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No Bull Burger Purist - Born and raised in NJ, the heart of the tri-state area and home to the oldest (and best) burger joints in the country. I don't need all the frilly toppings, happy servers or trendy decor, just a good burger...

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lefty's Tavern, Barnegat, NJ

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"CRAPPY PHOTO ALERT"
Where: Lefty's Tavern, Barnegat, NJ
What: The Reuben Burger
Build: 1/2 lb. beef patty, pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, grilled rye bread.
Comment: Sit down, this is going to take a while...
First, I want to apologize for the lack of reviews this month. Hurricane Sandy is a bitch and I'll leave it at that cause' everyone with a home on a barrier island has a story - nuff said.
We were on our way to an entirely different type of restaurant the night we happened onto Lefty's Tavern. It was last night, Nov 24th, and my wife and I have been missing the food at The Forked River German Butcher Shop, so I called ahead to make sure they were open and was told they would be open until 7pm. I hung up the phone with a huge smile - partly because I was so hungry I was going to order 2 meals, and partly because I was relieved to find a restaurant open. There are still very slim pickings on Long Beach Island. (A roach coach would make a killing there) Anyhoo, we arrived a few minutes after 5pm and found the place closed. Talk about pissed? I'm not going to go any further with my temporary deep-seeded hatred of the German Butcher Shop. 
About 4 miles later on Rt9 south we came upon Lefty's and I could hear the Angels singing. It was a cozy looking local joint from the road and a full parking lot always speaks volumes - so in we went... 
It was pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the outside, in need of an update, I suspect it is family-run, lot's of atmosphere, flat screens w/ all kinds of sports, you get the idea. We were seated quickly and our drink order was taken promptly. Look, I'm not going to drag this out anymore than I already have, we found some very interesting menu items of which my father-in-law and I ordered 3 entrees to sample (we were hungry). The Reuben Burger (which this review will ultimately speak of), The Grouper Reuben and the one with the most intriguing name, "The Black Friday", which of course is turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce with a touch of mayo. Sounds awesome doesn't it? I would rather have had a root canal, at least I would have gotten something for my money - EPIC CRAP FAIL.  Dry turkey, the bread was dissolving from the moistness of the sauces to a gooey white mess and dear Lord, I just can't go on... !
On a lighter note, the Grouper Reuben was better, not great by any means, but better than that, that, thing I just mentioned, - it was served open-faced on a bed of coleslaw atop toasted bread and topped with Swiss cheese. Now had the (ah-hem) "Grouper", been a thicker cut and not done so well, it may have been a contender. This was not good, but def better than the previous FAIL. 
Before I get to the burger, I want to mention I don't take pleasure in exposing bad food, I want every place I walk into to have great food every time, and I certainly do not want to bash hard working small business owners. However, in the name of honesty and integrity, I  feel I have a duty to call them as I see them - and yes, a restaurant is allowed to have an "off"  day just like the rest of us, but let's again be honest, when  you are served 4 or 5 widely varied entrees you can definitely get a feel for what's going on in the kitchen as well as get a pretty good estimate of what other menu items will be like. Make sense? Now onto the burger, (I want to leave on a good note).
The burger was very good - and in hindsight I realized that Lefty's is the type of place that will consistently serve great bar food. Period. Stick with bar food and  you'll always leave Lefty's happy. The burger was 1/2 lb. patty cooked medium (I asked for med/rare but we'll let that slide) the pastrami topping was ample, probably more than 1/4lb, and the sauerkraut and Russian dressing all blended together on that toasty rye bread. It created a great taste and none of the ingredients overpowered another. Very nicely done.  9/10 
One more thing... the French onion soup was outstanding, full of flavor without being too salty. The chili was also worth noting. 
Lefty's is great for when there's snow on the ground, a football game is on TV and you're in the need for some good old fashioned comfort food.























The hat trick from left to right is the grouper reuben, reuben burger and black friday special.











And yet it looked soooo good.... CRAP FAIL.










French onion soup was out-of-bounds...



Great chili...



Grouper Reuben - great concept - not so good execution.....





Tuesday, November 13, 2012

AJ's Pizza, Butler, NJ

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Where: AJ's Pizza, Butler, NJ
What: The Mac & Cheese Burger
Build: 1/2 lb. 100% Black Angus beef patty,  homemade Mac & Cheese, 2 batter-fried onion rings, bakery fresh bun.
Comment: I tried AJ's on a tip I got from a woman my wife works with... she told us to check out the new burgers that AJ's has added to its menu on the back of a local coupon circular.  This led to me checking their web site and eventually placing an order.  I've had their Italian food before, the calzone w/ham and the cheesesteak stromboli are def above average so I thought we might have a shot at the burger being decent. Needless to say, I broke all kinds of golden rules by ordering a burger at a pizza joint, but hey, no risk, no reward right? It was great. No, no... I mean it's "order a second one" great. The mac and cheese is advertised as homemade and it tastes just that. The burger is great quality and the patty was cooked per my request, a perfect medium/rare.  When I saw their interest in my sandwich,  I cut a few small pieces for my wife and her father to try (the very audible "yummy" noises I was making amped-up their curiosity). You must to realize, for my wife to even "try" a burger with such strange (fattening) toppings, tells me AJ's is on to something here.  The cheese was not only smooth and plentiful, it was a bit sharp and tasted like "real" cheese. The elbow macaroni was done so perfectly it launched a few "high school cafeteria" memories. I thought that 2 large batter-dipped onion rings was a bit of a strange added topping and one that should be reserved for BBQ cowboy burgers and the like, but they actually added just the right amount of crunch and it all worked well together.  I'm already planning a trip back for this very same burger.  10/10








































 My Wife's Grilled Chicken Panini...   Delicioso! Just look how fresh the ingredients are.....  very nice!


Friday, November 9, 2012

Aldo's Cucina Ristorante Italiano, Wayne, NJ

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"Crappy Photo Alert"

Where: Aldo's Cucina Ristorante Italiano, Wayne, NJ
What: Fall Ravioli Special
Build: Four fresh cheese ravioli, fresh pumpkin, grated Locatelli cheese, sauteed Crimini mushrooms, white wine & butter.
Comment: I have been to Aldo's many times - partly because the food is very good and partly because I live very close to the restaurant. The food has never disappointed, and tonight, election night, was no different. My wife and I stopped by for something warm and good to hold us over in case the election results were going to give us *Agita for the next 4 years. We both ordered specials from the menu and both dishes were outstanding. Michele got a boneless grilled chicken breast with sauteed mushrooms and spinach in a balsamic reduction over fresh Parppardelle (which if made correctly, is a delicate wide macaroni noodle). She loved it... and so did I. But this review is about my menu selection for no other reason than because I ate it and I need to call 'em as I see 'em. While our waiter was running along the list of ingredients for my dish, I crumbled like a boxer taking a KO punch. I mean I could swear I heard someone shouting in the distance: "Frazier goes down! Frazier goes down!" Seriously, I was going to tell him he had me at hello when he rattled off 3 of my all-time favorite ingredients - Ravioli, Butter, Truffle oil.  Geeeez, how's a guy supposed to diet? Ever? But I'm digressing, the dish was a true seasonal dish due to the presence of pumpkin and although I originally turned my nose upwards at the possibility of too much sweetness I was very pleasantly surprised. The 4 ravioli came topped with perfectly cooked shreds of fresh pumpkin, Crimini mushrooms and what tasted like grated Locatelli Romano cheese, all which were in a white wine & butter sauce with a healthy dose of high-quality truffle oil.  In a word: "YUM". Halfway through this meal I found I was subconsciously cutting the ravioli into smaller and smaller bites in order to make it last longer -  (yes, we've all done it) Now that's a great meal. Even the Ricotta cheese in the ravioli was creamy with flakes of fresh chopped parsley, the same way my Grandmother used to make them. Michele and I shared a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2008 - it was Heaven; sip a little, eat a little, talk a little... nice nice. The slightly sweet pumpkin mixed with the velvety deep rich flavor of the truffle oil and butter was occasionally interrupted by the earthiness of the mushrooms. Damn - great job Aldo's.
And yes, I'll have 4 years of *Agita so I'll be at Aldo's as much as possible to keep a good taste in my mouth.  10/10 without question ~ again, sorry about the crappy photos...  ~ B

Agita: Heartburn, acid indigestion, an upset stomach or, by extension, ... The word is Italian-American slang derived from the Italian "agitare" meaning "to agitate.































Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stafford Diner, Manahawkin, NJ

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Where: Stafford Diner, Manahawkin, NJ
What: Cheeseburger Deluxe
Build: 1/2 lb 100% USDA beef patty, American cheese, sesame bun, raw onion, tomato, pickle, mayo.
Comment: I was lucky enough to get onto Long Beach Island to assess the damage to my summer home yesterday and hit the Stafford Diner on the way back to North Jersey. SD is a great "home-cookin" type of diner where you can always count on hot comfort food to warm you up. I had a cup of their chicken pastina soup while waiting for my burger... it was very good and as I've said before, finding a really good diner burger is (for what ever reason), hit or miss (usually miss). Having said that, the normal person would steer away from the burger menu, but my burger tunnel vision kicked in as it does almost always and I ordered the burger deluxe thinking;  "here we go, another mediocre burger". But to be fair, it was a step above mediocre. The bun was fresh, the burger size was ample with fresh fries and pickle. The thing that surprised me most was that the burger was a perfect medium/rare - exactly what I ordered! Nice. As all you fellow diner goers know, that's huge. But alas, it was still no great shakes. And so, as with most diners, the build up of fresh ingredients led to a burger with very little flavor. 7.0/10  If anyone knows of a really great, really fresh diner burger, please let me know!!!