As a good number of you may already know from an earlier blog this year, (because everyone reads everything I write – except for my kids but that is another blog for another time)
I applied for a ride on the MunchMobile this summer and was accepted.
Then came the fun part, trying to choose a trip for my ridealong. We had to narrow our choices down to three and mine were in order – 1. Weird/Wild & Wacky 2. Spicy & 3. Bacon.
I knew that my 2nd & 3rd choices
were nothing more than window dressing since those would be extremely popular and that Weird/Wild & Wacky would not. No doubt visions of Fear Factor flitted through the heads of a good many so I felt good about my choice. As fate would have it, I was right.
My Weirld/Wild & Wacky Culinary Tour of NJ was scheduled for August 10 with publication in the paper on August 23.
Now that link was to the OFFICIAL newspaper report – the following is a combination of the report I turned into the paper with a little extra thrown in on the side.
My day started with my son handing me a rubber chicken as I was heading out the door with the admonishment, “Dad, you can’t go on the Munchmobile without a rubber chicken.” It’s
a good thing, I didn’t bring it in to a couple of the places we stopped because I really think that someone along the way would have tried to cook it & eat it.
La Ideal Bakery (Passaic, NJ) - Not an official stop on the tour but a muffin top wrapped in pie crust was as close to perfection as could be. It was like the baking equivalent
of a filet mignon wrapped in bacon. I only wish a bakery in my area did the same thing. Actually I wish there were still real bakeries in my area as they have all closed down in the past few years. (Rent prices or in one case, they didn’t have an oven and
how can you really trust a bakery without an oven ?)
Brenda Lee #2 Taqueria (Passaic, NJ) - Great first stop that set that helped set the mood for the day. Sparse interior with interesting food. The menu (when translated) reminded
me of the children's song "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" though we continued on to much more "interesting" areas of the body when the food hit the table. The Suadero (side tendon) was easily my favorite of the bunch. I would order that anytime especially
with either of the two sauces (Red - immediate heat / Green - smoother slower building more flavorful heat) and a side of the surprisingly fruity cactus. The rest in order were - #2 Ears (surprisingly not as slimy as they looked - 2 tone color was interesting)
#3 Stomach (almost Suadero like but not quite) #4 Tongue (not a fan and would have ranked lower but there were others that were worse) #5 Head (flavorful but very dry in my opinion - really needed red sauce) #6 Brains (looked like cauliflower - tasted like
mush - OLIVER would not have asked for more) and #7 Skin (like a soggy thai noodle and just an unpleasant sliminess in your mouth)
Argyle Restaurant (Kearney, NJ) - Haggis was my biggest fear going into the day and disappointingly so, is still my biggest fear. I expected the Haggis to come out in a steaming
stomach like we are used to seeing on TV & movies, not wrapped in dough & fried (Regular serving) or breaded & fried (Highland Oysters). The Highland Oysters not only tasted better (which isn't saying much) but the filling looked entirely different than the
regular Haggis. It made me think that neither dish was made on site and were delivered pre-made & frozen. The Scotch Eggs are a wonderful concept but came up seriously short on spice & flavor. The Clootie Pudding to end it all was a final disappointment in
that the custard on top was really a flavorless yellow sauce that would have had William Wallace running for the highlands. Easily my least favorite stop of the day.
Thumbs Up Restaurant (Edison, NJ) - This was where we came close to being on an old episode of FEAR FACTOR before they started looking for really disgusting body parts for the
contestants to eat. Of course when the first thing you see on the menu is "Assorted Entrails in chili sauce" you know it's not going to be your average "American" Chinese restaurant. While the entrails were chewy, they did not compare to the sliced pig ears
which were like chewing on old rubber bands. The one cold dish I did find surprisingly enjoyable was the Edible Tree Fungus which had a flavor that slowly grew on you with each bite. I really enjoyed the concept of the Hot Pot and thought that both the Red
Hot Broth (spicy) & White Broth (bone marrow) had great flavor that helped to make the next offerings a little more edible. While The Brenda Lee #2 Taqueria used most of the pig between the snout & the tail, the Thumbs Up seemed to use the parts that even
the Brenda Lee #2 discarded with a few extras thrown in. The two items on the Hot Pot menu that I will remember most in the rest of my lifetime were the Duck Tongue & Boiled Blood Curd. I wasn't surprised when I saw Duck Tongue on the menu having seen it as
a mystery basket ingredient on CHOPPED a few nights earlier but I was surprised when I bit into the Duck Tongue and found a bone. The Boiled Blood Curd almost looked like slabs of baking chocolate from across the table but that illusion was shattered when
it was passed over to me to drop into the Hot Pot. It had the consistency of a Jell-O Jiggler before it went in the broth and it reminded me of I don't what after it came out of the pot but it certainly was very bland and did not hold the flavoring of the
broth. I also thought that the stomach looked a lot like the skin of the rubber chicken my son gave me to bring along on the ride. I don't doubt that the rubber chicken would have tasted about the same. I think that the Hot Pot concept was great and that it
would work really well with more American style meats (Beef, Pork, Chicken). While we did have a large amount of ingredients on the table, we did leave almost as hungry as when we walked in and that isn't supposed to happen for at least 30 minutes after you
Clydz Martini Bar (New Brunswick, NJ) - This was the stop where we finally had some "Wild" game meat instead of intestines & awful offal. The menu read a little bit like a corner
of the Philadelphia Zoo and the item that initially caught my eye was the Braised Python Ravioli. I wondered how much python they could squeeze into the ravioli. Unfortunately, it wasn't a lot. The pasta was nice and the mushroom cream sauce was heavy but
it really covered up what little python there was in the dish. The same could be said about the cheese & beans in the Elk & Rattlesnake Chili. If I hadn't read the menu first, I would have thought it was maybe a 3 Bean Chili that was missing two beans. The
Antelope Carpaccio was slick on your tongue and really could have used a dip in the Hot Pot back at the Thumbs Up. I did enjoy both the Antelope Loin & the Kangaroo Loin. They were medium rare and easily could have been served & enjoyed in any restaurant across
the state. They both reminded me of a rare lean steak. The Bison & the Game du Jour Meatballs (wild boar on our night) were the best two items on the menu but both of those meats are appearing more often in the meat section of your local grocery store so I
don't think of them as being as exotic as they were just a few short years ago. I refuse to comment on the Venison as deer are nothing but long-legged rats to me and I refuse to eat them.
Destination Dogs (New Brunswick, NJ) - This was the last minute addition that really hit the ball out of the park for me. These guys really embraced their concept and had some
absolutely WEIRD, WILD & WACKY flavor combinations on each & every one of the hot dogs on their menu. Trying to narrow down the selections to order was next to impossible. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite out of the seven different dogs we ordered
but the ones I remember most a few days down the line are The Bun Mi for it's incredibly "cool" bite and the Gladiator because I can't stand broccoli rabe but I had no problem eating it here. The Howlamo, Conquistadog & Bun on the Bayou were close runner-ups.
Out of all of the restaurants we went to, this is the one I place I plan to bring my family back to just for it's creativeness and so I can order their breakfast style dog (which we didn't order), The Paul Bunyan. Shoot, if Amelia Earhart likes it enough to
come back from the dead.....
Whole Foods (Everywhere but near my town, NJ) - And finally there was ice cream. Ice cream is the perfect dessert in that no matter how full you may think you are, there is always
room for ice cream because it melts & fills in the cracks. At the time when we tried the 4 flavors we purchased I was sold on the Mexican Chili Chocolate mainly because I am a chilehead at heart but the more I thought about it over the next few days, the more
I found myself thinking about the intense flavor of the Ginger. It really was bright and the pieces of candied ginger were not too sweet or too gingery. The ice cream itself really helped bring out more flavor in both the Mexican Chili Chocolate and the Strawberry
Balsamic (that really lacked balsamic to the point of my not even tasting it) when mixed together in our paper coffee cups. The Vietnamese Coffee with Chicory was a little bitter but you have to expect that with a chicory flavored coffee. (I drink it every
morning on my way to work) On my next trip to Whole Foods I will definitely pick up a pint of the Sweet Corn & Blackberry that we almost bought and should have bought instead of the Strawberry Balsamic.
In the end, it was wild day with some wacky & weird dishes and a lot of memories to share with a great bunch of people. My rankings would be as follows:
TOP DOG - Destination Dogs
#1A (unofficial) - La Ideal Bakery
#2 - Brenda Lee #2 Taqueria
#3 - Clydz Martini Bar
#4 - Whole Foods
#5 - Thumbs Up
#6 - Argyle Restaurant
and my favorite dish - The Bun Mi Hot Dog from Destination Dogs for that "Cool" bite.
Come back next time, when we talk about my “teeth”, the work that had to be done to them before my trip on the Munchmobile and where we stand with them today. I can almost hear
that apple ripening now…