When Gregory Kyritsis and his brother-in-law, Theocharis Philippou, purchased the former Arthur's Tavern, they weren't trying to reinvent the wheel. They wanted to create a family restaurant much like the one Kyritsis ran for 11 years in Warwick, N.Y., called G's Restaurant and Bank Street Tavern. They sunk $500,000 into a total remodel, from wiring to plumbing to the kitchen, and opened Gregory T's in July 2009.
It's since been a popular neighborhood spot, but this summer has been tough. In June, Philippou, a quiet, dignified presence at the restaurant, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 51. Business has been hit or miss in the warm months, and Kyritsis is dreading when frequent customers come back in September and learn of Philippou's passing.
After all, this is a family kind of place in many senses – the servers here chat freely to you about their lives (sometimes a little too much), children are common and the menu tries to cater to just about everyone. There are your requisite salads, sandwiches and burgers, as well as pastas, steaks and seafood, all overseen by executive chef Carmelo Zenteno, who has worked for Kyritsis for 15 years. Another chef, Brian Lynch, serves as bartender and oversees monthly "blind" dinners in the dark; the wait staff said he was the guy behind some of our favorite desserts.
Think of Gregory T's as basically an upscale diner, combined with a friendly place to grab a beer. After two dinners here, I would highly advise asking the friendly servers for their recommendations. This is even more important because there are definite winners on Gregory T's menu, but we found that the restaurant falls short of the consistency of similar restaurants like Paulie's in Closter or Village Grille in Waldwick. So making an informed decision is even more important.
Our servers on both nights were thrilled to be asked for their opinions, and the best things we ate were on their advice. On one evening, our waiter steered us away from the questionable-sounding scallops "enhanced with corn syrup cream sauce" and toward the center-cut pork chop with a port-wine glaze, which was thick, moist and satisfying ($17). He also said the portobello mushroom appetizer platter ($9) was one of his favorites. Though its array of food didn't seem particularly logical, it was awfully fun to eat: meaty mushrooms marinated in garlic and oil, served with scoops of goat cheese, slices of crostini and a crisp jasmine rice cake covered in black sesame seeds.
He also recommended a special of simple tilapia stuffed with crabmeat in a lemon beurre blanc sauce ($17). And he directed us past the brought-in desserts to two made-in-house sweets: a berry crisp with a dense oatmeal crust ($6) and a perfect crème brûlée ($5). The only bomb: Cajun calamari, limp, rubbery squid rings covered in a nonetheless delectable Cajun balsamic glaze ($10).
On another night, I asked our waitress for a pasta recommendation and she immediately pointed to the "rigatoni Toscana," a delicious, rustic dish combining smoked mozzarella, spinach, prosciutto and portobellos in a white wine cream sauce ($14). When we asked what burger was most popular, we wound up with the Texas Hold em' burger, a standard 8-ounce charbroiled patty on a flaky bun topped with bacon, ham, red onion and melted cheddar cheese ($9). When it came time for dessert, one of her suggestions was the made-in-house Grand Marnier cheesecake, which turned out to be light, lush and one of the best desserts I've had in any restaurant anywhere recently. It was also a serious bargain at $5.
We had substantially less luck with items we ordered without asking about them first. A Greek quesadilla, basically a Greek salad inside a tortilla with non-melted feta cheese, was accompanied by stale tortilla chips ($9). An $18 special of prime rib bore a grayish pallor, was quite tough and was served with undercooked vegetables. And two enormous crab cakes looked promising until we started biting into tiny pieces of shell ($20). Lesson learned: At Gregory T's, the server knows best.
Gregory T's **
214 Kinderkamack Road, Emerson; 201-262-5003,|gregorytsnj.com
Food: A huge, upscale diner menu combining classics and more ambitious fare.
Ambience: Remodeled, casual family bar and restaurant.
Service: Warm, chatty and not afraid to give good recommendations.
Value: OK. Portions are generous, though food could be more consistent for the price. Appetizers $7 to $14, entrees $8 to $22.
Would be good for: Casual family meal in friendly atmosphere.
Less appropriate for: Formal dining.
Recommended dishes: Portobello mushroom appetizer, French-trimmed center-cut pork chop, rigatoni Toscana, crÃ¨me brÃ»lée, Grand Marnier cheesecake.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Bar open later all days.
Liquor, wine: Full bar, 12 taps with some craft beers, wine list.
Noise level: A gentle buzz, great for conversation (though the dining room was half empty during our visits).
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Reservations: Accepted only for parties of six or more.
Accommodations for children: Menu, high chairs.
Early-bird specials or deals: Selected entrees with soup, dessert and coffee for $16, available from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday.
Parking: Lot. After 6 p.m., you can also park in the nearby commuter lot for free, says the restaurant.
Reviewed: Sept. 2, 2011
About the ratings
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: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: northjersey.com/foodblog Twitter: elisaung