Hogback Deli & Grille open on Rt 33 in Millstone Twp
A few of us have been waiting for the Hogback to open, not because the area desperately needed another sandwich place, but because it rises on the ashes of the late, lamented Pom Pom BBQ and we were curious what would come into that space. The Hogback has existed down in Bordentown for quite a while, and it is interesting to see the differences in the two menus (each available online at www.hogbackdeli.com) - it seems that to cater to the Millstone clientele, they went a bit more Italian, a bit more "artsy," and a bit more ambitious.
The Millstone version certainly doesn't shout "THE HOME OF THE HOG!" on top of its menu; the Bordentown "Carolina Joe" with pulled pork is missing, as is liverwurst, most of the "on rye" style sandwiches including all the varieties of Sloppy Joes (the NJ meaning), poppers and chili. In their place are a variety of Paninis, salads, and wraps. The Millstone menu is quick to tell you it's "Vermont" cheddar (I guess in Bordentown they use cheddar from Bayonne) and there's prosciutto in everything that could possibly take it in Millstone.
The breakfast menus are pretty much the same; the burger menu (those in Millstone shout "Charbroiled") looks to be more varied and interesting in Millstone, and rather than just the homestyle dinner menu of the Bordentown location (meatloaf, chicken parm, hot open-face turkey sandwich,) the Millstone shop has a full page of Entrees and Sautes, with everything from a 1 lb steak to Filet of Flounder Francaise.
With all that said, one would expect the Millstone place to be significantly more expensive, but it doesn't seem to be. Almost all of the entrees and sautes are below $20 (including that steak) and the sandwiches that are more expensive (by perhaps a dollar) have some extra ingredients the Bordentown shop doesn't.
BE WARNED: Their subs are in 3 sizes; whole, half and mini. That is totally misleading - the two subs I tasted were each a "mini" - a minis is 9 inches long and heavily packed with meat; it's bigger than a "half" at most places, and is $6.50
They will warn you if you order a whole or half and describe the size difference from "normal" sub places, which is nice. In fact, they are eager to please, friendly as a pack of puppies, and I hope they do very well.
As to the quality, the subs are first rate (I tried two different minis) if just a bit lacking in the north Jersey/NYC punch - the bread is tasty but the crust is too soft; the "hot" peppers are banana peppers and only slightly hot, etc. Perhaps this is quibbling, but it will keep t from being my go-to sub shop; I will, however be going back to try the burgers, the breakfasts, and the dinner menu, and will report back.
Went back tonight and we tried three different burgers, the fries and the homemade onion rings.
The burgers were good sized and some thought went into the menu regarding variety; we tried a cheeseburger, a pizza-burger and a rodeo-burger. The burgers themselves were nothing special. Under-seasoned, someone obviously thinks that a burger is nothing but ground beef, but the beef itself is good, the fat content is perfect (moist without being "Johnny Rocket" or "Red Robin" super-greasy.) The pizza-burger came with the cheese OVER the sauce on top of the burger - a mistake. Either sauce over cheese on the burger, or sauce on the burger and cheese on the upper part of the bun and you can put on sufficient sauce; this combo forces you to skimp on the sauce and the result was a cheeseburger. The fries were okay and the onion rings were of that huge "layered" variety, where the onion never quite marries to the crust. To give them their do, there was no "onion-pull-out" but the separation was noticeable.
The two real problems were the deal-breakers. First, each order was supposed to be "medium." We do this with a new place to gauge how they consider "medium" and the next time each of us can pinpoint what to call our perfect "doneness" by their terms. At Hogback, each of the three "medium" burgers was markedly different: One was rare/medium-rare (still quite pink, almost red), one was medium (faintly pink) and one was medium-well (no trace of red or pink but not dried out). This is just sloppy grill work.
The final problem is perhaps the real tell: just as in the sub sandwiches, it was the bread that stood out, and in a bad way. Whereas the subs were on rolls with no crunch to the crust (nice taste, but no mouth-feel) the hamburgers were on great-looking sesame-seed buns with a nice sheen and great smell to the bread. What lacked again was texture. The rolls were tough. Not crusty, or crunchy, but soft and tough. One of our group likened it to trying to eat a sponge. Another suggested that ordering a burger and having to ditch the roll seemed a bit un-American.
If Hogback changes it's bakery (or if it does its baking itself, FINDS a decent bakery or hires a decent baker,) I'll give them another chance. Right now it's two for two that they can't tell good baked goods from bad, and in a place that specializes in sandwiches and burgers, that's a pretty overwhelming flaw.