Note: Our writer was invited to visit Bluff City BBQ and received a complimentary meal.
I’m a Kansas City Barbeque Society certified barbeque judge and am always looking to try new places serving barbeque so I’ve been excited at the thought of Bluff City BBQ opening close to where I live. “The Taste of Memphis with a Touch of Soul,” as its slogan goes, was a lunch stop for me the week it opened and again, recently, for dinner.
Bluff City is Memphis, Tennessee’s nickname and Memphis-style barbecue is what is served at Bluff City BBQ, a newish Montclair restaurant. This already-popular place features dry-rubbed, slow-cooked meats with house-made, sweet-tart sauces accompanied by seasonal sides. Bluff City BBQ is a family-friendly, casual and fun BYO serving lunch and dinner every day but Tuesday.
Owner and Culinary Director Scott Hermo selected a prime spot off Bloomfield Avenue, in the heart of Montclair, for Bluff City BBQ and transformed what was an Italian restaurant into a warm and inviting space with wood accents, a tin ceiling and fun “Soul” and “Barbecue” lighted signs in the dining room.
Chef Patrick Pierre-Jerome, well known in the northern New Jersey market from stints at Yves, Albert’s, and Hat City Kitchen, was brought on to elevate the food beyond what a typical barbecue place normally offers.
The welcoming, helpful-yet-still-learning staff made certain we were warmly greeted, that our water glasses were refilled and that our empty plates were cleared—to make way for clean ones.
The place now smells like barbecue. The first time I visited, it did not and the food lacked the expected smoky flavors. This has been completely corrected and there are now lovely smoky aromas and flavors—well done. I was invited to dine at Bluff City BBQ with a group and it was ideal, as the place is perfect for sharing. The menu is the same for lunch and dinner and we ordered the BBQ Sampler, the shrimp and grits, the mac and cheese, the peel-and-eat shrimp, the Bluff City wings and the jambalaya. The sampler is a good option for diners looking to try various smoked meats as it includes pulled pork, ribs and brisket. On my latest visit, the pork was moist and flavorful, the ribs well cooked, aka not too falling-off-the-bone, and the brisket had a good fat-to-meat ratio.
Chef Patrick’s interpretation of shrimp and grits takes the usual creamy grits and transforms them into grits cakes that are served with the typical saucy shrimps. The macaroni and cheese is one of 10 side dishes available at Bluff City BBQ and is baked with a cheesy, crusty top. The peel-and-eat shrimp was excellent. The shrimp have a bite to them, not mushy as is the case at most restaurants, and get an interesting tang from a citrus and Old Bay marinade. We ordered the BBQ wings and another option would have been to order them with black pepper honey garlic. They were good, with the right amount of smoke flavor. The jambalaya was one of our favorites and featured wings, andouille sausage and shrimp with a perfectly cooked, flavorful yellow rice–a must on future visits. I felt as if I should try the house-made sweet and sour, tomato and vinegar-based barbecue sauce and while it’s a solid recipe, luckily, the smoked meats don’t require it. We ended our meal with the bananas Foster. At Bluff City BBQ, the southern favorite is served with a chocolate brownie topped with a scoop of ice cream—decadent and delicious.
Bluff City BBQ seats approximately 90 guests and that number will increase once outdoor dining is available.
Bluff City BBQ
21 Midland Avenue
Hours subject to change:
Lunch: Monday, Wednesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday through Wednesday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 5 p.m. to 8p.m.