People have often asked me, “You blog about so much, why not food too?” Well, that is all going to change right now! Borrowing the tradition from Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, I am now going to share with you some personal favorites of mine, as I have made food a new category on this blog in order to pass the usually slow summer months. It’s pretty hard to get someone to give their absolute, without-a-doubt favorites, in anything, but I am going to give it a try here. These are not written in stone, mind you, and will probably evolve over time. But here they are, the best steak and chicken I have ever had so far, in Volume 1!
THE BEST: Filet Mignon ala Portuguese Manor (Portuguese Manor, Perth Amboy, NJ)
This is a steak that will truly knock your socks off, for both price and quality. Put it this way, it’s probably the biggest slab of Filet Mignon you have ever seen, and tender and juicy all the way through. I like mine cooked at medium, and would not mind if it came medium-rare because I like some blood in the plate. Anyway, you can get this served in a multitude of ways, my favorite being simply ala Portuguese Manor, which is cooked in a mushroom-wine sauce and brought flaming to your table on a skewer. The smells of the char on the steak with the sweetness of the wine will bring you to Nirvana, then comes the taste which will cement you there. They leave a small bowl of the sauce at your table which, to be honest, is good enough to eat with a spoon as you would soup. You will find yourself using all of it because of how amazing it is, wanting more. Then comes the steak, which has a nice crispy char, or bark, on the outside, but is perfectly red and juicy inside. The blood and natural juices blend well with the sauce, making an excellent coating for your dish, which you can then add homemade fried potato chips to, and saffron rice, with a nice variety of steamed vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. Other ways to get the steak include a Portuguesa, which gets topped with a piece of thinly sliced ham and covered in a garlic-wine sauce, and C/Camarao, which includes shrimp and a garlic-tomato sauce. I also want to add that they have a terrific garlic shrimp appetizer, the sauce left in the dish becoming the perfect place to mop loaf after load of their homemade, crispy bread in.
RUNNER UP: 11 oz Sirloin (Texas Roadhouse, Lancaster, PA)
Well, I never really thought that a chain restaurant would ever make a list like this, so kudos to Texas Roadhouse for serving the best sirloin I have ever eaten, their 11 oz USDA choice cut, which was literally like butter in my mouth, melting away with each second because of how tender it was. It was a good sign walking into the restaurant, and seeing display cases full of every cut of meat they offer, so you can see they have nothing to hide. It is a really nice touch, in addition to the barrels of peanuts all over the place, where people and eat, shell, and throw the shells on the floor at will. It’s a really festive atmosphere that takes you down to Texas, and reminded me of when I went to San Antonio a few years back. I also want to mention that I was debating between getting the 16oz before I ordered the 11, and I was glad I did because I was stuffed when I finished the meal, due to there being literally not one single ounce of fat on the whole piece.
THE BEST: Pretzel Chicken (Lancaster Brewing Company, Lancaster, PA)
Aside from my mom’s homemade fried chicken cutlets, what I had in the lovely old Lancaster Brewing Company was the best chicken I had ever tasted in my life. I walked into the old brewery, which is still active, and making many different beers, expecting pub grub, not a fine meal. However, the item that caught my eye on the menu was not a burger, it was Pretzel Chicken, a cutlet encrusted with sour dough pretzel pieces and topped with a cracked mustard cheddar cheese fondue, spread over mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. It sounded unique, and the rest is history. Normally, I like my chicken breast sliced thin, so when I received this massive piece that night, I was not sure if I would like it. Sure enough, just one bite was all that was needed to reverse that, as it was cooked perfectly, and was moist and tender. The actual pretzel crust remained crunchy, even with the outstanding cheese sauce drizzled around it (my only complaint was that there was not more sauce to go around!). There was even the nice touch of adding some of that rocky pretzel salt to the top of the chicken, and that saltiness really added some balance to the partially sweet, partially sour cracked mustard present in the fondue. I don’t think I have ever said “Mmm!” so many times while eating in a restaurant, and it remains the only out-of-state place I would drive to on a whim from New Jersey, for the sake of one meal.
RUNNER UP: Chicken Frangelico (The Pine Tavern, Old Bridge, NJ)
I don’t order chicken in restaurants much, as I am more of a steak and sandwich kind of guy. But when I do get chicken, usually its encrusted, which is why this Chicken Frangelico was so delicious and intriguing. The crust surrounding it was made of hazelnuts, and not your typical bread crumbs or anything else used to make a crust. The sauce was very similar to the one above, as it incorporated mustard as well, but this time with a splash of Frangelico, which worked really nicely with the nuttiness of the crust on the pan-fried cutlets. The sauce was very thin and you could really get a nice sharpness from the mustard, which was perfect to dredge your mashed potatoes and sautéed garlic spinach through. The Pine Tavern also offers some fantastic appetizers, one of which is going to make the cut on the next edition of this column.