Perhaps it’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Clam Broth House – the legendary Hoboken watering hole renowned for its roots catering to the food and libation needs of the city’s dock workers in the early 1900s – has come full circle.
After closing and leaving Hoboken’s restaurant scene in 2003 when its damaged building on Newark Street was shuttered, the restaurant reopened its doors in June under the direction of new owners and a new management team. A grand opening is still in the planning stage.
Steeped in rich local history and lore, the century-old restaurant is now ready to open a new chapter in this renewed city.
Getting here from there
The dark mahogany wood floors and bistro décor give today’s Clam Broth House a more polished and less gritty tone than its earlier incarnation.
“We selected popular items from the original menu and then updated them for our customers.” – Marcos Brito
Still, the restaurant – which denied entry to women until the 1970s – built a reputation as a popular hang out spot largely on the strength of its simple yet delicious seafood menu. Even today, patrons who had visited the restaurant in the 1960s and ’70s recall the floor littered with seafood shells and a public canteen that dispensed free clam broth at the bar.
When the restaurant closed in 2003, residents mourned the loss of what many saw as an important landmark in the mile-square city.
The Clam Broth got a new lease on life after Hoboken native Danny Tattoli, his brother Vito, and Danny’s wife Jolene – owners of the Hoboken bar Four L’s – bought the building and the restaurant’s name in 2004.
“We bought the building with the full intent of reopening the restaurant,” said Jolene Tattoli. “It’s a real honor to be in this building, with all its history. Reopening the restaurant was important to us, and it was important to everyone in the city. People wanted to have the restaurant back. That was always our goal.”
The Tattolis, however, had to wage a three-year legal battle to get control of the restaurant’s liquor license from the previous owner, which they finally won in 2008.
Next, the trick for the Tattolis and head chef Marcos Brito was to somehow remain true to the restaurant’s rustic roots while at the same time catering to the more upscale tastes of the Wall Street suits and mommy-and-me-yoga buffs who are certain to be among the restaurant’s staple clientele now. The foursome pulled it off by artfully using Brito’s menu to bridge the past and the present.
In a nod to Clam Broth’s heyday, a few of the restaurant’s old signature dishes have been reprised by Brito with a modern twist.
The signature dishes are, naturally, seafood.
The “small plates menu,” with offerings that range from $9 to $15, includes lobster rolls ($15), swordfish kabobs ($12), and lobster truffle mac n’ cheese ($10), with such seafood staples as shrimp cocktail ($10), lobster bisque ($8), and clam chowder ($6) on the “starters” menu. Starters prices range from $6 to $13.
There are some surprises. A lobster pizza ($18) and another pizza known as the Clam Broth House Pizza ($15), with rock shrimp bay scallops and little neck clams, were unexpected.
And, yes, the restaurant plans to add a raw bar soon.
The menu also features a number of meat dishes, for those who don’t want seafood. The pork chops with Israeli couscous and broccoli rabe, an entre that goes for $24, is among many unique entrees. Prices range from a low $15 and go all the way up to $30.
“This is our menu for this season,” Brito explained. “We will change it a little bit each season because we want to serve the best items from each season. Our seafood comes from all over the world so we’re able to offer the best items that are available…We selected popular items from the original menu and then updated them for our customers.”
The idea, Brito added, was to offer great food at a modest price so that the new Clam Broth House, much like the original, is less of an extravagant “special occasion” restaurant and more of a relaxed community gathering place customers can afford to patronize regularly.
“There really is no other restaurant in Hoboken like that,” he said.
Indeed, the Clam Broth has a relaxed presence that is at once cosmopolitan and urbane without being pretentious or frenetic. The lighting is dark – too dark to read, by the way, for all you Kindle junkies – yet the background music is low enough that people can have a conversation without shouting. The bar area features several large flat screen TVs, but they won’t intrude on table conversation.
Spring grand opening planned
The restaurant, which had a soft opening on June 4, expects to hold a grand opening in the spring.
The Tattolis also hope to add to the space soon. A number of old photos from the original restaurant will be hung on the walls. And then there’s “the pointing hand.” The original Clam Broth House was known to have a sign in the shape of a pointing hand that hung over the entrance. The new owners are having the original sign restored.
Once the restoration is complete and the sign is re-hung outside the restaurant, Tattoli said, “Then we’ll have everything. Everything will be complete.”
The Clam Broth House is at 36-42 Newark St., Hoboken. For more information, visit www.OriginalClamBrothHouse.com or call (201) 656-1111.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.