Restaurants flock to ‘foodie town’
By LINDA MOSS
Restaurateur Jack Tabibian is bringing Maine to Montclair.
The Bergen County resident has spent roughly $200,000 to create Jack’s Seafood Shack, renovating space that’s been vacant for about three years, formerly Lalezar, across the street from the Whole Foods market on Bloomfield Avenue.
The interior has a nautical design, with buoys and lots of wood, and will feature an oyster bar, some counter seating at the window facing the street, and a huge tank — the size of a Jacuzzi — that can hold up to 400 lobsters, brought in from Maine.
Tabibian already has a successful seafood eatery, Jack’s Lobster Shack, in Edgewater. When he decided to expand and open a second restaurant, he chose Montclair.
“I just think Montclair has got everything you want,” he said. “It’s a foodie town. And I saw this corner that was available and I just didn’t want to miss it or lose it. So we made the deal and we made the decision to open our second location here.”
Jack’s Seafood Shack is slated to open in mid-April, around Easter.
Montclair, which already has more than 120 eateries offering all types of cuisines, is seeing a surge in new restaurants. More than a half dozen are slated to open in the next three months, and at least that many have set up shop in town in the past six months or so.
Award-winning chef Robert Cho will be bringing Kimchi Smoke to Bloomfield Avenue, where it will be joined by Tacoria, which is expanding beyond New Brunswick. Fin Raw Bar and Kitchen is opening a gastro pub, The Crosby, in a building right next to its location on Glenridge Avenue.
In addition, Belgiovine Delicatessen is renovating long-vacant space next door to build the Broughton Grill, while Vanillamore Dessert Kitchen will be debuting its first eatery.
Finally, a contemporary Italian restaurant, Punto Russo, has leased the space on Park Street formerly occupied by Fricassee French Bistro. The new restaurant has targeted mid-April to open. Those restaurants will join Montclair newcomers such as Oh My Cod, a fish-and-chips place from the owners of Montclair Bread Company, Mezoco Mexican Taqueria, Fiamma Wood Fired Pizza, Bluff City BBQ and Diesel & Duke.
The restaurant business is a difficult one, and Montclair has seen its share of eateries being shuttered. Nonetheless, restaurateurs said that they are drawn, not daunted, by the wide array of restaurants and activity in the township, which makes it a destination for culture and food lovers alike, and its diverse population.
And several restaurateurs said that they are responding to the influx of young couples with families, some abandoning places like New York City for the suburbs, who have urbane palates and high standards when they go out to dine.
“So many of the people moving here and buying houses right now are from Brooklyn,” said Kevin Costello, development director for Willow Street Partners in Montclair. “They had a kid or two in Brooklyn and now are coming here. … And these people want kind of these more trendy, upscale places. ... The things that are really cool now are not the sit-down formal dinners. Kimchi Smoke and Tacoria and Ani Ramen, that’s the kind of thing that’s really hot right now.”
Costello recently landed Kimchi Smoke, Tacoria and Vanillamore Dessert Kitchen as tenants on Bloomfield Avenue. “The market is crazy right now,” Costello said, referring to the demand for space by restaurateurs.
Cho opened his first Kimchi Smoke, which he described as barbecue ”with some Korean flavors and ingredients,” in Westwood and wanted to add a second restaurant.
“I’ve been looking for possible locations and Montclair has been on my radar before, but last year when I looked on Bloomfield Avenue it seemed like there was really no restaurant space available,” he said. “I didn’t think I would find anything in Montclair. When there is something it gets scooped up really fast. ... I did a couple of food and wine events in Montclair that were really well received. I think Montclair is one of the food capitals of Jersey.”
Luck Sarabhayavanija, the owner of Ani Ramen on Bloomfield Avenue, said he is looking for a spot to open a second restaurant in town.
Cho put a query on Instagram asking for suggestions on where he should open his second place, and many recommended Montclair. So he said he took another stab at finding space in the township, and this time found a spot on Bloomfield Avenue, where he expects to open in late April or early May.
The founders of Tacoria, three Rutgers University graduates, offer what they describe as West Coast-style Mexican food at a small eatery in New Brunswick that they opened about a year ago. One member of the trio, Chuck Patel, said they had been scouting for another, much larger, location for about eight months, and considered the Jersey shore, Jersey City and Hoboken before opting for Montclair. They have leased space at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street that was once home to Elevation Burger and European Portuguese Barbecue, and are upbeat about their prospects in Montclair.
“We think it’s a great mix of people,” Patel said. “The food scene in Montclair is just amazing. You can get anything you want, whether it’s ramen, Indian food. It’s very eclectic. We feel like we’re just going to be a great addition to the scene.”
He and his partners plan to have Tacoria open in the next three months.
Vanillamore Dessert Kitchen will be opening right next door to Kimchi Smoke on Bloomfield Avenue and is targeting a debut in July, according to pastry chef and owner Risa Magid Boyer. It will have a horseshoe-shaped table where patrons can sit in front of the open kitchen and watch their food being prepared. While the restaurant’s focus is on desserts, its menu will include lunch specials and “light and savory” dinner offerings as well, said Boyer, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
“People who go to Montclair to eat are often looking for something different and unique,” she said, which is why she believes the town is a good venue for her dessert restaurant.
The eatery, meant to be a prototype for other Vanillamore Dessert Kitchens, will also sell desserts to go, Boyer said.
Fin is renovating an adjacent building, formerly home of Montclair Feed & Pet Supply, to create The Crosby, a gastro pub that will serve comfort food, have 40 varieties of beer on tap and offer valet service, said Gerry Cerrigone, part of the group that owns six North Jersey restaurants, including Saluté on Glenridge Avenue in Montclair. The owners at one point were looking to open their pub at the former site of South Park at the corner of Church and South Park streets.
The Crosby is scheduled to open in April.
Belgiovine’s Deli, on the same strip of Bloomfield Avenue as Jack’s Seafood Shack, is planning a “hybrid” menu at its adjacent Broughton Grill that will include fare such as fresh-ground burgers, prime rib sandwiches, cheese-steak sandwiches made with top-round beef, New York-style corned beef and pastrami, and sausage and peppers, according to Gerard Cope, manager of the deli and coming restaurant. It will also offer ice cream from Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionery in Bloomfield.
The grill is slated to open in May, Cope said.
“We’ve been here for a long time already with the deli, so we already have a good following,” he said. “So we know we can carry that over.”
The fact that another restaurant, Jack’s Seafood Shack, is opening nearby isn’t a competitive disadvantage, according to Cope.
“It sort of makes our little strip here a little bit of a destination,” he said. “It brings more foot traffic and everybody’s going to benefit from that.”
One of the town’s recent restaurant newcomers is Mezoco Mexican Taqueria, which opened in December at 25 Depot Square near the Walnut Street train station. Montclair resident Gregory Cuoco worked out a deal to operate his eatery, which he said has authentic Mexican street food, out of the kitchen of the Erie Saloon bar. Patrons order food from one counter from Mezoco, and then order their alcoholic beverages from the Saloon’s bar and then dine in an area with tables.
Tabibian of Jack’s Seafood Shack said the menu of his Montclair restaurant will be more extensive and upscale than in Edgewater because it has Jared Bennett, a CIA graduate, on board as its chef.
Even though the Seafood Shack doesn’t have a liquor license, the restaurant is putting together a list of wines that will pair well with its food. Tabibian said he is talking to several of Montclair’s many liquor stores to arrange for them to deliver wines that customers choose.
“In Edgewater I don’t have that luxury,” he said “The closest liquor store is two miles away.”
New on the scene
Restaurants debuting soon:
Jack's Seafood Shack, 720 Bloomfield Ave.
Kimchi Smoke, 345 Bloomfield Ave.
The Crosby American Gastropub, 193 Glenridge Ave.
Broughton Grill, 712 Bloomfield Ave.
Tacoria, 367 Bloomfield Ave.
Vanillamore Dessert Kitchen, 349 Bloomfield Ave.
Punto Rosso, 6 Park St.
Mezoco Mexican Taqueria, 25 Depot Square
Oh My Cod, 103 Forest Ave.
Bluff City BBQ, 21 Midland Ave.
Fiamma Wood Fired Pizza, 558 Bloomfield Ave.
Diesel & Duke, 39 Glenridge Ave.