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Woodbridge, NJ

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Venue Review: Back East Bar & Grill

Pizza best part of standard menu
(no rating)
Back East Bar & Grill

Back East Bar and Grill is one of those restaurants that tells its story on the back of the menu. It goes something like this: In 1980, when Mike Davis was 14, his family opened a pizza shop in New York. The homemade recipes became a hit. When Mike got older, he brought the recipes to Colorado Springs and opened Back East Pizza and Subs on Airport Road. It was a hit, too, so he opened the slightly swankier Back East Bar and Grill in Briargate.
The new Back East is a nice den for some serious lipidfueled game watching. Flatscreen LCDs cover the walls. The place is bright and clean. Wing and beer specials pile up like Rockies homers.
But there’s part of the story I don’t get. At the end of the menu story, the owners ask us to come “enjoy the incredible food and flavors that we have brought from home.”
And when you grab a stool and start flipping through the menu, you’re greeted by seemingly frozen cheese sticks and fried mushrooms, preformed burger patties, and fish and chips and fajita plates that could hail from Houston as easily as the Hudson. This is generic anywhere food.
Not that Back East disappoints. Prices are good, especially on the delicious homemade pizza. Service is major league — our waitress on a busy night didn’t miss a beat taking orders through the uproar of a Red Socks basesloaded home run. But this family-owned place seems to have taken its cues from the chains that dominate the north end of town. So much of the menu is pre-made, food-service standards that you start to feel as if the owners had to print their “back east” credentials on the menu because they aren’t obvious anywhere else.
I left judging the East Coast-ness of Back East to my mom, a born and raised Jersey girl with a drawn-out Woody Allen-type accent full “dawwwgs” and “cawwwffee” that, for some reason, seems to get thicker every year she lives in Colorado.
“You think they have real New York pizza, where you fold it and the grease just drips off the hot cheese? Oh, I love that,” she said as we waited for a table on a Saturday night. The place was packed. A Little League team still in uniform bumped elbows with mall-chic post-frat guy gangs, families with young kids, and well-coiffed McMansion-onthe-new-golf-course boomers.
When we got a table, we ordered the pizza. I’ve always thought Boriello Brothers had the best New York slice in town. In fact, it’s better than many slices I’ve had in Manhattan. But I’m always looking for a challenger. Back East doesn’t quite make it.
The pizza here is good. The dough is from scratch. So is the sauce. But it can’t quite do the chewy-but-crisp dance of Boriello Brothers. And you can’t get it by the slice.
“I liked it. It’s not awwwful,” Mom said after finishing a pizza. “But it isn’t it.”
Even so, the pizzas are an enticing deal. A 12-inch cheese is $7.75. And the monstrous, 3-square-foot Beast, which could feed the whole Little League team, is only $20.
Stick to the pizza, and maybe the wings. Everything else seems food-service devised. Back East is a menu short on disaster but short on imagination, too. The burger ($6.95) has a nice roll, but the patty tastes as if it were formed a long, long time ago in a patty plant far, far away. The Philly Cheesesteak ($8.95) is a better choice. The otherwise nice Flat Iron Steak ($13.95) is marinated overnight to a point that, most of the table agreed, it tasted too much like salad dressing. The Lasagna ($10.95) which the menu says is “made the way mom taught me,” is dense brick of ground beef cheese and noodles that tastes fine but could use be lighter.
The only really bad thing is the raspberry sauce that flanks the jalapeño poppers ($7.50) which packs an oddly syrupy chemical taste that could knock a long-sober cough syrup abuser off the wagon.
So that’s the story. This is successful family-owned joint with a chainy feel and good pizza. If the owners really want to be known for being “back east,” they might consider going back to mom’s recipes.
When they do, I’ll bring my mom back, give it a try, and we’ll tawwwk.

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(no rating) Jun 06, 2008 - NATHANIEL GLEN, THE GAZETTE

Back East Bar and Grill is one of those restaurants that tells its story on the back of the menu.

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