Jersey City’s dining landscape used to look pretty bleak: slice joints, hot-dog carts, old-school diners, and happy hour spots for the Wall Street West crowd. But a mini food-truck boom took place three years ago when a crooked Health Department employee began doling out food-truck licenses. The crook was caught and the trucks driven out, but once the exhaust cleared, a new dining scene blossomed. Now a new breed of Jersey City chefs are opening shop, bringing seasonal menus, cocktail programs, locally roasted coffee, cured meats, and Hudson River crudo along.
In April, husband and wife Kevin and Alex Pemoulie opened this 40-seat bistro. Kevin was once Momofuku Noodle Bar’s chef, and it shows in the restaurant’s daily changing, seafood-centric menu. Momofuku-style staples like scallop crudo with pickled ramps and shaved ham; sweetbreads with a smear of anchovy sauce; and roasted potatoes tossed with bacon, chives, and crème fraiche have all popped up. The restaurant is still BYOB until a liquor license comes through, at which point the Pemoulies are planning a serious cocktail program for their custom zinc bar.
A team that includes alums from Resto and the Meatball Shop opened in April what might be the only underhyped restaurant in town: The bar program is the best West of the Hudson, and despite the restaurant’s name — MAE is short for Modern American Eatery — it has a menu that reflects the neighborhood’s diversity. Fifteen dollars will get you into their Saturday all-you-can-eat backyard pig roasts; a $12 weekend brunch includes cocktails, scrambled eggs with biscuits and pork gravy, chorizo-manchego omelettes, and house-ground burgers; and nothing on the dinner menu — which includes flatiron steak, lamb ribs, papas bravas, and roast chicken with cheddar gratin — costs more than $16.
After time in Washington, D.C., Chef Mike Colletti returned to his Jersey roots and just a few weeks back opened VB3, a modern update of his cousin Joe Russo’s Villa Borghese pizzeria in the Monaco, a new residential high-rise on the Newport waterfront. Separate entrances lead to an all-day takeout pie and sub shop with enough counter space to pour drafts from Abita and NJ Beer Co. There’s a seasonal Italian eatery and late-night lounge next door. Colletti turns out dressed up comfort food like antipasti piled with salumi from Hackensack’s Salumeria Biellese, egg-yolk ravioli studded with morels, and premium pizzas topped with guanciale or truffles.
Skylark on the Hudson
An anchor to one of the neighborhood’s earliest waterfront high-rises, Skylark balances diner aesthetics (blueberry-stuffed French toast at breakfast; Greek salads at dinner) with big-city fine dining staples (farm-to-table dishes in Mason jars; whole fish; slow-braised short ribs). The place supplements the food with an on-draught wine system featuring more than a dozen bottles at night and locally roasted Kobrick’s coffee in the morning.