NICHOLAS BARREL & ROOST
ADDRESS: 160 NJ-35, Red Bank, NJ 07701
For a long time when I was growing up, I remember driving by Restaurant Nicholas on Route 35 and always seeing the place packed with people wanting to get the fine dining experience. During the pandemic, however, the owners decided to change up their business model and switch to a more casual dining atmosphere. That’s how Nicholas Barrel & Roost came to be.
It was my last night in NJ before I’d be hopping on a flight back to LA, and my parents had mentioned that they wanted to give Nicholas Barrel & Roost a try. They had dined at Restaurant Nicholas previously, but had not yet tried the new casual dining concept. We had made a reservation prior to me heading out to NJ for the trip, so when we got to the restaurant, we were able to get seated immediately.
Our reservation time was at 5:30PM, and the parking lot was actually relatively empty when we got there. But by the time we left about an hour and a half later, however, the place was jam-packed. The restaurant features both an indoor and outdoor seating area, the latter of which is where we were at. The outdoor patio is pretty nicely set up, with tree planters bordering the entire patio to help insulate from the highway road noise. The only downside we found, however, was that the planters also blocked any natural breezes that would have otherwise prevented flies from hovering around the tables too much. We were unfortunately disturbed pretty regularly by the flies while we were trying to eat.
Our waitress, Maris, came over not too long after we got seated to get us started off with some drinks. It took a couple of minutes for us to go through the menu to decide what we wanted, but we ultimately went with appetizers of the Crispy Chicken as well as the East Coast Oysters. For my entrée, I was deciding between the Braised Beef Short Rib “Au Vin” and one of their pizzas, but the short rib just sounded too good to pass up.
I’ve come to find that I really do enjoy the modern farmhouse décor style that I’ve been seeing in a few restaurants lately. Barrel & Roost combines warm temperature lighting schemes along with a lot of wood elements within the dining room. I think that it does provide a nice blend between a more relaxed and casual atmosphere, but at the same time can also be classy as well, depending on the occasion.
Our half dozen oysters came out first, with accompaniments of cocktail sauce, horseradish, dill pickles, and chipotle sauce. I’ll admit that I’m a slight bit of a novice when it comes to oysters (this was my second time eating them), but I thought that these weren’t too bad. I tried one with nothing on it to get the taste of the brine and the oyster itself, and the other one I did with chipotle sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice. My parents remarked that the oysters themselves were a bit on the small side, and I do have to agree with them on that.
We went through the tray of oysters pretty quick, and it was great timing since the chicken bites came out next. Bite-sized chunks of chicken breast meat that were breaded in a flour mixture and then fried, the appetizer did have a good number of pieces, served in a mini fryer basket. While the chicken itself was juicy, I did unfortunately find that the flour breading wasn’t really seasoned too well, so the bites lacked flavor. In addition, I think that they were left in the fryer a bit too long, since I got a bit of a burnt taste on some of the pieces where the breading was a bit darker.
The kitchen was really on a roll, because it wasn’t long after we finished the chicken bite appetizer when our entrées all came out. I thought that the presentation of the braised short rib did look nice, with the cuts of meat sitting atop a bed of vegetable medley. The red wine sauce was then poured over the entire thing, with a garnish of chives to finish things off.
Typically with other braised meat dishes I’ve had in the past, my sign of a good braise is when I’m able to cut into the meat with just a fork. But this short rib, however, was pretty solid, and I ended up needing to cut into it with a knife instead. The meat itself was pretty dry, meaning that it had been sitting in the braising liquid for too long. In addition, the red wine sauce was really rich and very salty, which ended up overpowering the dish. I think that if some of the salt came out of the sauce and ended up as seasoning for the vegetables underneath when they were cooked, the dish would have had better balance. I also added an order of Pomme Frites instead of the whipped potatoes that came with the short rib dish originally, but unfortunately those tasted a bit burnt as well. The texture of the potatoes I thought was pretty enjoyable otherwise though.
When you look over the menu, the food definitely sounds great from their descriptions. That was all part of what made it slightly difficult to determine what to order in the first place. But from an execution standpoint, however, that’s where it definitely missed the mark for me. The overcooked food left a lackluster impression, especially when you have certain expectations for the high prices you’re paying for the food. I’ll be looking elsewhere for this style of food at other local restaurants in the area.
Let’s now take a look at the Nicholas Barrel & Roost Restaurant Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** East Coast Oysters **
Served on the half shell, with accompaniments of cocktail sauce, horseradish, dill pickles, and chipotle sauce.
Bite-sized chicken breast chunks breaded in flour and deep-fried.
Braised Beef Short Rib “Au Vin”
Braised short rib with a red wine sauce and bacon, served atop a vegetable medley of carrots, pearl onions, and mushrooms.
** Nicholas Pomme Frites **
Crispy potatoes, served with ketchup.
And finally, here are my rankings for Nicholas Barrel & Roost:
Food: 3.25 / 5
The variety of options on the menu are nice, mostly focusing on American and Italian offerings. But with both of the fried items as well as the braised short rib being overcooked, that was certainly a disappointment.
Atmosphere: 4.25 / 5
I did enjoy the modern farmhouse décor style that the main dining area uses. For the outdoor patio seating, they also have a nice setup that helps to block out the road noise from the highway right next to the restaurant.
Service: 4 / 5
Our waitress, Maris, did a good job with being hospitable during our visit, stopping by the table a few different times to check in and ensure that we had everything we needed. In addition, the kitchen was able to get our food out relatively quickly as well.
Price: 3.25 / 5
The food is definitely on the expensive side, no doubt about it. Crispy Chicken: $14. Pomme Frites: $8. Short Rib Au Vin: $34. For the quality of the food received, however, it doesn’t live up to the value of those price points.