Sometimes things just fall in your lap.
A few weeks ago, I’m in the middle of having the worst day ever: screaming kids, a freelance deadline hanging over my head, our site about to go live to a subscription platform with too many technical difficulties to count. Then this email pops up in our inbox: “I’m an associate producer for a national TV show called The Better Show. I’m looking for a food blogger to cover our roving foodie tour, called the License to Spill Tour. We’ll be covering the Highlands Clam Fest in Highlands, NJ. Would you guys be interested in coming to meet us there and taste some yummy food, on camera, and talk to our hosts about the event? ”
Well, dear reader, what would you do?
So, on August 3rd we left our little monkeys with John’s parents and headed over to one of the food fests we haven’t yet been to. It was in a surprisingly small area, but packed with food, vendors, and activity. And unlike so many “seafood festivals”, the majority of food vendors were actually selling…. seafood. We met up with the show’s Associate Producer, Mia Mikowicz, to see what was what. If you haven’t yet heard of this show, it’s a nationally syndicated “lifestyle TV program”, associated with Better Homes and Gardens magazine; you’ll see segments on topics like money, beauty, celebrity interviews, sex, and, of course, food. That’s where we came in. The Better Show regularly films a segment called “License to Spill”, where regular hosts travel around to different festivals and events to discover the best (and messiest) local eats around the country. A chef from a local establishment prepares a dish, passersby are invited to spill food and attempt to trash a brand-new rug (sponsored by Mohawk Carpet, of course), and a local food blogger is invited to give an on-camera review of a pre-selected dish.
As we eyed the various offerings, such as steamers, garlic clams, crab cakes, and the like from places like “Station 1 Seafood” and “The Lusty Lobster” (no, we’re not making that one up), we wondered what Mia had up her sleeve for us. We were then presented with an interesting tidbit from a local legend, Bahrs Landing . Before I describe what we ate, you need to know their history, as posted on their website: “Our founder John Bahrs, the son of a tall ship captain, and his wife Florence, had their beginning in Newark where they owned and operated a small neck tie manufacturing business. One year they had a robbery and their entire supply of silk was wiped out, causing the business to fold. They sold what equipment they had left and headed for a new endeavor. This brought them to Highlands where they purchased a beached houseboat being used as sport fisherman’s motel as well as a rowboat rental business. The houseboat structure still remains….On the day after the Bahrs’ signed the contracts (1917), a severe Nor’ Easter arrived and wiped out all of the rowboats. Consequently, they started serving meals to the fisherman staying aboard the boathouse motel. Jack and Flo did all of the cooking, putting out breakfast of fried eels, fresh eggs, and buckwheat pancakes; lunches and dinners of stew meat, fresh caught fish, and of course, Jack’s famous clam chowder.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks. The family has been in business ever since, still serving up fruits of the sea, surviving everything from the Great Depression and the infamous Superstorm Sandy.
But it was a little unnerving when we were told we were to taste their “Sea Dog”. Our minds were spinning: hot dogs and fish?….Not to worry, however. The name was based on solely on its looks. On closer investigation, it was a lovely, long strip of traditional, crispy “fish and chips’-style cod, nestled in a soft roll, topped with what Bahrs called “seafood chili” and crunchy slaw. Messy? Hell, yes. But oddly, very good. The “chili” wasn’t chili at all; it tasted more like a wonderful bouillabaisse. Crisp flaky fish, a rich seafood stew, and crunchy, tangy slaw all melded in one bite. Delicious. The only thing we’d do differently would be to replace the existing soft roll with a sturdier piece of bread, perhaps an Italian sub roll.
After that, our work was done. The License to Spill crew was tired and ready to head out, and we wanted to investigate things further. We needed a little starch after all that protein, so we went off to grab that crazy fried potato spiral we saw folks walking around with. Yummy. After a little stroll around the craft vendors, we hit upon solid gold: Beer and Bacon Jam. Chris Werner from Heidi’s Homemade (a husband and wife team) explained that crisp bacon is combined with beer (often an IPA), espresso, maple syrup, onions and garlic to make the salty-savory-sweet combination. One taste and we were hooked-we had to bring a jar home (the next night we took Chris’s suggestion: we smeared it on a grilled burger. Sheer joy).
So where and when can you see this crazy little thing we filmed? Well, in our area, you can get up early (or record it like us) at 6:00 a.m. on the CBS affiliate WLNY out of New York. Or, if you’re closer to the Philly stations, the same time on “CW” affiliate WPSG. Or you can just go to http://www.better.tv/ and look up your local listings. Please feel free to contact us to tell us how we did… or simply to make fun of us.