Here's what we know. Except for a couple of places, you just can't easily enjoy a cigar in a public place in New York City since the smoking ban took effect. You can rent a hotel room and play poker with some friends and light up to your heart's content, but that gets a little pricey. You can smoke outside, but it's kinda cold. You can also go interstate. New Jersey. The Garden State. Soprano-land. Where the state motto ought to be, "Only the strong survive."
Englewood, New Jersey, just three miles west of the George Washington Bridge, provides a sanctuary for the mildly intrepid New York cigar lover. Smoke Chophouse & Cigar Emporium is nothing less than its name implies. Smoke is a dark-wood-paneled, warmly lighted, white-tablecloth steak house that serves prime New York strip steaks (10 or 16 ounces), filet mignon, and a 32-ounce porterhouse for one or a 42-ounce version for two (the latter at $68). Smoke offers double-cut porterhouse veal chops, grilled "lollipopped" prime rib chops, pork chops and, alternatively, a good number of seafood dishes. The point is, the food will not disappoint you if you're nostalgic for the days when you and your buddies would hit one of the Manhattan or Brooklyn steakhouses and light up before, during and after dinner. In fact, the balance and quality of the menu outdo some of the more famous places in New York City.
"We haven't necessarily seen a significant increase in the number of people who come in from New York," one of the waiters explained, "but I have a number of people from Manhattan and Queens who have been regulars for a long time. One couple comes once a month. She'll smoke cigarettes and he'll smoke a cigar and they'll have a nice dinner and bottle of wine."
The wine list further makes the short trip across the river worthwhile. A Wine Spectator award winner, the list includes a 1995 Cristal for $380, some equally costly Super Tuscans and a sufficient number of moderately priced reds. I mostly welcome the dozen or more Zinfandels -- ($32 to $85) -- because it's the varietal that best accompanies a cigar. The list is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, especially California ones. That's not a complaint, but don't fail to explore other grapes or countries, including France, a nation whose foreign policy might cause controversy here, but whose wine can considerably soften the argument.
Englewood is typical of the affluence of Bergen County. The bar at Smoke on a recent night was filled with people enjoying cigars, drinks and watching the weather report on News 12 New Jersey as it called for mixed precipitation and sub-freezing temperatures. Inside, it was warm and a bit cloudy. There's a big air purifier on the ceiling, but you can feel and smell the smoke. Some improvement there would help make a very good dinner that much more enjoyable.
While you're smoking, the issue pretty much disappears.
Smoke's cigar list is ample and high in quality, and it changes as hard-to-get brands become available. Usually, says manager Richard McBride, Smoke has a good number of Arturo Fuentes, principally Don Carlos sizes.
"Rey del Mundo does very well here," McBride added. "Every three months or so we get OpusX in and we'll get $40 for a torpedo from the guys with expense accounts." Other brands and sizes range in price from $10 to $22 and include Padrón Anniversario, Ashton and Davidoff.
Alejandro Benes is a high-carb writer in a low-carb world.
Smoke Chophouse & Cigar Emporium
36 Engle Street, Englewood, NJ 07631
Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Friday; Dinner, Saturday and Sunday