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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

A glorious Fourth

Big Dog drops in on readers as they celebrate Independence Day

By PETER GENOVESE | The Star-Ledger | Friday, July 6, 2007

Promises of “melt-in-your- mouth” brisket, the “world’s best BBQ ribs,” cilantro lime chicken, “scrumptious” cold shrimp kabob, “indescribably good” health salad, and “endless activities,” including egg toss, potato sack races, water balloon fights and a 40-foot long Slip ‘n Slide.

That was the lineup at just one of the Fourth of July picnics/parties the Munchmobile crew was invited to over the holiday.

“Friends tease us that if they can’t make one of our events, they want to pay us to stay us on the invite list,” said Melissa Goldrosen.

The Munchers didn’t have to pay, and left the slip ‘n sliding to the neighbors’ kids. The Munchers had better to things to do — like eat, watch fireworks and stay out of the rain. But Mother Nature was no match for the Big Dog, especially at the picnic of Mike and Indiana Mincey. Mike Mincey, a towel wrapped around his head, worked his brick-walled grill in a driving rain as 75-some guests feasted on ribs, wings, Dominican-style pulled pork, and maybe the best mac-and-cheese the Munchmobile driver has ever tasted.

Another holiday stop for the Big Dog — complete with martini bar, which we’ll get to later — was hosted by Ann and Rob Pfister. “She’s a professional Fourth of July-er,” friend Marylee Evangelista said of Ann Pfister.

Red-white-and-blue desserts were in ample display, as the Munchmobile zigzagged its patriotic way up and down the state. Let the feasting, and fireworks, begin.

Keyport waterfront

The Munch holiday extravaganza actually started on Saturday, as a separate crew toughed it out under soothing breezes and brilliant blue skies. In a first-ever in Munch history, the crew held its own picnic, and who better to throw it than Maxine and Mike Fick, who hold serious tailgates before Jets games at Giants Stadium. These guys came prepared — grill, fuel, sauce, Wet Wipes, and several pounds of Max’s remarkable ribs.

“It’s all in the sauce,” the East Harlem schoolteacher explained. “Chili sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, honey and hot sauce.”

“The ribs were magnificent to the max,” raved Muncher Robin Friedman.

“These are people you’d want to be stranded with on a desert island,” added Lou Giele. “They’d probably even bring an inflatable boat with them.”

Jeanne and Jerry Goldberg

The crew made three stops for all-American food, then headed to Long Beach Island, where Jeanne and Jerry Goldberg were throwing a bagpipe-backgrounded party. Pasta, meatballs, eggplant parm and shrimp salad were on the menu, while the hot tub on the deck had been turned into a makeshift bar.

“Life is good” was the holiday party’s theme; Jerry Goldberg recently underwent an operation for a brain tumor. He looked great, and the sight of the Big Dog parked on the street brought a smile to his face.

Andy Jaysnovitch made special note of the “heavenly” string beans. The desserts were divine, especially the chocolate cake and cheesecake. Bagpipers Dave Connelly and his son, Sean; and Jeff “Sponge” Washburn and his son, Evan, played “Amazing Grace” (hear it on tvjersey.com) as the sun made a Technicolor exit into Barnegat Bay.

The first half of our holiday excursion was done. The 4th, and some serious munching, was ahead.

Lori and Tom Hillas

Tom Hillas had one thought when the Big Dog pulled into his driveway: Is this the competition? After all, Hillas, who works at Overlook Hospital, just up the street, runs a hot dog truck called Doo Wop Doggy, once in Springfield, now in Florham Park.

“I want that hot dog!” said the gravel-voiced Hillas, tending a burger-and-rib-filled grill.

Sorry, Tommy, the Big Dog’s not for sale. But we’ll help our selves to your ribs, burgers and chicken, thank you. And some of Lori Hillas’ terrific hard-boiled egg-dotted potato salad.

“What do you do for a living?” their son, Brian, asked, as if driving an 8-foot-long hot dog around New Jersey couldn’t possibly add up to work.

“I know it’s the Hillases and I don’t expect normal, but I thought, what’s with the hot dog parked in their driveway?” said neighbor Kim Kennedy, who stopped by.

Puggle the dog barked each time someone passed with a plate of food, and Muncher Courtney Hook looked quite the holiday part with her red- white-and-blue top hat.

“The ribs taste different,” Brian Hillas said at one point.

“What do they taste like — lamb?” his father replied.

Next stop: that backyard martini bar. Told you we were getting to that.

Ann and Rob Pfister

“This is a great concept — drive around, get free food,” said Rob Pfister, digging the Dog as it pulled into his driveway.

Only on the 4th, Rob, when we’re more than happy to raid refrigerators around New Jersey.

His wife, Ann, passed around lemon and lime sticks — you sipped the juice from the fruit through candy sticks— and several Munchers made haste for the martini bar, where the offerings included a Death by Chocolate Martini, a Perfect Lemon Drop Martini and a Flirtini Martini, with pineapples, oranges, vodka and Champagne.

The Munchmobile driver and photographer, ever-responsible, headed straight for the food.

“This is my mother’s barbecue pork,’ said Ann Pfister, giving us a tour of the table treats. “That’s my baked mac-and-cheese. Sandy (Lockner) is the deviled egg and bean salad lady. I make the tortellini salad, the cole slaw and potato salad. My mother made the ambrosia salad. . .”

We loved Lockner’s three-star three-bean salad and the pineapple-enlivened Hawaiian baked beans, but one look at the dessert spread had us wondering if we could just ditch the day and pitch a tent. Wonderful chocolate brownies — thank you, Dawn Norris. An oh-so-creamy apple crumb cheesecake, made by Ann Pfister. Chocolate chip cookies, from Carol Garlatti. And the show-stopper, an awesome apple tatin, from Francine Palmer. Palmer doesn’t leave for her annual trip to France until she makes the tatin for the Pfister picnic.

Professional 4th of July-er, in deed. Time to jump back on the Turnpike.

Indiana and Mike Mincey

Big Dog, meet Mince Dog. Everyone knows Mike Mincey as Mince Dog. Maybe they should just call him Dedicated Dog, be cause the teacher/Realtor doesn’t let mere torrential downpours interfere with his grilling duties.

“I was out here at 6:25 this morning,” Mincey said, shortly after 5 p.m. “Started with the chicken. Then I put on the ribs, shish kabob, flank steak, pork shoulder.” His T-shirt drenched, he scanned the threatening skies. “I still have a fish fry and chicken fry I gotta do.”

His guests huddled under rain-sodden tents, while Mincey’s mom, Deloise, inside the kitchen, told the Munchmobile driver he wasn’t going anywhere until he tried some of her marvelously creamy mac-and-cheese.

There were dry-rubbed ribs and wet ribs, coated with Metrie’s Everything Sauce, also known as “Joe Riley’s sauce,” after the third generation of barbecue masters from down South (see www.metries.com).

The Dominican-style pulled pork — crackly-good — was a highlight, as was the Mince Dog’s just-off-the-grill and just-great flank steak. The Notorious B.I.G. was on the sound system, Bobby McTaggart passed around his broccoli/cheddar cornbread, Deloise Mincey insisted the Munch driver wasn’t going anywhere until he tried her cheesecake, and Mother Nature was in retreat, at least temporarily.

Next up: some real fireworks.

Melissa and Neil Goldrosen

The Goldrosens pretty much had us at “amazing” parties. How could we turn down that brisket, cilantro lime chicken and health salad, not to mention “patriotic Jell-O parfaits” and red-white- and-blue refreshments known as Star-Bangled Spanners?

The kids were frolicking in the Slip ‘n Slide outside, while the adults wisely stayed inside, and dry.

“You missed the egg toss and water balloons,” Melissa Goldrosen said.

No worries; we’re here for your food. The brisket, sensationally tender, was one of the day’s highlights. Give credit to Neil Goldrosen, who owns Cluck-U Chicken in Morristown. Lovely lime chicken and distinctive shrimp/tomato/provolone/olive kabobs. More standout desserts, especially the apple pie, fruit tarts and the chocolate cupcakes topped with miniature flags.

“These are to die for,” said Elyse Belkin, pointing at one plate. “They’re some kind of brownie thingama-jiggy.”

Who cares what it’s called, as long as it’s good? Outside, fireworks rocketed and whirled into the night. Kids screamed in excitement. Thunder boomed somewhere in the distance. The 4th, sound effects and all, was coming to an end. The Munchers, patriotically stuffed, straggled back to the van for the ride home.