By Sally Deering
Step inside Blue Moon Mexican Café on Montgomery Street in downtown Jersey City and you’re transported to a warm and inviting Mexican ‘courtyard’ with large comfy booths and tables under the warm glow of paper lanterns strung across the dining room and an upstairs balcony of tables that overlook this sexy, spacious restaurant.
On a snowy afternoon right after the Christmas holiday, I stopped in to meet Carlos Ortiz, who owns and manages Blue Moon Mexican Café with his brother Jose Ortiz. Together with their sisters who help with accounting and marketing and their mother who helped with the overall design, the Ortizes – who are originally from El Salvador – have created a warm and relaxed eatery with a terrific menu of Mexican dishes.
“We wanted you to feel like you were in the courtyard of some Mexican villa,” Carlos Ortiz says. “We put in a lot of effort to make this place as warm as possible.”
While the atmosphere is warm, the cuisine is hot and at times spicy. From the appetizers menu, I tried the Crabcakes with chipotle remoulade with mango salsa. The Crabcakes are crunchy on the outside and moist and spicy on the inside and as Carlos says, it’s a great mix of sweet and savory playing off each other.
Blue Moon’s version of buffalo wings are the Moon Wings served with blue cheese dressing, carrots, celery and seasoned as hot as you can stand them from mild to ‘don’t ask’ ($8.95-$16.95). Chili and Sandwiches include the Full Moon Chili, a meaty, cheesy Texas-style chili with hot chunks of prime sirloin steak ($ 5.95 a cup; $10.95 a bowl); and ,the Mexican Mayhem Burger served with guacamole, jalapenos, fried onions, salsa, and smothered in pepper jack cheese ($11.95).
Blue Moon Mexican Café offers many fine traditional dishes and the menu is extensive. Of the taco dishes, I tried Tacos Rancheros, marinated steak topped in ranchero salsa served with Mexican rice, refried beans and white corn tortillas ($14.95). The steak was tender and bursting with flavor; the rice moist and the beans perfectly seasoned – a great dish.
“There’s something magical about the Tacos Rancheros,” Carlos says. “It’s very popular.”
For New Year’s Eve, the Ortizes are hosting a terrific New Year’s Eve Party – a ‘Blue Moon Package’ that for $125 per person offers an open bar, buffet, champagne toast at midnight and a DJ who will spin tunes and rock in the new year. All you need is a reservation; although if there’s space to accommodate last minute walk-ins, the Ortiz brothers will accommodate.
“We recommend reservations but should there be openings we’ll never turn anyone away,” Carlos says.
With years of experience working his way up the ladder from dishwasher to cook to manager, Carlos says he and his brother have a hands-on philosophy when it comes to running Blue Moon Mexican Café. They believe in building strong relationships with the staff and although the restaurant only opened a month ago, Carlos says he and his brother feel a real bond with their new neighbors.
“Being here in Jersey City has been interesting,” Carlos says. “The day of Hurricane Sandy was our official opening day. The day after Sandy hit, we’re slopping out water and mud, assessing the damage and wondering if we made the right decision coming here. As soon as we cleaned up, people started arriving and completely reaffirmed our decision. The people are warm and hospitable and we already have regulars. We’re looking forward to seeing how we develop along with the city and the relationships we build. It was a smart decision and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings.”
If you go:
Blue Moon Mexican Café
117 Montgomery St
Jersey City, NJ
Sun-Thurs: Open at 11:30 am; Kitchen closes 11 pm; Bar closes 12 midnight
Fri and Sat: Open at 11 am; Kitchen closes 12 midnight; Bar closes 2 am