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comfort restaurant


glenn
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Comfort Diner (45th St.) owner Ira Freehof has taken his concept across the river to Jersey City and gone “upscale.” At least that’s sort of what the press release said.

I was very much looking forward to its opening. When I was told it was going to open around Labor Day, I marked the date in my brain. But the restaurant clearly looked closed every time I drove by in the days following Labor Day. Then someone told me they ate there. Plus they suggested that I stay away for an eternity or two. “It was among the worst culinary experiences ever.” This is from someone I respect. Even so, I defended them without ever stepping foot in the joint, “Jeez, give ‘em a break, they just opened.”

Last night I parked right in front and I swear, if I hadn’t had the previous conversation with my acquaintance, I wouldn’t have gotten out of the car. It was dim and there were no diners. And mind you, this is 8 PM on a Saturday. It was only after staring in for a few moments that I spotted a cook in one of those ridiculous looking tall chef hats. And so our experience began.

Other than some minor cosmetic changes, the place was virtually unchanged from its previous haunts, The Liberty Grille.

The good part was we had a choice of any table. The good part ends there. Aside from the extremely boring appetizers and hamburgers (2), the menu was divided into 2 areas – comfort food and lighter fare. The entrees were no more exciting than the appetizers. Being in a “comfort” restaurant, I figured it was a requirement to order “comfort food.” And by the way, I’d love for someone to precisely define comfort food. [retro, fattening, big portions?] The choices were slim and I was having trouble deciding whether to get a burger and be able to walk away with some money in my wallet. The prices completely blew my mind. While the food may be retro, the prices were 22nd century. I’m going by memory and I know I’m missing one or two “comfort” choices – there was macaroni and cheese at $14, meatloaf at $17 [!!] and 3 kinds of steaks in the 20’s. You’d have to be one adventurous soul (and a moron) to order the steak.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I ordered the macaroni and cheese. I was curious to see what made it worth so much money. The answer came shortly and I couldn’t help but think of the song lyrics, “war, what is it good for, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” It was totally tasteless despite the ton of pepper I had the waiter put on. [i called him back for an extra 20 turns of the peppermill.] I’m not lying when I say I’ve had better macaroni and cheese from a box.

Anabelle ordered from the “light” side - chicken and mashed potatoes. I think it was $16. [!!] The potatoes were saturated with butter and the chicken was as tasteless as the macaroni & cheese.

And ya know, I could forgive the lousy food based on their recent opening. But when a place charges those kinds of prices for less than ordinary food, they deserve no mercy. The Liberty Grille wasn’t any cheaper, but at least the food was decent. How I long for the good ol’ days.

Anyway, having the comfort food bug, we ventured to Jersey City’s undiscovered Torico’s Ice Cream store. This place is a jewel. All the ice cream is home made and they have a zillion flavors. I had a large coffee royale extra thick milk shake and Anabelle had 2 scoops of white chocolate. Hurry up and check this place out before word gets around. But then again, they’ve been there since Jersey City was invented, not to mention they’re on a side street and hard to find and don’t have a sign. And forget it, I’m not telling where it is. It’s mine.

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I thought I was doing everyone a service by leaving out certain info. You should really be asking for the lowdown on Torico"s :-0

Comfort Restaurant Bar & Lounge

499 Washington St.

Jersey City --- Newport area

Don't know phone number though I think they'd be flabbergasted if you made reservations. It's not byo - as a matter of fact, a press release states they have 70 different kinds of wine. However, there was no wine list.

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How come you got a press release and I didn't????

I keep telling you jersey city ain't your turf cuz it ain't really Jersey just like the statue of liberty isn't in NJ. Which reminds me - it's time for my annual request to make JC a separate forum.

Torico's is an extremely well-hidden ice cream store on the corner of 1st and Erie. There's no sign and I probably passed it a zillion times before I even knew about it, and then, only cuz someone told me about it. One would think the owner's motivation is something other than sales. I honestly can't figure the place out. Every ice cream I've had is top notch. The milkshakes are among the best I've ever had. Although there's every offering imaginable, I always end up getting a milkshake. And I learned the secret to a great shake - a lot of ice cream. And everything is so cheap, you really gotta wonder. I think the extra large thick milk shake is $4.50. The small regular shake is something like $2.25. They keep odd hours, so pay no attention to the posted hours. And they close for the winter, so you better hurry up.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Glenn,

Full disclosure – I’m Ira Freehof. I was recently made aware of this post. My initial reaction was a defensive one. I was tempted to reply immediately, but I’ve learned over the years that doing something out of anger is usually NOT the best idea. I realized that if I replied at all it would have to be done fairly. This is itself a delicate issue – how to reply in a public forum to criticism of one’s own restaurant. As I said, I felt it only fair to look into your points and reply to each directly.

The cook in the ridiculous looking chef’s hat:

It was his first day and he didn’t have a hat of his own with him. The health codes require hair restraints. Rather than disregard the codes I opted to enforce them. The only option we had at the time was the tall chef’s hat. You call it ridiculous – I call it obeying the health codes.

“Other than minor cosmetic changes, the place was virtually unchanged”:

You’re absolutely correct in that we didn’t change the layout of the restaurant. I’m not sure what purpose that would have served other than to waste time and money. As to the minor cosmetic changes, I suppose that depends on your definition of minor. We changed the finishes on every wall, on every chair, on every booth and banquette. In addition we redid nearly all of the flooring, the entire back bar, all of the lounge furniture, most of the kitchen equipment and all of the china, glass and silver. It was an extensive (and not inexpensive) renovation.

You called the appetizers “extremely boring”:

We have 13 appetizers on the menu including crab cakes, grilled chicken skewers with Thai peanut dipping sauce, seared tuna, oysters, a quesadilla with chorizo, Caesar salad, Buffalo wings, and half a dozen more. I’d be curious to hear from you and others what you’d expect and more importantly what you’d LIKE to see from a restaurant like ours.

You went on to say that “the menu was divided into 2 areas – comfort food and lighter fare”

In fact the 2 areas are "salads + lighter fare" and "classics old + new". As you’ve indicated, trying to precisely define comfort food is a nearly impossible task. It means different things to different people. That’s why I’ve always tried to extend the “Comfort” part of our name beyond our food. We strive to make the restaurants comfortable places to be. I believe in that regard we’ve succeeded incredibly well in Jersey City. Did you get a chance to see either the indoor or outdoor lounge?

You claimed our prices are “22nd century”

While I don’t agree with that assessment, we have in fact lowered the prices of several items. They now start at $11 – and peak at $24 for filet mignon. I also hope we’ve done a better job with some of the menu descriptions. For instance, the macaroni and cheese is described as being made with Parmesan Reggiano, Italian Fontina and truffle butter. (More on the mac and cheese in a moment.) I can assure you after looking at the menus from all the other restaurants in the Newport development our prices are reasonable by comparison. I’d like to ask the egullet readers if they consider that price range out of line. Do you?

You said we have “3 kinds of steaks in the 20’s” and “you’d have to be a moron to order the steak”

Our 3 steaks are a marinated skirt steak for $18, a dry aged 12 oz. sirloin for $22 and a ten oz. filet mignon for $24. We purchase all 3 cuts from Lehman-Colorado. They supply some of the finest steakhouses in NJ and NYC. I’d love to know what you base your statement on. I have no problem with valid criticism. You’ll see that in a minute. I DO have a problem with the kind of attack that essentially calls us ‘morons’ in a public forum with no basis for your argument.

You called the macaroni and cheese tasteless:

You were right. It wasn’t made correctly on that night. Plain and simple. When it’s done right it’s incredible. Our chef is a former sous chef from Hudson Cafeteria. It’s almost the identical recipe for their highly acclaimed Truffled Macaroni and Cheese. Glenn, if you’re reading this I’d love to invite you back in as our guests to see just how delicious this dish is when it’s made correctly.

This brings me to something I want to say. Problems occur in restaurants. I consider them opportunities. If any customer tells us about a problem we’ll go out of our way to correct it. We’d be crazy not to. I can’t help but wonder why you didn’t tell anyone in the restaurant about your problems. (If you did, I’d like to know about it and what was or wasn’t done to correct it). I can’t help wonder if it’s just gotten more fun to write about bad experiences here and in forums like this. Is it more fun to write that our press release said we’d have 70 wines but we had NO wine list rather than ask for one? If I’d read that press release I know I’d ask to see the wine list. Why didn’t you? It’s actually on the back of every menu in the restaurant and while we don’t yet have 70 choices yet, we do have nearly 30. Names like Jordan, Chimney Rock, Blackstone, Rudd, Markham, Purple Mountain and others. We’ve taken steps with staff training to make sure that every customer is made aware of it.

I firmly believe that a person’s perception is in fact their reality. You had a bad experience. I’m sorry for that. As I said, I’d like to invite you and Anabelle in as our guests. If you’d like to take me up on my offer please call me at the restaurant (201) 533-1776. I hope to hear from you and more importantly to change your perception to match what I believe is OUR reality.

Thanks,

Ira

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Ira, thanks for responding. However, I'd hate to have heard your initial reaction to my post :))

Much of my reaction was due to my high expectations based on your place(s) in the city which I've dined at several times. And I stand by what I said -- the experience was all around unsatisfactory especially compared to your other businesses. If the prices weren't so sky high, I could've shrugged it off to the place just opening.

As for not raising any issues at the time I was there, what should I have said? If the service was poor, I would have said something. If the food in my opinion was not prepared properly and was inedible, I would have said something. Yes, the macaroni and cheese was awful, but I figured that's the recipe. What should I have said?

I'm glad you decided to lower the prices and even more so, that your macaroni and cheese was off that night. But I stand by my comment that your prices were 22nd century on the night I was there. Surely you can understand my being peeved at paying $14 for something that didn't taste as good as the stuff that comes out of a box? I honestly wanted to order the meatloaf, but I couldn't bring myself to pay $17 for it. And I'm quite sure all 3 steaks were in the 20s when I was there.

My comment about the steaks and morons should have been elaborated on and I apologize. It wasn't aimed personally at Comfort - it was meant to be a general comment about ordering steaks at a place other than a steakhouse.

The chef's hat comment was simply a general observation - hell, cooks at the restaurant I worked at wore those hats for a short time and I cracked up every time I walked through the kitchen. You shouldn't take things so personally.

Same with the decor. I was not being critical that you hadn't changed much. I happen to like it and used to eat at your Comfort's previous incarnation frequently, Liberty Grille, because it was a comfortable atmosphere.

Despite our previous experience, Anabelle and I ate at Comfort again - a week ago last Sunday for lunch. I was tempted to add another post, but I figured enough was enough. We ate outside and chose the table all the way at the southern end. The table was absolutely filthy! I don't mean filthy from food - it just hadn't been wiped down seemingly for days. I asked the busser to clean it and he sheepishly apologized and said he wasn't expecting anyone to sit all the way at the end. The fact that the table was dirty wasn't that bothersome to me - it was what I perceived to be a general lack of care on management's part. All I could think of was why there was no owner or manager overseeing such details. Re the food, Anabelle's omelette (I forgot what kind) was okay, but my hamburger broke into several pieces when I picked it up.

I truly hope you succeed and work out all the kinks. A place like Comfort is right for the area and is my type of place. No hard feelings and I appreciate your taking the time to write a thoughtful response. thanks for the offer to check out the macaroni and cheese again. I'll give you a ring.

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