By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
I can just hear Paulie Walnuts, Sylvio Dante and the big kahuna himself—Tony Soprano—speaking the words in this title.
But that's only because they probably don't know Chef Johnny La Barbera, the dyed-in-the-wool Italian kid who runs the scullery at Hailey's Harp and Pub in Metuchen, NJ. The guy just keeps on impressing with his homemade creations, and since his home was most definitely Calabrese, Napolitano or Siciliano, the love of Italian cooking runs through his blood.
I should have known the night was going to be unusual for two reasons. First, I found a parking place right in front of Hailey's, and second, Owner Chris Flynn was sashaying about the pub in a kilt wearing green sneakers. With those omens, I decided to forego my usual Potato-Leek soup and Shepherd's Pie accompanied by a few Hailey's Ales. With Chris's sporran at my eye-height, I ventured into the culinary unknown and ordered a Baked Eggplant Rollatini dish. On an earlier visit, the missus had raved about the Penne Pasta, so I knew I wasn't getting a pig in a poke.
Although that's what I felt like when I tried to get up after eating Johnny's creation. One word describes this dish: Un-friggin'-believable. Thin slices of finely breaded, flavorful eggplant over a bed of ziti in an incredible homemade sauce were topped by a thick layer of homemade mozzarella. The combination was nothing short of incredible, and the missus—of Italian extraction herself—concurred with gusto.
As usual, there was no room for dessert, but I must confess to a dilemma. Of all the foods I have paired with beer, Italian food, especially with red sauce, is very difficult to match. Quite honestly, my favorite beverage with that food is a good Bardolino, Chianti or Barbaresco. So what to do in an irish pub with a favorite beer (made by brewmeister Dave Hoffman)?
Fuggeddahboutit. Have a Hailey's Ale when you sit down at the table. Finish it before the eggplant comes. Eat the baked eggplant. Have another Hailey's for dessert.
Ya see, T? It ain't so hard. And I'm pretty sure Johnny's sauce would stack up well against Carmella's.
And don't whack Chris for the kilt. He's a man's man. He's good people.
©Kurt E. Epps 2010 All rights reserved.