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Downtown Montclair: 5 new restaurants


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Downtown Montclair: 5 new restaurants

Friday, December 28, 2007




Zod Arifai, chef-owner of Blu restaurant in Montclair, at his new establishment, Next Door.

Take a walk through Montclair's downtown these days and you'll spot newcomer restaurants popping up all over Bloomfield Avenue. Here's a look at five of them.

Zod Arifai, the chef-owner of the acclaimed Blu, has taken over the spot next door and opened ... Next Door (556 Bloomfield Ave., 973-744-3600.)

"It's completely the opposite of Blu," he says. "Blu is very creative, upscale food. This is very simple, casual food" – roasted chicken, beef stew, burgers, salads, sandwiches, pastas and a meatloaf that he says has been popular with customers.

With all dishes between $5 and $18, it's priced so that families will eat there frequently: Instead of cooking themselves lunch or dinner, Arifai hopes families will head for his herb-roasted leg of lamb with white bean ragu ($14) or a pulled chicken sandwich with Gorgonzola, sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions ($7).

"It will cost you more to make it yourself, and it'll take you two hours," he boasts of his dishes. The decor is colorful yet sparse, with comfortable tables, 38 seats and brightly colored oval lights hanging from the ceiling.

Mama Giola's (446 Bloomfield Ave., 973-783-MAMA, mamagi olas.com) is named for the late mother of chef Agostino Sblendorio, who hails from Genoa.

The BYO serves rustic Italian food in a beautifully remodeled 85-seat space that once housed a burger joint and a Jamaican restaurant.

The menu includes pastas, veal, chicken, beef, seafood and house-made marinara sauce. The co-owners are Patricia Wippich and Eddie Gazawie, who run the front of the house, and Gazawie's wife, Sarah, who runs the kitchen and makes all the homemade desserts.

Southern Italian food is the focus of Gencarelli's Cucina and Dessert Lounge (381 Bloomfield Ave., 973-744-8881). "Our food is basically simple homemade cooking," says Nicole Gencarelli, who owns the restaurant with her mother, Debbie.

Inside, it resembles a coffeehouse, with cannolis and cakes in a display case and exposed brick. But the open kitchen in the back hallway is busy dishing out its best-selling appetizer, Mozzarella in Carroza, as well as salads, traditional pastas, chicken and veal for lunch and dinner.

Pi Restaurant (399 Bloomfield Ave., 973-744-2393, pinatarestaurant.com) is painted in bright colors and features red tablecloths, cheerful murals and, yes, pis hanging from the ceilings. It's a casual Mexican restaurant with a menu full of classics for lunch and dinner -- tamales, enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, chili relleno.

At the eastern end of the Montclair business district is The Wood Pit (108-110 Bloomfield Ave., 973-954-4679, wood pit.com), where Lawrence Hackney has set up two smokers for Southern barbecue: ribs, chicken, brisket, sirloin, pork roast.

A broadband engineer by trade, Hackney has long loved barbecue and has perfected his late mother's sauces over the years (thanks to the notes she left behind and his aunt's input). "I would have parties, do barbecue, and folks would say, 'You need to open a barbecue restaurant.' "

His signature sauces are vinegar-based, as they do it in the South, but Hackney adds that he lived in Texas for 15 years and also makes a killer sweet sauce.

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