Morristown has a lively sports bar scene with a cluster of popular restaurant-pubs on and around the Green. Now UPtown, with its spacious, friendly interior and snappy fresh-twist bar food menu, is hoping to establish itself as a hot spot just off the beaten path.
Located at 4 John Street, a quick turn off Ridgedale Avenue, it’s easily accessible from Rt. 287 or a short cab ride for train commuters looking for a place to unwind after listening to those incessant NJ Transit announcements. In warm-weather months, it boasts a 15,000 sq-foot outdoor patio lounge that would make a fantastic meet-up spot.
Full disclosure … I’m not a big sports bar gal but with the World Series underway and football season in full swing, I can definitely see the allure of settling onto a comfortable bar stool with a cold beer and a good plate of grub to watch a game. (Or, better yet, sending my husband out to do that while I watch Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice, again.) And I can definitely see the allure of doing it at this up and coming new place.
UPtown has a very sleek vibe. Tables, chairs, and linens are all jet black while billowy white sheers float over windows set high on dark walls. Two long, gleaming bars flank a dozen tables in the large main dining room; a cozy balcony area holds another 10 tables. A glass sushi case fronts the kitchen on one end and music fills every corner of the space, loud enough to that you get the itch to start singing along (especially on 80s Night Happy Hour every Thursday from 4-8pm … come on with me now … “867-5309!!”) but not so loud you can’t have a conversation. And everywhere—literally everywhere—you look are flat screen TVs: 25 big, bright screens alternating live sports and music videos so everyone has something to stare at.
I had the opportunity to sample a special tasting menu recently and was impressed by chef Philip J. Lobo’s fresh take on bar menu standards. Translating his French cooking background and experience at upscale venues like the Bernards Inn and the Short Hills Hilton, Lobo’s goal is to elevate pub grub to something delicious and memorable but still affordable and unfussy. “The food here is all fresh and made from scratch,” Lobo says. “Nothing is frozen. Our meat is delivered fresh from a butcher and we use local sources whenever we can.” While some of his early menu ideas might’ve been a little too Short Hills for the bar crowd, he figured out how to get the best of both worlds. The plated entrée of chicken with goat cheese and olive tapenade he had in mind, for example, transitioned into the UPtown Chicken Sandwich. “They’ve just been scaled down and sandwiched between freshly baked bread,” Lobo says of his original inspirations.
My favorite sample was the Pulled Pork Slider paired with a light, refreshing Mahi-Mahi Taco. The slider’s slow-roasted pork filling was warmly smoky with a perfect little spicy kick, topped by a nice crunch of sweet slaw. The taco featured avocado, pico de gallo, and a splash of delicious citrus cream. The UPtown Signature Salad of mixed greens, red onion, fresh tomato, and olives had a bright apple cider vinaigrette, and the Hummus Trio, a highlight of the regular menu’s “Social Starters,” was as visually appealing as it was tasty—three scoops of fresh-made hummus (traditional, roasted red pepper, and kalamata olive) alongside a small heap of mixed greens topped with salty shaved parmesan and warm pita triangles.
Small plate samples highlighting a few of the main menu’s entrée selections showed off a lot of flavor and careful preparation. Latin Shrimp sautéed in garlic, chorizo, and tomato was served over mildly spiced rice and beans. BBQ Ribs, offered as a half-rack appetizer ($12) or paired with short ribs, chicken thighs, and pork shanks in the BBQ Pit Plate entrée ($25), were tender and rich with a sweet house sauce. I inhaled the homemade baked beans served alongside and wished there were more … until the garlic mashed potatoes showed up with the Braised Beef Short Rib. What can I say, I’m a sucker for sides.
The eclectic and fairly large menu includes salads (also available as wraps); burgers ranging from $8 sliders to a $12 “Double D” with blue cheese, jalapeno, bacon, and avocado; sandwiches; “bowls” including chili and French onion soup; appetizers ranging from fried chicken bites and UPtown Wings to fried calamari and Surf Tacos; a small selection of pricier entrée platters; and, of course, dessert including Tiramisu Cheesecake and the yummy Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundae pictured here.
If all of that sounds too heavy to go with your foamy draft, you can also order from the sushi menu that features such cleverly named rolls as the Jer-Shi Shore (crabmeat, avocado, salmon, cucumber, tuna, eel, squash, and masago topped with tempura crunch, spicy mayo and eel sauce) and the Last Mango in Paris (kani, white tuna tempura, and cucumber with fresh mango, strawberry and mango sauce), $14 each, as well as traditional sushi and sashimi, edamame, and seaweed salad.
UPtown isn’t downtown, in Morristown parlance, but it has a lot to offer the bar crowd looking for something new for birthday celebrations, girls night out, after-work happy hour, or just a local spot to grab a good bite while catching up on a game … or that utterly freakish “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video you still secretly adore.
4 John Street
Deanna Quinones, Morris County Regional Editor, is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Morris County. A freelance writer, blogger, and unrepentant chocolate addict, Deanna spent 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area where life was good and the burritos even better. She recently returned to the Garden State and now resides in Morristown, where she and her Texas-born/Jersey-raised/California-found husband are raising two wild and wonderful kids. An experienced book marketer, award-winning greeting card writer, and entertainment writing dabbler, Deanna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (photo credit Pete Genovese/The Star-Ledger)