ABSECON - At the Black Cat Bar & Grill, the bar sits center stage. That's where much of the action takes place, whether it is during happy hour on weekdays or a Sunday football game.
After you are comfortably seated, however, it is the menu that will command your attention. The menu is a long one, offering all the bar foods one would expect.
At the Black Cat, you need a scorecard just to keep track of all the daily specials. The dinner menu is shorter but still loaded with options. Off to either side of the very busy bar, there are cute little nooks where hungry diners can share a quiet spot for a meal and pleasant conversation.
We split an order of fried clam strips ($7.99) because anything deep-fried tastes better. It was a small portion for the price, served in a red plastic basket with tartar and cocktail sauces in plastic take-out containers, and a lemon wedge for good measure. Dinners come with soup or salad. The lobster bisque was barely warm, very thick, and tasted more of sherry than the tiny pieces of lobster in the cup. Our house salad combined lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, green pepper strips and croutons and a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.
Entrees began with a roasted half-chicken ($12.99). Lacking any seasoning or sauce, it was a basic roast chicken, not necessarily a bad thing. The gravy served on some good-tasting mashed potatoes tasted more of beef than chicken. Served in a monkey dish, a side of freshly steamed vegetables such as zucchini, squash, cauliflower and broccoli were perfectly cooked but needed salt, pepper and butter to seal the deal.
The 22-ounce prime rib special ($21.99) was a big hunk of meat, served bone-on, reminiscent of a scene out of the Flintstone's movie.
The beef was meaty and chewy, the way carnivores like it, but looked like it was run under the broiler too long, pushing the medium rare meat closer to medium by the time it arrived at our table. A foil wrapped baked potato was large and fluffy inside, no need for the sour cream or butter provided in portion control packs. More of the fresh steamed vegetables of the day were on the plate. Every dish at the Black Cat is self-garnishing.
Our server disappeared mid-meal and a new one seamlessly took over. Both were friendly and paced our meal perfectly. You can take your good old time, at the Black Cat.
Our server told us the same owners have been in place for years but that the room was redecorated fairly recently. Christmas lights added a homey touch to the dark woods and colorful tiles used to decorate the room. A liquor store take-out section is incorporated into one end of the room.
A glass display case on the wall offers multiple memorabilia; we recognized many of those decorative old Jim Beam bottles, still collectable after all these years.
A pool table sits off in one corner of the room. The evening we were there, the players were enjoying themselves so much they forgot to watch their language, something to consider if you decide to bring your family out to dinner. The customers around the bar were animated and talkative but hardly out of control. Several sporting events were broadcast simultaneously on the flat screens provided. Music was a wild blend of heavy metal to much lighter sounds.
Something for everyone. And that's what we liked best about the Black Cat Bar & Grill. They have all their bases covered.
C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Features Editor Steve Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.
Jim Falivene & Son's
Black Cat Bar & Grill
One North Shore Road
Hours: Kitchen open 7 days 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Liquor license: Yes
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $5.99 to $12.79, entrees $7.99 to $23.99
Our bill for two: $50 plus tip