As a Blue Collar Foodie, my epicurean journey started with dive bars and unexpected foodie finds across this wonderful state of ours. The places that I frequented in the early days of this culinary adventure would make the typical fastidious foodie cringe with disgust. I however loved every minute of it! I still enjoy eating a gourmet meal off a paper plate in a wood paneled wonderland, while the glare of a 50 inch television broadcasting a sporting event illuminates the dark and dingy dining room, but my new true love is the Gastro Pub.
A Gastro Pub is quite simply a bar that serves high end food paired with craft beer and they have been sprouting up in the Garden State faster than reality shows that focus on drama fueled D-bags from the planet orange. My preferred Gastro Pub right now is none other than the Twisted Elm Tavern located at 435 River Drive in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. This relatively new eatery in Bergen County is the brain child of co-owners Jim Rogers and George Kantakis, and according to this foodie, they have struck gastronomic gold!
The Twisted Elm Tavern offers its customers two distinct atmospheres to enjoy the imaginative creations of the Elm’s Head Chef Albert Scazafave. First and foremost is the “sit down,” experience, which I recommend for the Twisted Elm virgin, which is comparable to any high-end restaurant you will find in this area. The second way to appreciate the many offerings of the Twisted Elm is to belly up to the bar, where you can not only have a great conversation with one of the exceptionally sociable and educated bar-tenders, but order anything off the dinner menu as well.
The Twisted Elm’s décor is littered with artistic photographs of local historical sites that initiate countless conversations about native folklore, which is always entertaining for a townee like me. The rustic yet refined approach to design that the Twisted Elm has chosen lends itself very well to the genre of Gastro Pub, and creates a home-like appeal with a fine dining flare.
Now that I have pontificated and preached about everything but what truly matters to the people who read foodie blogs such as this one, I will move onto the metaphorical meat and potatoes of this review, by discussing, well the literal meat and potatoes. The Twisted Elm Tavern has quite an eclectic menu, which allows the Chef to truly show his prowess by jumping from Hot Wings to Pork Shank Ossobuco without missing a step. Although the menu is slightly limited, every dish that I have sampled at this establishment has been outstanding.
Even though I have never been disappointed in any dish I have devoured at this spot, I do have some favorites that standout amongst the crowd. First off, the bread and butter that are served will challenge your self-control, because between the enticing artisanal everything butter and the fresh baked bread, if you are not careful you will fill up before your meal begins. As For appetizers, I highly recommend The Spicy Garlic Shrimp($12), which combines garlic shrimp with Spanish chorizo in a mouthwatering sauce perfect for seafood lovers, or The East Meets West Ribs($12), which are covered in a sriracha barbecue sauce, that, I am not ashamed to say, have dreams about. As for the Main Course, I am a sucker for the Skillet Mac and Cheese with Lobster($15), which delivers a tremendous amount of Lobster flavor thanks to the gigantic pieces of lobster mixed into the cheese sauce that has a slight smoky flavor due to the loving addition of my favorite condiment, Bacon! That is right, you heard me, I said condiment, bacon makes everything taste better, and therefore it is the only meat that should be considered a condiment. The aforementioned Pork Shank ($24) also makes my list of culinary contenders on the Twisted Elm’s menu, due to a perfectly executed chasseur sauce that displays the Chef’s wide array of influences.
As you are eating the generous portions the Twisted Elm offers please keep in mind that not partaking in one of the daily dessert specials would be a foodie crime punishable by excommunication and a lifelong sentence of eating at McDonalds. The evil genius that constructs these decadently suggestive concoctions deserves the utmost praise, for these deserts leave me speechless each and every time I indulge in one of these masterpieces.
Since this is a foodie blog, I have spent a substantial amount of time describing the Gastro facet of the Twisted Elm, but I would be remiss if I did not inform you about the Pub side of this establishment. The Twisted Elm Tavern is not your ordinary local watering hole slinging Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser long necks; they offer a rotating craft beer selection that is handpicked by an unofficial Cicerone, a beer sommelier, which fluctuates with the seasons. The beer menu, which is listed on a large blackboard behind the bar, regularly features craft brewing legends such as Stone Brewing, Dog Fish Head, Rogue, and Flying Dog.
To add to the allure of the Elm’s libation selection they offer much more than just craft beer. The Elm consults a sommelier to choose the wine that they offered to their customers who prefer grapes over hops. Furthermore, much to my wife’s delight, they also serve artisanal Hard Cider by Crispin. To top it all off, they of course offer a full bar complete with every kind of alcohol your heart desires, or you can allow one of the bartenders to whip you up a specialty cocktail designed by their own in-house mixologist.
Whether you are looking for a peaceful gourmet meal with friends or a place to watch the game and have a couple of craft brewed cold ones, The Twisted Elm has got you covered. As a parting piece of advice, I suggest that if you decide to go to the Twisted Elm Tavern, please leave your inhibitions and diet at home. The Twisted Elm experience is all about adventurous dishes and extraordinary beverages that all combine for a gastronomic expedition that calorie counting and hesitations will not support.
Mike Arp a/k/a The Blue Collar Foodie was born and raised in Northern New Jersey and has spent most of his adult life on a relentless quest to uncover eateries that deliver white collar fare at blue collar prices. This never ending journey, combined with his passion for writing gave birth to his current food blog, The Blue Collar Foodie, which is published on bothWordPress.com and The Fair Lawn Patch. This blog chronicles him and his wife Zoe’s excursions to eccentric, unconventional, and of course affordable restaurants throughout the great state of New Jersey and beyond. If you are the type of person that would rather rock a Nirvana T-shirt and jeans while eating your filet mignon then you most likely will enjoy what The Blue Collar Foodie has to say. Follow him on Twitter @Fairlawnfoodie or Like him on Facebook to keep up to date with his current gastronomic gallivanting.