I love discovering good restaurants tucked away in a strip malls. Poor things, they have to share billing and parking spaces with totally unrelated businesses. Yet they hold their own, a best-kept secret. One of my favorites is Sweet Rice Café. I didn’t have to go far to discover another strip-mall-treasure – just down the strip is Jersey Street Bar & Grill at 900 Jersey St. This is another one of those Bermuda Triangle spots that just can’t seem to keep a restaurant in there no matter how good it is. I have a feeling (or at least really hope) that this one will stick, if only because of how it came to be.
Alex Pappas owns the building and runs Jersey Street Liquors, also in the strip. After seeing restaurant after restaurant try to make a go of it, he, with his family’s restaurant background, decided he’d just open a restaurant there himself, following the adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself”.
The décor at Jersey Street Bar & Grill is happy and colorful, and just a tiny bit outdated. It’s still a pleasant backdrop to the wide variety of food. The menu takes on American, Greek, Mexican and Italian food which can be done successfully with the right vision and cook.
Appetizers include a mountain of Greek treats including Gyro meat, dolmades and hummus in the Pappas Mezze Platter, $11. Or Saganaki with Kasseri fried cheese (my new favorite thing) served with pita, $9. We started simple with a bowl of the Greek Lemon Chicken Soup, perfect Greek comfort food. The salads take trendy cues like the Caesar with grilled romaine for $7 or the Chopped Salad that adds roasted corn, black beans and chickpeas to the usual bacon, chicken and avocado mixture for $12.
Although the menu is varied, it isn’t too big, with carefully-considered options. The Smothered Burrito, $10, has grilled Certified Angus Beef steak or chicken (not ground beef) stuffed with rice and beans and smothered with green chili. The Fire Department Burger tops a beef patty with spicy chipotle salsa, cheddar and jalapenos for $10. The Camp Fire New York Steak is espresso-seasoned for $16. The Sicilian Rigatoni Pasta has chicken, spinach, mushrooms, peppers and sausage in a spicy tomato cream sauce for $14. I’m a fool for tomato cream sauces!
In honor of the owner’s heritage and because I love them so, I chose the Classic Gyro. Thick slices of garlicky gyro meat were enveloped in a soft pita with onion, tomato and cool tzatziki sauce served with crispy fries for $9. Debating between Flatbreads (basically pizza) or Calzones, we chose a sausage calzone that was so large, we made two meals out of it. Thank goodness for take-home boxes and toaster ovens.
We were way too full for dessert but took a peek anyway. Next time, we’ll try the Croissant Bread Pudding with white chocolate and marshmallow sauce and go into a sugar coma, or maybe play it a little lighter with Anthony’s Cannolis with mascarpone filling.
It would be a darned shame if Jersey Street Bar & Grill doesn’t succeed, for many reasons. But most of all, because it’s good and because that spot deserves a family-run, neighborhood place to frequent, even if it is in a strip mall.