Thursday, February 16, 2012

Eleven Front - Trenton, NJ

About a year ago, my neighbor and good friend David told me of a new restaurant and bar in Trenton that I absolutely needed to check out.  So a few weeks go, I looked at my restaurant "to do" list, and headed to Trenton to give it a whirl.  Unfortunately for me, I didn't check their hours first, and when I arrived at a quarter 'til 8, the kitchen was already closed.  Tonight  however, I left in plenty of time to grab dinner and a drink.

I arrived on Front Street and parked right around the corner from the restaurant.  It's amazing to me how the area near Eleven Front is buzzing with life around lunch, but come dinner time, it is an absolute ghost town. The government employees have gone home, the stores and luncheonettes have closed for the day, and it is eerily quiet.

Walking up to Eleven Front you see nice fresh paint in a converted row home.   The restaurant has a nice facade, with a few small windows with some neon beer signs.  This restaurant could however be easily missed if you weren't looking for it.

Upon walking in, I was absolutely shocked with what I saw.  It really wasn't what I was expecting at all.  The first thing I noticed was the gorgeous, fresh paint on the walls.  The colors are earthy, and really remind me of colors that we used n our home.

Next thing I noticed was the gorgeous wood bar, and the nice woodwork behind the bar, with glass shelves housing the hard liquor, smartly placed mirrors to give the bar more depth, and nice clean white trim and crown molding to finish off the clean look.  This was well done, and you can tell that the owners put some blood, sweaty and tears into this restaurant to make it a nice place.

As for the crowd, there were 2 other people sitting at the bar when I arrived. One an attorney talking about his case today, and the other a younger gentleman talking about other restaurants. There was also a table sitting in the back, of what I can make a pretty good assumption were people who worked somewhere in State government.  Definitely not a down and dirty bar, and it didn't seem to attract the riff-raff.

Upon grabbing a stool at the bar, I was greeted by a young lady, and ordered a glass of Cabernet, and was offered a menu.  I came here knowing I was going to have a burger tonight, and that was still what I was craving.  I know, to be in Trenton and not go to Rossi's or Social for a burger is a sin, but you all know how I love to try new places.

As I watched the waitress pour me a Kenwood Cabernet, a woman came over and asked if I have been helped, then asked my name and if I had been here before.  She introduced herself as Karolyn and took my order.

While perusing the menu,  made an amazing discovery, one that is quite frankly, unbelievable.  There, smack dab in the center left portion of the menu is a Genuine Vienna Beef Chicagostyle hot dog!!!!!  How on earth has this restaurant been here for almost a year and I did not know this?  How on earth does the Vienna Beef Locator APP for the iPhone not list this?  Regardless, it was an amazing discover, to find a taste of home just 15 minutes from my house!  I will be back soon for this....possibly very soon.

So seeing this information, I was intrigued, and I had to ask the owner what inspired such a thing, only to find out that her husband Vince, who had just walked into the restaurant, was originally from McHenry, IL, not too far from where I grew up.  As a matter of fact, he worked in Barrington, IL for while, roasting coffee at the old "Gray Lady" for the Jewel Tea Corporation.  Very small world.

Out came my burger and fries, and it was absolutely perfect.  Cooked to a nice medium, perfectly seasoned, topped with Provolone cheese and some onions.  You could tell the beef was nice, and had just enough fat in it to keep it juicy and tasty.  The bun was fresh with a nice crusty outside, and a nice soft inside.  These were obviously baked fresh, and probably delivered daily.  The fries were nice thick cut steak fries that you see at a lot of places, and they accompanied the burger well.

After dinner I continued to speak with owners Vince and Karolyn, and they were just a joy to talk to.  For the most part, Vince runs the front of house, and when there are orders, Karolyn is in the kitchen.  It turns out she was an attorney for 20 years, and she just got tired of practicing, and is now doing something she absolutely loves.

Vince and I really hit it off with the wine talk, and he has a true passion for wine.  Unfortunately, I really haven't even looked at his wine list yet, but I do know that the Kenwood Cabernet he pours by the glass is not the regular bottling you see at most restaurants.  For the price, it's a nice wine, and better than most any "house wine" I've had in a restaurant, though Vince doesn't believe in pouring house wines.  I can't blame him really.

We also talked about his pride and joy, which is the family recipe for his red sauce, which he is now the holder of.  This recipe is 125 years old, and has been in his family since then.  He currently makes the sauce, bottles it, and sells it.  I can't wait to find it and give it a try, and he stated that it can be purchased at the Pennington Market.  I will have to find this soon and write a review about it!

By this point in the evening, I had to head to an appointment, though I would have much rather sit around shooting the bull with Vince about wine.  So I squared up, and headed on my way, knowing that I will be back sometime next week to get my Vienna Beef dog fix!

All in all, a great meal in a great establishment owned by great people who are helping clean up Trenton.  The places has nice ambiance, is clean, and they make it appoint to remember you by name.  I'll report back soon!

17 Feb 2012:

Well, sooner came a week or so sooner than I though, as some of my Air Force buddies wanted to go out tonight to see what this whole Chicagostyle hot dog is all about.  But tonight is also a night of celebration, but we'll get to that in another post soon.

We arrived a few minutes before 7PM tonight, and there was a nice little Happy Hour crowd.  At the time, there were no seats available at the bar, but a few minutes later the end. Of the bar opened up, so we pulled up a chair and grabbed 2 stools.

Vince greeted us, and even remembered my name from last night, and as I said, they seem to pride themselves on this which I think is awesome.  I ordered a glass of Cabernet again, the the boys were drinking beers.  One thing I did notice was that they have Shiner Bock in bottles which is a bonus as I love this beer.  Regardless, it was a wine night for me.

Karolyn came over and asked us if we were eating, and indeed we were.  We started off with an order of calamari for all of us, and it came out piping hot, straight from the fryer a few minutes later.  This were fried nicely to a golden brown, and you could tell the oil they were fried in as fresh and clean.  No dirty, burnt crumbs, and just fresh flavor.  This hit the spot, and was the perfect starter.

From here, we all went the hot dog route, and the only thing on the dogs that is not "imported" from Chicago is the poppy seed bun.  I forget which bakery Vince told me makes these for him, but it took them 4 tries to get one that was to his liking.  Now he has them arrive fresh daily.  Though they aren't identical to the fresh, steamed hot dog buns in Chicago, they are a nice substitute, and definitely do the job.

As for the dog itself, these bad boys looked like absolute heaven. Again, not knowing I had this tasty delicacy of home just 15 minutes from my house is an absolute sin.  From looking at the poppy seed bun, to the genuine ingredients that come from Chicago, I was drooling and in heaven.  But what makes these hot dogs so special?

Well, first is the dog itself.  These are Vienna Beef brand hot dogs, and they have a distinct flavor.  Maybe that's because I grew upon them, I don't know, but when you move 850 miles away and can no longer get them at a restaurant on any corner, it makes for a treat.  Next is the poppy seed bun.  Yes, poppy seed, it's a must have, but now let's talk ingredients:

First, we have yellow mustard.  Get that ketchup crap outta heeeahh and fuggetaboutit!  From here we have done diced onion, 2 slices of tomato,a pickle spear, neon green relish, sport peppers, and celery salt baby!  Yeah, it sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but once you've had one, you'll know what all the hype is about!  Yeah baby!  This is where it's at, and these were a joy!  Steak fries on the side of these again, and I really couldn't be any happier!

As like last night, the service was great from Vince and Karolyn, and again, Vince's daughter was waitressing throughout the restaurant.  Another thing I did notice tonight was the nice stone patio that they have out back, complete with a misting system, canopy, etc.  This could be a great place to host an event, in the heart of the city.

But what is important to me here is the Chicago connection.  I found what I've been searching for to get my fix of ChiTown, and that makes me a happy camper. I will most definitely be reporting in again soon, and I'm sure I'll tell you all about it on here or on Facebook, so stay tuned!  Cheers!

Eleven Front
11 Front Street
Trenton, NJ  08608
Phone:  (609)392-6900

Hours - Monday-Friday
Lunch - 8PM

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