Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wunderbar ist, äh, wunderbar!

Round Valley Reservoir
So there I was, tooling on two wheels around the scenic Round Valley reservoir, sensing the imminent arrival of Autumn on a sunny, clear, but cool, day. It was 2 PM, and my stomach said it was time to ingest some sustenance. My aging bladder was singing a different tune, but both needed to be heeded.

Coming out in Lebanon, I swung onto Rt. 22 East, remembering that I had passed an interesting-looking place not far from there a few weeks ago.
Nik's Wunderbar, it was called, and, with it being a German-themed place and this being Oktoberfest time, I figured to kill three birds with one stone.

On a Monday afternoon at 2 PM, the place was pretty much empty, but the bar had some impressive taps, and pretty Michele was behind it. She greeted me with a friendly smile, and we chatted for a bit about the place, the food and the 37 beers--many of them German-- on draft.

You can't order a BLT, a burger or chicken fingers in a real German place during Oktoberfest (well, you can, but it's almost sacrilegious). That's like ordering a Corona in München in September.

So Michele suggested a Krainerwurst sandwich platter, which I had never had. Krainerwurst, according to Karl Ehmer, is "a garlic flavored sausage with Slavic origin. Also known as Smoked Bratwurst, if you like smoked meats, you'll love Krainerwurst."

Karl was right, in my case. But the added attraction on this platter came in the form of two large homemade potato pancakes, which were absolutely incredible. Michele allowed that Nik's Wunderbar sells 3,000 of the pancakes a week, and that's not including the local organizations that often order 1,000 at a time. The job of Kartoffelpuffer Koch is obviously a full-time gig.

A König's meal
With the Krainerwurst sandwich, potato pancakes, apple sauce, sour cream and mustard for condiments and a pint of Hofbrau Oktoberfest, it was a meal fit for a König. But a König's ransom wasn't required to pay for it, with the total bill coming to about $14.

My "Secret" MC club on Facebook, the PBBC (PubScout Beers and Bikers Club), will be stopping here for sure. If you're about German, good beer and good food, you should stop here, too.

The PubScout

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quick Hit: Rahway Beer and Bands Postponed

SubScout John Gonzalez reports that the popular Rahway Beer and Bands Event slotted for today has been postponed due to inclement weather. The event will run on Sunday, 9/14 from 1:30 till 6:30 PM.

The PubScout

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When a Senate Matters

The Senate is in session...
Ever since Chris Flynn and Moshe Atzbi launched the now-legendary Hailey's Beer Senate Program, the parallels between it and the one in Washington, DC are many.

Both august bodies conduct their important business in a back room. Both bodies incorporate copious amounts of food and alcoholic beverages--except the Senators at Hailey's pay from their own pockets--not the taxpayers'. And both involve a lot of laughing, shouting, back-slapping and general mayhem, as the pictures here will attest. Oh, and both bodies take the summer off, though the DC crew gets paid for going away--once again, by you-know-who.

Sweetheart deal?
Last night's session, the 21st of the monthly series and the first of the new season, was an Oktoberfest-themed one in both food and beer. Think about that. Where else would you find an Irish pub, with an Irish owner, a Jewish Beer Nut/Cook, and that same Jewish Beer Nut/Cook making pork dishes and selecting German-style beers?

The solid list of  30-plus loyal Senators were treated to four very good Oktoberfest beers: Blue Point, Blue Mountain Barrel House, DuClaw and Brooklyn. The Senators are asked to evaluate the beers in a blind tasting to determine which beer goes on tap at the regular bar, and on this night, Blue Point earned the honor, but not before owner Chris Von Flynn had to break a tie between it and Garrett Oliver's Brooklyn.

Definitely better-looking than the DC ones...
Personally, I thought the DuClaw was the best, but that may have been because of the way it complemented Moshe's Pumpkin Ravioli Dish, prepared with  Butterscotch schnapps. And the first course of Wild Boar in a savory sauce accompanied by the Blue Point product was also an exceptional pairing. Moshe also debuted his Sweet Thai Garlic Chili Wings (there's always a wing dish during a Senate session), and I never thought I'd say this, but they pose a very serious challenge to my favorites from Patriot's Crossing.

The PubScout suggests that all three food items be made permanent on the Hailey's menu, especially that ravioli dish. "Your brains will fall out," if I may quote a famous TV show from back in the Paleozoic Era. Which, come to think of it, accurately describes most of the senators from Washington, DC.

Real men in this Senate...
The Hailey's Senate meets on the second Tuesday of every month, and also decides what the next theme should be at the current session. Next month will feature "Four From One," which is four beers from one brewery. And Beer Nut/Cook Moshe will prepare dishes to complement them. The PubScout has an inkling of what that brewery will be, but I am sworn to secrecy. Just as I am sworn to secrecy about the fact that an additional Senate venue may be in play after January.

But I digress.

There is one major difference between the Metuchen Senate and the one inside the Beltway, however.

No pictures!

Hailey's Beer Senate actually gets the really important stuff done.

The PubScout

Friday, September 5, 2014

Shakedown Cruise for Paragon Tap & Table

You could be forgiven if your first impression about Paragon Tap and Table is that of a cruise ship. Its location six feet above your head and the gleaming white railings that surround the entryway brought back embarcation memories for me. That I was about to embark on another beer-dining adventure seemed to validate the analogy.

Set in the back of a large shopping center on Central Ave. in Clark, Paragon Tap & Table is designed as a gastropub with Chopped Champion Chef Eric LeVine at the helm.

Actually, the accomplished Chef LeVine is the culinary captain of another ship in Randolph, NJ called The Morris Tap and Grill, and he has earned more awards for his culinary artwork than there are beers on both places' menus.

And there are many of those.
Always searching for good beer, good pubs and good people (hey, it's what I DO!), I took the run up the GSP with the missus to partake in the "soft opening" of the PT&T, which is very much like a mighty ship's "shakedown cruise." At this event, the owners, managers, chefs and servers get to prove themselves under pressure, and last night the place was packed and the pressure was palpable.

My group of five arrived at about 6:30 PM after Line Chef Dana Tirico garnered us a reservation. The first thing the pleasant hostess told us in this upscale ambience was that they had run out of menus.

No biggie. That's what shakedown cruises/soft openings are meant to do: learn what needs attention.

And General Manager Mike DeSimone handled that issue with efficiency and aplomb.

General Manager Mike DeSimone
Besides, if we could wait while sipping one of the nine outstanding beers on the menu (there will eventually be twenty), who's going to complain? I opted for the River Horse Hippolantern Pumpkin as did two of my friends, while the missus, coming off her diet a bit, enjoyed Ommegang Witte. Rachel, not yet of age, chose a Sprite. Michael confided that he had special access to other beers not yet generally available, and the lovely and ever-welcome Duchesse de Bourgogne joined us at the table.

Our server, Craig, was a model of efficiency and politeness. A very affable young man who had come down from the Morris facility to assist those in training on this night, he was a great choice to represent this new launch.

While it took a while for the kitchen and staff to get their "sea legs," (another given for a soft opening) when the food arrived it was simply incredible. Everyone in my group raved about their food. I had Pork and Pear Ravioli that was both unusual and delicious. If you read the link to Chef LeVine above, you'll know that such creations constitute his calling card.

Like a cruise ship, PT&T is decidedly NOT the place to be on a diet.  The food at PT&T is as much a delight for the eyes as it is for the palate, from appetizers to entrees. And part of the staff's training will be to learn which beers complement which dishes best. That policy is already in full effect at the Morris Tap and Grill.

The big question is how Chef LeVine will be able to captain two ships at once. Given that he has overcome obstacles far greater, I have no doubt he will manage it.

Many couples choose cruises as a honeymoon trip. With outstanding food of high pedigree and exceptional beers flowing, I have a feeling that the Paragon Tap and Table Honeymoon Cruise will last a long time.

It opens officially on September 10. Bon Voyage!

The PubScout

Friday, August 29, 2014

The PubScout's PSA for September (No Pun Intended)

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

No ice buckets, no fanfare and no BS. Just straight talk.

Just a Public Service Announcement about my journey and how early treatment can beat this disease.  Of course, PSA also stands for an important number for men when it comes to prostate testing.

And I'm a strong supporter of Pints for Prostates for pretty obvious reasons.

If any of you have any questions about the treatment that worked for me, send an email to

Bottom line? Get tested, live longer, ride farther--and remember that Survivors Drink More Beer!

The PubScout

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Have Been Notified...(or warned, as the case may be...)

The rest is up to you.

Reserve a spot at NJ's grandest Oktoberfest celebration!

Pose with Artisan's Dirndl beauties (who never seem to get older).

Taste Steve Farley's fabulous fare.

See why Dave Hoffman's beers are so widely acclaimed.

Meet "The Petes."

And their "daughters."

It's a night of essen, trinken, tanzen und lachen!

Ein Prosit!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Be Still, My Fluttering Heart!

All aboard...maybe.
Everyone has a "breakthrough beer."
You know, that beer which woke you up and made you say, "So that's what beer is supposed to taste like!"

While a British beer called John Courage may have tapped me on the shoulder sometime in the '90's and asked, "Want to start a journey together?" (a request with which I have complied ever since), it was an American beer that hit me upside the head one hot afternoon in the '70's.

This one.

I can taste its strong flavors in my memory to this very day. If the attempt to resurrect it as it was is successful--and I'll know with the first sip--I'll be headed to my local liquor locker.

I suggest you do the same.
Because it's not every day you get to ride in the Time Machine.

The PubScout