Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Weather Gods Bless Central Jersey Beer Fest--Again

Meredith, Karen and Lindsay make the fest prettier
Mike Cerami, JJ Bittings' owner and point man for the annual Central Jersey Charity Beer Fest, either has compromising pictures of the Weather Gods, or he needs to check his shoes for dog droppings.

On an absolutely sparkling day--perfect for a beer festival in the cozy confines of Parker Press Park--hordes of beer lovers paid $25 for the privilege of enjoying a superlative collection of beers, all while donating to the cause of young Megan Knight who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Proceeds for the fest would go directly for her care.

Cerami, whose string of perfect weather days seems to go on forever, targets a worthy, deserving cause for his annual festival, and it's usually a most successful affair. Bands, food and, of course, beer from various brewpubs and breweries in the area highlight the day. This fest would be no different.

Newcomer to the fest, now in its eighth year, was The Long Valley brewpub, joined by Cricket Hill, Uno's, Tun Tavern, the always popular Boak's and host Bittings. Also, beermeister Gary Rosen, saw to it that Sam Adams, Clown Shoes, Captain Lawrence, Hebrew and Brooklyn all had beers to proffer.

Woodbridge Councilwomen Bartenders!
The lines were long for Tun's Apple Stout, but not much shorter for Bittings' award-winning Bad Boy Oktoberfest and Boak's. In fact, all the vendors got a workout all afternoon.

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormack was on hand, and pulling drafts at the beer lines were three Woodbridge Councilwomen, a testimony to Cerami's persuasiveness--and to the propriety of the cause. Cerami manages to engage the entire community as well as the body politic. He's done it for eight years, and plans to continue for many more.
"It's a way to give back," said Cerami. "You shouldn't go through life with two catchers' mitts."

What separates this fest from others--apart from its worthy charity target--is the attitude of the festgoers themselves. They are mature, laid back and engagingly amicable. I sat with a few blokes who were not only happy to chat about beer, but who willingly shared their huge hoagie with me.

Guys like those are the reasons I--and apparently hundreds of others-- go back every year.

Because you meet the nicest folks at beer events.

As the saying goes: Good pubs, good beer, good people.

Author's note: I received this email from a very beer savvy guy who was at the Fest.

It was truly a great day. I was so happy that I was finally able to come. What it may have lacked in food selection and even beer selection as compared to larger more popular events, it more than made up for in ambiance brought together by the people, the small home town park, the beer, the music and the wonderful weather. Woodbridge is not my home but I felt at home there last Saturday. I hope to return.

The PubScout

A Bucket List for the Ages

America's Oldest Tavern?
The PubScout loves history, especially Revolutionary history, and especially where beer is concerned.

And if you're a beer lover, a history buff, peripatetic (and preferably retired), this trek may be The Bucket List to End All Bucket Lists.

My MC group--The PubScout Beers & Bikers Club-- will definitely be checking out the NJ and NY candidates!

Hat tip to Yahoo for the link!

The PubScout

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Artisan's Oktoberfest: Epic, As Usual

Kurt, Roger and Dave--Bavaria in der Haus
As predicted, the throngs of happy festers got in a good mood early, thanks to some spirited "Ein Prosit" singing, some jokes, some great company, some outstanding food and beer, five Dirndl Beauties and a general atmosphere that would have made Munich proud.

The 12th Annual Oktoberfest, conducted in Artisan's newly refurbished back room was another one for the record books as this was the first at which a Masskrugstemmen was conducted, and the winner--who managed to outlast 7 other competitors--took home his choice of a growler of Braumeister Dave Hoffman's beer. (Personally, I'd have taken the Pumpkin Porter, though my affinity for Dave's Oktoberfest hasn't faded, and his new Abbey Ale was kick-ass.)

Mandy "dirndls" at her 12th O-Fest
As usual, Super Chef Steve Farley's culinary creations brought smiles and grunts of approval throughout the course of the night, with his Maultaschen getting especially high praise this year. The oompah sounds of The Polkadelphians, at least six choruses of "Ein Prosit" and a "God Bless America" chorus rang through the beer hall to uplift spirits and maintain the mood. Even the glitterati from the press were impressed, with NJ Brew Publisher Gregg Hinlicky and Star-Ledger Columnist Paul Mulshine getting completely engrossed in the festivities.

Paul Mulshine and Dave Hoffman say "Cheers!"
Mulshine, an avid runner, even went so far as to enter the Masskrugstemmen, and acquitted himself with honor before getting eliminated for spillage. Two brave women even challenged the men; they got an "A" for effort, but couldn't hang on till the end, which was approximately 4 minutes. If that doesn't sound like a long time--try it. Rather than spill good beer, we used water, but you can use any beer you don't care about wasting. It was all in good fun, and that's just what was had by all.

Pete: "This is hard!"
The ceremonial "tapping of the keg," (or as some wags called it, "banging the bunghole") was initiated by lovely Evelyn with her husband Thurston (below) cheering her on. The San Francisco table was in the haus, though somewhat removed from their usual table of honor, much to the dismay of the emcee. Beth did her annual spirited polka dancing with The PubScout and--by obligation--with her husband Brad.

(But she secretly confessed she preferred the older fellow.)

John Rivers and Company were in the Haus for the first--and hopefully not last--time, and lovely first-timer Mikaila from Slovakia entertained the crowd with her impressive command of the English language. She was as garrulous as a mobster on the witness stand, but that, too was all in keeping with the spirit of the evening.

Bunghole Banger Evelyn and Thurston
The "Petes" are to be commended for yet another superlative event, and for actually lowering the price to a most reasonable $49.99 pp.
"We love to see our guests--repeat customers and new-- having a good time in our place. That's what Artisan's is about," said Pete, who refused to try
Masskrugstemmen, though his brother

Pete (don't ask--it's a long story) gave it a whirl in warmups (above). After a little over two minutes holding up the filled 1-liter stein, his arm was in a sling for the rest of the night. He drank with his other arm, though.

In all, another memorable and festive Artisan's Oktoberfest was enjoyed by everyone in attendance.

"I'd never been to one," said one guest who requested anonymity. "But as Arnold Schwarzenegger said, I'll be back."

The PubScout

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MassKrugstemmen Fever to Accompany Annual Artisan's O-Fest Bash

The folks at Artisan's Brewpub in Toms River can be rightfully proud that their O-Fest is still the largest in the Garden State, having attracted as many as 115 festers at one sitting. But there are sound reasons that the team of The Petes, Steve Farley and Dave Hoffman hold that distinction.

The first reason is the Petes' dedication to quality, service and fun. That Artisan's is one of the classier venues around doesn't hurt either.

The second is that Chef Steve Farley is simply a culinary wizard who shares the same passion for his food that the Petes have for their restaurant.

The Third reason is Der Braumeister himself--Dave Hoffman. His beers are made to style--true style--and he takes the same pride in his product as the first "two reasons" do.

When you wrap them up in one package delivered by the stunning (and stunningly clad) Dirndl Beauties, provide an authentic Oompah Band and then charge less than $50 pp for a fun-filled evening, it should come as no surprise that the Haus gets packed.

Part of that fun this year will be a new wrinkle--a Masskrugstemmen (stein-hoisting) competition to see who among the guests can hold up a 1-liter stein of liquid the longest. The world record is close to 20 minutes, but having tried it myself, I doubt anyone will pass the 10-minute mark. Women are invited to join in the fun. After all, a woman once held the mark of 19 minutes plus. I made it all the way to 60 seconds before the Oktoberfest beer in my stein sang its siren song to me, so I drank it. The stein was much lighter after that.

I'm told there may be a few seats left. Do yourself a favor and call them.

After all, you can always sleep in Saturday.

The PubScout

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lagunitas Comes To Trap Rock for Oktoberfest

Mark your calendars and make your reservations.

Octoberfest Trap Rock Beer Dinner Registration

Registration for this dinner will open today--September 16. The dinner will be held on Tuesday, October 14 and will cost $75 (including tax and tip) for five courses. The Guest Brewer will be Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, CA, known for iconoclasticinterpretations of traditional beer styles and irreverent descriptive text and stories on their packaging.

More details will be shown on the beer dinner as they become available. To make a reservation, please call or visit the brewpub

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