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Ok, tenth anniversaries aren't exactly the same as marriage proposals, but I take my rings embedded in food where I can find them. Teresa, one of the lovely housewives of New Jersey was presented a yellow diamond tucked into a chocolate molten cake. It's somehow fitting that one of the most classy demonstrations of affection comes right along with one of the most classy* desserts.

Also, I was a little disappointed that an elaborate proposal took place right at Williamsburg's newish Loreley, and food wasn't employed in any fashion. Bratwursts are ideal ring delivery vehicles.

*Such a troubled word. My favorite reporter question when I briefly worked as a librarian at the New York Post was, "Is mahogany a classy wood?" I'm still not sure.

The Bee’s Knees

Bonefish I didn't sense a large chain restaurant presence at Tales of the Cocktail. In fact, the only one that seemed to participating in any of the programs was Bonefish Grill. Fortuitous, because they are one of my favorites.

"Bonefish Grill’s Search for the Best Cocktail Featuring a New Spirit" wasn't really for the public (I did poke my head in) or for the average bartender (I just can't say mixologist). The competition was for liquor brands that had been launched within the past year to come up with a cocktail to be featured on Bonefish's menu.

And that's the twisted thing about my relationship to Bonefish Grill. Highly suburban, the seafood chain (whose nearest location, Secaucus, is eight miles from my apartment—I prefer to drive the 17 miles to Iselin) "invites guests to enjoy a 'big city bar' in their own backyards."

Yet, I live a short subway ride away from Manhattan's cocktail heavy hitters like this year's best cocktail bar in the country, Death & Co., and walking distance to Clover Club (also a nominee). There is no shortage of $12+ beverages using herbs, tinctures and homemade bitters in my environs.

The weekend before last, I took advantage of my free Bang Bang Shrimp birthday gift card in East Brunswick and was looking forward to some of their oddly priced $6.90 cocktails. I wouldn't necessarily call a list of martinis, all but one of the 12 sweet and/or fruity, "big city," though. Second-tier city?

I do see what they're going for. My Bee's Knees Martini was flavored with honey and lemon juice and garnished with a basil leaf. They'd only need to lose the martini glass and swap gin for the vodka to get something more appropriately old-timey and historic. But of course, fedoras, moustaches and suspenders aren't exactly de rigueur in Witchita or Boise (at least I hope not). Bonefish states that they are "blending our country's rich cocktail history with inventive, modern twists." They know their audience.

Square One Botanical Spirit, a vodka made from organic American rye and infused with "pear, rose, chamomile, lemon verbena, lavender, rosemary, coriander and citrus peel," won their sponsored contest. The winning cocktail, however, wasn't announced. I'd love to know what it is and I'd order one even though it will likely be sweet and fruity.

Let the Good Times Roll

I'm off to New Orleans for a long weekend because, you know, it's just not disgustingly hot and humid enough here for my taste. I'm going sort of to attend some Tales of the Cocktail events, sort of to eat (will there be edible oysters and shrimp) and sort of to celbrate my birthday even though I'm coming back Sunday, the day of.

In the interim, check out my latest International Fast Food column about Nooi, a new French pasta chain. Vapiano, the new German pasta chain, is also in my sights. I don't even like pasta that much, but I've got to see what these foreigners are up to.

Bud’s Hut

I now understand the fear of the unknown and how it drives suburbanites to chain restaurants. It's one thing if you live in a metropolis rife with thriving unique eateries or dwell in a cutesey smaller city like Portland (my favorite whipping boy) where the indie ethos is pervasive. Local is likely better. But when franchises are the norm, as with most of the New Jersey townships within an hour's drive from NYC, non-chains can be a scary prospect. Just what are you getting yourself into?

For years, I've had a fondness for the US Route 1 corridor spanning Linden to Edison. There is not a single mall store or chain restaurant you can't find along this strip. I particularly like the northern chunk just off the Goethals Bridge because it reminds me of 82nd Street in Portland, or at least the 82nd Street of my youth.

I intentionally drove along it all the way to Clackamas Town Center last Labor Day weekend instead of taking the freeway (I love saying freeway, not turnpike, expressway, parkway. It's free!) and it still appeared to be a blur of car dealerships, taverns, motels, thrift stores, vendors selling rugs out of vans. No gentrification yet (Portlanders aren't so desperate and crushed by rent prices to expand the borders of acceptable neighborhoods into the hinterlands—right before I moved to NYC I lived on 55th and Glisan and that was really pushing it, 39th being the invisible line between cool/uncool neighborhoods) just new unexpected businesses like a drive-thru banh mi shop.

Bud's huts

Along this multi-laned road sits Bud's Hut, a sullen, windowless, dark wood anomaly that would be just at home in the Pacific Northwest. Its impenetrability implies bar or something more illicit, but it's advertised as family friendly. In the three-second glimpse I get in the passenger seat, there never appears to be many cars in the parking lot. There is no hint that it's a dive harboring a specialty like Rutt's Hut, the better known New Jersey establishment sharing half a moniker. In this era of user-generated content, not a single peep online only made me more suspicious. A restaurant untouched by Yelpers and Foursquarers?  I'd have to take matters into my own hands the old fashioned way.

Saturday at 9pm James and I met up with three others that I'd coerced into solving the Bud's Hut mystery. It actually wasn't all that mysterious, as a member of this party only lives a few towns over and had been before, some time ago (and got food poisoning).


The décor was more nautical than I'd anticipated from a hut, a little '70s colonial with firm sweepable carpet, faux Tiffany lamps and boats and ships galore. Not seedy, just faded.

Only two other tables were occupied in the dining room and soon enough we had the place to ourselves. Our friendly waitress, who was as interested in the new Dee Snider reality show as we were, announced, "You can be as rowdy as you want now." After a few glasses of Yellowtail Shiraz, I was getting there. And really, Bud's Hut is probably better suited for drinking. The bar and outdoor patio still had decent crowds when we left.


The menu is based on favorites: steak, seafood…and a bloomin' onion with Italian-American staples like chicken parmesan and linguini with clam sauce (I think that's actually angel hair pasta). Garlic crabs, another New Jersey Italian thing, were also being advertised but cracking crustaceans is always such a hassle and better suited for the outdoors.


We started with Bud's Triangle, which is to say, a trio: loaded potato skins, mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers just like you'd find at a chain restaurant. Bud's Hut is a little Outback Steakhouse and a little Red Lobster with prices in the same range. They also have a mud slide on the drinks menu, so I'll add a dash of T.G.I. Friday's for good measure.


I had the stuffed shrimp, split and packed with buttery breadcrumbs and crab, and a baked potato with butter and sour cream because that seemed like the thing to do. I only eat baked potatoes in restaurants like this. The only thing missing was the bacon bits.


A steak and seafood combo served on an iron fish-shaped plate.

Stained glass

A bull memorialized in stained glass.


While the latest Best of Central Jersey awards are littered with chains, Bud's Hut appears to have swept a few categories in 2007 and 2008.

Me with bud's hut parrot

The parrot kind of breaks with the maritime theme. He would be more on trend at Cheeseburger in Paradise, a little farther down Rt. 1.

Bud’s Hut * 906 US Rt. 1, Avenel, NJ

St. Anselm

The problem with bars that serve food that garner raves is that seats are often a hot commodity. The much yapped about fried chicken and cheeseburger just weren’t going to happen when I popped into The Commodore last week. I’ll have to return at an off hour.

St. Anselm, across the street, was completely the opposite. They had open tables galore because their lack of a liquor license pushes everyone who wants to drink into the shared back garden with Spuyten Duyvil.

I was intrigued and a little intimidated by the initial menu that had been floating around. Meat on meat extremes like bone marrow poppers, foie gras, pierogies and beer battered brains. But in practice, the only oddball item on the blackboard was veal heart jerky. The restaurant has emerged as a full-blown New Jersey junk food joint.

St. anselm sausage sandwich

Awesome in a way, but for the third time in very recent history I have been faced with my nemesis, the hotdog. Luckily, there was a World Cup-themed list of sausages to choose from. I went for Spain’s butifarra (not a blood sausage, sadly) served in a simple crusty roll with mustard. Very restrained.

St. anselm newark dog

I didn’t think I could handle the Newark dog served with a deep-fried Karl Ehmer frankfurter in addition to another sausage of your choosing, stuffed into pizza bread along with batter-fried pepper and onion strands and a fistful of fries. I ordered one for James, though, and forgot to ask for gravy. We were trying to determine if they meant brown gravy (I’m 99% sure, yes) or “gravy” in the Italian-American sense, meaning marinara. He was so obsessed that he brought his monstrosity back inside and asked for gravy to be added. No can do.

For ages we’ve been meaning to hit up Jimmy Buff’s and all of the classic New Jersey Italian hot dog purveyors on their home tuff. Thanks to Hank Krall’s comprehensive round-up on Serious Eats last week, I feel less urgency for an in-person sampling. My stomach thanks him.

St. Anselm * 355 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 

Chain Links: Jack Daniel’s Chanterelles & Summer Squash

Despite the new Manhattan T.G.I. Friday's already having been open for a few weeks, tomorrow they will host an official ribbon cutting. Also this: "In a nod to the Union Square community and environment, they are also anticipating purchasing various items for seasonal specials from the green market." As long as this seasonal produce is encased in melted cheese, I'm ok with this uncharacteristic move. [press release]

A KFC is opened in China almost every single day. I have eaten at one. [CNN]

That hideous sounding McDonald's strawberry-banana smoothie could reinvigorate the entire smoothie market. [WSJ]

DeMarco's didn’t fare so well in the West Village, but that doesn't mean Dominick DeMarco Jr., son of the Di Fara's master won't try another venture. Dom DeMarco’s Pizzeria & Bar will open this year in Las Vegas, then onto Arizona, Texas and California. [New York Post]

Fast Food International: Tim Hortons


What kind of doughnut shop runs out of doughnuts? My favorite (ok, only) Canadian doughnut chain has been mangled by NYC. It’s for the best that we don’t get a St-Hubert. We’d just sully the brand.

For Whom the Bell Tolls


Sunday, a Taco Bell opened in Seoul, and lines were down the block. I had no idea Koreans were so fond of Ameri-Mex fast food. The core menu doesn’t appear to deviate from ours, meaning no Kogi-esque kalbi tacos or kimchi quesadillas. At least they didn’t have to provide a food glossary like in India.

Photo from Chris in South Korea.

Am-Thai Chili Basil Kitchen

1/2 I already admitted my aversion to hotdogs, though I did enjoy a nice steamy, gooey carton of Nathan’s cheese fries at Coney Island on the fourth. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity conjuring up Bangkok memories, but when it’s hot and disgusting out (and I’m a little hungover) I always want Thai food.

I generally steer clear of it in Brooklyn because it just makes me too sad. In the back of my head, though, I’ve been aware of Kensington’s Am-Thai. It’s just that I’m never in the vicinity. A Coney Island to Carroll Gardens drive would finally give me the excuse.

I used to live on 31st Street, on the west side of Greenwood Cemetery in what people like to call Greenwood Heights even though it’s Sunset Park, so I’m familiar with general area. But Kensington, and specifically, this restaurant, is a straight line east through the cemetery in a totally different world. If Am-Thai existed when I lived down there, it would’ve been semi-reasonable walk. The immediate area seems to be a Bangladeshi hub–I want to go back and check out Ghoroa because I love Indian sweets even though they are literally the death of me.

While there is a makeshift table outside so you can pretend you’re in Thailand and another one inside, Am-Thai is very much a takeout affair. Upping the authenticity quotient last Sunday were the hot air blowing fans, no air conditioning, no way. We must’ve looked like we were suffering; while waiting for our order we were given a complimentary iced tea, sweet and thick with condensed milk. I loathe southern sweet tea (so full of hate, I know, I can’t help my hotdog and sugary beverage issues) but the creaminess and strong tannins made this one work.

Am-thai ocean salad

Ocean salad was just one of a handful of seafood salads. Normally, salads are where you get the heat. Not true here. This was tamest dish of all, much more sweet, sour and lemongrassy than anything. The reddish overall color hinted at tom yum paste, and reminded me of Thai food in Malaysia where everything is tom yum flavored: spaghetti, pizza and who knows what else.

Am-thai basil duck

The chile basil duck was oily, sure, and full of spice. The onions and red pepper slices practically confit in the duck fat. Once again, they surprised me because chile basil stir-fries at most NYC Thai restaurants are on the mild side. I did request it hot, but you never know if your wishes will be granted.

The last time at Chao Thai our server asked how we liked the heat level after tasting a dish we’d ordered as hot. We said, “Oh, it’s good” to be agreeable. Then he smugly announced that it wasn’t actually the hot we ordered. The guy’s a tool. And the adjacent table of white folks who had just been commenting to him how their food was too hot? You’re ruining it for the rest of us.

I’ll never understand all the Sripraphai haters. Or maybe more so, the touters of newer, better Thai restaurants that never offer a credible substitute. I firmly believe the food at Woodside’s stalwart is still as good as ever. If anything, I appreciate their vast repertoire of curries. No need to cling to the red, green, panang canon.

Am-thai green curry beef

Am-Thai, while also a Bangkok-style restaurant like Sripraphai, keeps it simple curry-wise, so I chose the greatest-hits green. Anticipating something soupy and blah, this rich and fiery tangle of bamboo shoots, tender eggplant and beef strips, completely exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t wait to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Being a lucky Brooklynite with a car in my household, when the Thai urges strikes I can bypass the immediate area and head to Queens where I know I’ll be happy. Am-Thai has now softened my stance on Brooklyn’s Thai food mediocrity. Next time I’m looking for Thai cuisine, I might just keep it local.

Am-Thai Chili Basil Kitchen * 359 McDonald Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Smooth Operators

Strawbanana McDonald’s has been marketing to minorities, figuring out their tastes and preferences. All well and good, but what does this vague statement mean?

“The fruit combinations in McDonald's latest smoothies, for instance, reflect taste preferences in minority communities.”

As long as they don’t mean strawberry-banana, the foulest ‘80s yogurt flavor combo ever, I’m ok with this.

Update: Oh hell, I was just kidding, but yes, strawberry-banana is, indeed, one of the new smoothie flavors. Would this be the handiwork of blacks, Asians or Latinos?