each other, this incredible sauce slowly revealed its hidden flavors and left my tongue bursting with surprises. The GIGANTIC portion meant that I got to eat it again the next day – and it was even more delicious on round two.

Give Penang your business – you won’t regret it!


Chicken and shrimp tangled up in egg noodles and immersed in a spicy lemon grass, coconut curry. Tell your noodle soup there’s a new sheriff in town.

Snax:

Penang, where only the strong survive. The blend of Malaysian and Thai cuisine makes for an outstanding selection but there’s only one contender I trust to put me on the board, my old friend Kari Mee. Always ordered extra spicy. Always satisfying.

The broth is a flavor that I have yet to encounter in any other dish. Lemongrass and coconut unite in a celebration of flavor that lasts as long as Christmas in America. Each passing moment reveals a new layer to savor. Spicy, sweet, earthy, and just a slight creaminess make for a broth that just won’t quit. Now avert your eyes as I drink straight from the bowl.

Kari Mee comes with either chicken or shrimp…or both. Yeah, let’s do both. The shredded chicken falls apart in your mouth and carries the broth like the Olympic flame. Such majesty and grace is matched as the chicken passes the torch to shrimp. Masterfully prepared shrimp with a slight snap makes for a wonderful addition to this already delectable dish.

The egg noodles are an excellent backdrop for the broth and protein to thrive. They don’t have much of a personality on their own and they’re not supposed to. Still, I am thankful for Penang’s noodle competence.

As I lift a piece of tofu from Legs’ Kari Sayur I can feel the tension build. I need a win. Badly.


And the winner is… Legs!

✓Protein ✗Sauce ✓Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

This was a really, really close one. Our sauces were more or less the same, although mine was a stew and Snax’s was a soup. What really pushed me into the winner’s circle was my amazing serving pot and my garden patch of veggies. It’s hard to compete in a category when you don’t have much representation. Better luck next time.

September/October wins:

Legs: 3 – Snax: 0

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A Hundred Celebrations!

Chinese, Cuisine, Fine Dining, Specialty Shops

We’ve reached a momentous milestone:

100 likes on Facebook!

We really wanted to commemorate this special event, and most importantly say a big “thank you” to our supporters and food fanatics. So we celebrated the only way we know how: we ate something nasty.

In honor of 100 likes, Dinner Royale presents to you…

The 100 year egg

Thanks, Facebook. So nice of you.


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