2019 Brook Hollow Winery Clambake
After a 45-minute ride from our friend’s house in Jefferson, New Jersey, we pulled into the lot of Brook Hollow Winery.
I held a Brook Hollow Winery tote (a prize that our friend’s won last year), full of wine glasses on my lap.
This was my first visit to the winery. I managed to buy a ticket in advance this year, before they sold out. I was excited for the food of course, but also to spend the August afternoon looking out on the vineyards.
Brook Hollow Winery
As told by my friends, the clambake was held in the newest building that winery owner Paul Ritter built with the growth of his business. What started as a hobby and expanded into a start-up, is now a beautiful business located in Northern New Jersey.
We parked and carried our totes of wine glasses as we searched for our table. Half of our group already claimed our spot — a large wooden table on the end of the patio overlooking the vineyard.
A water cooler sat on an adorable cart to the right of our table. Five other tables (identical to ours) ran the length of the patio. The two middle tables were filled with families with toddlers. They had their strollers and toys laid in the grass next to their table. The children waddled on unstable legs across the top of the hill pushing and chasing one another.
An outdoor gazebo with a live band was diagonal our table. They played famous covers from the 70s and 90s. The speakers carried their music inside the open doors of the barn, to the rest of the wooden tables and guests for the clambake.
The 2019 Clambake was held in the new barn, a beautifully finished structure with natural wood, metal roof, and solar panels.
Hi-hat lighting brightened the space with black metal lanterns on the wall. Strings of bulb lights strung across the room to create a whimsical effect. It was probably beautiful at night. I could imagine a wedding in this space.
You bought your bottles of wine from the long drink station set up down the length of the room. Workers waited behind checkered tables — serving and collecting bottles.
We crossed the room and exited under the breezeway. Straight ahead was another hall towards the bathrooms. To my right was an alcove of grass, where the fish vendor was preparing his fryers. Two women managed the table in the center of the breezeway.
We checked in with them and collected our food tickets. One ticket had a clam with two circles: “S” for shrimp and “C” for clams. When we wanted our food, we would present the ticket to be hole-punched. Our yellow ticket stub was for the raffle — where guests could win one of several brown paper bags that held wine bottles and other Brook Hollow goodies.
A Summer Afternoon
Introductions were made at our table, for the friends-of-friends that I didn’t know. Somehow, we already had several bottles on our table. I selected the Brook Hollow Merlot to start with. I have no knowledge of wine, or how to describe the flavor. All I know if that I don’t feel terrible after drinking red wine (as I do with white) — and I usually drink Merlot and Cabernet.
Since I ate an early breakfast, my stomach was already grumbling by 1:30 pm. After welcoming remarks from Paul, we could get in line for the food.
To the Steamers!
The front patio had the tables of food. Some of the tables had sections for self-serve, while the stations where we used our tickets, had workers in matching t-shirts.
I ended up last in line near the open doors to the barn.
One of the workers from the serving station came out and said: “You can form two lines, both the left and right sides of the patio have the same food options.”
I was standing dead-last in the line that went to the food on the right. The line for the tables on the left had hardly any people so I went over there.
I was glad I switched lines. It didn’t take long for me to get to the table. I selected a plate and plastic silverware, skipping the cold noodle salad and hamburgers and hot dogs. I wanted to get my seafood first, before I filled up.
The lines moved well due to the worker’s efficiency. The main delay was that if you wanted melted butter, which was at the end of the line, you had to put down your plates of food to ladle it out. Then try to carry your plates and the butter (without spilling). People worked carefully so that caused a delay in the line.
But the woman working the seafood noticed the hold-up and began dishing out the butter and placing it on people’s plates once she handed them their seafood. I am happy and impressed that she noticed the problem and solved it in the moment. After that, the line flowed smoothly.
Course 1 | Steamers and Butter
What’s great about Brook Holly Winery’s Clambake is that they already have a serving method in place. I’m not sure how they do it, but behind the serving table was a black container with these mesh bags of steamers.
I don’t believe the steamers would be cooked to order — due to volume — but the steamers were warm and fresh, so I wonder if that black container was some sort of heater?
Either way, I was impressed and happy with my bag of clams.
I believe there were 2-dozen clams in this bag. I only had 4 that were closed (i.e. don’t eat them). The clams were the perfect size, too — not so large that they’re rubbery, but not too tiny that you hardly have any meat.
The woman next to me had 8 that were closed, which she wasn’t happy about. She mentioned something to the team when she went back up and they gave her a whole new bag! I thought that was well-done. Though Brook Hollow can’t control how many clams open upon steaming, they want their guests to be happy and they did the right thing by offering her another bag.
Course 1 | Sides
As you can see, I love butter. Some of this butter was for my clams and some was for my corn.
Jersey corn — if you haven’t had it from “The Garden State” — is the best corn, ever. I could tell by the bright yellow kernels that it was going to be sweet. Corn that is too white is sometimes considered “Feed Corn” — (what you feed cows) — and has no flavor.
I had two ears of corn it was so fresh and sweet. I used all that butter too, it was delicious.
Course 2 | Shrimp
I waited until I could get a new plate before getting my shrimp. The shrimp also came pre-counted in mesh bags, stored in a cooler.
This was a cloth bag, unlike the clam bag, which was plastic, which meant it held the water from the cooler it was sitting in. You knew the guests who got their shrimp, as they dripped water across the patio as they walked.
I believe each bag had a dozen shrimp — which was more than enough, because these shrimp were colossal. They were meaty and already cleaned (and cleaned well, thank god) — so you could spritz them with lemon or dunk them in cocktail sauce without any work.
I smothered mine in (guess what), more butter. There was so many shrimp that I started to get full (and this was only the second course!).
I ate my whole bag, though. I nibbled on cold pasta salad and drank my wine as I took a break. Our table loved the Brook Hollow Chardonnay, so we bought more bottles of that. I was still drinking my first glass of Merlot as a worker came to collect the empty bottles.
After a while of drinking and chatting we decided to take some group photos in front of the vineyards.
A row of puffy white flowers separated the fence and the parking lot, and the hill leading down to the vineyards. At the bottom of the hill, the vineyards stretched into cornfields, then the road, with woods beyond that.
The sun was brutal for the middle of the afternoon, and even my tinted glasses weren’t enough to keep my eyes from watering.
It was so bright I couldn’t even see how the pictures looked on my iPhone. Zooming didn’t help much either, as the natural light created a harsh contrast. If you look closely though, you can see the clusters of greenish grapes dangling under the leaves.
We climbed back up the hill, going for the barn’s shaded overhang. I could feel the red forming on my shoulders and ears. I was glad for the shade and proximity to the water cooler. I couldn’t imagine spending hours outside in the direct sun.
Raffles and Prizes
With a chilled cup of water and my same glass of Merlot, we turned our attention to the gazebo. The band stopped playing and handed the microphone over to the owner, Paul. He had a glass jar of yellow raffle tickets. As he selected and called numbers, workers with clipboards wandered between the tables to confirm the winners and hand them their goodie bags.
For the first time in several years, our table didn’t win anything. We were always off by one number. Which was fine, as we could walk across the street and buy bottles of wine and wine-related goodies that they had in their gift shop.
Course 3 | Fish and Chips
By now we were almost to the end of the Clambake. The band took over the gazebo again and their music filled the space, drowning out the noise of people’s conversations.
I realized I hadn’t had my fish and chips (one of the best parts of the clambake). I took my white ticket and went back towards the fish and chips vendor. As I passed the row of food tables, a large chocolate sheet cake was being divided into little slices.
Two vendors from the fish company worked the fish and chips booth. One younger man took my ticket and selected a huge fish filet for my plate. Another older man behind him manned the fryers — dropping hot fresh fries into the metal trays.
I got my plate, added some salt and pepper and headed back to our table. Some people were enjoying their chocolate cake. Two people left to go buy new bottles of wine.
I was so excited to try this fish. The crunchy outer coating was fantastic. I’m not sure what the batter was made of, as there was no distinct seasoning. I’m not sure if it was just flour, water, and a rising agent? Either way, I thought it was perfect. I’ve been to several fish fry’s before and this fish and chips was the best to-date.
I seasoned my fish with salt and pepper and a bit of lemon juice. I’m not a fan of tartar sauce, though it was offered by the vendor’s table.
I wanted to break apart the fish so you can see how legit this fish filet was. The fish took up most of my plate. The fish was meaty (look at the piece I broke off!) and juicy, despite being fried. The vendors at this stand know how to cook, and they were using high quality ingredients. Even the French fries were great. Mine were piping hot.
The coleslaw was finely chopped with thin slices of cabbage and onion. It was sweeter than I was expecting, though it still offered the vinegar flavor. It was a good side to have to cut through the oil from the fried fish and French fries.
Course 4 | Dessert
I was in the mood for a hot dog all day. But I knew that it was better to fill up on the seafood then it was to have a hot dog (which I could make at home).
I had planned to end the day by having that hot dog, but by the time I finished my fish and chips, only dessert was available.
You could select long trays of watermelon and individual portions of chocolate cake. I loved the cake, since the icing was real buttercream, light and not too sweet. The portions were great, considering how much food we ate.
The last of our table collected their fish and chips. If they weren’t going to eat it on-site, the vendors put it in plastic to-go containers to take home.
We finished the last of the bottles on our table. I was nearly finished with my glass of Merlot, as guests started to pack up. The Clambake was from 1-4 pm, and our table was known for closing the event.
The Old Barn Gift Shop
In the end, the workers stopped selling bottles (so they could break down the event). I wished I bought one of the wine slushies to try.
As our table cleaned up the last of our cups and repackaged the wine glasses we brought — I walked across the street to the original Brook Hollow Barn.
There were more vineyards across the street. This section of Brook Hollow Winery was open to the public. The old barn had a matching patio and overhang to the one we sat under. Anyone could park and sit under the overhang looking out at the vineyards.
For this summer afternoon, all the tables were filled. Couples set up lawn chairs just off the patio and sat with their dogs. Some groups brought snacks and coolers. Another gazebo, like the one the band played under, broke the view of the vineyards. I walked out onto it to get a better view.
These vineyards were larger than the ones across the street. Rows of grass between each line of grapes looked decorative, and rolled across the open filed. The vineyard was so large I could take 5 photos to capture its entirety. Nestled among the wood line, it was a perfect place to sit and relax.
The Old Clambake Space
A curved concrete staircase hugged a garden going down the side of the hill. I followed it only to the middle step, to peek at the structure behind it.
This open-sided barn was the old clambake space, before the new barn across the street was built. Now, it looked to be a mix between storage and maybe housing some of the wine-making equipment. I wasn’t sure.
Wine Tasting and Gift Shop
I climbed back up the steps and crossed the patio to the “Open” flag at the entrance to the building.
I loved this building’s dark wood and decorative door. A flower bed decorated its front walkway, and the wooden “Brook Hollow Winery” sprouted near the road. Even the building itself had some signs:
The interior of this building was one large room. A wooden bar with tall shelves sat on the right. People leaned against its counters in pairs — tasting the Brook Hollow wines. Small tables in rows filled the rest of the room. The winery didn’t serve food (unless there was a ticketed event) — so I assume the tables would be for snacks brought for the wine tasting.
A curved counter took up the left-hand corner of the room. Pamphlets, business cards, wine-cork purses (which were well-made), and wine-coasters sat in displays.
Built-in wooden shelves on the far-left wall had the Brook Hollow wines to buy.
Some of the bottles were $16 while others were $22. The wine I normally buy myself doesn’t go higher than $16 (unless it’s a special occasion). For winery events, and the fact that this is a local business, and the wine is made in New Jersey, I think the prices make sense.
As for the gifts, there were only two t-shirts hanging above the wine case. One women’s shirt was embroidered with the “Brook Holly Winery” script, for $15. I really liked that one.
On the back wall, a rack of wine-sayings threaded into kitchen towels were for sale. I have enough kitchen towels to last a lifetime, so I skipped purchasing anything and just enjoyed the room.
I would give the 2019 Brook Hollow Winery Clambake a 13/10 for the following:
Decor and Design
Everything about the Brook Hollow Winery is immaculately maintained. The barns and buildings are gorgeous and natural. The decorative touches like the wine barrels, lights, and signs add to the Brook Hollow brand and experience.
This is its own category. The Brook Hollow property is spectacular. It’s the perfect location with access to the major highways, but tucked away from noise. The vineyards themselves are beautifully maintained. With the addition of the puffy white flowers and sunny, clear day, you can’t get a better view.
Every person I interacted with during the event was lovely. They were friendly, funny, and helpful. I am impressed with everyone who manned their sections of the event (from serving the food to clearing the tables). I’m not sure if they’re family of the owner or a hired team, but either way they were great.
Food and Wine
All the food was high-quality and presented well. Anyone attending the event could find something to eat — from the sides, to the seafood. I enjoyed that we had the freedom to select what we wanted, and we weren’t limited by a timeframe. Pairing these selections with homemade, locally grown wine, was a win all-around.
Have you been to the Brook Hollow Winery?
I had an amazing time at the 2019 Brook Hollow Winery Clambake. I plan to attend next year’s clambake, and keep an eye out for the other foodie events that the winery hosts.
Have you been to Brook Hollow? Do you have a favorite event or time to visit? Favorite wine? Tell me about it in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!