I found myself on Church Street in Montclair a few weeks ago. This wasn't be design, though. I had planned to go to Mancinni's, to finally try that pizza that people have been raving about. Their outgoing voice message noted that they open at 11.30 on Sundays, so off I went. Unfortunately the sign on the door noted something altogether different, and they weren't open for lunch.
Disappointed and unsure of what to eat, I took a walk up Church street. There was that Raymond's place that everyone seems to love. People were lined up, waiting 20-30 minutes for the opportunity to eat that brunch of theirs. I'm of the opinion that places like Raymond's cater to people who think they should like places like Raymond's. But that's for another post. And hey, perhaps they execute those standard brunch items really well, but I just can't get behind standard bruch foods. There's no reason that I shouldn't have the choice to eat whatever food a restaurant specializes in on a weekend afternoon, rather than being forced to choose between frittatas, steak & eggs, pancakes, waffles, and the rest of it. But that's for another post.
I walked right by Raymond's and the sheep standing around waiting for their turn, and noticed Albert's/Amici. Mostly empty. Eager servers waiting to seat you. A kitchen waiting to cook for you.
The menu had some southern influence, which didn't make much sense to me, given the name Amici, but the chicken fried steak with sausage gravy certainly caught my eye. This trip to Montclair was coming together.
I grabbed one of the several empty tables outside, and walked next door to the wine shop (the very sexy Amanti Vino) to get a bottle of sparkling rose, which was going to go perfectly with the chicken fried steak.
Unfortunately the chicken fried steak had turned into short ribs, and it wasn't available. Another dish that caught my eye was the Cajun Benedict. Poached eggs on grit cakes with andouille topped with a creole sauce. "This would go well with my sparkler," I knew.
The dish was enjoyable (the eggs were not runny enough for me), and it was really nice having the option to get these bold flavors on a Sunday afternoon.
Italian American restaurants (like Amici was) are a dime a dozen, and very rarely are they exceptional at all. Very, very rarely. Amici realized this when they hired Albert as the chef, I'm told, so they've switched concepts to leverage his strengths in southern/creole cooking. I'd like to see a wider selection of cajun/creole, but perhaps they're working on that.
Give albert's a try. Be a trailblazer, not a follower. I guarantee you'll be more satisified.
albert's Montclair : 32 Church Street : Montclair, NJ : 973.233.0300