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Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, March 6, 2015

In The Wayback Machine: Jake and Jocco's Riverside Inn

What with the Riverside Inn having received rave reviews in NJ.com's Best Bar Contest, I thought I'd share my review--from almost 17 Years ago! I'm glad to see the rest of NJ is finally giving this place the respect it so richly deserves.



Jake and Jocco’s Riverside Inn                               

Books and Covers                                                     July 1, 1998
           
            Cranford, NJ is not a big place, but it must have a beer karma. Within a one quarter mile area there are three outstanding places to get quality beers.
            One is the famous Antone’s Pub on South Ave [now the fabulous Kilkenny House], visited and approved by no less an authority than Michael Jackson himself. Another, two blocks away and also on South Ave., is The Office, part of a chain of six upscale beer bars. And the third, Jake and Jocco’s Riverside Inn on North Ave., you might pass right by if you’re big on external appearances.
            Too bad, because the place is a gem. This tiny local bar with a decor that wavers between Nautical, Bavarian and New York Yankees is a throwback to another era and has been a fixture in Cranford for decades. A former Model A Ford dealership, the joint is situated hard by the Rahway River at a spot that used to be a fording place for the Lenni Lenape Indians who resided there. Its kitchen is so small you’ll brush the walls if you blink your eyes. And if co-owner Jake (who’s big enough to have his own zip code) is in it, it’s a wonder any food comes out at all.
            But the real wonder is  the food that comes out the door. It’s unusual for the PubScout to begin a review by talking about a pub’s vittles, but that’s what you’ll be talking about after you visit. The food is a factor of Big Jake’s (real name: Pete Jacobs) attitude toward his place, his customers and his work. “I just wanna cook, man. I wanna feed the world for five bucks a head, then go fishin’.”
            And he’s pretty true to his word. The PubScout fed a family of five far more than we could eat, with outstanding appetizers and entrees (including Jake’s World Famous, Fight-Through-Storms-To-Get-It Crab and Cheese Crock) and multiple servings of drinks (at least three Boddington’s pints--on TAP!) for $46. The food was nothing short of sensational in portions and quality.
            “I got whatever you want. If I can’t make it, I’ll run across the street and get it,” says the burly Yankee fan who keeps a fishing pole behind the bar for youngsters who may want to try their luck in the “mighty” Rahway River. He makes a daily trek to select his own vegetables, not trusting the quality of delivery services.
            He also prefers to deal with beer salesmen who have access to Yankee tickets and who “understand his system.” Said system includes ten taps with a decent selection of micros that always includes an IPA, something light, something dark and some standard “canoe beers” (Bud-Miller-Coors) owing probably to Jake’s proximity to the waterside.
            The micros available this night, a small but solid selection by anybody’s standards, were a measure of Jake’s experience in the business. On tap were Widmer’s Hefeweizen, Guinness, Bass, Harp, Sierra Nevada, Dundee’s Honey Brown, Beck’s  and--incredibly--Boddington’s. Not many places can boast a Boddy on tap, and it must have been nitrogen infused because it came with the classic bottom-filling creamy head and it was cold and delicious.
            Though brother Jocco (Jeff Jacobs) was off this night, the place has a definite family air to it. Mama Jacobs makes all the salads, Jocco makes “all the stuff you can’t pronounce” and Jake makes the rest. Though neither brother ever planned to open a bar as a career goal, that’s where they are. “This is the place you come to before and after you go to the clubs,” said Big Jake, cutting food with a huge butcher knife as he spoke and alternately gesturing at me with it. “Both softball teams usually come here after their games. There’s always somebody you know here,” said the knife-waver who puts real Tootsie pops on every kid’s plate. Long time patron Paul Baruch (whose father was a patron) and his stunning blonde companion, Arizonan Victoria Lambert confirmed Jake’s assessment.
            The PubScout’s better half, not a super-dedicated beer geek, bases her evaluation of beer bars on pubgrub. “I can’t believe that quality and variety of food came from one guy out of a kitchen that size,” she declared. “I’d come back here in a minute.”
            So would the PubScout.
            Just for the Boddington’s.

©Kurt E. Epps 1998 All rights reserved

Jake and Jocco’s Riverside Inn
56 North Ave. Cranford, NJ

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Against All Odds...

Pre-celebration congregation at Foley's
(with a "Peace" sign from a passerby!)
The signs did not augur well for a large turnout at Foley's Pub in NYC on Monday, even though the cause was noble.

Craft Beer for a Cause, brainchild of Foley's owner Shaun Clancy, was designed to assist my son (who is in end stage renal failure) with the expenses associated with his treatment.

First, it was a Monday night, typically slow in most bars and restaurants. Second it was a holiday, so the normal crowd that might come into the pub on the way home from work was probably already home.
Third, it was a bone-chilling fifteen degrees, and fourth, more heavy snow (darn that global warming!) was forecast.

Those factors, however, were mitigated--if not ignored completely-- by the basic goodness and decency of average people as Foley's was pretty packed from the start time of 5 PM till 10 PM. They came from Jersey, from Pennsy and from the city to pitch in, and they were rewarded with good cheer, good beer and a rousing good time.


Good Cheer, Good Beer!
They enjoyed three fine Jersey beers as well as those from Foley's extensive taps. Climax Brewing donated its exceptional Snow Plow, Forgotten Boardwalk kicked in its very popular 1916 Shore Shiver IPA and Ramstein Brewing chimed in with a kick-ass Double Platinum Blonde Bock. All three kicked by 8 PM, a testimony to their quality.

The Foley's Pub staff, including beer manager Demian Knott, Manager Brian and the always feisty--and lovable--Kathy the Brooklyn Waitress handled their duties to perfection as the throng enjoyed both beer and Foley's fine victual. The Shepherd's Pie was the PubScout's personal favorite, but everyone I spoke with was thoroughly satisfied.

Flights of NJ Beer and T-shirts were sold in addition to a generous donation from the night's take by Shaun Clancy, raising a substantial amount, which was, after all, the intent of the event. John Mooney of Over The Moon Public relations did yeoman's work in generating interest and participation for this special event.

The "Bros," Cody L. and Kacy, R. sandwich Brett
Adding to the upbeat feeling of the night was the recent news that my son (who flew up from NC just to attend) may have found his live kidney donor, pending a few more tests. More info will be released as it becomes verified, and if it is, he could have his new kidney as early as April. God is good, and so are those who came out and who have been contributing and praying all along to get my son past this crisis.

Yes, the stars all aligned, but the real stars of the night were those who braved severe weather to show up and participate. Our family is eternally grateful for their sacrifices.
They have proved that, as usual, God's angels come in disguise. We happened to catch some angel pictures here.

More will follow! Stay tuned!
Cheers! The PubScout

These pics just in, courtesy of Kenneth C. Mok. If you were there, you're probably here.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Quick Hit: Cherry Snow Plow Winter Warmer

I just returned from Der Beermeister's (read Dave Hoffman's) workplace in Roselle Park, NJ, where I stopped to drop off some beer for the upcoming Craft Beer for A Cause Event slated for Foley's Pub, NYC next Monday. Dave was nice enough to store the beer as it awaits pickup from Shaun Clancy of Foley's.

He was also nice enough to share some of his latest beer with me, and this one deserves all the publicity it can get. It's called Cherry SnowPlow Winter Warmer, and it's made with sour cherries from Michigan. Those cherries impart a very unique taste and finish to the beer without being overly tart. Dave also has a cousin to it on tap called just plain "Snowplow," and it, too is excellent, imparting loads of dark fruit into the palate and nose.


On a day like today, with freezing rain, ice and more snow in store, it's just a perfect antidote.

Dave's a good guy, and he is one of three brewers (Forgotten Boardwalk and High Point are the others) who are donating beer to the Foley event designed to help my son who is in End Stage Renal Failure.

Originally, I had asked Dave for his superb, world-acclaimed (and Michael Jackson recommended) ESB, and he consented. But today he suggested substituting one of these Winter Warmers, what with Washington's Birthday coming up and its apocryphal links to cherries.

I assented in a heartbeat. Anyone who hates winter and its "wintry mixes" will love this beer. Be sure to try it at Foley's if you can get there, and if not, get to Climax Brewing and pick up a growler or ten. If you own a bar, do yourself and your customers a favor and order this winner ASAP.

Winter, after all, still has  six more weeks to go.

Cheers!
The PubScout

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Exclusive! Chris Flynn's Epic "Thank You" Speech!

If you haven't heard by now, Hailey's Harp and Pub has garnered a coveted spot in the annals of Pub Popularity!

In a recent contest run by NJ.com, Chris Flynn's Main St. Metuchen Pub was named as one of the FIVE best pubs in NJ! Even more impressive, Hailey's was the #1 Pub in Middlesex County!

So it was that The Zany Wizard of Main Street decided to show his appreciation to his loyal customers (yours truly being one) with a hearty, Pre-Super Bowl welcome launched earlier today.

Knowing his Irish heritage and its concomitant penchant for garrulousness, and knowing Flynn's blessed gift for verbal expression, I arranged to attend the gala event, slated for noon. I walked in to the crowded pub at 12:01 only to be informed by the proprietor that his speech had already concluded.

"You missed my speech," was his greeting.

Wait. What? It was ONE minute after his scheduled start time!

As a special favor to me, he offered to reprise his epic speech, designed to express his deepest appreciation to his faithful patrons. So I whipped out my handy iPhone, ready to record what was sure to be a memorable Churchillian homily, stentorian in delivery.

OK, Chris! let it fly!

"Thank you," said Chris.

I waited for more. But that was it.

Thank you. Friggin' THANK YOU?

"Yeah. It's my customers who make this place what it is, and I wanted to say thanks to them."

Sigh. I should have anticipated his reticence, given the way he usually avoids photos like Dracula does mirrors.

So I suppose there's only one thing his loyal customers can say to a speech like that:

YOU'RE WELCOME!

And "WE'LL BE BACK!"

Cheers!
The PubScout

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bottle Drop, Bottle Stop





There is almost nothing good than can come from dropping a bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout at the checkout counter and having the resultant explosion reverberate through the store.

Almost.

Because if I hadn’t dropped it, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet manager Sean Bowling, who, perhaps by dint of the nitro explosion, appeared magically at the scene to supervise the clean-up and to allay my fears of a beer fatwa being laid upon my head.

“Happens all the time,” said Bowling. “No problem. We’ll get you a replacement.”


By “we” he meant the JWG Wine and Spirits Store adjacent to Wegman’s in Woodbridge, where, ahead of the “historic storm,” I traveled near my home to lay in a supply of good, warming beers for the blizzard (hereafter known as the “Fizzard”).

But beer writers—and apparently professional meteorologists—don’t have crystal balls, so I wanted to be prepared. Hence, the Left Hand Nitro Stout in case the snowblower and the generator resisted a wake-up call from their summer slumber.

The store, which operates under the banner of Wegman’s Wine, Liquor and Beer is attached at the hip to the food giant’s building.

Bowling offered, “We are actually a completely separate store, as NJ law does not allow us to be in the Wegman’s and does not allow Wegman’s to own more than two licenses. We are connected to the store and we feed off each other much the same way a Kohl’s may be next to a Dick’s Sporting Goods or a Target may be next to a Michaels.  That being said, we have been open for almost 3 years in this location.”

I know that time is correct, because when it first opened about three years ago, I stopped in to an advertised beer-tasting with some friends and was impressed with the beer selection. I even asked the manager at the time if I could come interview her and do a story, but for whatever reason, the interview and the story didn’t happen.

Until I dropped the bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout.


I asked Sean how many beers were on hand and he said six hundred, which prompted my follow-up question about the demand for craft beer, its impact on “traditional beers” and its concomitant demands for more floor space.

Bowling said, “The craft beer section is definitely growing by leaps and bounds but the category as a whole is increasing meaning much of the traditional domestics are also on the upswing.
Regarding the floor space issue, he said, “Absolutely! Like wine, the more people explore and try, the more they want to explore and try and our goal is to stay one step ahead of them by offering a great selection while also not looking past our traditional customer.”

So who decides which beers will make it onto the floor?
“Consumer demand is always first and foremost and of course we try and mix in some new items that are interesting to us that may start with no demand and build from there,” said Bowling.


He added that the store still does beer tastings on Sundays between Noon and 2 PM. As to what kind of beers get sampled, he said, “We look for beers that go well with the store concept – items that pair well with food and that interest us in general.”  Bowling announces those tastings via store signage and email, so to be kept in the loop, stop in and sign up, as I did.

It turns out that Bowling also knows a thing or two about pairing beer with food, which would make having a Wegman’s next door very convenient. And I’m sure food shoppers who like beer and wine are just as happy about the relationship. Symbiosis, after all, is a beautiful thing.

Some folks buy food and then ask what beer would go well with it.
The PubScout does the reverse.

Priorities, baby. Priorities.

And they all go well with the dish on the left.

Cheers!
The PubScout


Monday, January 26, 2015

Got A Pair?


Krysta offers a flight
I doubt if there is anyone of beer-drinking age who has not heard of “renting a beer.” That’s because beer and kidneys have a long, storied—and often humorous—relationship.

And it was just that relationship that motivated me and my beer/biker buddy Natalie to motor down the NJ Turnpike to Cherry Hill and the Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery.

As you can see by the badge at the right, my son is in need of a kidney transplant, so any event with volunteers who have sacrificed kidneys to save someone’s life gets my attention. That there is beer involved seals the deal.

Jamie Queli, the face of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing (sometimes sharing billing with a feral cat named Growler) was not only proffering her beers, she was celebrating the ninth anniversary of the Gift of Life one of her brewery friends—Seth Dolled—gave to his mother Sharon when he donated a kidney to save her life.

L-R: Satyra, Dave, Jamie, Sasquatch, Seth, Sharon and Jason
 I met both Sharon and Seth yesterday at this event along with others who have been impacted in some way by kidney disease. There were other donors, like Satyra, a volunteer from the Gift of Life Donor Program, who avowed that if she had one hundred kidneys, she would donate every one she could. And there was table mate Jason, a beer drinking kidney donor who was getting along just fine, thank you, since saving the life of someone he may not have even known. Both Seth and Jason asserted that they are fine and feeling great—and just as able to enjoy good beer as they always were.

And there was plenty of that flowing freely in the boardwalk-themed space, complete with skee-ball machines. It’s actually housed in the cavernous building that was once home to the Flying Fish Brewery, now relocated to Somerdale.

 Natalie and I, as members of The elite Refuge Club which grants special privileges to members, arrived ahead of the crowd. We each grabbed a flight, and The PubScout was mightily impressed that this very young brewery was putting out some quality beers so soon. Brewer David Bronstein, who made his bones at Sly Fox is quite creative, and his beers were quite unique.

 Funnel Cake Nitro with its vanilla cookie notes was quite good and very smooth, as was Tilt-a-Swirl and a citrusy, spicy Directory for Gentlemen. But The PubScout, not normally a quaffer of IPA’s in the bleak midwinter, was very impressed by the 1916 Shore Shiver, primarily because the hop character, while resiny and spicy, did not cause my cheeks to pucker back into my throat.

Jamie Queli, who once worked for a multimillion dollar company that built custom emergency vehicles—including two now used in the Presidential Motorcade—is the high-energy engine that powers Forgotten Boardwalk. But yesterday was not the first time I interacted with her. No, that opportunity arose when I sought three quality NJ brewers who would assist in supporting my kidney-transplant-needing son.

 
Natalie and Brewer Dave
Without a moment’s hesitation or “sorry-but’s,” Jamie Queli jumped in. And the Spice of Life Event she held yesterday seemed tailor-made for this writer’s attendance. Speaking of tailor-made, the Spice of Life Beer created by Brewer Bronstein was outstandingly different. Using what Queli refers to as “The Butler” for a base beer, Bronstein added Amarillo hops and a healthy dose of locally grown habanero honey, provided by Spring Valley Honey. The result was distinctive, memorable and worthy of such an event.

Queli, as it happens, “is no stranger to charity events, having held multiple food drives, including one prior to receiving its state license to operate as a brewery, including a coat drive, donations to Sustainable Cherry Hill, a non-profit organization that fosters the global sustainability movement at a local level, as well as donating profits from the two Skeeball machines in the brewery tasting room to the Pink Boots Society as well as The Food Bank of South Jersey.”

Beer/biker buddy Natalie and I stayed for a few hours enjoying the beers, the company (which at one point saw people in pajamas playing skee-ball) and the visible support of The Cause.

Tracy throws a non-deflated ball...



 If you see any of Forgotten Boardwalk’s beers on tap at your local watering hole, give them a try. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, and you can give your own kidneys a workout.

If you have one to spare, let somebody know.
Because somebody I know needs one.

Cheers!
The PubScout


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Trap Rock to Pair with DuClaw for "Fat Tuesday"

Dining Room of the Trap Rock

In a place The PubScout has called "reminiscent of an English Country Inn, there are some wonderful things happening. It appears Charlie Schroeder is adding to his considerable beer dinner resumé. And the food is ALWAYS topnotch!

The guest brewer for the Mardi Gras Beer Dinner will be DuClaw Brewing, of Baltimore, MD. They began brewing in Bel Air, MD, in 1995. After outgrowing that facility and a second brewery in Abingdon, MD, DuClaw Brewing Company is now housed in a large, state of the art facility on the outskirts of Ball’mer, dedicated to keeping up with the growing demand for their ever-expanding lineup of beers.They have brewed more than 35 unique beers and countless variations and blends.
Their motto, as printed on their bottle caps, is "“Craft be cherished, rules be damned."
The Mardi Gras dinner will be held on Tuesday, February 17th, 2015. Reservations will be taken beginning Tuesday, January 27th. Please mark these dates on your calendar.
More details will be shown on the beer dinner website at tinyurl.com/traprock as they become available.

Though his schedule is hectic, The PubScout is hoping to attend!

Cheers!
The PubScout