Don’t let Zack’s Oak Bar, an elegant yet casual tavern at Third Street and Willow Avenue, fool you. Sure, it’s got an extensive beer and wine list, as well as a bar made of oak that goes back to the original tavern in the 1880s. But they also focus on their food – from shepherd’s pie to Amish chicken to fresh fish to brunch.
They also form close relationships with their regulars, who range from young professionals who stop in after work each day to a 90-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood.
Owners Gerry Farrelly and Mark Nisler – along with their wives – have been partners in the bar for 14 years. They say it’s the best kept secret in town.
It’s so addictive that some have called it “crack chicken.”
They use local vendors and boast fresh ingredients and unique menu items.
“I would put our kitchen against anybody’s kitchen in this city,” said Farrelly on a recent Saturday.
The host of unique dishes show it; on a recent night, the offerings ranged from “Amish chicken” to a short rib blend burger.
Farrelly and Nisler used to own the now-defunct TJ’s Trout and Ale and Ted and Jo’s uptown. Now they are planning to open another restaurant downtown, the Fig Tree.
“I came up with something,” Farrelly said, writing down “WOW.” He said he wanted people to know there is life west of Washington Street in Hoboken.
He also stressed the community that congregates around the bar. He said that his wife once suggested that it be a place where a single woman would feel comfortable coming in to say she locked her keys inside, and hanging out for a while. Farrelly said that couples have met there, and wedding parties have stopped into the bar to celebrate.
But who is Zack? The nickname is from Mark’s middle name, Zachery.
My husband and I stopped in on a recent Saturday evening, and of course had to bring our baby, Zach.
We were amazed by the variety and quality of the food.
For lunch and brunch
Zack’s appetizers include favorites like fried calamari and unique twists like a pear and avocado salad with goat cheese dressing. They’ve also got grilled shrimp, mac and cheese (which seemed popular with some of the families that came in around five on Saturday) and soups. Prices range from $7 to $11.
For lunch, they offer salads, burgers, a scrumptious steak sandwich called “The Willow,” and penne vodka. Farrelly said he believes their burgers are the best in the country. Sounds worth checking out!
On Saturday and Sunday, the tavern serves a host of delicious brunch favorites including French toast, pancakes with peach and pecan, muffins, bagels with cream cheese and lox, omelets, eggs Benedict, a “farmer’s breakfast” with eggs, sausage and hash browns, and oatmeal. Their sandwiches and burgers are available as well. Prices range from $7 to their $15 “Willow” steak sandwich.
For dinner: ‘Crack’ chicken
Zack’s menu is creative, with some mainstays and some rotating specials.
The night we were there, we tried shepherd’s pie (ground beef, mashed potatoes, peas, onions and carrots), as well as the stuffed chicken. The stuffed chicken was thick slices of roasted chicken elegantly presented with red pepper on top, asparagus, and mashed potatoes underneath, all in a sweet yet spicy Asian dressing.
“Some people call it crack chicken,” said Farrelly, because it’s addictive. Turns out he was right. I loved the sweet sauce. And the pepper on top, combined with the mashed potatoes and asparagus, made for a delicious, filling meal.
My husband tried the aforementioned Willow steak sandwich. He has had his share of steak sandwiches, but he loved this one, describing it as tender and fresh. He ate it rather quickly.
The owners also insisted we try one of the dinners on the special menu for that night. The specials included a pork chop, a short blend rib burger, and roasted Amish chicken. They said that a few nights ago, the Amish chicken was very popular, so I had to try it.
Like the stuffed chicken, it was tender and delicious. It differed in that it came with Yukon potatoes and mushrooms and was served in its own gravy. They told us the secret that made it so savory, but we’re not allowed to share. Sorry!
Dinners range from $13 to $22. (The pork chop and the shell steak commanded the latter end of the price range.)
Dessert made fresh
The specials menu (it’s on their website each night) also included a mussels appetizer and two desserts.
The desserts were a chocolate bread pudding with salted walnut brittle and vanilla cream, and peach panna cotta (a type of Italian pudding made by simmering cream).
We tried the latter, and it was a delicious, unique dessert with fresh peaches in it and granola on top. Desserts ranged from $7 to $8.
Want to learn more? Zack’s is located at 232 Willow Ave., on the corner. Check out www.zackshoboken.com or call 201-653-7770.