Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Ends, 2013 Begins...So What?

There was a time in The PubScout's youthful life when he would go out at 10 PM to begin a night of revelry. Now, he's "out"--as in cold-- at 10 PM. As this year wound down, I asked myself how I would like to see its last daylight hours, since I very likely would not see the dark hours that always lead to a lit ball dropping in Times Square. Or lit people doing the same thing.

So I gathered up two of my three sons and a couple of buddies, Mike and Harvey, and made haste to The Tilted Kilt in East Brunswick for an afternoon session of burgers, brews and good, old-fashioned guy bonding.

The Kilt is a good place to do this, and I confess that although it's my fourth visit, I still find the pub--and the servers who staff it-- welcoming and genuine. That they are good looking and stunningly attired doesn't hurt. But their dress is not the reason I like it there. Men can be very temporal creatures. After all, I subscribed to the old Playboy magazine, but I only read it for the pictures.

We enjoyed hearty fare, cockle-warming brews, lots of laughs and the attention of that special breed of feminine pulchritude found in the Kilt Girls. As it was NYE afternoon, the pub wasn't seriously crowded, as it was Saturday when Subscout Gonzo paid a visit. Gonz allowed that even if someone lost their balance that night because of excessive consumption, they could not have fallen to the floor because there was no room to fall.
So we had the benefit of wholesome guy-bonding and a plethora of Kilt girls to dazzle with our increasingly witty repartee.

And to take pictures with.

Nobody got tanked, out of hand, loud, sloppy or rude to the Kilt gals. It was simply an afternoon of good cheer and good beer in a good pub with good people. Leaving the pub at 4 PM after three hours of convivial interaction, it dawned on me that we, at least, didn't require a special holiday, a clock or a descending disco-ball to tell us when to have a good time or to celebrate.
That opportunity comes to us all every day, as long as we have family and friends who want to share in the good times.

The PubScout takes this opportunity to wish you all such good fortune and good health.
Not just in 2013, but in every year on every day.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Is Gonzo a Sumerian?

Joe (L.), Gonzo (R.)

As the theme of this blog indicates, The PubScout gives great credit to the Sumerians, who invented both writing AND beer. So when one of my trusted Subscouts, already seasoned in the latter, wants to try his hand at the former, am I not obligated to showcase his growing passion for writing?


But I will for a few reasons. First, Gonzo is a good, trusted friend. Second he's a wrestling guy. Third, he loves good beer. And fourth, he's developing his writing to discuss that good beer. 

Even though the PubScout may be blissfully ignorant of some of his "urban references," here's Gonzo's take on our recent visit to the Rail House Pub in Rahway. Give the guy some encouragement, and spread the word that you can read his stuff here. 

And no, I did not pay him (much) for the comment about the Belgian Monks...

Lucky Day, Lucky Day--by John "Gonzo" Gonzalez

It’s not often a man can count himself lucky especially in this day and age….but to be able say it twice…and in one day…Whoo-ie! But it is true. Surviving the Mayan catastrophe is no small feat and to come out unscathed is a true blessing. Good thing the Mayans held their beverages to a higher standard than their chronometers.

  My second dance with lady luck brings me to the main point. I am blessed with a great friend in Tony Dalmau (Big Tony D) – not only is he a brother from another, he’s a terrific wrestling coach, and a huge fan of BEER. So when he told me of this new place opening in Rahway I had to go see it. 

The Rail House Restaurant is conveniently located in Rahway’s downtown Arts District across from New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast and North East Corridor train line. Excellent product placement if you ask me. It is an interesting establishment to say the least. The Rail House consists of two buildings: the restaurant and the pub. Both are exquisitely decorated. The former has a cozy lived-in feel, perfect for a romantic dinner and the latter has the exposed brick and sufficient dark wood that reminds you that you are in a pub without the showy fancy fare of a chain eatery.  In order to make the trip official, I enlisted the help of the PubScout, Kurt Epps. Yeah, he’s the guy the Dos Equis spokesman once said, “the Belgian Monks pray to him for their brewing guidance!” 

Friday night fresh off our win against the Apocalypse, Kurt and I headed straight for the Rail House and sat with its front man, manager Allan Maslo. The discussion covered the many avenues new bars travel; beer selections from local craft brewers, menu pairings, and decor. Somewhere between local bands and future events my mind started to wander.  I examined every inch of the bar, wall to wall exposed brick, the floor to ceiling glass wall that allows you to play voyeur to the commuters schlepping home, and the sizable selection of brews on tap. 

That’s right, I’ve abandoned the initial mission to recon this place for the masses.  I went native, straight off the reservation. I was sizing this place up to see if it had the potential to become Gonzo’s new watering hole. I peered over my shoulder to the rear of the Rail House and I noticed plenty of foot traffic. As I sauntered over and investigated, I found an amazing little open-air back patio complete with a cozy fire pit and seating for all my friends. There is also a twenty foot bar that can accommodate sixteen patrons, can you say “Beer Garden?” Allan can, and he said you can too this Spring. 

The patio had the mystique of a Hoboken-esque bar/lounge. Simple hanging lights adorned the entire perimeter which is lined by the brick facades of the surrounding buildings. Yes, very cool indeed. Before I returned to the bar, I noticed the quick step hustle and bustle of the wait staff. They were shuffling appetizers and entrees between the home base Rail House restaurant and the pub. 
Something told me it was time to eat. 

It has been said, “the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” and with the selections and the prices, the Rail House had me falling head over heels. With ten burger options ranging from $5.95 to $9.95 and all cooked to perfection and piled high with choices like sirloin steak, pulled pork, chili, fried plantains, and pork rinds. Yes, pork rinds. The piece de resistance, toasted pretzel bread bun, fantastic!

Now with the burger, beer had to follow and I selected Lagunitas IPA. Great choice, a real no brainer, and not because of the quality but because of the price. Maslo has really done his research and he understands his clientele, by providing great beers and a gourmet menu at reasonable prices the Rail House is sure to pack them in. He has prepared for the commuters, the college students, the local music fans, and the beer aficionados; he is confident that patrons can come in with $20 in their pocket, enjoy a great appetizer, a fine beer or two, and leave with change in their pocket. DONE! 

Regardless of the occasion, I am confident your experience will be thoroughly fulfilling.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Next Beer Stop: Rahway, NJ?

Rail House Pub Bartender Rachel

Ever since JJ Bittings opened a brewpub hard by the NJ Transit tracks in Woodbridge in 1997, The PubScout has been a fan. Not only a fan of the place, but of the ever-present railroad theme, whether it’s the little locomotive chugging along the elevated track inside or its real big brother thundering by at regular intervals outside.
So when SubScout Gonzo (John Gonzalez) alerted me to a new—as in one week old-- rail side pub with a large variety of beers just up the North Jersey Coast line in Rahway, I was intrigued enough to pay a visit to the fledgling operation. Mass transit near good beer can be a blessing.

Officially called the Rail House pub, it’s adjacent to the Rail House restaurant at 1449 Irving St., a cozy, upscale eatery.  At first, though, I drove right past it, as there is no outside signage indicating that it’s there—unless you count the neon Yard’s Brewing sign that hangs in the window (which usually gets my attention). Hanging a quick U-turn, I found a spot right in front on Friday night.

Call me old school ( or, if you prefer, just call me old ), but pubs should have interiors of either
1: old wood, wattle and daub (like Krogh’s in Sparta) or
2: old brick.
The Rail House pub is in the latter category. So far, so good. 

Joe (L.) and Allan (R.)

A quick look at the taps also yielded favorable results, so I moved down the bar to introduce myself to Manager Allan Maslo. Maslo is a savvy guy and totally committed to the craft beer revolution. Fortunately for the little guy, especially those who use the train to get to and from NYC, he’s also committed to common sense pricing and value. He joined the Rail House brass in September of 2011, and has since put so much effort into the pub side of the business that many patrons refer to the place as “Allan’s pub.” He is quick to dismiss that, however, and gives all the credit to his owner Larry Fishman, a former owner  of Asbury Park’s Stone Pony. Supposedly, some Jersey rocker got his start there.
Allan shared his beer menu with me and there are at least 49 beers of great variety and style in both bottles and on draft. Lagunitas, Flying Dog, Dogfish Head, Rogue, Chimay, Yard’s, Troeg’s, 21st Amendment, Oskar Blues and many others are available.  The pub offers two sizes of each—12 oz. or 16.oz—with a concomitant variation in price. Pub regular Joe Ferris, himself a connoisseur of fine beer, has volunteered as a semi-consultant to Maslo as Allan earns his beer bones. If the beer menu in my hand is any indication, Joe knows whereof he speaks. Still, The PubScout offers his own extensive knowledge to assist in the learning process—though my services require a small fee of a beer every now and then.

Maslo knows, too, that not everyone getting off the train has either the time, the inclination or the cash to pony up big bucks for a gourmet meal, so his menu is designed to allow the traveler –as well as the visitor—to order a couple of good brews and a huge, fresh, delicious burger (also in many variations) and fries  for under $20 with some change left over. It seems to be a winning plan. I spoke to Patty, dining with her recent college grad daughter Kelsey, had been in three times already, and the place is barely eight days old.

Gonzo and I happened to be visiting during an “End of the World” party, and there were six—count ‘em—six different bands none of which I ( a fan of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, Artie Shaw Woody Herman and others)  had ever heard of performing for the youngish (25-40) crowd. That target demographic is an admitted part of Maslo’s master plan. Maslo said, however, that with its Stone Pony roots, old school rock from Elvis to Pink Floyd is also standard fare. I think I’ve heard of those guys.

Tory and The PubScout
The Rail House Pub is not a very big place, but neither is it cramped, though it could be if the attempt to make Rahway a craft beer mecca catches on. That could happen, but it definitely needs a web presence, even one attached to its big brother at The Rail House Restaurant. As it’s only a week old, we’ll give them time to establish themselves and work out the necessaries of marketing that will aid the process, as well as the kinks that will retard it. As aforementioned, a BIG sign outside will go a long way toward that end, as will some interesting railroad-type wall hangings to give the place some authentic, romantic  iron horse character.

Let’s face it: a “Cheers”  it isn’t. Not yet, anyway.
But if Maslo and Company play their cards right, it very well could be. And Rahway could be more than just another stop on the North Jersey Coast Line.

More pics here...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Year-Old Imperial Stout at Uno's Worth a Trip

I stopped by Uno's in Metuchen today for a quick lunch. When I asked Brewer Chris Percello what he had on tap, he initially said "Scotch Ale," which would have been fine with me.

Then he added, almost as an afterthought, "I also have a keg of one year-old Imperial Stout, if you're interested." I allowed that I was.

And if you're a stout lover, you should be, too. Keep in mind that at 9%, it packs a serious punch, so be sure to eat something with it, as I did. (The breadstick was very tasty, too.)

The stout, however, was exceptional. Imperial Stout Lovers, I'd suggest getting over to Uno's before that keg kicks, or you'll be kicking yourself.

The PubScout

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Good Times at The Tilted Kilt

The Tilted Kilt in BrunswickSquare Mall in East Brunswick is a great pub for a variety of reasons. Outstanding food at reasonable prices, a great atmosphere and a  decent, (though not yet stellar)  beer selection. But lots of pubs can offer that.

What they can’t offer is Tilted Kilt gals, a bevy of beautiful, plaid-clad and very friendly lassies whose main purpose seems to make the clientele happy. What struck The PubScout about these women on his most recent Friday night visit was that their friendliness was genuine--neither contrived nor staged for effect. From our exceptional server Samantha to EVERY single TK girl who passed by our table, they all were willing to stop, chat and smile—despite being in the midst of bustling action. And “bustling” is a not a word chosen lightly, by either this writer nor the costume designer of the TK girls, as cleavage seems to be a high priority. Some have called the Tilted Kilt an Irish Hooters, and I say, “Fair enough.” I also say, “So?” And then I say, “Slainte!”

Pretty faces and cleavage, however, do not an efficient server make. Attentiveness, friendliness and getting the orders right do that, and these gals have that part down to a “T.” Their outgoing attitudes did not seem forced or fake in the least, and every one I spoke with said that they really enjoyed working in the place. One of the managers, a brunette stunner named Megan, was equally friendly. Not all managers are that way. In fact, some can be very stand-offish. But Megan was not.  That says the friendly attitude is imbued from the top down.

My table of Subscouts decided that Megan should be in a kilt, too, but when I informed her of their wishes, the affable lass allowed that she already had done that stint, and was now promoted. I’m guessing that formula produces not only good business for the place but healthy tips for the lasses, too, which is as it should be. To be a draw, a pub has to make the customer feel good about being there. The Tilted Kilt’s food and ambience do the former, and the TK gals handle the latter.

I took a crew of potential Subscouts there for a follow-up visit, just to see if their assesments matched my own.  To a man, they were all impressed and vowed to return. One, LS, said, “What a great place. Good food, great atmosphere, and cold beer. A great place to spend time with friends. Can't wait to go back!”  
And with 31 TV screens, something’s bound to arrest your attention. Another, ML, said, “It’s a happening place…always something to look at—besides the TV’s.” I think I caught his drift. Another, JQ upon entering and being greeted by the TK gals at the front desk, stopped dead in his tracks and loudly proclaimed the name of the holy fellow whose birthday we’ll celebrate on December 25. JQ was probably just in the Christmas spirit…

Now the big question: is this a guys only place? Absolutely not. On the night of our visit, there were plenty of distaff customers in attendance. Some, of course, may have been lured by the male servers in kilts, but I’m betting more were there because the Tilted Kilt is just a fun place to be. Is it a place for a quiet, romantic interlude, where perhaps a man might pop the question to his prospective bride? No.
But if it’s good food, great service and great pub-type atmosphere you’re looking for, the Tilted Kilt is your place.
Oh, and friendly eye candy doesn’t hurt either.

Cheers! The PubScout

Note: How does one become a Subscout? Simple. Buy The PubScout a beer!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Balls, Beer--and Belma?

The Pre-Game Crew warms up...

The pluck, skill and general stick-to-itiveness of Brewer Chris Percello were all on display at last night’s Uno’s December beer dinner. Percello, who’s doin’ some fine brewin’ at the Metuchen site, took over the reins knowing what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. And one of the places he wanted to go was home—that is, to keep a fifteen-year beer dinner tradition alive.

If that means he has to come up with the recipes himself, so be it. If that means he has to bring in fine commercial brewers—like Kane—to share the stage as he did last night, so be it. If that means he orders his fiancĂ©e Natalie to churn a creative ice cream for days while violating all sorts of child labor laws, so be it. And aided by a willing staff, Chris pulled off another winner, putting his signature on the Uno’s beer dinners with a solid exclamation point. He even added a few new wrinkles— a specially brewed IPA to accompany the Cheese Course and party favors for everyone--not just trivia winners—to take home.

A bit about that IPA first. The standard Ike’s has always been a PubScout favorite, but Chris decided to experiment with Belma hops, a relatively new hop, and offered it alongside his Station House Red for the Cheese course. Yielding all sorts of flavor notes, the Special IPA, served directly from a keg, drew raves from regulars and newbies alike.

And the raves just kept on coming with the second course. Officially listed as  Mushroom and Mozzarella Arancini Paired with Driftline Oatmeal Brown Ale, the dish somehow (probably thanks to Lenny) acquired the name Chris’s Balls, since Percello made the risotto mixture and actually shaped the globes. Whatever they were called, The PubScout admits to having found them delightful, and the pairing with Kane’s Driftline was a winning combination. I could make a meal out of that pairing, though I would admittedly, need more than just the standard number of balls that came with the package, and my Driftline portion would have to be longer.

Mike Kane was in attendance, along with his very knowledgeable sales guy, Glenn Lewis; and both gave excellent descriptions of the beers they brought from their brewery in Ocean, NJ. All of their fine beers, besides being unfiltered, refer in some way to the ocean.  “Single Fin” (an old-school surfboard) accompanied the salad course in a fine manner, but for The PubScout’s money, the pairing of Chris’s Spicy Stewed Beef with Cheddar Cheese Grits accompanied by Kane’s Head High IPA was the combo that really scored. The PubScout is not a fan of overly spicy foods, but Chris’s beef dish just walked up to the border without crossing it, and the Head High served as a perfect complement.

If Uno’s dinners are known for anything, it is the dessert pairing. No flowery description necessary here. Chris’s Scotch Ale (less “chewy” than in the past, but exceptionally smooth) and ice cream made with it, topped by a large triangular fudge brownie had many attendees sitting back and loosening their respective belts. They would have to eat their special party favor chocolate covered pretzels on the way home if there was room at their “inn.” 

Or today if there was not.
The PubScout was definitely in the latter category. 


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wir trinken noch mehr gute Bier?

Simply translated, the title above asks, "We're drinking more good beer?" And the answer to that question is a definite "I don't know." But we seem to be drinking less of some beers. Jim Koch, L. of Sam Adams fame, shared his beer theory with MSU's Kyle Stuber recently at Foley's Bar in NYC: "All beer is good; some beer is better." Apparently, some beer is just so-so.

My pal Al sent me this link about the "Nine beers Americans no longer drink," and it's quite interesting. Why the authors, who provide sales data, stopped at nine is open to question, but the nine they cite certainly have the stats (some cynics might add, the rep) to deserve admission to this, um, elite corps.
Starting with Number 9, the list ascends to the Number 1 beer that has lost the most market share. The PubScout will not spoil the fun by sharing that data here. It's only a click away, and it probably helps the stats of the authors.

Nor does The PubScout cast aspersions on those who may find their favorite brew on this list.  My mission is not to tell you what you should be drinking, but to apprise you of what--and where-- you could be drinking. Anyway, check out the link above for the info, and have some fun learning about which states in the US drink the most beer. You might be surprised to learn which state is Number 1, or that Jersey doesn't even make the cut, or that beer consumption is actually down in the US.

But if we're drinking better beer, it's a perfect example of the theory that "Less is More."

Cheers! The PubScout

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two PubScout Faves Get Some Love!

Artisan's, One of the PubScout's favorite pubs in the world--especially around Oktoberfest time--gets a nice shout out from Stem and Stein Magazine. But, wait! The headline says TWO PubScout faves. Click the Stem and Stein link above and go directly to Pages 10, 11 and 12 to see the other.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Quick Hit--Bittings Winter Cockle Warmer

Made a stop at JJ Bitting's in Woodbridge last night after checking out the fabulous toy train display in the nearby Barron Arts Center. Ordered up a Winter Warmer from the comely barlass, and came away very pleasantly surprised. Well-balanced, with notable, but not cloying, spice notes, a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel and a delicious flavor, it had a distinct Old Fezziwig character. And, as it was Happy Hour, it was only $2.50. The beer will warm your cockles--kilt-covered or not-- at any price, however. Kudos to Brewer Sheehan for an excellent job!