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Posts from the ‘Linden’ Category

Clamming Up

Linwood inn

We had time to kill between early dinner/late lunch at Chevy’s (first choice Jose Tejas was ten people deep waiting at the bar. Any time before 9:30pm on a weekend and you’re asking for trouble) and a 9:45pm showing of Gran Torino at the theater next door (it was the only vaguely watchable movie playing. Notorious was sold out and My Bloody Valentine was only in 2-D, lame) so I decided to find the answer to a pressing question I’ve always had. Where do people drink in the suburbs? At Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse? You occasionally see strip mall sports bars, but seriously, where do people go?

This required detouring off chain-clogged Route 1 and scouring side streets. In this case, Wood Avenue in Linden, New Jersey, my favorite blue collar semi-suburb across from Staten Island. There were actual taverns along the little downtown strip dotted with Polish-Czech video stores and Eastern European butchers. Linden reminds me a little of Roseanne’s Lanford with the addition of minorities (the ratio of black teens to white adults at the movie theater was like 9-to-1).

I couldn’t decide which place to pick. Darkened windows with beer brand neon give little clue to what you might be getting into once you walk through a door. But when I spied anthropomorphic clams, one with a bottle of beer and another chomping on a piece of pizza, I knew Linfield Inn was our bar.

Still, I’m hesitant to walk into dive bars in neighborhoods I’m not super familiar with. Will it be tight-knit and cold shoulders or easy going and friendly? I never ventured into a single old man bar along Fresh Pond Road the three years I lived in another Eastern European enclave, Ridgewood, Queens because I’m just not the type who wins over strangers everywhere they go. I’m not a regular anywhere. (I’m still not sure why my coffee cart guy seems so fond of me [I feel incredibly guilty since moving floors and getting a coffee machine. I only stop by every few weeks now and my absence has been noted]. Maybe smiling and saying please and thank you is enough for some.)

Linden historical society
After I opened the door in the back entrance in the parking lot, I was taken with the sign on the interior door beneath the Bud Light logo pointing out the bar and restaurant on the left and a historical society and reference library on the right. Really? Now we were talking. My photo is blurred because I was paranoid someone was going to push the door into me while quickly snapping it.

A few tables were finishing dinner as we entered and the rest of the clientele was made up of a handful of 45+ year old guys who all seemed friendly with the younger bartenders. A little later two college-aged couples came in together and ordered platters of fried food. A gruff Walt Kowalski (technically, I didn't have this thought until after seeing Gran Torino) type showed up and started busting the bartenders' balls and made me wonder when racial epithets might start flying. A disproportionate amount of customers were drinking cranberry juice and vodka.

I turned down the offer a menu because we’d just eaten, but now I regret not at least seeing what was on it. Was the burger advertised on the sign outside worth trying? And what about those clams? I also regret not having time to stay for a second drink or for the live entertainment promised at 10pm. To date, my only experience with live entertainment near Route 1 was the guy belting out ‘90s covers at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

In 2009, I vow to explore more side streets and independent operators. Ignoring the siren call of suburban chain restaurants won’t be easy but I’m up for the challenge.


The Quiznos in the parking lot of Linden New Jersey’s Aviation Plaza shopping center is the only one I’ve ever been to, and three times now. I work across the street from one and never go. This shopping center off Route 1 has become my go-to weekend destination for important destinations like Target, Old Navy, Marshall’s, Home Depot, a 24-hour Shop Rite (I like grocery shopping post 10pm), not so much the Polish and Slavic Credit Union or Avenue, but I was excited to find Applejack at Pied Piper Liquors—none of the shops in my immediate neighborhood sell it. And we persist in doing a bulk of our shopping out this way even though it costs a ridiculous $15 in tolls (the west coaster in me still can’t fathom such nonsense) to go through Staten Island into Union County.

And I found myself at Quiznos again this weekend because it was 5pm, I hadn’t eaten lunch yet (that’s what happens when you get out of bed at noon) and was starving but didn’t want to ruin my appetite because Sichuan food in Flushing was going to happen around 8:30pm. Applebee’s, Chevy’s and Boulder Steakhouse were out of the question; this was the perfect opportunity to try one of those two-dollar, despicably named Flatbread Sammies I saw advertised on TV last week. Yes, advertising works on me.

This is the Bistro Steak Melt, much flatter and less stuffed than the promotional shots. They’re not bad, though a little mixed up, using flatbread, meat, mozzarella, peppercorn sauce and what seems to be salsa. Middle Eastern? Mexican? I guess that’s wholly American. I don’t believe that they are terribly healthy but for something small and cheap to supplement my brought-from-home apple and yogurt it beats the $3.85 half-sandwich at Pret a Manger. (11/18/07)

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Applebee’s Linden

Sampling Tyler Florence’s corporate handiwork had to be done. I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon. It was 9pm, Saturday, and we were in a Linden, NJ strip mall parking lot. I’d already eaten at the Chevy’s earlier this year and wasn’t feeling inspired by Boulder Creek Steakhouse (I like lots of little caloric things not one big chain restaurant steak) so it was Applebee’s by default.

Dip We tempted fate and ordered the spinach and artichoke dip. E coli is passe by now, right? I’m all for unneccesary fat but do you really need a huge side dollop of sour cream (not pictured) to accompany a crock of melted cheese?

I lamed out and instead of getting the crispy brick chicken I tried the non-Florence bistro steak sandwich instead (I wanted fries, not a salad). Luckily, James came through and got the bruschetta burger. The thing was like a damn shape shifter, no matter how many times I snapped shots the pesto foccacia creation turned out blurry.

C6_bruschettaburger_det The most remarkable thing about Tyler Florence’s "huge flavors" (next to the giant photo of his beginning to pudge-up mug emblazoned on the front of all the menus. I know I’m not the first to notice his treading into the fat man waiting to happen territory of D’nofrio, DiCaprio and Sarsgaard) that I sampled were the "crispy garlic fries sprinkled with shaved Parmesan," which tasted supremely unhealthy. I grabbed a few out of James's ramekin (yeah, the TF fries come in a freaking ramekin—mine were just scattered on the plate) and was like “those are really good.” They were sprinkled with rosemary (which you’d think they’d mention as it sounds vaguely upscale) and wet like the top of movie theater popcorn.

What the hell did they do to those things to give them that addictive buttery taste? Perhaps those huge flavors are the result of kitchen chemistry, trans fats and food additives. All I know is it worked on me.

Applebee's * 671 W. Edger Rd., Linden, NJ


We had three choices in the Target parking lot: Applebee's, Boulder Creek Steakhouse and Chevys. After a hard afternoon at Short Hills Mall, giant margaritas seemed in order.

Margaritas And they were massive, which made me worry a bit since they conveniently omit drink prices from the colorful menu. We were guessing $12.95, but then you have to remind yourself this is real chain dining, not the Manhattan facsimile. My supersized Gold Rush (Cuervo Gold, Triple Sec and sweet & sour on the rocks) was a mere $7.95–if I'd known that from the get go I wouldn't have nursed it throughout the meal.

For once I didn't feel bad about ordering an appetizer sampler since we were four rather than just the usual two. Spicy wings, taquitos, fajita nachos and a "chicken ?dilla" quartered up, isn't a wholly unreasonable starter.

Enchiladas When I go gringo I do it all the way, and that means chimichangas, but I resisted and fooled myself into believing that seafood enchiladas were healthier (perhaps minutely). Really, Chevys isn't any worse than anything else that passes for Tex-Mex in the NYC area. It's not completely horrible, and they were playing Weezer, for whatever that's worth.

As one of my favorite parts of Red Lobster is the Cheddar Bay Biscuits, Chevys charms me with their little corn blob that's like a freeform corn bread, polenta hybrid. Ah, it's called a tomalito, and here's the recipe.

That would've, should've been enough, but then we had to go and order two desserts: an Ooey-Gooey-Chewy Sundae and something else with ice cream and caramel sauce that I can't recall the name of. I don't think it was the "potato," as they call it. Sunday night in Linden, NJ (I was treating it as a Sat. since it was a three-day-weekend) is a sparse affair. This is one of the only chain restaurants I've ever been to where there hasn't been a wait, not to mention empty seats. It was so desolate they had to send someone over to the Applebee's half-way across the parking lot to borrow whipped cream for our chilled desserts. Now that's service.

Chevys * 1150 South Stiles St., Linden, NJ