Monday, March 23, 2015

Camarons Acapulco at Pancho's & Gringo's- Brookfield, Ct.

Shrimp wrapped in bacon, perfectly spiced, laying on a bed of queso sauce. What's not to love about it? Pancho's & Gringo's is fast becoming our favorite Mexican place and a dish like this just explains why. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chili's Sweet and Smoky Burger- Poughkeepsie, NY

We used to go to Chili's all the time and never had a bad experience, but when we started to focus on local restaurants we drifted away. Today we decided to stop by the Poughkeepsie location for lunch and we realized why we liked it. The food and service were excellent at reasonable prices. If anything, I think they got even better since we were last at a Chili's restaurant.

I went with the Sweet and Smoky burger at $10.79 and swapped out the fries for a side salad for an extra buck. It was fresh and a good sized salad. Teresa went with one of the lighter dishes, the Mango Chicken at $10.19 and she said it was very good.

The burger was excellent. Here's what comes on it direct from the corporate website, "Topped with melted pepper Jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, NEW spiced panko onion rings, fresh leaf lettuce, tomato, NEW mango-infused smoky BBQ sauce & NEW Chili's Signature sauce. Served with a side of mango-infused smoky BBQ sauce." I ordered it medium and it was a bit closer to medium-well, but the juices were still dripping out. It was nicely seasoned and the combination of all of the ingredients worked very well. 

We will be going back to a Chili's. One thing I remember is that they are consistent across the chain.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Habit Burger Grill- Fair Lawn, NJ

The Habit Burger Grill is a West Coast chain, started in 1969, that is slowly making its way east. There are now two in Jersey and I was invited to the grand opening of the one in River Edge, but we couldn't make it. Today we were near Ikea and decided to hit the Fair Lawn location. To sum up the visit, it was great and this chain has real potential to give its competitors a run for their money.

The inside is modern without being over the top trendy. You place your order and are given a buzzer, then you find a table. In about five minutes or so the food is ready. 

I decided on the Double Char Cheeseburger meal with bacon added at $9.75. Teresa ordered the single Char Burger and a side salad which came to $5.50. Both were quite delightful with quality meat cooked and seasoned perfectly on a toasted bun. 

The fries were just right, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle served hot and seasoned with just the right amount of salt. 

The Salad was a nice size and even the croutons were seasoned, I think I detected a touch of rosemary but I may be wrong. 

Overall, really good burgers and fries at low prices. Our whole meal came to $16.32 with tax. The same thing at similar places would have hit twenty bucks easily. 

So, how does the food compare to the competitors? I would say they are way better than Five Guys, much better than Shake Shack,  a bit better than Jake's, and on a par with Smashburger. Smash has more options, but Habit is cheaper. We will return and we will be going to the River Edge location. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Budweiser, the King of Beers?

When I was coming of age, over forty years ago, the beer of choice was Budweiser. If you had a few more coins in the pocket it was Michelob, Lowenbrau or Heineken. Less coins, then you went with Pabst, Schmidts, or Ballentine. Coors was this exotic beer in Colorado that was unavailable to the masses in the East. 

Flash forward to today and Bud, though still the number three beer in the U.S., has been replaced in the hearts and minds of beer lovers by craft brews. I am one of them and my preference leans to a nice hoppy IPA, stouts, and Porters. Now I have to state that I am not a beer aficionado, and I prefer British brews to German with Lagers and Pilsners being my least favorites. 

That said, I was intrigued by Budweiser's advertisement during the Super Bowl that poked fun at craft beers and beer snobs. It raised an uproar probably because some people saw themselves as the target of the ad. I liked it as it basically stated that beer is a simple pleasure which has been turned into what has happened to wine years ago. So, I decided to try a Bud once again just to see what it was all about.

The beer had a nice, clean, taste that was not as dry as my usual with some sweet notes to it. There was a drinkability to it that beckoned for another and I can remember this as a refreshing beer on a hot day served ice cold. It would go well at a barbecue with a hot dog or a burger, or with a nice thick steak. 

My conclusion? Budweiser is not bad at all, in fact it was quite tasty and refreshing. I would have one again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Red Robin- Danbury, Ct

Smoke and Pepper Burger

We stopped by the Red Robin at the Danbury Mall for lunch the other day. I never realized there was one at the mall and once I found it, I wanted one of their new craft burgers. Red Robin is one of the few chains I like and one of the reasons is that while they have good fires, they are very accommodating in substituting other things for them. I like to get the side salad and Teresa likes the steamed broccoli, both of which are bottomless. 

I got the Smoke and Pepper which was topped with black-pepper bacon and extra-sharp Cheddar on a toasted ciabatta bun with house-made Smoke & Pepper ketchup for $13.49. It was quite tasty and filling. 

Teresa ordered the DGB burger with oven-roasted tomatoes, savory roasted garlic aioli and fresh arugula tossed in citrus olive oil dressing on a toasted ciabatta bun for $12.99. She said it was good and so was the broccoli.

Overall, consistent with Red Robin quality. Now that I know it is there, we'll be back. 

DGB Burger

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Habit Burger and Grill- New location in River Edge, NJ

Just thought I'd share this item that came my way. The Habit Burger Grill is opening a new location in New Jersey soon. Unfortunately I won't be able to get there for the grand opening, but it looks interesting and I'll be popping by in a couple of weeks and let you know what I think, and provide my own pictures. 

photo courtesy of The Habit Burger Grill 
The Habit Burger Grill to Open Second New Jersey Location
in River Edge

River Edge, New Jersey  (February 2015) -- The Habit Burger Grill’s ("The Habit"), delicious Charburger has been habit-forming across the West Coast since 1969 and soon lines will be forming in River Edge, NJ as it opens its second East Coast location. The burger centric fast-casual restaurant chain opened its first East Coast location in Fair Lawn, NJ in August 2014.

The Habit will open its doors on Wednesday, February 18, at 1081 Main Street, River Edge, bringing the total number of its restaurants nationwide to 113.

The restaurant will open for business officially at 10:30 am on Wednesday, February 18.

Some Habit food facts:

  • Burgers are always 100% fresh ground beef, not frozen 
  • Burgers are char-grilled over an open flame for extra flavor
  • Tuna steak sandwiches are made from line caught, sushi-grade albacore  
  • Lettuce, tomatoes and onions are cut fresh daily
  • Tempura green beans, French fries, onion rings and sweet potato fries are 100% trans-fat free, cooked in soybean oil
  • Fresh chicken breasts are hand-filleted and marinated in-house
  • Tri-tip Steak is trimmed and marinated in-house
  • Salads are fresh, made to order
  • House-made ranch dressing is prepared fresh daily in the restaurants
  • Every Habit offers a complimentary condiment bar featuring an assortment of peppers, lemons, limes and a range of sauces for guests to spice it up.

Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries.

Over the years I have been focusing on the burgers in this blog and I realized that it was time to take a closer look at some of the micro-breweries popping up in the Hudson Valley, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. This means a few road trips over the spring, fall and summer to visit, sample, and report on some neat places. To help me out I'll be bringing along some friends and relatives and we won't really be rating the spirits, but rather giving our thoughts on them. As I visit places, I'll be adding links here.

Besides micro-breweries we'll be hitting a few wineries and distilleries along the way. Before you go any further, I have to admit that I am not by any stretch of the imagination a connoisseur or expert on any of these topics. What I'll write is simply my impressions. 

If you are a brewery, winery, or distillery in any of the areas mentioned above and want to be featured, drop me an e-mail.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Seven years of blogging and counting . . . and making some adjustments.

I just looked and realized that I have been doing this blog for close to seven years now. That is quite a bit of dining out which resulted in over 450 posts. It also resulted in some serious excess weight, well I did eat a bit too much at home too. As a result I have been watching what I eat and have dropped close to thirty pounds so far, with a goal of another thirty. I'll soon have to update my profile picture.

Over the years my focus has been primarily on reviewing restaurants. I started with burger places, and have added other types of food with the emphasis on places regular people go. Some posts are more picture oriented and others more wordy. 

In the future I intend to continue doing restaurant reviews, but I will be doing more articles and announcements as well. 

Beer-I have been neglecting this part of the blog, so expect more reviews of beers and breweries. If you are a brewer and want to get the word out, let me know and I may pass it on for you.

Events and festivals-My favorite is the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival in the fall. If you are planning an event or festival, and would like some press coverage, send me your info and I will pass it on if it is in my regular areas. Want better coverage? Give me two press passes (my wife travels with me) and I will attend if I am in the area. You'll get some nice pictures and a writeup.

Restaurant news-If something exciting is going on in your restaurant, or you are opening a new one in my areas, let me know and I might just announce it for you.

Food trends-I will be looking at trends in the industry and reporting on them.

My areas of travel are the Hudson Valley of New York, Fairfield County, Ct., Northern New Jersey, The Philadelphia region, and Wilmington, NC. To get in touch with me drop me an email at or tweet me @ecforman

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kiernan's Pub & Tavern- Pine Bush, NY

Kiernan's Pub and Tavern in Pine Bush is owned by the same people who have Kiernan Farm, a grass fed beef business in the area. I've had their beef in other restaurants and when I heard they'd taken over the old Ajay's in Pine Bush, an interesting place in its day, I was excited and wanted to get there. 

We went on a snowy Saturday after the roads were cleared and while the bar was packed with men who'd just finished a marathon session of snow plowing, we were the only diners. The inside is rustic, all wood, with sporting and outdoors themed pictures on the walls. The bartender was also waiting tables, but in spite of covering such a large area, she gave us excellent service.

I knew what I wanted before we even left the house. Having been watching what we eat for the past two months (27 pounds lighter at this writing) I wanted a big juicy burger. We both ordered the half-pound burger medium with a salad to replace the fries (have to cut some of the calories). Mine was thirteen bucks as I added Swiss cheese and Teresa's burger was twelve bucks. 

The meat they use is grass fed and 90% lean and that can be dangerous to cook properly as it can dry out easily. This was not the case here even though my medium was closer to medium-well. It was a good burger, not awe-inspiring or life-changing as I had hoped, but a good burger none-the-less. What was lacking was any seasoning that I could detect. Simple salt and pepper would have brought out the flavor of that delightful meat.

Would I go back? Yes, I will. Oh, and they don't take credit cards, just cash and personal checks. They do have an ATM.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Smashburger- Paramus, NJ

Smashburger is definitely my favorite chain now, even though we've only been to one location. Today we popped into the other one on rt. 17, the one in Paramus. The service was polite and friendly and the food excellent. I got the New Jersey burger and it was magnificent. With it I ordered a side salad at three bucks and it was a nice salad. Yes, I do love their fries, but I am losing some weight (25 pounds so far) and fries are off limits for a few months. Teresa got the black bean burger with a side salad as well and she liked it. 

If you have not yet been to a Smashburger, do so and soon. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hanna's Middle Eastern Restaurant- Danbury, Ct

Beef Gyro Platter
 We stopped by Hanna's a few weeks ago and found out that they close from 2:30 to 5:00 between the lunch and dinner services. Bummer, as I was in the mood for some good Middle Eastern food.  Danbury has a rather large Middle Eastern population and Hanna has a good reputation so I wanted to try them. This time we arrived at noon and it was certainly worth the return trip. 

The restaurant is small, seating forty tops, and well appointed. When we were there four other tables were occupied and something smelled good. We looked over the menus and I decided on the gyro platter at eleven bucks. It was quite good and even came with a small house salad with a nice tangy dressing. The gyro meat is not made in house, but it was of good quality and they cooked it just right. The taziki sauce was just right as well, creamy with just the right amount of garlic. 

Teresa went with the special of the day, a chicken and Lebanese couscous stew at eleven bucks. I tasted it and it was good, and very hearty. She was pleased and next time she wants the moussaka. It came with a salad as well. They also gave us a basket of really nice, thin pita bread. 

Overall, good food at reasonable prices with excellent service, well worth the return trip. They even have a market next door where you can buy Middle Eastern foods. We'll be going back again. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Nikki's Fresh Gourmet- Wilmington, NC

Nikki's has a few locations in the Wilmington area and we went to the one on Racine last year, and we liked it. Being downtown on a chilly afternoon, and hungry, we decided to try the one on Front Street. It turned out to be a good decision. 

I ordered the special rolls at fifteen bucks, my daughter got the salmon bento box, my grandson got the black bean burger, and one granddaughter got the tempura, another the quesadilla. Two wraps finished out the order. I mention all of the orders to give you an idea of the range of selections available. Also, everything was quite good.

Overall, nice place with good food and good service. We'll go back again.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Red Robin- Wilmington, NC

I like Red Robin, yes I know it is a chain and I normally stay away from chains but I do like them. I find them generally consistent and a good value, plus when they screw up something they make up for it and are genuinely concerned. We stopped by the Wilmington location with a large group for a celebration and were not disappointed.

I had their new premium smoke and pepper burger at $13.50 and substituted the bottomless fries for an unlimited side salad (I am cutting back on what I eat and while I like fries, I find them to be unfulfilling calories). I ordered the burger medium, and it came out a perfect medium which is a feat that many high-end restaurants are incapable of. The ciabatta bun was fresh, the peppered bacon tasty and properly cooked, the cheddar cheese plentiful and perfectly melted. It was a very good burger worthy of the price and as good as any high-end burger I've ever had. 

We had six adults and three children, plus a baby who didn't eat, and the tab was just over eighty bucks including tip. Not bad at all. The service was excellent, Kayla was very attentive and efficient. There was one mixup on a burger and they apologized, replaced it, and comped it. That's why I like them, they really care about getting it right and pleasing the customer. 

Overall, Red Robin may be a large chain, but they are one of the few that get it right and I will continue to patronize them for a reasonable meal.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tower 7- Wrightsville Beach, NC

Tower 7 on Wrightsville Beach is part of a small chain of four restaurants, well five restaurants counting the coffee bar in the Tower location. I'd been to three of them, both of the K38's and Las Olas at Mayfaire and liked them, so today we stopped by Tower for lunch with two of our children to complete the set. It was a good choice. 

I ordered the fish bowl which had some perfectly fried tilapia in a taco bowl with lettuce, cheese, cabbage, avocado, and a neat dressing for ten bucks. It was filling, but not heavy in taste. Teresa got the vegi bowl at ten bucks and it was good as well. Rachel had the burrito, a huge one, and Mark got the poor surfer's plate. All told it was just under forty bucks with tax.

The service was good and friendly, the food was good, and the ambiance nice. Tower has the feel of a nice surf themed beach bar serving good food. My favorite of the chain is Las Olas, but this is a real close second. Stop by and see what I mean.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Carytown Burgers and Fries- Richmond, Va.

We stopped by Carytown Burgers and Fries on our way down the behated Interstate 95. It's a bit off the main road in a shopping mall in a confusing maze of one way streets. The restaurant a bit eclectic, bordering on eccentric. You order and pay downstairs and tell them if it is takeout or dine in. If it is dine in they bring it to you at the table. It took less than fifteen minutes from order to delivery, and they were fairly busy at the time.

I got the blue cheese burger with the "works", lettuce, tomato, onions, ketchup, mustard and mayo. It had plenty of blue cheese on it and the burger was pretty good. The bun was a bit stale. Teresa went with the regular burger with the "works" and she said it was okay. The total bill was under fifteen bucks, not bad.