Spotlight On… Red Rock Tap and Grill!
In a weird way, Red Bank is a lot like Cape May. They’re missing the beaches, but their downtown is trendy as hell. Many people know it as the home of Kevin Smith — the filmmaker responsible for such classic films as Clerks., Mallrats, Dogma, Chasing Amy, etc., etc., etc. — yet, it’s so much more.
Some 300 shops, numerous art galleries, a historic theatre, trendy bars, and modern restaurants are enveloped by Victorian architecture and enough historical markers to keep any self-proclaimed history buff infotained the whole day through.
Sounds a lot like home.
However, if you’ve had a Vitamin D overload and your tan is the envy of your friends, Red Bank is the perfect destination for browsing through some voguish shops, finding the perfect outfit for a night on the town, and then not having to go far to find that perfect night on the town. And, situated on the southern bank of the Navesink River, you won’t miss Cape May’s beaches for very long.
There, about as close as one can get to the river at 14 Wharf Ave., you’ll find one of the highlights of Red Bank, Red Rock Tap and Grill.
For twenty-five years, Brannigan’s sat at the spot now claimed by Red Rock, a longtime dive bar with a very loyal crowd. Three years ago, Paul Marcotte bought the establishment, refurbished it, and reopened it as the Red Rock seven months later.
A few weeks ago, we sat down with General Manager Patty Rasoilo. Apparently, as she’d worked at both bars, Patty comes with the building. She was able to give us some insight as to what Brannigan’s may have looked like only four short years ago.
“Originally, it was just the bar with another smaller bar in the middle,” she tells us. “It wasn’t much more than a local hangout.”
The interior is — for lack of a better word — snug. Brannigan’s was a tiny, little hole-in-the-wall, and, while Red Rock is certainly trying to maximize what space they have, the laws of physics have bounds.
However, what the interior lacks in space it makes up for in character, and then some. The tables in Red Rock are built with reclaimed wood and concrete from Brannigan’s original look, much of the original exposed brick has been retained, but the bar is now backed with a wood pattern that reflects the spirit of the original while opening the conversation to include words like “modern”.
Outside, the parking lot-slash-seating area has numerous picnic tables at ground level, with a number of terraces — many with dedicated bars featuring Always Ready and The Bog in cans — leading up to a rooftop bar offering spectacular views of the river.
“I love being outside, so I think it’s great,” Patty says. “People bring their dogs to the parking lot.”
However, with the lion’s share of the seating outside, Red Rock was quickly becoming a half-year enterprise, with the crowds that flock there in the warmer months finding no place to sit during the colder ones.
So, they’re fixing that by covering some of the outdoor seating.
“They’re moving the stairs so they’ll be outside,” Patty tells us, “and they’re covering up top — the tower area, we call it. They’re enclosing that with some glass doors. So, we’ll be able to utilize more space in the wintertime, because right now it’s limited.”
Furthermore, we can see Red Rock being the perfect spot for game night. There are televisions everywhere — we even found a coax cable running along the fence in the parking lot seating area, waiting for one more television to be added outside. While there were vantage points everywhere, characterizing this spot as a sports bar would be a misnomer.
The 16-line tap list at the main bar at Red Rock rotates through the seasonals of some of the big-name breweries, with some old favorites mixed in with names local to Red Bank. Two lines rotate off, and we’ve been lucky enough to snatch them up when we can. They’ve had Always Ready on in the past, and this spring they’ve been wise to pick up The Bog.
“Morgan posted on social media that The Bog was coming soon,” Patty tells us, “and we got a lot of good feedback. Friends of hers travelled really far for it. I like it a lot. It’s a perfect balance: not overly sweet, but not really heavy, either.”
However, with a kitchen open until 11 every night, the food is what sets Red Rock apart from some of the other bars in Red Bank.
“Our food is soooo good,” Patty enthuses. “It’s casual but with a flair, eclectic but unpretentious.”
We perused the menu, oohing and aahing over some of the more extraordinary dishes, such as a filet mignon BLAT (the A is for avocado), the piglet sandwich (pork loin, nduja [a spicy, spreadable sausage], broccoli rabe, and provolone on semolina with a side of vodka sauce), and the hot dog of the month (with prime rib meatballs). Patty helped us select some of the must-try dishes.
“The tater tots are awesome, but they’re addicting,” Patty laughs. “The duck confit is definitely a favorite.”
These tots did not disappoint — Napoleon Dynamite would definitely have told you to get your own tots. When they’d brought them out, I was certain that they’d brought the wrong dish: you couldn’t even see the tater tots through the mountains of duck confit in a red wine demi-glace. Topped with scallions and gorgonzola cheese — the sharpness of the cheese was a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the demi-glace –, it’s easy to see how one could become addicted to this dish. The sweetness of The Bog balanced the entire dish: we never realized how delicious gorgonzola cheese and cranberries could be.
“Oooh, octopus salad,” cooed Social Media and Design Alchemist Courtney Rosenberg, who was along for photographs. “You don’t see that a lot, and I don’t understand why.”
You definitely don’t see octopus salad enough. It harkened back to the scungilli salad you might find on an Italian table during the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, with artichokes, arugula, gigante beans, tomato, and capers. It was insanely delicious, and The Bog paired well with the spiciness of the arugula.
“Short rib tacos are my favorite,” Patty tells us.
They’ve got a wide assortment of tacos, including fish, chicken, pork belly, boom boom shrimp, in addition to the aforementioned short rib. We told her to tell the chef to whip up whichever he thought was the most photogenic.
“I told them to bring me the prettiest tacos,” Patty laughs. “They were looking at me like, ‘Really, Patty?!?’ Yep, the prettiest tacos.”
Luckily, the short rib tacos were both beautiful and delicious. They had a kick to them that was smoky and blessedly not overwhelming. With the lettuce, pico de gallo, queso fresco, and chipotle aioli drizzle, the flavors came together perfectly, barely held together with an impossibly light and airy tortilla. Sweet and spicy are always the way to go, and the sweetness of The Bog was delicious with these perfectly spicy tacos.
Sales Manager Mike Laferrera was in the mood for a burger, and, when you’re evaluating a menu for the first time, you can’t go wrong with the burger named for the establishment. We ordered the Red Rock burger with bacon and cheddar, and it came out piled high on an insanely delicious buttered brioche bun, dripping with melted cheese, juicy and cooked to perfection. You might not think to pair a burger with The Bog, but the tartness of the cranberry and the sweetness of the shandy was a surprising balance to the fats in the cheese and the bacon and the beef.
Thankfully, Chef Brian Imbriale stopped by the table as we were finishing our meals, allowing us to offer our accolades in person. He proudly mentioned a recent write-up in JerseyBites.com, with the reviewer gushing nearly as much as we have.
While Red Rock is perfect for revelers of all ages, with Katy Perry, Elton John and Kiki Dee, Brittany Spears, and that perennial Jersey boy Bon Jovi pumping through the speakers while we were there, there’s definitely a fun vibe to Red Rock.
“It is fun,” Patty says. “You’ll get a nice mix of ages. At ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, the young kids come out, but you’ll see kids running around outside, so there are a lot of families. It’s really all ages. Everyone comes out.”
They’ll be bringing this vibe a few miles east, having recently bought Dive! Coastal Bar & Food Joint in Sea Bright, known for its burgers, tacos, and 18-brew tap list.
“It’ll be the Ocean House Tap and Grill,” Brian tells us. “We’re shooting for a Memorial Day opening or a little after.”
Red Rock has a big weekend planned for Memorial Day, with Brian Kirk & the Jirks scheduled to rock the house post-brunch on Memorial Day Sunday, so they may push back the opening of Ocean House.
Regardless, everyone enjoys Red Rock’s Sunday Brunch, served from 10 to 1.
“Nothing on that menu’s normal,” Brian says with a laugh. “The breakfast lasagna’s unreal.”
The breakfast lasagna sounds in-sane: “Everything you have at breakfast in a layered form.” Thin pancakes, bacon, sausage, cheese, scrambled eggs, and finished with an agave cream sauce. Breakfast sammies, waffles, avocado toast, as well as some lunch dishes round out the brunch menu.
“Brunch brings a mix of everyone,” Patty reports through hearsay — Sunday is her day off. “I work Saturday mornings, and it’s a lot of families. I think it’s a way for parents to come in with their kids and grab a drink while getting in some family time and a good meal for the kids.”
Red Rock’s family atmosphere extends to the workers as well.
“Everybody that I work with, we’re definitely a family,” Patty tells us. “Most of us have been here since it started, and my boss is very good to all of us. We all have a good time, and the customers can tell. That’s probably the best thing.
“And the food.”
For more information on Red Rock Tap and Grill, see their website at redrockrb.com or call (732) 747-2999.