The pandemic that stole Christmas — and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and Memorial Day and countless birthdays, weddings and vacations — is still doing its best to nab every bit of joy from the holiday season.
And yet, some restaurants are shaking their mittened fists at COVID-19. Holiday cheer can still be had this miserable year, they insist as they twirl tinsel around banisters, wrap tables in holiday paper and prop up Christmas trees under white tents. Most are decorating indoors and out, so you may be huddled around heat lamps and fire pits while gazing at the glittering decorations (or shielded by plexiglass for those willing to dine indoors).
Here are a few North Jersey restaurants that have wasted no time; they’re already dressed for the holidays.
Biagio’s Ristorante, Paramus
Biagio’s Ristorante will not be hosting its annual breakfast with Santa for obvious reasons. But, the team has still brightened up both the indoor and spacious outdoor areas of the restaurant. The Terrace rooftop is decked with pine trees, lights and garland. Inside, you’ll find more of the same.
“We do it all ourselves,” said chef and owner Jimmy Perides. “We decorate it like it’s our own house.”
Perides is frequently changing the menu at Biagio’s, though Italian classics can always be found – including eggplant rollatini ($12), pappardelle Bolognese with fresh ricotta ($20) and seafood Pescatore bursting with scallops, clams, mussels, calamari and lobster ($35). Finish off your meal with a celebratory cocktail, and you’ve got yourself a spirit-lifting holiday meal.
Go: 299 Paramus Road, Paramus; 201-652-0201, biagios.com.
Cowan’s Public, Nutley
Miracle on Centre – the name Cowan’s Public goes by when the Miracle pop-up takes over – is a Christmas-lover’s wonderland. Nearly every inch of the restaurant is spangled in some kind of sparkly paper or twinkling light.
Miracle was created five years ago by Greg Boehm, owner of the East Village cocktail bar Mace, and his manager Joann Speigel. Their kitschy holiday decor and cocktail recipes then spread to bars across the country by way of the Miracle pop-up. You know a spot has been taken over by Miracle when it’s crammed with Christmas tchotchkes and string lights; the walls are lined with wrapping paper; and the bartenders are mixing cocktails inspired by the season.
This year, Miracle returns to Cowan’s. Cocktails include Jolly Koala with gin, vermouth and pine-cardamom-sage cordial; and the SanTaRex (which comes in a T-Rex mug) with tequila, Branca Menta, cacao blanc, mezcal, serrano, coconut and pineapple. If you fall in love with the novelty glassware, you’re in luck – you can buy yours to take home.
Go: 229 Centre St., Nutley; 973-542-8151, cowanspublic.com.
Grant Street Café, Dumont
Grant Street Cafe, like every restaurant slogging through the pandemic, had to make a lot of compromises this year. But Chris DeLaura, manager and son of Grant Street’s owners, refuses to let COVID dampen their holiday spirit. Throughout all of November and December, stockings will be hung by the bar with care, and oversized ornaments will drip from the ceiling. The Festivus pole has already been standing proudly in the restaurant for weeks.
Outside, a giant inflatable arch, complete with a Santa and snowman, welcomes guests to the Biergarten, where food and drinks can be enjoyed in the fresh air with a few reams of tinsel to brighten up the tent. While you’re taking in the view, perhaps you’ll enjoy sipping on one of Grant Street’s holiday cocktails, such as the Marshmallow World: whipped cream vodka, RumChata and crème de coca with a graham cracker and chocolate syrup rim, topped with a roasted marshmallow.
Go: 25 Grant Ave., Dumont; 201-385-1705, facebook.com/Grant-Street-Cafe-117785368248598.
Pearl Restaurant, Ridgewood
Pay special attention to the tiny reproduction of Ridgewood in the window display of Pearl Restaurant. Every year owner Max Viola sets up the mini-town and adds a few extra accessories – trees, homes, mailboxes and the like.
Sparkling lights are draped inside the restaurant and around the tent outside. Pine trees and elf figurines huddled around the fireplace complete the jolly scene.
As you’re snuggled by the fire (or heat lamp), we suggest dining on dishes such as gnocchi Sorrentino with fresh mozzarella ($23), Pearl Fisherman’s Stew, a steamy dish of shrimp, clams, mussels, crabmeat and mixed fish ($42), or chicken breast (from Goffle Farms in Wyckoff) Torinese ($26). And on Christmas Eve? Expect a classic feast of the seven fishes, naturally.
Go: 17 S. Broad St., Ridgewood; 201-857-5100, pearlridgewood.com.
Sorellina Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, Hoboken
Owner Gabi Lombardi sets up a classy holiday display every year at Sorellina. Inside, you’ll find layers of lit garland with red and gold ornaments strung along the gold-colored tin ceiling. Warm lights, an army of nutcrackers, wreaths and ribbons add cozy touches to the Italian restaurant – known for its seasonal dishes including braised lamb with local squash-stuffed pasta ($24), grilled halibut in a bright sage cranberry butter ($23) and crispy buffalo Brussels sprouts ($9).
“I decided that decorating Sorellina would help bring joy and Christmas cheer to our community,” said Lombardi, who says Christmastime is her favorite time of year.
This year, she also decorated the outdoor parklet (the seating area outside of the restaurant that is heated by lamps) with garland wrapped around columns, lights framing each window and large wreaths with red bows.
Go: 1036 Washington St., Hoboken; 201-963-3333, sorellinahoboken.com.
The Vanguard, Harrison
If the Hawaiian Christmas song “Mele Kalikimaka” were to inspire a restaurant’s décor, Sippin’ Santa would be it. Sippin’ Santa is a beach-themed holiday pop-up that’s taken over bars throughout the country. In New Jersey, you can experience the pop-up at The Vanguard, a 1940s factory-themed restaurant.
The Harrison bar and restaurant is always decked with plush, vintage furnishings, a 60-seat bar, artwork of factory workers, and antique Americana decor. For the holiday season, it has added tinseled palm plants, Christmas lights that crisscross the ceiling, lights covered in fishing net and hung with ornaments, and tables covered in gift wrap.
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Festive drinks include the Koloka Colada (dark Jamaican and Gold Puerto Rican rums, pumpkin-spiced coconut cream, orange curacao, lime juice and orange juice, $12), Sippin’ Santa (aged Demerara rum, Amaro, nutmeg syrup, cinnamon syrup, lemon juice and orange juice, $12), and Parrot in a Pear Tree (Blanco tequila, pear liqueur, parrot mix, black walnut bitters, apple brandy and lime juice, $13).
And yes, you’re likely to hear “Mele Kalikimaka” on the speakers at least once during your visit.
Go: 705 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd., Harrison; 201-292-3633, thevanguardharrison.com.
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Andre’s Lakeside Dining, Sparta
Tracey deWaal, co-owner of Andre’s Lakeside Dining and wife of chef Andre’ deWaal, has dubbed this year’s holiday display “Andre’s Winter Wonderland.”
Round paper lanterns and bright white snowflakes, also made of paper and cut into pretty designs, hang from the ceiling, as do long strings of beaded crystals. To hang up the snowy, sparkling display, Tracey deWaal had to climb up a 14-foot ladder. “And I’m scared to death of heights,” she said.
“I love when people come in and say, ‘Wow, look at that,'” deWaal added. “Andre’ is always getting the accolades for amazing food, but this is my way of expressing my creativity.”
Go: 112 Tomahawk Trail, Sparta; 973-726-6000, dresrealfood.com.
Black Horse Tavern & Pub, Mendham
This locals’ favorite has two distinct areas: the laid-back pub and the slightly more formal tavern. The ample decorations on each side of the restaurant reflect the vibe. In the pub are rustic signs and lights woven through the ceiling beams. But the most eye-catching decoration is a sparkling hodgepodge offaux icicles, sprigs of evergreen, red berries and lights that hangs from the ceiling.
The tavern area is bursting with trees, red ribbons and gold-wrapped presents, plus a roaring fireplace to keep you warm.
Outside there is more seating. The facade of the restaurant is classically decorated with lights strung throughout nearly every bush and green garland looped on the balcony.
“The restaurant has a pretty big footprint in the town, so we like to make the outside as classy as possible,” said Kevin Felice, director of food and beverage at Villa Restaurant Group, which includes Black Horse Tavern.
Go: 1 W. Main St., Mendham; 973-543-7300, blackhorsenj.com.
The Barrow House, Clifton
For the holidays, a tent in The Barrow House’s spacious parking lot has been dubbed “The Lodge.” A log cabin wall set up at the front gives it the look of a cozy hideout. Big wreaths, poinsettias, Christmas trees lit with warm white lights and three faux-frost-covered trees speckled with multicolored lights with bright red robin ornaments perched on the branches add festive touches everywhere you look.
For eats, we recommend the juicy fried chicken sandwich. And don’t leave without ordering a seasonal cocktail like mulled wine punch or “Last Minute Gift” (with genever, Redemption rye, Braulio, lemon and orange).
Go: 1296 Van Houten Ave., Clifton; 551-223-6609, thebarrowhouse.com.
Other well-decorated spots:
Candlewyck Diner: 179 Paterson Ave., East Rutherford; 201-933-4446, candlewyckdiner.com.
Franco’s Metro: 1475 Bergen Blvd., Fort Lee; 201-461-6651, francosmetro.com.
Rebecca King is a food writer for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
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