Spotlight On… Blu Alehouse!
It was a rainy Monday this past week when we made the trip to Riverdale.
Riverdale isn’t exactly close to Cape May. It’s about 170 miles up the Parkway, and the rain that day made the trip that much more of an adventure.
“We’re a destination,” Mark Bougas, General Manager of Blu Alehouse at 92 NJ 23 in Riverdale explained. “People have to seek us out. By the time you notice us on this street, you’re already passed us.”
It’s true. It’s easy to miss. But — believe us on this — it’s definitely worth the trip.
“I just had a meeting with all of the other GMs this morning,” Mark said, “and our location in Woodbridge wants to bring on Cape May IPA. He asked me how it was doing for us, and I told him, ‘Honestly, really well. It’s definitely worth it to bring it in.’”
The Riverdale location, located in one of the New Jersey-iest areas of New Jersey — nary a left turn to be made –, is one of three Blu Alehouses, with a fourth under construction. Each location is the same general idea, although, with Riverdale being the first, they’re usually the ones experimenting with new ideas. They’ve got thirty-three taps; the Woodbridge location has a mindboggling fifty-six.
“He has a little more room to play around,” Mark says, laughing. “The Weekhawken location is overlooking the New York City skyline. It’s a beautiful location.”
As their flagship location, the Riverdale Blu Alehouse is big. Bigger than big. Huge.
Upon entering, you’ll notice the ample bar space: enough to handle a gigantic crowd on, say, Thanksgiving Eve or New Years or for the [big game]. The pale blue marble bar is enormous, with a chilled strip running the perimeter.
Beyond the bar, you’ll find scores of walnut tables set in booths along the walls and throughout the dining room, the gas fireplace adding a romantic touch to an otherwise austere brick-and-marble interior.
“We’re great for a first date,” Mark says. “You meet someone, you want to come here, great. You buy her a nice seafood paella, get yourself a nice cowboy ribeye, you’ve spent a good amount of money and you feel good about yourself.”
They do numerous events throughout the year, highlighting major holidays — Valentine’s Day is always a big day for Blu Alehouse. There’s a dedicated DJ booth set up above the entrance, a spindly spiral staircase leading up to the second level. On Thursdays, they have live bands. The Nerds — a party band-slash-institution — will be playing several shows there this year.
“We’re very adaptable,” Mark says. “None of the tables are nailed down, so we can take out all the tables, all the chairs, and fit everything in the back. When we do larger events, we adapt to what we’re doing.
“We try to keep things interesting. We feel that we can cater to the diverse aspects of our town.”
Coming upon their six-year anniversary soon, this is definitely the place you want to be for any big game. They’ve got an astounding 66 televisions throughout the space, all tuned to sports in their various incarnations.
“The Woodbridge location has a 330-inch video wall,” Mark tells us, the excitement in his voice palpable. “It’s thirty TVs that can be one seamless image, four different images, six different images. It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely insane.”
While Blu Alehouse is definitely a sports bar, it’s also a great place for families and kids.
“When you come into this atmosphere, no one really shies away,” Mark says, “but, again, with March Madness coming up, if you want to have a good time, have a good drink with your friends, have a good appetizer, you can. You can have all of those experiences here.”
Blu Alehouse brought Cape May Brewing Company on almost as soon as we were distributing in Morris County. Mark discovered us while he was in town for a vacation this past summer.
“That’s how I became familiar with the brewery,” he says. “I was very much addicted to Cape May IPA during my vacation.”
Unfortunately, Mark didn’t make it to the Tasting Room while he was here, but he was able to find us on tap throughout town.
“I have another vacation planned in Wildwood this year,” he says, “so I definitely plan to visit the brewery. Don’t worry.”
When he came back from vacation, he inquired if he could get us on tap at Blu Alehouse, and, interestingly enough, we’d just begun delivering to his area. In fact, Sales Manager Eric Wormann was sitting in Blu Alehouse’s parking lot when they called.
“I’d just come in and dropped off the new account information,” Eric laughs. “I thought it was a prank.”
“Yeah, but I got you guys in and it’s been a hit,” Mark says. “It’s been doing very well.”
Mark plans on taking on Cape May White as a permanent line, as his previous Belgian white offering is no longer on the market.
“I want to see how it does,” he says. “When it comes to Belgian whites, the typical way to go is Allagash, and I choose not to do that. I wanted to get something new in here. I sold five kegs a month of my previous white, so I’m hoping to have that same success with you guys.”
Blu Alehouse is beginning a series of Taco Tuesdays next week, leading up to Cinco de Mayo, which, fortuitously, falls on a Tuesday this year.
“I’m thinking about bringing on Tan Limes for Taco Tuesdays,” Mark said. “That’ll be interesting to put on.”
We held a Tap Takeover at Blu Alehouse back in October. It was the first Tap Takeover for Blu Alehouse where they’d ordered exclusively half kegs instead of sixtels — essentially three times as much beer as they’d normally get for a Tap Takeover.
“We blew through it,” Mark said. “It was all very well received. Even the Apple Bomb, it was very unique and people loved it. Every single one was unique in its own right. It went really well.”
They try to keep as many New Jersey breweries on as possible, with seven on while we stopped in.
“I’m always happy to see a beer like this do well,” Mark says. “A New Jersey brewery. You guys are doing this on your own. It’s always a positive thing. I know I have thirty-three lines, but it’s truthfully hard to find somebody that’s self-distributed. But, when a beer does well, a beer does well. I like it when New Jersey breweries can pull through, and you’re making good beer.”
You’re able to get a flight of beers at Blu Alehouse, as well. You can get your choice of four beers for $15 — add a buck for high-ABV brews — on a snazzy chrome holder and in 6¾-ounce glasses — much larger than the typical four-ounce pours you find in a flight.
“It’s a lot of beer for fifteen dollars,” Mark says. “We go through a lot of flights. It’s a great way to sample four beers. And we put cards with the beer’s description on there. What guests will do is, if there’s a beer they like, they take the card home with them and go to the liquor store and try to get it.”
While Blu Alehouse is definitely a sports bar, it’s upscale. It’s got a bit of swank going on. It’s not a burger-and-a-beer joint. Well… it is, but the burger is on a fried mac-and-cheese bun and the beer is Snag & Drop.
“We consider ourselves a ‘casual-plus’ dining experience,” Mark says. “It’s a very Americanized menu.”
Of course, they have wings — but you can get them mild, medium, hot, BBQ, garlic ale, Asian glaze, whiskey glaze, island sauce, or garlic parmesan. Of course, they have nachos — but they’re made with a six-hour, house-smoked pork butt, hand-pulled and drenched in their delectable, house-made barbecue sauce. Of course, they have burgers — but they have eleven different types, with Maine lobster or jalapeño steak sauce or with a bison burger patty. There’s a 20-ounce cowboy ribeye. A 12-ounce pork chop. A Pot Pie Sandwich.
Other menus aspire to become this menu.
When you’re perusing the menu, look for the blue flame — it denotes Blu Alehouse favorites.
“We’re a 100% scratch kitchen,” Mark explains. “We make everything down to the sauces and dressings and cutting our own steaks in-house.”
You can almost always find a decent bite to eat whenever you might be hungry — the kitchen is open 11am to 10pm on weekdays, 11pm on weekends, with the bar open until 1am on weekdays and 3am on weekends.
“I’m a big fan of the Code Blu Burger,” Mark says — the one of the aforementioned fried mac-and-cheese bun.
That was something we needed to try, and, truly, it must be seen to be believed. Thankfully, it’s served with an equally gigantic steak knife, because there’s no way you’re getting your mouth around it unless you’re able to unhinge your jaw.
“I feel like if you finish it, they should put your name on the wall,” said Marketing Assistant Kristen Taylor, along for photographs.
We didn’t finish it. Our name was not getting on the wall. Nonetheless, it was both an excellent dish and a flagrant display of macho bravado — apparently, they cook up the mac and cheese, spread it in a flat pan and let it cool, then cut it out, bread it with panko, and deep fry the “bun”. Excellent with a cold glass of Cape May IPA, the zesty kick of the beer brought out the flavors of the beef and was bitter enough to cut through the richness of the mac and cheese. Served with a side of Jersey Shore Fries — perhaps the only thing Blu Alehouse doesn’t make in-house –, if you only need one meal a day, make it the Code Blu Burger.
That takes commitment. And a hollow leg. Regardless, the quality of the food was a welcome surprise.
“Having that American dining atmosphere with an upscale sports bar,” Mark says, “it’s not that easy to find. When you go to a sports bar, you expect that, bar, microwave-style food, and it’s not that. That’s not what we deliver. We deliver fresh foods, fresh products, and I feel like you can taste the difference. We don’t even have a microwave in the kitchen here. Everything is very homemade, and you can taste the difference.”
The Blu Nachos, with the six-hour, house-smoked pulled pork, homemade chili, cheddar jack cheese, peppadew peppers, and scallions were some of the best nachos we’d sampled in a while. There was an excellent balance between the chili and the pulled pork, and Mark is right — you can taste the difference. Pair this with a Snag & Drop: an excellent brew for anything barbecued, Snag pulls the flavor from the pork, it mitigates the spiciness of the chili, and the orange citrus from the beer is an outstanding match for this entire dish.
Notably, the beer at Blu Alehouse is served in nucleated glasses — each glass contains laser etching at the bottom meant to give something for the carbonation in the beer to react, allowing for a greater release of aromatics. A nice touch, and it tells us that Blu Alehouse knows what they’re doing.
Their Avocado Eggrolls, filled with fresh avocados, sun-dried tomatoes, and cilantro, are wrapped with a crispy eggroll wrapper and served with a side of tamarind cashew sauce. A millennial twist on much-loved comfort food, the tamarind cashew sauce was sweet with a spicy kick — in essence, practically made to be paired with Cape May IPA. The fruitiness of our flagship brew balanced both the sweet and the spice and intermingled with the “good fats” in the avocado beautifully.
We gave their Vegetarian Burger a try, as well. This writer is a well-established omnivore; however, Blu Alehouse’s veggie burger was a delight. This was a far cry from the dry disks of black beans and sadness that you may be familiar with: Blu Alehouse uses all fresh, shredded Jersey vegetables to create their patty, then binds them together with their house-made hummus. Chock full of delicious veggies and served on a multigrain bun, if you’re looking for something a little lighter than, say, the Code Blu Burger, their Vegetarian Burger is worth a try. Wash it down with a glass of Snag & Drop — you’ll find that the fruitiness of Snag is a perfect match for the veggies.
“I know it’s my job to say it,” Mark says, “but I am 100% behind the food. Our Executive Chef, Ken Stark, was at Ruth’s Chris, and our other Executive Chef, Eric Dewes, was at the Cheesecake Factory, so there’s a lot of restaurant experience in the menu design, and they’re all really creative.”
Blu Alehouse revamps their menu each year, usually in the autumn, bringing on new dishes and retiring older ones.
“We try to innovate,” Mark says. “We run monthly specials, a unique Happy Hour menu, a unique football menu, a gluten free menu, a lunch menu — in addition to the regular menu.”
You’ll find the lunch menu from 11am to 3pm, and Happy Hour is from 3:30pm to 6:30pm, with uniquely-priced food items, beer, wine, and cocktail specials.
Ultimately, Blu Alehouse has built their success on having a deep understanding of who they are and what they do.
“We’re unique in our own rights,” Mark says. “Our menu is diverse. We cater to all aspects of the community. We don’t struggle with our identity. We know who we are, what we’re selling, and we make sure we do that great every single day.”
For more information on Blu Alehouse, see their website at www.blualehouse.com. With locations in Riverdale, Woodbridge, West Nyack, and Weehawken (opening soon), click the links for maps and directions.