If it weren’t so well executed, one might be put off by the mix of eclectic, whimsical and rustic at the new Park West Tavern, which opened last week at the site of .
The initial entrance into the Chestnut Street tavern invites a certain formality. The ceilings are tall, the seating a clever mix of old English pub flanked by plush red chairs beside the bar. A fire burns at the dual stone fireplace while the aroma of slow-smoked meat breezes by. Patrons chat about the girl’s lacrosse victory near the amid the sound of clanking glasses, while businessmen nearby smile over firm handshakes, hearty steaks and red wine.
Yet, a glance at the menu reveals a light, dare-you-say-fun side to food.
It's by design, according to owners Randy Carson, of Ridgewood, and Executive Chef John Halligan.
“I'm a very serious person but I like to make dining fun and whimsical,” Halligan said shortly after the restaurant opened.
It's evident on the menu, too. One look at the 25-cent Ultimate Chicken Dinner should convince diners this isn't The Park Steakhouse deux. As for the lofty "ultimate" claim, that's not a typo, he assures.
"It’s a hard-boiled egg, lightly pickled. It's the whole chicken."
“I like people to ask questions and to see that we put a lot of effort into the menu. There's a reason we have this in there and that in there,” Halligan said.
The new 140-seat rustic-yet-modern tavern is more than just a name, and certainly provides a change-of-pace from the formal confines of The Park Steakhouse, one of the premier steakhouses in North Jersey owned by Carson and Halligan.
Much of the staff is familiar to the two owners, including chef-de cuisine Paul Scheffle and General Manager Rob Cole, who run day-to-day operations.
"We want it to be a community-based restaurant that has a little bit for everybody that they can feel comfortable with coming in with their family. If you look under the definition of a tavern, in the old days it was a social network. It's the focal point of a community,” said the veteran executive chef.
To be that focal point, the owners it’s vital to be of the community.
“We live here, we work here,” Halligan said. “I've learned the number one thing is to be conscientious to your guests' needs. In the small towns you need to be part of the culture, you have to know when Bobby graduates high school, you have to know the town."
“Is that a success in this town?” he asked. “I hope it is. Donating stuff at the charity fairs, and doing the basics like friendly service but not being pretentious. It's important."
The restaurant has already emerged in the community lens, taking home the title of best burger by popular vote at the Schoolhouse Museum’s with its Kobe Beef Sliders, complete with homemade pickles and ketchup. It also sponsored a Kasschau concert last week (which, sadly was canceled due to weather) and the pair of restaurant veterans say that's merely a sample–they're sticking around, and you're sure to see them out and about.
While there are the same dry-aged steaks that can be found at The Park Steakhouse, the vision behind the restaurant is without question more casual and affordable.
Most entrees run from $14-26 with "Community dishes," basically appetizers, from the 25-cent ultimate chicken to $14 for chilled shrimp shooters or lobster tacos. Desserts like warm cinnamon and ricotta cheese zeppoles or a root beer float with a big chocolate chip cookie are generally under $10.
That's not to say it's without the finer touches.
The bar is replete with microbrews selected by patrons at The Park Steakhouse, as are the wines, a large piece to the culinary puzzle.
Twenty-five wines can be had for $25 and those looking for Franzia in a box will have to look elsewhere, Halligan said. "You're not going to see it in the grocery stores." There's also a "Reserve" list with more complex, pricier bottles. With a liquor license, top-shelf liquor is also available. The clientele isn't expected to be the college-y Office crowd, but if ten friends want to gather for the game, that can be done.
“I think dining should be an experience and it should be fun. When you look at the menu you'll see a few items that are fun, written after my family or my life," Halligan said.
The lobster tacos–bite-sized–contain a familiar green Mexican topping. “It’s actually Whacka-mole,” Halligan smiled.
The chef's son wasn’t able to pronounce the “G” and the item is an homage to the adventurous young eater. So too is the Crabby Patty, a fusion of influence from Spongebob Squarepants' crab character and talkative Halligan sister, Patty.
Diners can find classic comfort food like meatloaf, but–and you knew there was a but–with a twist. Veal is slow-cooked with mushrooms amid a sprinkling of truffles, Mother Halligan’s mashed potatoes and wrapped in bacon.
It's a family affair, and the restauranteur duo hopes to bring the village into the fold as an extended family.
Parents too can rejoice. The fried delicacies featured at other restaurants are unquestionably absent on Chestnut Street. It's fitting in a village that outlaws "fast food" dining in its own ordinances.
Citing a recent article, Halligan joked "the chickens can have their fingers back."
He said he believes responsible chefs should be enlightening the public on the value of eating healthy. As the old adage goes, eating healthy doesn't mean eating bad food especially on the "Young Adult" menu.
"Fresh vegetables are important, as is fruit. We don't have the standard chicken fingers," he said.
But it's not snobbery, he says.
"I have two young kids myself. I think healthy eating is very important and it all starts with the parents. I'm not going to blast them with everything but a nice mixed green salad or edamame," which reportedly has sold well thus far among the young adults.
The restaurant is currently working out some of the early services kinks and is looking forward to having live bands playing on the weekends shortly, but Carson said things have been going well thus far.
"We're keeping our chin up and feeling good about it. Hopefully Ridgewood will welcome us."
After being urged by friends, patrons and industry veterans to open a restaurant in Ridgewood, the two are right where they want to be — home sweet home.
The Park West Tavern, located at 30 Oak Street, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and from 11:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The bar is open until 1:00 a.m. We recommend reservations on the weekends. The restaurant also uses Open Table to expedite the process or you can call (201) 445-5400.