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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...

The Crew

The Crew

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Houston's, Hackensack, NJ

CRAPY PHOTO ALERT!
Where:
Houston's
1 Riverside Square Mall #181, 
Hackensack, NJ 07601
http://www.hillstone.com/houstons

What:

THAI STEAK & NOODLE SALAD marinated filet, avocado, mango, pancit noodles (also available with crispy chicken) 24
GULF COAST STYLE FISH SANDWICH crispy filet, onion, Thousand Island dressing, and a field greens salad (limited) 20

Comments: 
The service and quality are not what they used to be...

This is not a one-off rant, we've always enjoyed going to Houston's, and frequently, until last week (27-Jan-2017).

I made reservations for an 8 p.m. dinner four days in advance, and was told over the phone to allow for a 15-minute grace period for table prep. No problem, that gave my wife and I a chance to hit the bar for one of Houston's martinis with olives that are hand-stuffed with blue cheese. After announcing our presence, I made my way to the bar and ordered two martinis. The bartender told me it would be a few minutes because they hand-stuff the olives. Again, no problem. Here comes the weird stuff...

The bartender immediately turned and went to the other end of the bar and began making our martinis. He poured the contents of the shaker into our glasses and brought them over to me. I salivated at the sight of the ice chips floating around and on top of my vodka.

After 10 full minutes of waiting for olives, our martinis were now just about room temperature. After another 15 minutes, we were called to our table and we left with olive-less warm martinis.

The wait staff who transitioned us from bar to table were very nice as usual and carried our drinks to our table for us. Yet there was still no attempt to rectify our drink situation and after a long week of work we were so looking forward to our martinis. They eventually did come out just as we were ordering our food but our martini rush was totally gone. One more thing to note, on all our previous visits, Houston's always pampered us by stopping by our table with a frozen martini glass straight from the freezer and pouring the remaining contents of our drinks into it. An awesome refresher and one of the little details that gave Houston's service a 5-star rating. I normally wouldn't rant about a bar drink, but the height of the bar Houston's has set for its customers was nowhere near being reached, and that hurt.

The steak in my wife's Thai steak & noodle salad was so salty, it was inedible. But the real kicker was the spiciness of the dish. Mind you, my wife and I are third-generation Italians in this country and spicy food and hot peppers are a part of our culture, so for us to push a dish away because the level of spice makes the food painful rather than joyful...you know it's overdone. And why not mention the spiciness on the menu? A subtle little pepper icon at the very least? Something? Nothing.
By the way, still no offer of compensation of any type for the forgotten olives and warm martinis (warm martini + no olives = $16 ea.).

Next up (Houston's, you should be ashamed of this one):
The fish sandwich.

I paid $20 for a fish sandwich no better than a fast food restaurant’s. Don't believe it? Check the photos. I asked our waitress who was about 18 years old, and who knew nothing of food beyond the microwavable type, if the fish were cod since the menu does not mention the species of fish and she said no, it is grouper. Awesome, I love grouper. But my excitement was short-lived.

The sandwich was served open-faced with a 4-inch tall pile of their homemade coleslaw on the bun top. I didn't understand why they presented the sandwich in this way until I scraped all of the coleslaw off the bun and reassembled the sandwich. I cut it in half to photo the autopsy shot and low and behold my filet was less than a 1/4 inch thick! It was much more reminiscent of that sewer fish tilapia, than grouper. The filet was so thin in fact, that it was difficult to see where the coleslaw ended and the fish began (see the photos). And check out the fish-to-bun ratio... it's off the charts in favor of the bun. Honestly, a fish sandwich from Wendy's is far superior to the crap Houston's is serving.
I find it hard to believe I'm writing a full-on rant about what has been our favorite restaurant up until last week. This was our go-to place to splurge on a good meal, good drinks and the best service around. No more. It's become just another restaurant in Jersey where wondering if the meal will be as good as the last is a roll of the dice, a flip of the coin. Just another place on my "not to be trusted,” "never going back" list. What a shame.






















































Monday, January 23, 2017

ITALIAN TABLE TRATTORIA, RIVERDALE, NJ


Where:
Italian Table Trattoria
92 Rt 23 N, Riverdale, NJ 07457
http://www.italiantabletrattoria.com/menu/
973-248-9900

What:
Spiedini Alla Romana Skewers– Fried Mozzarella, Caper Anchovy Sauce.

Pizza - "The Works" – Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, Black Olives, Pepperoni, Meatballs, Sausage, Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce.

Chicken Parmigiana - Parmigiana– Lightly Breaded, Baked with Mozzarella & Pomodoro Sauce, Spaghetti.

Cheeseburger -Topped with french fried onions and American cheese on a brioche bun.

Comments:


Italian food yes, burgers no. 

The pizza and Italian offerings at ITT were a sliver above the average pizzeria\Italian restaurant; I wish I could say the same for the burger. But in fairness, and in keeping with my golden rule; "never order a steak from a seafood restaurant", I may have been asking for too much. 

The pizza was very flavorful and fresh albeit served a bit further from out-of-the-oven hot as we would have liked. My wife said her chicken parmigiana dinner was also good. But according to www.NJ.com's Pizza Patrol, there are an estimated 3,000 Italian pizza restaurants in New Jersey which makes "just good" food, a weaker competitor.

With that said, this was by no means a bad meal, in fact, excluding my burger, we all left quite satisfied. Our waitress could have been more attentive, however everyone was very nice and cheerful.  

On to the burger...

I was pleasantly surprised when our server asked me how I wanted my burger cooked. Didn't expect that for the mere reason that you don't hear it much anymore. Nice.
The brioche bun was excellent, it didn't appear to be a phony potato bun imposter and although the burger was a bit too thin, the burger-to-bun ratio was okay thanks to the fresh bun which compressed easily. The burger also had a wonderful beef aroma and I was stoked until I began eating and found my medium rare order to be well done. Quite well done in fact. I did the one thing I hate to do (and almost never do at a restaurant), I told our waitress. Since we ordered a pizza for the table, I had something to eat with my family while I waited for my burger correction. 

The pizza, like my wife's chicken parm, was also good, but it too, was "just good" with no stand-out feature(s) to make it stick in our memory's enough to want to repeat the experience. Again, (IMHO), in a state littered with these types of Italian restaurants, you have to be doing something unique to create a memory. 

In a few minutes my second burger was served and it was,,, (drum roll),,,

raw and barely above room temperature.

I was devastated, but I was in no way going to send this one back so I ate around the edges which were a step above raw. 

Here comes my rant:
It stands to reason the two slices of cheese were no where near melted, and for the life of me I'll never understand why some restaurants stoop to the level of including an extra cost for American cheese on their menus.  I'd completely understand an upscale restaurant offering some type of $40\pound imported cheese at an extra cost, but to ask for extra money for 2 slices of processed American cheese? I'm sorry, that just sends a bad signal. (Just figure the cost of the cheese into the price of a regular burger, then you're always ahead of the game and nobody's the wiser.) BTW, when I'm placing 2 slices of cheese on my cheeseburger, they are always placed above and below the burger to encase the meat and cut down on melt time. Again, my opinion.

Lastly, and what I was most excited to write about is the Spiedini. Yes, the Spiedini gets a huge OMG! This was not only the stand-out dish of our visit, this was a stand-out dish for any dining experience. The bread-to-cheese ratio was spot-on, the doneness of the bread was perfection, (crisp and dry, nothing greasy) the lemon and capers made the sauce perfectly tart and rich, and nothing was over salted. Perfection!!!! This was one of the dishes we ordered for the table to share, but I so wanted to gorge myself with it. Be sure to check the photo!


In closing, my intent for this and all reviews is to share my experience and add constructive criticism where needed. If all dishes served at this establishment were at the level of the Spiedini, reservations would be required on a nightly basis. 

I'm hoping for much success at the Italian Table Trattoria and I'll be back with my family soon.





























































Thursday, January 19, 2017

WHITE MAPLE CAFE, RIDGEWOOD, NJ




Where:
47 E Ridgewood Ave, Ridgewood, NJ, 07450
(201) 447-1953
http://www.whitemaplecafe.com/


What:
Beef Burger - Grafton Village cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato relish, spicy mayo, brioche bun.

Bacon Grilled Cheesecheddar cheese, bacon, tomato jam, multi-grain bread.

Vanilla Honey Milkshake.

Comments:

In a nutshell, the WMC's burger was top notch. 

But first things first; the popcorn placed on our table along with menus and water glasses was quite different from the usual pre order offerings. Taste after taste I could not place all the flavorings on the popcorn so I had to ask... and when I did, the waiter shot me a quick answer which told me I was not the first curious patron to inquire. 

The popcorn ingredients are: *nutritional yeast, cumin, salt, sugar and garlic powder resulting in a most addictive blend of seasonings. Didn't see that coming.

The burger was better than I had hoped for, from it's perfectly charred artisan brioche bun to the quality and flavor of the beef. The toppings were perfectly understated, adding flavors and textures without ever overpowering this burgers great flavor. And the flavor of the meat really was great. I can't remember what ratios of chuck, etc, etc, the manager told me, but I do remember him saying it took over a dozen tries to get it right. And right it is. I found myself rationing bites because I wanted this perfect medium rare beauty to last as long as possible. 

Other than the meat, the stand-out item for me was the bun. It was a perfect, "real brioche" bun, which is a very rare commodity in this world of fake potato'y brioche imposters. 

I'm not a French fry guy by any stretch, but the fries were decent, I'm guessing they may have been twice fried. 

My honey milkshake was ridiculously good, although I may be biased as I secretly enjoy honey drizzled on my vanilla ice cream when I'm home. 

Though I did not taste it, the bacon grilled cheese looked fantastic, although I think it may have been a bit too cheesy for my friend. (As if).

Lastly, and for the sake of constructive criticism, I think it only fair to mention to the WMC folks that the trio of deviled eggs we shared for an appy were also good, but could easily have been a knockout. They were served, alas, much too cold, and consequently had a hard refrigerator texture to them which caused the filling to separate from the egg white making them a challenge to eat. The cold also kept the delicate flavors of the fillings from being fully transferred to my taste buds. 

We noticed this when our waiter came to our table shortly after we ordered and announced that they were out of one of the deviled egg flavors and that it was being substituted with a Sriracha flavor. We were fine with that, however when the dish was served, we noticed the two other flavors had the excessive coldness and fridge taste, while the latest flavor was definitely freshly made. If they had all been served like that one (close to room temp) they would have been perfect. This was by no means a major issue, however for me, a guy who likes to eat deviled eggs while they are still warm, it was disappointing.

The overall experience at The White Maple Cafe was a good one and I can't wait to get back for another burger. No, I don't think I'll be able to order anything else until I try that awesome burger again.

This burger receives a 9.7\10 on the BC rating scale.


*(Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast,which is sold commercially as a food product which sometimes takes the form of a yellow powder. It's strong flavor has been described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy and since it is a significant source of some B-complex vitamins, it's also popular with vegans.)


PS: Apologies for the crappy photos...