I'll admit, there's perhaps a smattering of valid reviews to be found, but like a trained bloodhound, I can sniff out the difference between a truly displeased customer and one with an axe to grind because he was dumped by the chef's sister. By the same token, nine out of ten times, I can differentiate between an immensely satisfied patron and the owner's nephew trumpeting the applause of his uncle's joint under a variety of assumed screen names.
When I peruse one such review that reads, and I quote: "I pay $14.00 for burger smaller than BERGER KINGS we'll never go back again" - and no, folks, the typos, grammatical errors and punctuation, or lack thereof, are not mine, but rather, that of the credible reviewer I cited - what am I to think? I'd tell you what I think except I do not want to exacerbate my troubling reputation for political incorrectness at the most inopportune times.
My point behind this long-winded introduction is that, in the food game, there's only one opinion I've come to trust implicitly - my own. In terms of restaurant scuttlebutt, opinions on The Iron Horse Restaurant Cafe and Gathering Place in Westwood, NJ have ranged from the babbling blurb you read above to the "Best Burger" in NJ. And it was the Best Burger line that caught my attention and drew me like a moth to the flame.
So this past Sunday, I had a hankering for just that type of burger and dragged two willing (and hungry) companions into the fray. Both had visited the Iron Horse before and while en route, I found both to be of mixed opinion - one wove fantastic tales of an iconic "stuffed" cheeseburger that readily laid all challengers to rest; the other, a tale of deflated hopes. Before either could expound on the details of their personal tales of triumph and tragedy at the establishment, I changed the topic in order to enter the Iron Horse with an untainted palate.
Entering, it was immediately apparent that in addition to the proprietors deeming themselves a "family" restaurant as they state on their website, patrons do as well, for there were more than a few families enjoying Sunday lunch in the dining room where we were seated.
The room was warm and casual, and with the particularly cold winter's day outside to our backs, it felt particularly cozy.
I appreciated the "railroad" motif that adorned the walls and found it interesting, while not overwhelming. It brought to mind a dear cousin of mine who has been absolutely enamored with trains since childhood, and I thought, "he would love this place."
I was relieved to see that the menu was top-heavy with burgers, because after all, that is supposedly what the Iron Horse is known for and for what I had come. In fact, they were voted "Best Burger" in 2012 by 201 Magazine and their Railroad Tie Fries were voted "Best Fries" by the Bergen Record, and I intended to try both.
Deciding on what burger to order was no easy task. Of course their entire reputation was hinged upon their famous Original Stuffed Cheeseburger ($11.99) which could be stuffed with your choice of American, Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella or Bleu Cheese.
And then there was the Gourmet 4-Cheeseburger ($11.99) which was stuffed with Havarti, Cheddar, Swiss and Smoked Gouda on a Ciabatta roll. Or how about the 12 oz. Bedrock Cheeseburger ($14.99) served on a seeded roll with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, onion rings and Railroad Tie Fries, specially built for those big appetites.
To allow ourselves a moment to decide, we placed an order for 21 Buffalo Wings ($15.99), which I heard were highly regarded amongst regulars.
The wings arrived in short order and they did not disappoint. I've had hotter, I've had larger, and I've even had crunchier, but I've had few better. These wings had just the right amount of heat, sauce and deliciousness that kept your lips tingling and kept you diving back for more. It is a good, solid wing that goes perfect with your favorite beer.
Additionally, as our wings arrived, Brandon asked if would also like any pickles and Cole slaw to which we answered in unison, "Of course!" The pickles just happened to be my favorite - garlic - and had a great crunch. The slaw was perfect. Many times I find slaw too sweet or too vinegary; this slaw was perfectly suited to my tastes.
Three for three. So far, so good.
With tingling lips, we awaited our order. We actually decided to give three more items a try in addition to the wings:
- The Gourmet 4-Cheeseburger with Railroad Tie Fries ($11.99)
- The Cheddar Stuft Chipotle Bison Burger with Beer Battered Onion Rings ($13.99) from the specials menu shown above
- And an off-the-menu order of Breaded Chicken Strips just to see how they dealt with special orders.
Aside from the lack of lettuce, tomato and perhaps even, onion, the burgers were substantially large and perfectly grilled, and smelled delightful.
I again refer to those dreaded reviews I spoke of earlier, for I truly don't know what people expect. Not long ago I read a couple of reviews where folks were disappointed with the amount of cheese the burgers were stuffed with. Seriously? I cut my burger in two and a great glob of melted cheddar oozed from the meat's center. So much in fact, that I pressed a good portion of it out and set it to the side (and I love cheese!).
But as much as I liked the bison burger, it paled in comparison to the Gourmet 4-Cheeseburger. The higher fat content of the beef as opposed to the bison, provided a huge burst of flavor that I was not expecting. The beef also amplified the wonderful char-grilled flavor of the meat. It was a fabulous burger indeed, and the cheese combination within was rich and delightful.
The Beer Battered Onion Rings were typical of most bar fare - greasy and unspectacular - and made for a cumbersome mate to an already heavy burger. I would have much preferred the brightness of that wonderful Cole Slaw served as a companion.
The Railroad Tie Fries, on the other hand, were not greasy by comparison. But that didn't mean they weren't heavy. In fact, these large square-cut fries had a surprising density as you bit into them; more than I expected and not unlike homemade fries where you can actually taste the starchiness of the potato within. I can see them being local favorites, and although I did enjoy them, I cannot say with certainty they'd earn the title of "Best Fries" in my book.
As for the Iron Horse's burgers, I'd really have to think long and hard about bestowing it with the "Best Burger" title that others have done. That's pretty tall order and a lofty coronation. Instead, I would deem them home to a "Fabulous" Burger that is really filling, satisfying, enjoyable, juicy, tasty and delicious. The Iron Horse is an establishment that if asked, "Hey, do you know where I could grab a great burger?", would come to mind immediately and is a place I would not hesitate to recommend to fulfill the request. Heck, I'll even be back there myself. Only this time I'll be asking for the lettuce, tomato and onion.