Springfield Avenue in Berkeley Heights is typical suburbia with miscellaneous office buildings, gas stations, fast food places and supermarkets. But just outside the main shopping area is a stately stone building with a big sign that reads "Trap Rock Brewery." Opened in 1997, it's a microbrewery serving classic American fare. Once inside, Trap Rock is a welcome reprieve from every day life. The giant working brewing tanks are visible on the other side of the paned windows which tells you they mean business with their homemade brew. The interior of Trap Rock is clubby with a sweeping long bar greeting you when you walk in the door. The creaky floors, the cool jazz in the background and the wood burning fireplace makes you feel like you're in a big old posh mansion somewhere in Vermont.
It was a typical blustery spring day when I had lunch at Trap Rock and I was giddy when they sat me by the fireplace. There's nothing like a crackling fire even when I'm wishing for a warm spring day. I asked the manager, Adam Goldenberg, what was good for lunch and without hesitation he said I must try the chopped brisket sandwich ($13.95).
"We house-smoke our brisket in our smoker which we recently had installed and it's quite impressive," he said. "The menu represents a lot of Southern influences because of the smoker. In addition to the house-smoked brisket, the bread is a house made potato bun and the house-made pickled onions round out the sandwich. It comes with a side of BBQ sauce that we make with Lairds Apple Jack, a local New Jersey apple whiskey."
The menu was extensive, with big lunch-time salads, sandwiches and entrees alike, and I would have been happy ordering just about anything. But there was something about the aroma wafting from that fireplace that put me in the mood for a smokey brisket sandwich. While I waited for lunch I ordered an unsweetened raspberry iced tea and sampled the warm homemade goodies from the breadbasket. One was a pretzel roll dotted with big grains of salt. The other was a Cheddar biscuit with so much cheese baked in there was no need for butter. I had to restrain myself from devouring every last crumb to save room for lunch.
One of the benefits of having lunch in a fancy restaurant like Trap Rock is that you can order nothing but a sandwich and still get treated like you're eating filet mignon. The waitstaff was impeccable and I had several different servers taking care of me and all my simple needs. After a few sips of iced tea, a pitcher was at the ready to fill my glass back up. Luckily, my lunch came quickly so I wasn't in need of much attending.
The chopped brisket sandwich was exactly what I expected with the meat spilling out around the edges of the bun. Before digging in, I just had to try the smoked beef unadorned. It was undeniably tender and deeply smokey. But interestingly, the meat was extremely lean which is not always a good thing since fat equals flavor. However, in this case the smokiness was all the brisket needed. The meat combined with the soft bun, pickled onions and cucumbers sliced paper thin was delicious. I chose to dip my sandwich in the barbeque sauce and it was good too, more of a vinegar taste than the cloying sweet kind you buy in the store. Rounding out the plate was a mound of potato salad which I was happy to have instead of the usual fries. It was light on the mayo and flecked with red peppers and chives.
Since I was working, I took a pass on a beer, but since this is a microbrewery, I had to ask Goldenberg about the brew.
"We don't serve any beer that isn't made in-house," he said. "Our master brewer uses anywhere up to 15 different hops and several different barleys depending on the beer. He also gets creative with fresh fruit, spices and seasonings."
I'll definitely save the pint for another time. As I got up to leave, I was full and a little melancholy. Dining at Trap Rock is living the good life with the dark wood and leather decor, the jazz music and of course, the delicious food. So, I grabbed an apple from the enormous copper bowl and as I bit into it, I stepped back into reality knowing I'd be back again.