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Posted: Friday November 25, 2011, 10:23 AM
By Elisa Ung of The Record

A taste of Americana Restaurant serves up barbecue and vintage style

Is the third time the charm? Both of the men behind the new restaurant The Blind Boar in Norwood certainly hope so.

Presiding over the kitchen is Jay Lippin, one of North Jersey's best-known pitmasters (look for him on Food Network's "Chopped" next month). The ribs at his former Backwoods BBQ and Grill in Westwood made me cry with joy (the service there made me cry for a different reason). But a barbecue BYO didn't work out; Lippin closed after less than a year and briefly brought his ribs to The Dog House in Washington Township. He later headed to the city and was working for Southern Hospitality when Fintan Seeley called one day.

Seeley is the owner of the successful Porter House in Montvale and a location in Norwood that has proved somewhat less successful. First, he tried Jose O'Reilly's, a Mexican-Irish hybrid that we'll call a rather unusual concept. He replaced that with the Porter House Grill, but it didn't do as well as its sister. Over time, Seeley decided that a family-oriented restaurant would work best in that spot — perhaps one that indulged his longtime passion for barbecue.

The Blind Boar opened in August: Seeley's third restaurant in that spot, Lippin's third Bergen barbecue venture.

And? This might be the one that sticks around.

We were pleased, if not entirely overwhelmed, by the barbecue. The reasonably priced menu is well-rounded, so you can bring friends who might prefer a sandwich or even a salad. Blind Boar has good sharing plates and a full bar with craft beers on tap. And, of course, there is the elaborate theming we've come to expect from Seeley's restaurants.

After you sit down, look up. On the walls and under the ceiling are the results of Seeley's visits to estate sales and flea markets, where people were amazed when he offered to pay them money for their junk — er, artifacts. He even bought an old, collapsed barn in upstate New York, where he found the old washboards you'll see, the hardware on the doors outside, the license plates on the walls and the grain bin with two prosthetic legs sticking out of it. (The legs came from a flea market in Massachusetts, where the previous owner had them marked for a junkyard.)

It's worth peeking into the back room and looking for the amusing sign that begins "The sanitation department gives you a life job." Backwoods fans can find the Backwoods sign and the boar by the front door that Lippin's wife is relieved no longer hangs out in her house. Over the fireplace, there's a back tailgate of a Ford and another boar, aptly wearing sunglasses. The name, by the way, comes from the speakeasies of days past that were known as "blind pigs."

Now for the barbecue. It's available in various combinations, and platters come with your choice of sides. You have two options when it comes to ribs: Dr Pepper baby backs and Memphis-style spareribs. Of the two, we preferred the Memphis ($14.99 for a half rack, $22.99 for a full) — tender, charred, tinged with smoke, with a sweet-smoky sauce on the side. Some may prefer the Dr Pepper ribs ($13.99 for a half rack, $21.99 for a full), which were also tender, and slathered in a sauce of the soda, Coca-Cola, raisins and molasses; we didn't find them as distinctive as their name promised.

The barbecue chicken, made from a naturally raised and brined Murray's bird, was juicy and just slightly smoky (a bargain at $11.99 for a half-chicken with two sides). Slow-cooked pulled pork ($12.99) and fork-tender smoked brisket ($14.99) rounded out the barbecue selections.

But the shining stars were actually two dishes made with the leftover brisket. First, the chili of brisket and ground beef, a richly spiced, melt-in-your-mouth experience accented with just a few red beans, which won Lippin a food contest when he worked at Southern Hospitality ($7.99). And the half-pound burger stuffed with smoked brisket is even better than I remember from a few years ago, when (as noted on the menu) it was featured in The Record ($11.99).

For sides, choose the baked beans studded with delicious meat scraps, the crisp onion strings or the creamy cole slaw. Skip the bland macaroni and cheese and the mashed potatoes that tasted of too much dairy.

For starters, pick the crisp, panko-coated pickle chips ($5.99) or the savory-sweet bacon jam ($6.99). Bypass the thin, heavily seasoned potato chips ($4.99).

As for non-barbecue items, we loved everything about the garlicky Bourbon Street shrimp and bacon po' boy except for the bready ciabatta roll, which couldn't stand up to the robust filling ($8.99).

If you want dessert, order one of the tall, thick milkshakes ($3.99) and forget about the rest of the list. The too-sweet bread pudding tasted of too much raw Jack Daniel's ($5.95), and the banana pie came in a large, hard shell that could have been used as a weapon ($5.25).

The staff is casual but competent, genuine and attentive, although the dining room held only a smattering of other customers on both of our dinners so I can't speak to how things will go with crowds. In the end, Blind Boar feels like it has the best qualities of a chain restaurant: family-friendly and offering plenty of variety, as well as better food options and a lot more character. Here's hoping it lasts.

The Blind Boar ** 1/2

595 Broadway, Norwood; 201-784-6900

theblindboar.com

Food: Barbecue, plus salads, sandwiches and other American comfort-food favorites.

Ambience: Fun, elaborately themed family restaurant with Americana décor.

Service: Friendly and capable.

Value: Generally good for the quality of food. Appetizers $4.99 to $9.99, entrées $11.99 to $25 ("The Killer" $58.99 combo platter could feed a small army).

Would be good for: Casual family dinner in fun atmosphere.

Less appropriate for: Anyone looking for a formal dining experience.

Recommended dishes: Brisket chili, ribs, barbecue chicken, double-beef burger.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Bar open later.

Liquor, wine: Full bar, craft and mainstream beers available on draft and in cans and bottles, specialty cocktails.

Noise level: Music at a reasonable level; noise was not an issue during our visits but may be when full.

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V.

Reservations: Recommended for bigger parties and on Friday and Saturday evenings. Required for parties of six or more.

Accommodations for children: Menu, highchairs.

Dress: Smart casual.

Early-bird specials or deals: $15.95 prix fixe dinner available 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday: choice of four appetizers and eight entrées.

Takeout: Yes; delivery within a five-mile radius will start soon.

Parking: Lot.

Reviewed: Nov. 25, 2011.

About the ratings
O Poor
* Fair
** Good
*** Excellent
**** Outstanding
In determining ratings, each restaurant has been compared with others of the same type and level of ambition. Reviewers make at least two anonymous visits to a restaurant, and the newspaper always pays the tab.

E-mail: ung@northjersey.com Blog: northjersey.com/foodblog Twitter: elisaung

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