Words To Eat By : Gastropub. In the most simplest definition, a gastropub is a dining establishment that serves both high end food and beer.
Gastropub is derived from the words gastronomy (love of the art or science of food) and pub. Nearly 20 years old, the term has evolved from its origins and has become so much more, even taking on uniquely American characteristics. The first gastropubs appeared in London in the early 1990s when young chefs who tired of the traditional pub grub started offering food of a much higher caliber. During the “cool Britania” era of Tony Blair, all things British found their way to America bringing the new Mini, Doctor Who, Coldplay, and Gastropubs to colonial shores. The most recognized of the early US gastropubs is the Spotted Pig in Manhattan.
Beer is a mainstay at the bar, although traditional cocktails, and modern versions of the classics are starting to appear on US menus. Craft beers, often locally produced in small batches, are a key feature on the menu. It is not uncommon for a gastropub to only have a few cases of a particular beer for only a few weeks, but given the vast number of craft brewers springing up there are usually a dozen or more of these selections are on tap at any given time. Access to unique and seasonal brews has inspired many gastropubs to create craft beer clubs to inspire patrons to make repeated visits to try a new pint when it becomes available. Of course when patrons visit to sample the new beer, they just happen to order dinner, funny how it works that way.
Gastropub food has an artisanal bent as well. It’s not uncommon for these restaurants to have a staff arrive in the wee hours of the morning to bake breads and desserts for that evenings dinner service. More often than not the food is locally sourced as well, some establishments going so far as to have their own flocks and herds at local farms where they can keep tabs on both the quality of feed and care the animals receive. Ever notice how the eggs at some restaurants taste so much better than others? Chances are that restaurant has their own flock at a nearby farm. Gastropubs take that a step farther and often have pigs and beef being raised specifically for them. This ensures a much better product as well as preserves open spaces in metropolitan areas.
Menus at gastropubs often reflect seasonal produce resulting in a naturally changing menu that reflects whatever is locally available. But what about that salad in February, it’s too cold for radicchio in NJ. Well before Mr. Boeing’s jets made it possible to buy flowers in NJ that were picked in Colombia a day or so ago, the Garden State had a thriving floral industry. Roseland was named for the acreage dedicated to growing flowers, both in fields and greenhouses. In recent years some of those old greenhouses have been converted to “farm land” providing greens and other salad ingredients to restaurants year round. Hydroponic farms are also popping up in the region. Taking old things and ideas and repurposing them for modern needs is at the core of the gastropub experience.
The Queen Mother of Garden State Gastropubs is Salt Gastropub in Stanhope NJ. Salt is open seven days a week for dinner; lunch is served Tuesday – Friday with late lunches served on weekends. Find the full bar and dining menu, plus hours, on SaltGastropub.com.
The Crown Prince of Garden State Gastropubs is Eric LeVine. This Chopped Champion has succeeded where very few others have. His culinary empire has two two successful gastropubs: Morris Tap and Grill in Randolph and Paragon Tap and Table in Clark. Rumor has it that a line of retail food is in the works but everyone will have to wait for the details. (To quote Dr. River Song, “Spoilers!”)
Haledon’s The Shepherd and The Knucklehead Pub has been a local favorite for years and is the first gastropub in the Garden State to celebrate the duality of man. Food and brew aside, the “Shep” stands out because each week they donate to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a global charity dedicated to helping the poor.
Coming soon to Essex County’s New Food Capital is Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar. Located in the New Bloomfield Center, “the Junction” will be opening in late 2015. Word on the street is that Essex Junction has already committed to being a part of Bloomfield Restaurant Week 2016 and has been approached by the Montclair Rotary Club about being a part of their “VIP Discovery Lounge” at Taste of Montclair.
John Lee is Black Tie and Flip Flops’ Raconteur-In-Chief: the World of food is his playground ~ the whole world! Having a Navy Dad gave John the passion to discover the world. Whether in one of Mr. Boeing’s flying machines, as an armchair traveler with a great book, or a plate beaming with the exotic flavors and fragrances, his day is all about discovering the world and sharing the stories with everyone he meets.
John cut his teeth in commercial kitchens starting in high school and continued into his undergrad years, then the media bug bit. After University he spent time at the Washington Post Company before jumping on the first internet wave in the 1990’s at some of the major players of the era. John also established himself as a culinary instructor where his style of cooking was first called “Comfort Food Remixed.” Don’t get him started on Disney Dining, but yes, he tried “the grey stuff” and it is delicious. He is also the Chair of Taste of Montclair and Montclair Restaurant Week. John jokes that he’s staying in NJ because he didn’t have enough miles to trade in for a return ticket home to San Diego, but we think he likes it here.