Parts of New Jersey are seeing a revival in French dining (for example, Little Hen coming to Haddonfield, the still-under-construction Faubourg in Montclair and a forthcoming brasserie in Closter from Thomas Ciszak). But if we’re lucky enough to be living in a mini-Franco-foodie-renaissance, Brasserie of Tenafly was ahead of the curve. Owner Dorit Reiner opened the restaurant in 2006 (and later a sister restaurant in Ridgewood). And while its menu isn’t as grandly French as others, it does create a casual, dare we say chic French-American vibe that seemed to be humming along nicely when I visited a couple weekends ago.
In my mind anyway, “brasserie” conjures sound: the cheerful bustle of a busy restaurant, maybe (if you’re lucky) soft strains of accordion from a Parisian busker. This being Tenafly, no busker, but Brasserie didn’t disappoint on bustle. On a chilly Saturday mid-afternoon, with the kind of frigid gusts that have us all doubting spring, the dining room filled up quickly and comfortably. There was a set of brave parents with two toddler-age kids, a group of 20-something friends getting BYO brunch, some mini-family reunions (mine included) and a few tables of couples just happy to have a sunny daytime weekend option that was neither a jam-packed pancake house nor jam-packed diner.
Not that Brasserie is just the “other” option for a Saturday. It really is its own unique spot, gently faithful to the brasserie vibe: warm exposed brick walls, vintage French posters, rich red leather booths and banquettes, and a bright, open dining room with view of the back espresso/drinks counter. (Brasserie is BYO, but from the looks of it they’re more than ready to open your wine.) The building itself nurtures the quaint French vibe—massive brass-and-glass doors and big windows remain from the old Bower Pharmacy. Between brassy gleam and windy gusts, Brasserie had the cozy, everyday feeling of a café in Montparnasse. I’m guessing.
That everyday feeling comes through in the menu, too. Not in a bad way, either. We were eating lunch, so we weren’t likely to have any showstoppers, but everything was a bit more lush and thoughtful than a similarly priced American lunch. We started with the Quiche du Jour ($10), which was quiche with pear and Roquefort. I’ve never been…passionate for quiche, but this one was good enough to convert me. Light, creamy, subtly “eggy”—it ate almost like a dessert custard, somehow buoyant and rich on the tongue at the same time, with sweet hints from fresh pear and subtle bite from (judiciously) applied Roquefort. Basically, quiche: I get it now.
Brasserie isn’t just French, but Mediterranean (the short menus are eclectic—quesadillas, turkey and Brie, requisite burger). So the roasted cauliflower ($9) appetizer came with toasted pine nuts and a bright, lemony green sauce of parsley and tahini. Currants promised in the menu didn’t make it to the plate, but that almost didn’t matter—by the end I was using leftover quiche pastry to mop up the green sauce. (Casual chic, right?)
My mom got the Croque Monsieur ($12)—her first—and I went for the warm goat cheese crostini salad ($14). It was nice, with creamy-tangy clouds of goat cheese on whole grain, seed-studded bread. And the wholegrain mustard vinaigrette was lightly spicy, delicately applied to light greens (nothing kills fresh salad like dressing deluge), and earthy beet cubes and candied walnuts made it more of a meal. But other almost-choices (steak sandwich with caramelized onions) kept nagging at my every healthy bite.
My mom’s Croque Monsieur was fine, though maybe I’d built up the experience (“It’s like French ham and cheese, mom, but next level.”) And for the $1 more she could’ve gotten the “Madame,” with a sunny side up egg, thus yolk, thus truly next level. Both of us wanted more quiche, and scanning the lunch and breakfast menus (both are proffered on a weekend midday) and even asking for the dinner menu, we found a few things to try next time, mostly French or Mediterranean-leaning: the mushroom ragu- and truffle oil-drizzled polenta cake appetizer, mini sugar-dusted warm doughnuts with raspberry and chocolate dipping sauce, oozingly cheesy French onion soup (which we saw carefully delivered to a nearby table), and the mussels frites or ground lamb kefta. And of course, at some point, since this is called Brasserie and Jersey’s French standards are apparently rising, we’ll have to see how they do on the steak frites.
Brasserie of Tenafly, 4 Washington Street, Tenafly; 201-266-6400. Reservations are recommended for dinners, Fridays and weekends.