New Chef Freshens Montclair’s Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen

Executive chef Kenny West is flipping the meaning of “bar food” on its head.

Clockwise from left: Chips n' dip, prawns, and shishito peppers. Photo by Shelby Vittek

When it opened in early 2018, Pharmacie Liquor Bar featured a menu by executive chef Nick Greiss (former executive sous chef at Common Lot) that included modern takes on bar favorites: potato chips, French onion soup, grilled cheese, flatbreads and more. And of course, there were cocktails and other drinks.

Pharmacie’s design is spacious and modern, with Art Deco influences. But its most appealing feature is that it’s attached to the Wellmont Theater, offering an opportunity for concertgoers to bring drinks into the shows through the pass-through that connects the two spaces.

The Pharmacie’s biggest draw also presented its biggest challenge: How do you make an event-space restaurant successful on nights without an event?

It’s a question they’ve struggled to answer. But more than a year later, it seems the Pharmacie is finding its footing, with a few changes that have been made along the way. First, there was a name change—from the Pharmacie Liquor Bar to Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen—and then a change in chefs.

Last July, chef Kenny West joined the team as executive chef. Though it wasn’t until a couple months ago that his menu changes were rolled out.

Born in Paterson and raised in Clifton, West is a graduate of the International Culinary Center’s ALMA culinary program in Parma, Italy. He’s worked in Jersey kitchens at Pig & Prince in Montclair, Desi’s Restaurant and Bar in North Caldwell (now closed), Orama in Edgewater (also closed), as well as in other restaurants in Venice and New York. West is also a 2016 “Chopped” champion.

In January, West pulled the opening pub fare off the menu and added his own creative takes. “I wanted to make food at a place that I would want to eat at,” says West. “Show-goers are looking for something relatively quick because there is limited time before the concert, and regular diners want an experience.” His take was to fulfill the hopes of both types of customer.

Chips n' dip. Photo by Shelby Vittek
pharmacie montclair
Tuna tartare "nachos." Photo courtesy of chef Kenny West
Octopus lettuce wraps. Photo by Shelby Vittek
Labneh with stewed chickpeas and za’atar. Photo by Shelby Vittek

Out with the spinach artichoke dip, and in with togarashi-seasoned prawns with uni mayo, nori salted shishito peppers, and the delicious labneh with stewed chickpeas and za’atar. Perhaps the most inventive item on the new menu is West’s take on chips n’ dip. The fresh, crisp potato chips come with crème fraiche, a tiny round of yolk jam and a small pile of cured trout roe, all of which are dusted with savory togarashi spice. They’re the fanciest rendition of chips n’ dip I’ve ever had.

With West in the kitchen, Pharmacie now blurs the line between a casual local hangout and a restaurant worth crossing zip codes for. Sure, you can order nachos, but West’s take isn’t what you’d expect: tuna tartare is served over rice crisps with jalapeño and a ginger and yuzu koshu dressing, topped with fresh lime zest and togarashi. Yes, there are lettuce wraps, but not just any lettuce wraps. Stuff your lettuce wraps with grilled octopus, spiced cantaloupe, pickled onions and uni mayo, and you’ll never want to eat any other kind again. Trust me.

Pharmacie’s cocktails are good, especially the Detox, with gin, ginger wort, cucumber, agave and lemon; and the East Coast Negroni. Though the food is what excited me most during my visit.

While the unique challenge of operating as Wellmont Theater’s attached bar and restaurant still exists, West has created a menu worth coming for—show or no show. “It is a challenge indeed but one that I have embraced,” he says.

Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen, 398 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair; 973-968-5303. Open Tues-Sat from 4 pm to 2 am; Sunday from 4 pm to 11:30 pm.

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