CRANFORD, NJ — An Irishman, an Italian and a German walk into a bar ... but not just any bar — the River and Rail Cantina located at 230 South Avenue East. Those men are restaurant owners John Roder, Salvatore Perrilo and Chris Ryder. The restaurant sits along the river and across the street from the train station, thus the name origin.
The three welcomed family and friends, including Mayor Andis Kalnins, Tuesday for a time of celebration and anticipation of their public opening Wednesday at 5 p.m.
"We are very excited to share the labor of our love with the public," Roder commented. "We first began this process over a year ago and were hoping to open by Cinco de Mayo, but the wait was worth it."
The men will run the restaurant with Perrillo overseeing the kitchen, while Roder and Ryder work the front of the house.
The restaurant and bar stands on a large corner lot that had previously been an empty wooded area, now with vibrant signage, colors and lights. The trio of owners, who have owned and managed many restaurans over their lifetimes in New York, were looking for the right location in New Jersey. Roder a resident of Scotch Plains, Perrillo from Cranford and Ryder from Fanwood, all zoned in on Cranford as the best location.
When they were looking to open a restaurant together in New Jersey, they immediately knew that Cranford was the demographic they were looking for, a place that would attract all types of patrons; families, commuters and travelers through the South Avenue corridor. They also knew they wanted a Mexican theme because of the fun they could have with the food, drinks and ambiance.
"We wanted to open somewhere that we wanted to go ourselves, a giant party atmosphere, a party all the time, whether you sit at the bar, the dining room tables, or outside by the fire wall, you'll have fun," Roder said.
The place does seem to have something for everyone, as the owners wanted a diverse menu so those that didn't love Mexican food could still come and enjoy something to eat. They added hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and wings to their diverse Mexican fare that includes a guacamole bar with varoius varieties (corn, chile, pineapple salsa), signature tacos (soft, crunchy, lettuce wraps), El Jeffe burritos (braised beef short rib meat with corn and caramelized onion) and six types of fajitas. They also offer a kids menu as well as a weekend brunch.
The variety of menu items goes for the libations, too. With over 100 tequila types, 16 beers on draft and 30 bottled, you could try a new drink everyday of the year. Not to mention the slew of creative cocktails including 20 different margarita flavors, including the frozen variety, and a signature fruity drinks with jalapenos.
As for restaurant decor, it is self-described on their website as, "Grandma's eclectic living room and a Tijuana junkyard." Upon entering the front door you are welcomed to a visually stimulating experience, with tables, signs, light fixtures, artwork and chairs that each have their own unique space. Much of the material used was reclaimed from junk yards, for example, the bar footrest was an old railroad track; several corners of the place have multiple materials where wood meets concrete meets industrial aluminum. The place is full of old Mexican posters, including colorful, vintage wrestler masks and skulls. Roder's wife added her help to the large chalkboards around the dining room with whimsical messages and details about menus and drinks. The architecture, fixtures and materials while different all work together for a colorfully interesting experience, with a new find at every turn.
One of the visual focal points is a large American Flag created from old firehose pieces. Ernie Hernandez, a friend of the owners, gifted them the artwork that measures over seven feet long. It's all custom painted and hangs beside a plaque that reads, "Dedicated to those that ran up the stairs." The other large hanging piece of art is their logo, a skull with a sombrero, referred to as a Sugar Skull, which hangs in their main dining room. While both pieces of art were created by different techniques and materials, their juxtaposition fits in a place that offers something for everyone.
The outside of the Cantina is more understated but just as appealing, with large globe string lights, colorful seating, a fire wall and large rustic kerosene lanterns. The owners hope to add live music to the outdoor scene at some point.
Roder, Perrilo and Ryder are excited to welcome the public to their Cantina. They are also owners of the soon-to-open wine and spirits store next door and the already opened Cranford Social Banquet Hall upstairs.