Critics' Corner

Jake and Jocco's Riverside Inn, Cranford, NJ

by Kurt Epps

Jake and Joccoís Riverside Inn in Cranford, NJ is not a big place, but it must have a beer karma. Within a one quarter mile area there are three outstanding places to get quality beers. One is the famous Antoneís Pub on South Ave, visited and approved by no less an authority than Michael Jackson himself. Another, two blocks away and also on South Ave., is The Office, part of a chain of six upscale beer bars. And the third, Jake and Joccoís Riverside Inn on North Ave., you might pass right by if youíre big on external appearances. Too bad, because the place is a gem.

This tiny local bar with a decor that wavers between Nautical, Bavarian and New York Yankees is a throwback to another era and has been a fixture in Cranford for decades. A former Model A Ford dealership, the joint is situated hard by the Rahway River at a spot that used to be a fording place for the Lenni Lenape Indians who resided there.

Its kitchen is so small youíll brush the walls if you blink your eyes. And if co-owner Jake (whoís big enough to have his own zip code) is in it, itís a wonder any food comes out at all. But the real wonder is the food that comes out the door. Itís unusual for the PubScout to begin a review by talking about a pubís vittles, but thatís what youíll be talking about after you visit. The food is a factor of Big Jakeís (real name: Pete Jacobs) attitude toward his place, his customers and his work. "I just wanna cook, man. I wanna feed the world for five bucks a head, then go fishiní."

And heís pretty true to his word. The PubScout fed a family of five far more than we could eat, with outstanding appetizers and entrees (including Jakeís World Famous, Fight-through-storms-to-get-it Crab and Cheese Crock) and multiple servings of drinks (at least three Boddingtonís pints--on TAP!) for $46.

The food was nothing short of sensational in portions and quality. "I got whatever you want. If I canít I canít make it, Iíll run across the street and get it," says the burly Yankee fan who keeps a fishing pole behind the bar for youngsters who may want to try their luck in the 'mighty' Rahway River. He makes a daily trek to select his own vegetables, not trusting the quality of delivery services. He also prefers to deal with beer salesmen who have access to Yankee tickets and who 'understand his system.'

Said system includes ten taps with a decent selection of micros that always includes an IPA, something light, something dark and some standard 'canoe beers' (Bud-Miller-Coors) owing probably to Jakeís proximity to the waterside. The micros available this night, a small but solid selection by anybodyís standards, were a measure of Jakeís experience in the business. On tap were Widmerís Hefeweizen, Guinness, Bass, Harp, Sierra Nevada, Dundeeís Honey Brown, Beckís and--incredibly--Boddingtonís. Not many places can boast a Boddy on tap, and it must have been nitrogen infused because it came with the classic bottom-filling creamy head and it was cold and delicious.

Though brother Jocco (Jeff Jacobs) was off this night, the place has a definite family air to it. Mama Jacobs makes all the salads, Jocco makes "all the stuff you canít pronounce" and Jake makes the rest. Though neither brother ever planned to open a bar as a career goal, thatís where they are. "This is the place you come to before and after you go to the clubs," said Big Jake, cutting food with a huge butcher knife as he spoke and alternately gesturing at me with it. "Both softball teams usually come here after their games. Thereís always somebody you know here," said the knife-waver who puts real Tootsie pops on every kidís plate. Long time patron Paul Baruch (whose father was a patron) and his stunning blonde companion, Arizonan Victoria Lambert confirmed Jakeís assessment.

The PubScoutís better half, not a super-dedicated beer geek, bases her evaluation of beer bars on pubgrub. "I canít believe that quality and variety of food came from one guy out of a kitchen that size," she declared. "Iíd come back here in a minute."

So would the PubScout. Just for the Boddingtonís.

©Kurt E. Epps 1998 All rights reserved

Jake and Joccoís Riverside Inn
56 North Ave.
Cranford, NJ 07016
(908) 276-9783
FAX (908) 272-6553