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Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bridge on the River Delaware

The strains of the Col. Bogey March may not dance through your mind's ear as you cross from Riegelsville, NJ into Riegelsville, PA, but they would certainly be appropriate. The fantastic Riegelsville Bridge, designed by none other than the famous John Roebling, is undergoing much needed, and, according to a local resident, long overdue, structural rehab. That work, however, will not prevent you from crossing the Delaware via that 100+ year-old span.

Good thing, too. Because just on the other side is the Riegelsville Inn. The Blue Eagle powered me to this historic (1838) site, where I gave my butt a break and hoped to slake my thirst with a good beer in a cool pub.

Having been both delighted and disappointed by other spontaneous breaks from motorcycling, my fingers were crossed at this place. Signs that it was going to fall on the "delightful" side of the ledger began with my meeting of the lovely Yolanda. She was both welcoming and friendly, and directed me straight to the pub on the first floor. Though I could have sat outside on the veranda, I usually opt for the friendly--and hopefully air-conditioned-- ambience--of a pub, especially in an old building.

This one, small and intimate, was tended by a comely young lass named Meredith, who balked at having her photo taken. Can't say as I blame her, either. A grizzly old biker, clad in jeans and a leather vest, with a camera and a line about being a writer--about beer, no less-- does little to inspire faith in these days of internet snooping, geo-mapping and online stalking. Being a gentleman (even in my biker attire), I honored her request; but I apologize to my readers for not having her picture available, as she was, quite simply, a stunner. Nice kid, too.

My disappointment was short-lived, however, as I noticed a healthy lineup of bottled beers, and, lo! Troeg's Sunshine Pils on tap! Still-camera-shy Meredith poured me one and gave me a menu.

I opted for the Riegelsville Inn homemade chili, with some fries on the side. Sweet and spicy, topped with melted cheese and sour cream this was easily one of the best chilis I have had anywhere. It worked perfectly with the Troeg's, too. And unlike that place in New Hope I panned last week, the tab for this lunch was under $15.

The building itself is so old that the floors, stairs and bannisters are pleasantly uneven. My trip up the second floor loo was a trip back through time, and I could only imagine the ghosts of all those who trod those boards.

And speaking of trips back, I took a stroll out behind the Riegelsville Inn and discovered a dining area adjacent to a canal. The canal's water was clear and fast-moving (for a canal, anyway), and I asked a worker on break if the diners back here were bothered by bugs and mosquitoes. He allowed that when the canal was not moving, the bugs were controlled by citronella candles, daisycutters and surface-to-surface missiles.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but for me nothing destroys a great meal faster than having to swat away pesky insects, and I would willingly level a place to kill that one fly that keeps landing on my food. But, the good news is now that the canal had reopened permanently, the Inn is no longer bugged by bugs.

I'd still opt for inside, though. It's so old and quaint, the very walls seem to talk. You can see the pics here.

And maybe the next time I go back, which I assuredly will, Meredith will have had a change of heart and allow me to include her photo as well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hailey's Beer Dinner...Vol.2

The PubScout is happy to announce that he will be emceeing this fine event. After the success of the last one (which was the first one), interested attendees should make their reservations early!

HAILEY’S SECOND BEER DINNER; Sept 10th

Beer dinners are one of the few events that anyone of legal drinking age can enjoy. Knowing that most of our patrons appreciate the "art" of drinking and based on the success of our first beer dinner in January, we decided to do it again! Yes, drinking beer is a key component to a beer dinner, but they also include other important things that people can enjoy -- great food, good times and entertaining conversation (that may or may not be about beer).

This time, we decided to do the beer dinner on a Friday night, so there's no need to worry about looking at your watch and wondering how many hours you have left until the alarm goes off and you have to go back to work.

Relax and enjoy the magical pairing of amazing beers with great food specially crafted by Chef Johnny O’

The beer dinner starts at 7:00 p.m. and spreads across five to six courses, including dessert, with each dish accompanied by a different brew. The menu will be posted shortly. The price will be around $45-$50, seating will be limited and reservations are required. For more information, call Hailey’s at 732-321-0777

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Where I won't be stopping again...

I don't usually do hatchet pieces on places I patronize. If a place is bad, or its beers are funky, I just don't go there again, leaving such businesses to the whims of customer satisfaction. But after one recent stop, I had to bring this place and my experience to the attention of my readers.

There are few pleasures better for drinkers of good beer than a cool, dark air-conditioned bar on a hot summer afternoon, especially after three hours in the saddle of a V-Twin motorcycle. I journalled one of those pleasures recently after a stop at The Stockton Inn in Stockton, NJ.

But as pleasant as my experience at the Stockton was, my session at The Logan Inn was far from pleasant--or even comfortable. The Logan Inn sits on the main drag (Rt.32) in New Hope, PA. It's an impressive structure, well-appointed and it looks like it would be a great place to grab a lunch and some good beer.

Looks that way, that is, until the hot, thirsty traveler discovers that the bar is located outside, on a distinctly UN-air-conditioned patio. There were fans around the place, some of which blew some weird misty substance (water vapor, maybe?) directly AWAY from those who sat at the bar. The only breeze to grace the bar came from the plethora of flies that dive-bombed it incessantly. Given their numbers, there should have been more of a breeze.

Still, being thirsty and hot, and discovering Dogfish Head's 60-Minute IPA on tap, I figured I could survive for a half hour. Not being related to Bernie Madoff, I swallowed hard when I saw the price list at The Logan Inn bar menu, and the best deal seemed like four 2.5-inch hamburger "sliders" for $13. True, they were supposedly Kobe beef, but $3.25 a pop for a burger shorter than my index finger might not have made Kobe flinch, but I don't make an NBA superstar's salary. In fairness, the little mini-investments were decent when I could swat the flies away, wipe the sweat from my brow and take a bite.

And speaking of "taking a bite," I was a tad surprised at the tab for my two IPA's--$7 a pint each. Hey, I'm all for supporting the craft beer industry, but this was beyond the pale (ale).

I did not dine inside the joint with the Madoffs and the Kobes, where there was A/C and probably no flies--and no bar. But I'm betting the tabs were just as pricey. New Hope has a rep as being exorbitantly expensive, but $7 for a beer? Where do they think they are? Yankee Stadium?

My tab for two brews and four sliders came to $27--over $30 with the tip for the barmaid. In all, it was an expensive, uncomfortable afternoon, but a valuable tuition. That's the way it goes, sometimes. I will not be slaking my thirst or patronizing The Logan Inn again.

Especially with The Stockton Inn ten minutes upriver.
And a slew of White Castles on the way home.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Another “hidden” gem on the Delaware

By Kurt Epps—the PubScout

One of the wonderful things about solo motorcycling is the discovery of a hidden Jersey gem. Not precious or semi-precious stones, mind you, but a little out-of-the-way place—a spectacular view from an off-the-beaten path mountain road, a tranquil, crystal-clear river hard by a one-lane bridge.

And cool taverns.

As is my wont, I took a Sunday ride on a beautiful day out to Somerset/Hunterdon/Sussex/Warren counties. No specific destination in mind, and purposely sans GPS, but in search of my favorite motorcycle roads—two-lane blacktop, shaded by overhanging trees (preferably adjacent to a river or canal) or bordered by sun-splashed fields with expansive vistas—and no (or very little) other traffic. It's why four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul.

Hunterdon County Road 523 is a remarkably scenic and wonderful road to ride, especially from Flemington to its terminus in the little river town of Stockton, NJ. The roads on either side of the Delaware are wonderful motorcycle roads, and just the kind I seek. Having stopped more than once at the towns of Lambertville, NJ (RiverHorse Brewing), New Hope, PA, Frenchtown, NJ and Milford, NJ (The Ship Inn), I decide to take 523 into Stockton in search of lunch—and a good pub with good beer.

The Gods of Victuals and Beer were with me, as my exit from 523 onto NJ 29 deposited me just outside a place called the Stockton Inn, a place I had—inexplicably-- passed countless times before on my River Rides.

I pulled the Blue Eagle around the back of the place and beheld what looked to be a terraced, covered garden. The burbling of water, produced by two waterfalls, and profuse greenery provided the backdrop to the sounds of diners enjoying their lunches and drinks. So I headed inside.

And I stepped back more than two centuries in time. Wide-plank wood flooring, it authenticity validated by its unevenness, delightful murals on the walls and the unmistakable ambience of a Revolutionary d├ęcor were just the predecessors to an inside bar tabbed "The Farmer's Bar." With its original tin ceilings and rich mahogany wood trimmings, one could easily imagine quaffing a pint with General Washington himself as he crossed the Delaware into Pennsy from this very spot—known then as Howell's Ferry. That crossing, of course, led to a far more famous—and historic—one some miles downriver when GW's attack on Trenton on a Christmas night turned the very tide of The Revolution.

The literature of The Stockton Inn suggests its beginnings circa 1710, which predates even Washington's birth. And the interior of this architectural gem gives no reason to doubt the date. You can read all about it here.

As Fate would have it, the current owner, Fred Strackhouse, was on premise, and Fred was kind enough to give me a tour of the place. A bit of consubstantiation and background from me to Fred (most owners are not likely to accept a vested, dungaree'd, beerdrinking biker as a legit columnist) yielded a special bond between us. As it turns out, Fred was a former wrestler (my kind of guy) who toiled on the mats for the Nittany Lions way back when. After we concurred that wrestling is the only sport (everything else is just a game), he introduced me to his daughter Sara, currently attending Lehigh (and maybe on a first-name basis with Cael?). This knockout 20 year-old has crafted her own major at the prestigious engineering school involving Graphic Design and other studies, but here she was waiting tables in her dad's joint. That she is conscientious about it goes without saying, because Fred had to drag her kicking and screaming to be in the pictures. She had customers to attend to, you see, and work to be done. (Ah, the progeny of wrestlers…)

Enough about the place and the people. What about the food and the beer?

Chimay on tap. If that doesn't get your attention, go have a Corona. Also, Dogfish head's 60-minute IPA, Smuttynose's Old Brown Dog (was a perfect complement to the Chicken Pot Pie, by the way), Yuengling (natch) and Stella Artois. And that was just on tap. A host of others was available in bottles. I had a Smuttynose with my Chicken Pot Pie, and both were delicious.

The full menu is here on the website, and if you're tired, you can even stay here in some of the guest rooms. Many famous people besides you have done just that. The History link at the website tells us: Band leader Paul Whiteman kept a regular table at Colligan's and signed off his radio and TV shows announcing he was "going to dinner at Ma Colligan's". The Inn became a mecca for writers, artists, and thespians. A table favored by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Damon Runyon and S. J. Perleman became known as the "Algonquin Roundtable" in honor of their New York City hangout. Add some of the famous writers who covered the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping trial in Flemington to that list, and you're in some elite company. The Inn has even had the bands of Marshall Tucker and Gerry Garcia perform there. Yes, there's entertainment, too.

Whether you stay the night or not, check out the Silver Dollar Bar and the Silver Dollar floors. Fred Strackhouse had the bar "re-silver-dollared" and Sara planted one of her own in it. The terraced gardens, abutted by those aforementioned waterfalls, are a delightful place for lunch, dinner or just a few Chimays and a cigar or two. It melds nature and civilization in a perfect blend of ambience, and was likely the reason for the ancient appeal of the place.

Though The PubScout normally eschews wine (unless it's real cheap sangria that I can doctor), The Wine Cave, a small convex room with as vast a collection of wines as you're likely to find anywhere, has its own history, too. Be sure to ask about it. Fred is obviously in this venture for the long haul, as he confided that he has about 2,000 bottles of vintage wine on hold which should be maturing perfectly in a decade or so.

And while this was a midsummer visit, one can imagine what ambience the holidays bring to the Stockton Inn. Here's a sampler. The PubScout only had a few beers and a lunch on this serendipitous visit, but, rest assured, he will be visiting again. You should, too.

©Kurt E. Epps 2010 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Better—The Sooner

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

I have never actually met former Jerseyan-Now-Oklahoman John Karmazin, though he and the missus were schoolmates in HS back in the days when you had to get up from your chair to change the TV channel. And when they re-connected on FaceBook, the missus discovered that John was a homebrewer. Being a dutiful wife who knows of my penchant for, um, things Oklahoman, she suggested John as friend.

And what a friend to have. After some initial consubstantiation, John arranged to have some of his Beer Snob Brewery beer sent halfway across the fruited plain (by private courier, of course) to me for sampling. Sending homebrew, especially "live" stuff, is an "iffy" prospect, even under the most watchful of eyes.

It got here. But it didn't stay long.

John sent four styles: a Belgian Dubbel, a northern English Brown Ale, an "experimental" IPA, and a Pale Bock.

The dubbel was brewed in memory of Karmazin's beloved Akita, Kuma. Translated as "Little Bear," that's the name of the beer—though, at 7.8% ABV, it is far from a little beer. A wonderful example of the style, it had a delightful nose and an exceptionally smooth mouthfeel, augmented by that Belgian candi sugar that graces some of the best Belgians. John says it has won many medals in the HB competitions he enters, and it's not hard to see why.

The Brown Ale was also absolutely true to style and absolutely delicious, especially as it warmed a bit. At 5.2% ABV, and with a nutty, chocolate finish, this could be a wonderful session beer for many a quaffer.

But The PubScout's choice for a session beer from this shipment would have to be what Karmazin called LK50. Named in honor of his wife Lori's 50th birthday, this beer was inspired by Sierra Nevada's Pale Bock. A distinct, though not overbearing, spicy hop note does not alter the smoothness of this exceptional beer. Produced from a decoction mash and lagered for FIVE months, this baby weighs in at 7.5% ABV, so the smart beerlover makes this a session beer only in his home.

Karmazin's last offering was an experimental IPA that he admits he was "not pleased with." But what does he know? He adds that "All of my friends really liked it. Hey, when it's free…" Add The PubScout to that friends' list, as I thought it was superb. A nicely balanced beer with hops predominant (as per the style), its 8.2% ABV is hardly noticeable—until later. If this is what "experimental" means, then let's hear it for experimentation.

Homebrewer John Karmazin of Oklahoma: ya done good, son! But his location poses a problem. Unless you're in John's circle of Sooner friends or a beer judge ( or a hack, like me), you ain't getting' this stuff.

And what good is a great beer if beer lovers across America can't get it? Therefore, to solve this problem, I am recommending to John Karmazin that he enters his beers into the Sam Adams national "Longshot" competition. I think he's more than a Longshot.

So thanks much for your work and your generosity, John. If you make any more, send it along.

The Better, the Sooner.

©Kurt E. Epps—The PubScout--2010