In the early 2000s, I lived in the Mayfair neighborhood, just a block away from an inconspicuous little strip mall called the Jersey Shoppette. There was a liquor store, a nail salon, a Chinese Takeout joint and a corner restaurant that changed hands at least twice during the four years I called the neighborhood home. In fact, a long litany of eateries have tried to make a go of it at 900 Jersey Street, among them La Bola, Angie's, Papa D's, the 9th Avenue Grill, Carmine's Cucina, the Jersey Street Grill and, most recently, Four G's Mexican Restaurant.
My favorite over the past fifteen years was Angie's, which served a diner-style mix of Greek, Italian and Mexican fare along with enormous but cheap margaritas. The main attraction at Angie's was not the food, though; it was the many doors mounted on every vertical surface in the dining room and bar — doors complete with room numbers that the owner said were from a mental institution that was once part of the nearby Rose Medical Center. After Angie's closed, new owners remodeled and most of the doors disappeared, stripping the place of its charm, atmosphere and local appeal.
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But a new restaurant called Bertha's Baja Bistro just opened in the space last month, giving Mayfair a little something new while bringing back some of the eclectic charm that made Angie's a welcoming joint. Much of the team, including chef/owner Jose Flores, general manager Kiya Brody and others, previously worked for chef/restaurateur Jamie Shotton, who runs a small group of suburban establishments (Westrail Tap & Grill, Flying Pig Burger Bar, and events center Baldoria on the Water among them), so serving casual food in quiet neighborhood environments is part of the package.
And like Angie's, Bertha's mixes up its menu, offering pizza, burgers and Mexican dishes with both Baja and New Mexico influences. The standard dinner menu rises a little above typical neighborhood grills, though, with a croque pizza topped with white sauce, tasso ham, Gruyère and an egg; a Reuben sandwich with house-cured corned beef; and tacos al pastor served with grilled pineapple and roasted-poblano salsa. Sundays bring an all-Mexican menu, including a few uncommon specials: chiles capones (similar to chile rellenos), tacos dorados, patitas de puerco la vinagreta (that's pickled pig feet) and quesadillas made with corn tortillas and filled with picadillo de puerco.
Mayfair, part of the larger Montclair neighborhood, is filled with a combination of older residents who have maintained their tiny brick bungalows for decades and newcomers who have scraped and rebuilt massive modern homes. Bertha's looks to appeal to both, modern cuisine as well as comforting and familiar dishes. And if you know where to look, you can still find a few of those old hospital doors.
Bertha's Baja Bistro (900 Jersey Street) is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Call 720-216-5735 or visit the restaurant's Facebook page for more information.