What started as two gentlemen of Verona playing king of the grill on Father’s Day 2012 became an artisanal food company by the following Father’s Day. By 2016. Moonlight Marinades has become one of Essex County’s best kept food secret.
In the search for locally produced, locally grown goodness sometimes our journey is one akin to a suburban version of Allan Quatermain searching for King Solomon’s treasure, other times the treasure lands right on our plate. At Black Tie and Flip Flops, we’re always celebrating locavores, from the Pinot Noir Jam from Jams By Kim, the horseradish pickles at Picklelicious, to the hot sauce from Jersey Barnfire, we love locally sourced and locally made food. Imagine our surprise when, a day after discussing the fact that there are some great artisanal food products made right here in the Garden State we discovered Moonlight Marinades.
The brainchild of Jon Held and Eric Schechter, the original sauce came out the typical suburban grill fest where somehow every guest proclaims the grill master the best in the world. (note to those of us not from this coast, it is social convention to proclaim anything from the grill as the best anywhere.) That first dish was wings that the kids in attendance devoured. Someone lightheartedly proclaimed that they should bottle the sauce, they laughed, and life went on. Come 4th of July 2012, Eric brought some skirt steak to Jon’s house for an Independence Day BBQ that had been in a marinade inspired by one his grandmother used to put together and things once again started to happen. Friends cheered and the guys started thinking about bottling it again. That original recipe from Eric’s grandmother was based in bottled ingredients like Pancake Syrup, Saucy Susan, and garlic salt. The guys knew that if they were to create something truly unique they had to start from scratch. The guys started mixing and measuring and pouring and stirring and created what would become the Original Sweet and Savory Marinade.
Sometime in late 2012 they had something they really liked a lot. With a base of maple syrup, soy sauce, and white wine; and spiced with mustard, garlic, and more they made a larger batch and shared it with friends. The comments they received were positive – not just more positive than negative, not sorta kinda positive but “get that stuff in bottles and sell it” positive. So they acted on that declaration. That’s when the boring stuff happened. There are all sorts of rules and regulations from all sorts of agencies that certify ingredients, nutrition label information, and even the compliance with the commercial kitchen they use to make and bottle the marinade. If this were an old movie this would be the scene where the calendar pages flip or a red line moves across a world map to show travel, but in this case its two guys staring at their iPhones waiting for from some bloke in a laboratory to give the approval to move forward.
Fast forward to Spring 2013 and the Original Sweet and Savory Marinade is in bottles, distributed to friends and family waiting for the next big step. The first small step was getting it into Olive That and More in Upper Montclair. The next step was local food journalists spotting the bottles, admiring the label, and tasting the marinade straight from the bottle. Its better when used as a marinade, but that quick taste was proof enough that this was a big deal.
“But I can buy marinade at the Piggly Wiggly, so what’s the big deal.” Really now, check the label. A few things stand out on most bottled marinades: corn syrup and water to start. Corn syrup is sweet, thick, and cheap. It doesn’t bring any flavor to anything, just sweetness. Water is a filler. It is cheap and thins out the corn syrup. As an aside take a look at in the pantry at the “breakfast syrup” or “pancake syrup” – corn syrup, caramel color and flavorings take the spotlight. THAT’s what the big deal is, so much of what people spend real money on is not real at all. Here it is all real.
Moonlight Marinades start with a base of maple syrup, the real stuff. When compared to “breakfast syrup” there is a price involved, and the guys know that. In an attempt to reel in costs, brown sugar and honey were tried as a substitute, but they just didn’t have the same chutzpah as maple syrup, so they stayed with the original recipe. Looking at the label shows that the only water in in the bottle is in the soy sauce, there are no fillers here, just real ingredients. Suddenly that “but I can buy…” comment turns into the realization that a lot of money is being spent on a lot of nothing when purchasing marinades in the supermarket.
Billed as a meat marinade, which is the obvious intention, the ingredients are 100% vegan. So what if it were tried on Portobello mushrooms? Snap off the stem, invert the cap, pour in some marinade, and let it mellow for a good 20 minutes. To grill, start with the cap down without pouring out the marinade, then flip it over to finish. Its brilliant!
Also in the line up is “Spicy Number Three.” As the name suggests this is a spicier version of the original. Originally available only to friends while all those boring behind the scenes things were going on, Number Three is great on shrimp and tofu and sales are strong. Also available are grill rubs.
At present the only place to buy Moonlight Marinades is at Olive That and on the Moonlight Marinades Website.
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. 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.