Huddling in the Fieldhouse
Classic Caldwells haunt in Fairfield gets renamed, revamped
The Huddle Inn is dead; long live The Fieldhouse Pub. The bar and restaurant at the end of the lot on the corner of Passaic and Fairfield avenues has long been a haunt for folks in the Caldwells (it's technically in Fairfield), and now longtime owner Lew Lockward has given the place a new/old name and decor, and shaken the menu up from top to bottom. The result is an eatery that retains the best of what "The Huddle" had to offer (except that short-lived open-mic night in 1993, partly hosted by yours truly) and then some.
Outside, the browns and tans of "The Huddle" era are gone, replaced by fresh coats of green and white, making the place look like ... a fieldhouse. Given the building's outpost-like nature geographically, it works well.
Inside, the dining area is simple–tables are scattered among two rooms to maximize dining privacy. This writer is happy to note that the vintage wood beam ceilings are still present and intact, including the stained-glass lighting designs.
The bar is on its own in a separate room, and although square, is very cool, having a bit of an old-school, Cheers feel. New overhead monitors constantly broadcast sports games (Direct TV has recently been installed). Crowd types seem to vary, and there's live entertainment from time to time, including karaoke: Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" was "sung" during my visit.
Why just sell food, when you can also sell fun? The Fieldhouse's menu is divided into cleverly titled sections such as "First and Ten," "Tailgating" and "Overtime," which mean soups and salads, appetizers, and desserts respectively. Taste wise, they are good pub grub, sometimes with an Italian touch.
There's a lot to choose from in the above sections and elsewhere. The "Homerun Entrees" are a lineup of pastas, chicken dishes (savoy and scarpiello, which also features sausage), salmon, and a 14-ounce New York sirloin, priced at a reasonable $19.95.
One of the seven "Grand Slam Burgers" is the very-meaty "Jersey Burger" ($7.95), which in addition to cheese features a local favorite topping–Taylor ham. All of the burgers come with potato chips and pickle; fries are $1 extra.
The Fieldhouse also has it's own "Training Camp," which offers a lighter side of things. Here, a portobello salad ($14.95) is a standout, but the most tasty (but borderline light) may be the whole wheat penne and chicken ($15.95), which mixes in prosciutto and spinach.
There is also a "Little Sluggers" kids' menu. where all selections from macaroni and cheese to chicken fingers are $7.95. Soda and a scoop of ice cream are included.
It's always interesting to see what dish a restaurant names after itself; at The Fieldhouse there are no less than three. The "Linguini Fieldhouse" ($15.95) is a contemporary pasta dish, complete with chicken, arugula, tomatoes and mushrooms, sauteed in a balsamic sauce. Then, there's the "Fieldhouse Famous Ribs" which come in a whiskey barbecue sauce in half or full racks ($16.95, $21.95). Finally, the "Fieldhouse Steak Fingers" ($16.95) are thinly-sliced pieces of steak served in a "secret sauce" with garlic toast.
As for beverages, a robust lineup of wines is available by the glass ($7-9) or bottle ($20-40). An interesting selection of martinis ($8) includes the standout flavors orange crush, espresso, and cutesy raspberry-infused "Sweet Sextini."
Always loving to be in on a good secret, I ordered the steak "fingers" (with an order of sweet potato fries from the "sidelines," ($3.95) with a starter of "Insalata Di Campo" ($7.95).
To keep my taste buds working at optimum levels, I ordered my customary water. Sparkling wasn't available, but Poland Spring was ($2.25).
My appetizer arrived shortly after ordering. The salad was huge–there were plenty of bleu cheese crumbles and cranberries on top of a mini-mountain of lettuce. I wasn't able to finish all of it, partly in anticipation of my main course.
Cracking the Flavor Code
The steak fingers didn't disappoint. A nice amount of steak strips were in a dish, with the secret sauce. Four hunks of garlic bread were on the side. I dug in and tried to figure out the sauce's exact compostion. I surmised that it was a distant cousin of a Marsala type, and finally asked server Suzanne Rapa what the ingredients are. She answered my question with a question.
"What do you think?" she said, laughing. Then leaning in, she shared, "It's a brown brandy garlic sauce." Garlic? This writer was unfortunately distracted in his flavor dissection by the presence of the garlic bread. Oh well, now I know ... and now you do, too.
The sweet potato fries were as advertised–sweet, and good enough to eat without ketchup.
There wasn't much room left for it, but from the "Overtime" menu, Suzanne helped me break a three-way selection tie between the apple crumb pie, triple bliss chocolate cake, and derby pie (all $5.95) with the following description: "The derby pie is like a chocolate chip cookie dough pie, with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. It's gooey."
How could one resist? I couldn't. It was exactly like described above, and I made short work of eating it. One thing, it most definitely couldn't be mistaken as coming from the menu's "Training Camp" section.
Back to the Beginning
After dinner, I spoke some more with Suzanne. She has been with The Huddle/Fieldhouse "like 32 years," and as such knows her stuff. I asked her about the recent name change.
"It was actually called The Fieldhouse in the mid-70s through the mid-80s," she said. "Lew just wanted to change things up, and went back to the original name, adding the word 'pub'."
She also said the overall feedback has been "positive." Folks have been telling her they like the cosmetic overhaul as well as the food.
"We're lucky to have a nice group of steady customers, and now we're getting new ones–younger, older. It's great to see them."
The Fieldhouse Pub
31 Passaic Ave., Fairfield
Offering lunch, dinner, private parties
Web site: www.thefieldhousepub.com
The Bottom Line: The Fieldhouse continues The Huddle Inn's tradition of offering more than typical pub grub and with equal touches of fun and class.