Nutley, NJ 07110
- Cost: $$
- Credit Cards: All Major
- Alcohol: Full Bar
- Parking: Street
April 22, 2016
The Jersey bar with the most Brooklyn vibe might be Cowan’s Public in Nutley, NJ, an updated historic watering hole pouring an eclectic beer list with gastropub-inspired food.
The squat brick building on Centre Street has housed a bar in some form since 1934, most recently the divey Nutley Pub. Named after a former proprietor, Cowan’s has been completely renovated by its new owners. There is plenty of room to mingle next to the impressive curved bar and fireplace in the main room. An adjacent dining room, with about 10 tables, features a stamped tin ceiling and chandeliers. The contrast between old school facade and art deco interior gives Cowan’s a speakeasy feel.
Beer is a focus here, with sixteen rotating droughts on tap. Local brews include Kane (NJ), Carton (NJ), and Six Point (Brooklyn), with some interesting European selections (Omnipollo – Sweden, Rodenbach – Belgium) mixed in. Beer flights (4 for $10) are a good way to sample a few.
On a recent Saturday night, the bar area was filled mostly with under-30-somethings. Every other guy sported a beard. NJ-based Brooklyn expats will feel right at home. My wife and I even spotted a baby stroller in the bar area.
Cowan’s menu is limited but ambitious. “Shared plates” like mac and cheese, pub wings (try the Harissa-Bourbon BBQ sauce), and various tacos make for elevated pub grub. “Mains” include a hefty pub-style burger, a pulled pork sandwich, and a decadent grilled cheese sandwich with béchamel (bacon or brisket optional). Most items include something unexpected, like an excellent grilled cauliflower with Peruvian aji pepper sauce. You will not go wrong ordering the poutine (an amped up version of Jersey Disco Fries, popular in Quebec) – thin fries topped with cheese curd, pork belly and a rich brown gravy. It’s a hefty shared plate for at least four people (or four beers). Cowan’s menu changes with the seasons. The just launched Spring menu, for example, features a Shrimp Mozambique, drops the cauliflower, and replaces the pork belly poutine with a brisket poutine. A lighter (?) version for Spring, I guess.
Service was haphazard the night we visited. Our earnest but utterly confused server seemed to be learning on the job. Drink orders were forgotten. We were offered another table’s food. Appetizers and larger plates arrived all at once, without enough room on the table.
All in all, however, the service blips melted away once we had beers in hand and started in on the very good food. Cowan’s should be on anybody’s list of Jersey pubs to try. Go for the beer, the food, or both.
Note: Parking is exceedingly tricky in front of the bar. Try the dead end street behind it.