The Kitchen Pass at Common Lot

We’ve never sat so close to a proper restaurant kitchen until we ate at the “Kitchen Pass” at Common Lot. The experience can best be described as first row seats at a flawlessly choreographed ballet, if said ballet was set to the music of Cage the Elephant.

The food is sophisticated and elegant, but not in the “I’m afraid to touch this” or “where the hell is the rest of it?” sort of way. No, no, this is properly portioned sophistication and elegance. This is amazing food.

It also makes you want to jump out of your seat with delight, when the flavors of the homemade sauerkraut and perfectly crisp mushroom hit your tongue.

Or when one of the most perfect slices of duck to ever come across your plate is served, and you and the other 3 people who have joined you at “the Pass” are having the “eyes rolled back in your head” experience before all saying “Oh my God”, at nearly the same time.

There’s something about being part of that quiet energy, as the chef’s move so fluidly around the kitchen creating these gorgeous plates of food, that is both soothing and full of excitement. From every corner of the kitchen there is movement, and the assembly of each dish is a work of art, balanced in both flavor and appearance.

If you can get the reservation at the Kitchen Pass, which is worth the effort and patience to obtain, it is truly a unique experience. We could have sat there all night, glass of wine in hand, and just watched. Alas, the wine eventually ran out, and the kitchen started to slow down. This time did afford us an opportunity to talk more with the chef and rest of the crew, which only heightened our excitement to return. Outstanding food, warm and exciting atmosphere, a meal best shared with friends. That’s Common Lot, and it quickly has become one of our favorites.

The Heart of a Winemaker

Nick, Jean Hoefliger and Kim at the 2019 Alpha Omega ERA Event

“Enjoy the moments that truly matter, with those who matter most”

Jean Hoefliger

Every so often, you meet someone who’s energy is infectious.  Their personality blows through the door even before they wrap you up in a big hug.  It’s who they are.  As we sat in the tasting room at AXR Winery, we anticipated this energy, wrapped up in a six foot six inch frame.

To meet Jean Hoefliger is to experience him. Of course he’s a brilliant winemaker, with countless wines under his belt. But what you don’t get unless you meet him, is just how passionate he is about his craft. He breathes wine, the vines, the soil, aging and blending. It’s an endless energy, the ability to put together the words and stay just ahead of how fast his mind is moving because he loves this work. But as you talk to him, you learn quickly why this passion is so strong in him.

He knows wine is about people, it’s about experiences, it’s about the importance of sharing these moments with the people we love, creating memories and connecting in a way that only wine, food and shared experiences can.  

Jean is one of us.  He has a passion for life, for people, and for creating wines that will be enjoyed by future generations.  That is his purpose.  To make something that will continue to bring people together even after he and the rest of us are gone.

It’s the most noble of missions, and having spent time with him and having enjoyed his wines for years, he is succeeding in his mission and creating memories, including the memories we will hold forever thanks to the time we were able to spend with this hero of his craft.

“That Veal Dish”

Me & my Dad – September 22, 2108

“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.”

Alan D. Wolfelt

I saw this photo of me and my Dad the other day, and it’s been on my mind ever since. It was taken on September 22, 2018 when my family gathered to celebrate my grandpa’s life on the 5th anniversary of his passing. Time with family, no matter how you came into his life, was what my grandpa always loved most.

I wanted to serve a dish that I remember my grandpa always loving; veal cutlets that are lightly fried and served over linguine with artichoke hearts, capers, crispy prosciutto and a lemony sauce. I distinctly remember my grandfather, sitting at the head of the table at my Dad’s house so many years ago with a goblet of red wine in front of him. Our family was gathered around the table and there was a large, shallow bowl in the middle of the table with so much veal and prosciutto on top that you never would have known that there was linguine underneath.

At some point in time, my Dad stopped making this dish and my Uncle Ben picked up where he left off, carrying the recipe on through the years. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary dinner, I consulted with both my Uncle and my Dad on the veal recipe. Truth be told, I was most looking forward to having them both there with me on the day of the dinner to help me finish the meal. To be cooking with them, making a dish that was theirs – one that my grandpa loved so much – was almost too much to handle.

All of that emotion floods back into my heart when I look at this photo, and you can see all that I was feeling that day when you look at my smile. Happiness. Love. Respect. They don’t even begin to cut it.

It’s that smile on my Dad’s face though that really just gets me. Quite honestly, there’s more that I see; more that I feel in that smile, than I could even begin to describe. It’s a matter of the memories in my heart that I will always hold on to.

I Believe

Yes kids, I believe in Santa. I’m not being silly or naive, but it is clear to me that Santa does exist. Santa is the magic that surrounds this time of year. It’s the generosity we show each other. It’s the gatherings with the people we love. It’s the feasts we share. It’s the hope and wonder in my kids’ eyes as each day moves into the next, all heading toward that magical night when they go to sleep in total excitement, and awake hours later thrilled to see wishes granted. It’s pure joy, and it can remain pure if we believe.

The idea of Santa, drawing from St. Nicholas himself nearly 2000 years ago, is what I believe in. It’s the warmth of the season, set in the coldest, darkest time of year. It’s the light in the darkness harkening back to the birth of the Christ child. It’s an idea, a state of mind. My children celebrate the season with us in the days prior to Christmas, but the magic is omnipresent. We gather with family over the course of several days, indulging around the table and sharing in the excitement. There is an overabundance of love, and the children can feel it. Sure there are gifts, but I’ve watched as they’ve grown to appreciate the look on others’ faces when they hand them gifts that they chose for the recipients. They couldn’t wait to give Kim her gift, one they chose, and to see the excitement on her face. They get it. They get the idea. They know Santa exists. The spirit of giving, of love, of family and gathering together is not lost on them.

My children learned this year about those who are less fortunate and helped select gifts for those who may not otherwise receive anything this year. They wrote out cards and were anxious to hand out gifts to the family. They made the connection, albeit in developing terms, that it’s not just about what you get. They see the light in the darkness, the joy of the season. This is powerful stuff, and Santa is a powerful energy. To understand it and appreciate it early on lays an amazingly powerful foundation for the rest of their lives.

So yes, I believe in Santa. I know Santa is real, and I see the power, wonder, and joy of Santa in all of those who surround me. I hope you feel it too. If not, I know Kim and I are happy to share it and show you that you too can believe.

Live the life you want your kids to experience.

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The photo of my Grandpa that sits on the bay windowsill in our living room.

Laughter through the tears and a smile from an aching heart.  That’s what we’re facing.  Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of my Grandpa’s passing.  I remember every moment of the days and weeks leading up to that day, and the heartbreak when he passed in the early hours of Sunday, September 22, 2013.  The days, months and even years following his passing have been, at times, incredibly sad, where the tears have flowed like they did 5 years ago, and also wonderfully heartwarming, as I let the memories of all the time I was blessed to have with him flood back into my heart.  The last 5 years have been, in a word, bittersweet.

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My Grandpa, with my Gram, carving the Thanksgiving turkey.  

His absence in our lives is palpable, but the mark he left is indelible.  Whether I’m making his Sunday gravy, enjoying a cool breeze, which he affectionately called “God’s air conditioning,” or looking at a photo of his infectious smile that’s sitting on the bay windowsill in our living room, he’s with us.  When my family gathers together with food and good times, he’s with us.  As Nick, his kids, and his family join mine, Grandpa is right there with us.  In everything we do at Fat, Drunk & Fancy, he’s with us.

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My Grandpa, on my Dad’s deck on Lake Hopatcong, NJ where my Grandpa would feel the breeze from the lake, close his eyes and say, “Ahhh.  God’s air conditioning”.

For me, Fat, Drunk & Fancy is a tribute to my Grandpa and the mark that his warmth and love left on my heart.  It is a collection of my childhood memories and all the holidays, family gatherings, meals and conversations that took place at the dinner table.  It is a feeling, like the one I always felt walking into my Grandparents house where I knew I was home.  It is a taste, like the gravy my Grandpa finally taught me to make two weeks before he passed away.  Fat, Drunk & Fancy is all these things, all these feelings, all  these memories wrapped up into a gift that I want to give to other people, especially my two step-kids.  They get that feeling every time they enter our home.  They are a part of every conversation around the dinner table.  They lend a hand in making the gravy now and savor the tastes of great food and loving family.  They know how infectious laughter is and share in it openly.  They will be with us this weekend as we celebrate my Grandpa’s life.  Nick and I both hope they will learn how incredibly special this man was, not just to me and my family, but to everyone he met.  They never had a chance to meet him, and neither did Nick, but they will surely feel his presence.

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I mean, what is there to really say about this?  My Grandpa was a character and liked to make people laugh.

There will be laughter, plenty of laughter.  The stories will flow like wine into a waiting glass.  With any luck, someone will snort.  Probably me.  Definitely me.  We’ll pull out pictures and listen to exactly how Grandpa came to be dressed in a hula skirt one day, and what was so funny in the picture sitting on the windowsill.  He lived the life he wanted us to live, and through this celebration, and through the way in which we live our lives now, his lesson is being passed down to my step-kids, and you can see the excitement, wonder, and happiness in their eyes that they are along for this ride.

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