Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza, Beloved Mom-and-Pop Restaurant, Closes Doors in Montclair

Locals packed Ruthie's tables on the back patio to hear live blues music, mingle with friends and sometimes even dance on the sidewalk.

Band playing and people dancing at Ruthie's Ruthie's Bar-B-Q & Pizza in Montclair
Co-owner Ruth Perretti dances on the closing night of Ruthie's Bar-B-Q & Pizza in Montclair. Photo: Julia Martin

Montclair certainly has no shortage of restaurants. But though a stylish new eatery seems to open almost daily in what has been called the restaurant capital of New Jersey, mom-and-pop restaurants with personality are becoming an endangered species. 

Take Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza, which closed in July after 15 years on Chestnut Street. The town institution—run by Ruth Perretti and Eric Kaplan, who lived above the restaurant—was known for its funky decor and live blues music. Crowds of locals, with kids and dogs in tow, flocked there on sultry summer nights, packing the tables that spilled onto the streets of the residential neighborhood a block from Montclair High School. Chef Eric cranked out the ribs and pizzas and, sometimes, blue jams with the band. Ruthie, a former executive with Ralph Lauren who grew up in town and dreamed of running a restaurant in that very spot, circulated among her guests, sometimes joining them for a drink and, later, a dance. 

Fancy it was not, but Ruthie’s had everything you needed—ice buckets and corkscrews for your wine; plastic cups and paper plates and rolls of brown paper towels for your sauce-covered fingers. High school kids brought your order from the kitchen to the back patio, dodging drum kits and guitarists while juggling platters loaded with comfort food, the screen door swinging closed behind them. 

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Most of all, Ruthie’s supplied big helpings of community. The couple are big supporters of the town’s nonprofits and often hosted fundraisers at the restaurant for those in need. Each year, in the runup to the Montclair Jazz Festival, Ruthie invited young musicians from Jazz House Kids to perform on the patio. In addition to giving them jobs, she nurtured a flood of highschoolers every lunchtime, whether they purchased something or just wanted to play Minecraft with their friends on the back patio. The mosaic mural lining the patio wall was created by students from the Montclair Coop school across the street. 

Ruthie and Eric may be leaving Montclair, but they are not leaving the food business. An hour west in Warren County, the couple have a small farm. A few years ago, they started growing organic wheat as part of a collective that is attempting to restore the land and Musconetcong watershed after decades of contamination from agricultural chemicals. They used their organic whole-grain wheat in their pizzas and still sell it to bakeries, like Le French Dad in Montclair. Recently, they bought and refurbished a building at a former machine-repair shop and opened Marksboro Mills, a community grain hub where farmers can bring their heirloom wheat for milling and, eventually, sell their produce. The space will also host cooking demonstrations and other classes for the community.

Though the restaurant building on Chestnut Street is for sale, the name and brand, Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza, is not; the couple is taking it with them to Marksboro. Maybe in the future, after a drive into the countryside, New Jersey residents will get to experience the taste, sound and community spirit of Ruthie’s again.

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