In 1999, Hillary Clinton moved to New York state. The Clintons, by way of Arkansas and Washington D.C., moved to New York not to for the skiing in the Catskills and Adirondacks, nor to be closer to the girl that rocked his world (she was from California), nor for Yankee games on the local networks (though she convinced the voters that she was a Yankee fan). Nope. She moved to New York because a Senate seat became open and the state has tremendously lax guidelines for candidates wishing to run for office. New York had something that she wanted, and so she ventured north to get it. I travel to New York often enough, and on this occasion, had reason to go across the border, but once I returned to the Garden State, I pulled up the “Jersey Joints” page and looked for a place to stop in for lunch. As would have it, the northern-most barbeque restaurant on the list, the Mason Jar, is just south of the New York-New Jersey line in Mahwah. It’s worth the trip up Route 287, through the beautiful, wooded ridges and valleys of the Highlands. And as my friend and colleague, Nicole Dixon, told me, it’s also a favorite haunt of hers and other Ramapo College students. Go Roadrunners!
If the owners of the place want people to come in, then why did they put the parking lot in the back? When I pulled up and got out of my truck, I was immediately blasted by the sweet smell of smoking meat being diffused from what I guess was the outlets of the smoker. I barely made it in, as I seriously thought about just hanging out there and basking in the aroma all day. Or better yet, ask for a table and beer to be brought out and placed right by the exhaust pipe. I would have been perfectly happy doing that. Until someone makes an air freshener like that, you have to do what you have to do. But I was hungry, and there weren’t any tables outside, so I did have to go in. Eventually.
It was early, so I was one of the first ones in the place. I went to the bar and met Christine, the bartender. At that time, I didn’t know how awesome she was, but I’m sure that the regulars that started drifting in did. As she went about her work, she sang along with the classic rock coming from the speakers, and I found myself singing along as well. But low. I can do a mean “Fine Young Cannibals” but that is it. The Mason Jar is one of those places that feels super friendly and you feel immediately at home. They also seem like they are proud of their food. If you have read some of my posts, you know that I like to sample everything that I can, especially the pork, ribs, brisket, and chicken, as well as some of what I consider the essential sides. I also like to explore the menu for what I think is some of the unusual twists on barbeque that may be unique to the joint. So I ordered the Jar-B-Que sampler and the Carolina-sauced pulled chicken with cole slaw egg rolls on the appetizer menu, shot the breeze with Christine, and roamed the many rooms looking at barbequeana (not a real word, but penned by me none-the-less) on the walls. By the way, I found out that the 3 pound burger challenge is still valid for those man vs. food types. Nicole never tackled that challenge when she was in college, so I am sure she is happy to see that she could still get her name up on the plaque.
The Mason Jar serves more than barbeque. If you take a look at the menu, you’ll find lots of different kinds of food, but the food was barbeque-only quality. I loved the crispiness of the egg rolls with the pulled chicken and cole slaw, but I’m telling you, don’t you never mind the sauce that it is served with. Although good, set that aside and go right to the bottle of hot and tangy sauce next to you. Haters of Hot need not worry, it is not that hot, but tends more toward the tangy side, and it stole the show. They could steal the Frank’s Hot Sauce motto, because I was looking for stuff to put that *&#!@ on. When the sampler came, I tried the sides first. The cole slaw and corn bread, staples with any barbeque, were fine, but I finished off the beans, which, with bits of pulled pork mixed in, where dark and strong. Loved ’em. The brisket was nice and tender, and the pulled pork had ample bits of bark with a nice smoky flavor. But my favorite of the three had to be the chicken. In competitions, we go with the dark meat of the thighs or legs, which has a lot of flavor and doesn’t dry out when smoking. But this chicken was moist white meat with a pleasant, distinctive flavor. I thought that they had to be smoking whole chickens back there. Like Grub Hut of Manville, when I come back, I’ll be looking forward to the chicken again. And, oh yeah, the sauce was always within reach, though nothing really needed it. Right about now, you are probably asking, “Now, what about the ribs?” Sadly, I did not try them. I don’t think that I could have put them down, as I was in for lunch and drinking only water, but it does give me something to look forward to next time. Also saves me from trying the burger challenge.
After lunch, Christine introduced me to Joel, one of the owners, who was nice enough to take me in the back to meet the pitmaster (didn’t catch his name this time) and see the smoker, a large rotisserie Southern Pride jobber. Joel opened up the doors for me to see dinner: racks of happily basting Memphis style spare ribs, a small set of beef short ribs (oh yeah!), and (I was right!) and more that a few half chickens. Civilized beings don’t go licking the meat while it’s in the smoker, so I held off, regardless of how difficult it was. But Joel did give me a slice of lemon cake that was on the Mother’s Day menu, so I still walked away happy, lingering again in the back lot, taking in the smell of meat and burning fruit wood.
So listen, I absolutely want to thank Joel and Christine for their exceptional hospitality, as well as serving me up an awesome Jar-b-que lunch. The Ramapo Roadrunners, with all of the events and great food right down the road, will have a grand time putting on those freshman fifteen. And regardless of whether you are a donkey, or an elephant, or in between, if you are looking for great barbeque, don’t do a Hillary Clinton! Don’t go to New York. Stay in Jersey!