River View Observer -Your Source for Fine and Causal Dining Presents Ten Ingredients
By Sally Deering
Since June 2002, The Merchant bar and restaurant on Grove Street has been the unofficial watering hole for city workers who come in to relax after a hard day at City Hall. In fact, it’s not unusual to see the mayor sit down in the back with members of his staff. Just last week, Jersey City’s newly-elected Mayor Steve Fulop celebrated his election at The Merchant.
Owners Dave O’Brien and his sister Anne-Marie share the responsibilities of running the neighborhood pub which features a beautiful bar and two large, red-bricked rooms for dining. They serve an American menu with regional twists, says O’Brien who also is Executive Chef. The brother and sister team hail originally from Ireland and although the menu is considered American, there’s a nod here and there to their Irish roots.
The Merchant offers Lunch & Dinner, Brunch and Late Night Menus with Appetizers, Salads, Sandwiches, Pastas and Entrees to choose from. There’s a House Specialty, too, The Gourmet Short Rib Burger with Horseradish, Chive, Cheddar, Bourbon-Bacon, Heirloom Tomato, Iceberg Lettuce and Beer-Fried Onions on a Brioche Bun and served with Hand-Cut Fries. ($15)
Other outstanding dishes include the Fried Calamari appetizer ($10); the Cobb Salad ($11); Mac & Cheese ($10/$14); and the Char Grilled Angus Skirt Steak ($18).
On a busy Friday, Dave O’Brien took time out of his busy schedule to share with Riverview Observer’s readers his “Ten Ingredients” for The Merchant’s success.
Let’s meet Chef Dave O’Brien!
RVO: Dave, how would you describe The Merchant’s menu?
DO: It’s an American menu with regional twists. We just brought on a new burger — a short rib chuck blend on a brioche bun that comes with bacon, horseradish, chive, cheese, beer-fried onions, Iceberg lettuce and Heirloom tomatoes, and served with hand-cut fries. We started it six weeks ago and it’s a huge hit. It’s like a gourmet burger.
RVO: How did you come up with the Gourmet Burger?
DO: We’ve had the same burger on the menu for 8-10 years. I visited Upstate New York and had an incredible burger there. A lot of our customers are regulars and I try the food on them before I put it on the menu. I see what they like and don’t like.
RVO: You and your sister Anne-Marie owned The Embankment restaurant in Jersey City. Why did you sell?
DO: We had it for four and a half years. It was getting tiring and we wanted to concentrate on The Merchant and do what we’ve done best the past 11 years.
RVO: How did you become a restaurateur?
DOJ: I’ve done hospitality since I worked at my uncle’s hotel the Hilltop in Cork, Ireland. It was a full hotel – 50 rooms — and I worked in the kitchen a couple of summers. Since then, I’ve always worked in bars and hotels. My passion now is definitely the kitchen and the food.
RVO: Did you train professionally to be a chef?
DO: I’m self-taught.
RVO: Are there any Irish dishes on The Merchant’s menu?
DO: We don’t really advertise ourselves as an Irish place, but we do have an Irish Breakfast which is common in Ireland. It has Irish bacon, Irish sausage, Irish beans, (baked beans in a tomato sauce), and fried mushrooms. We serve it with bread soaked in bacon fat and then fried. It tastes absolutely delicious. It’s on our brunch menu under the section, “Hung-Over”. You have that and you’re ready for more beer.
RVO: What is The Merchant’s signature dish?
DO: The old signature dish was the Skirt Steak, which is still on the menu, and served with sautéed mushrooms and onions and fries. I’m trying to make the Gourmet Short Rib Burger our new signature dish.
RVO: Anything else new at The Merchant?
DO: We update our specials every day for our regulars and we’ve upgraded the furniture and TV, but the best thing about The Merchant is our consistency. We have staff members who have worked here since we opened. It’s like going to “CHEERS”; everybody knows your name.
RVO: The Merchant is across from Jersey City Hall; have you served any mayors?
DO: We’ve served four Jersey City mayors during our 11 years here: Mayors Glenn Cunningham, Harvey Smith, Jerramiah Healy and Steve Fulop. \We stay on the sidelines and try to please everybody. The Merchant is a neutral zone politically. We congratulate whoever wins and console whoever loses.
RVO: You have a lot of space at The Merchant do you host parties, too?
DO: In Ireland and England, pubs are like a meeting place. Everything is run from the pub. I have a soccer team from here: the Jersey City FC (football club); it’s an over-30s league. Everybody comes here and hangs out. This is our meeting place and then we go and play soccer.
We have writers clubs, reading groups, softball teams. We even have a knitting club. Where are you going to get a soccer club and a knitting club meeting in the same place?
If you go:
The Merchant Bar & Restaurant
279 Grove St
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11:30 am -4:00pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat, 4 -11:00 pm; Sun: 4-10 pm
Brunch: Sat, Sun: 11 am -4 pm
Late Night Menu: Fri, Sat: 11 pm -1 am