First Impression: Mathews Food & Drink

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Mathews Food & Drink has all the hallmarks of a quintessential West Village restaurant. It’s intimate, charming, and exudes coolness without even trying.

Owned and operated by the White Star’s Mat Kopec, Mathews is located in what was the former La Conguita. The new restaurant, however, has undergone a dramatic overhaul. What was once La Conguita’s food counter has been transformed into a long, modern bar. The exposed brick wall that once separated the main dining area from a smaller alcove has also undergone a major revamp, now covered in stylish wallpaper that gives Mathews a warm, friendly feel.

While the new look is certainly a welcome change, the food, cocktails, and hospitality are what will make Mathews a neighborhood favorite.

From the moment we walked in, we were warmly greeted by our friendly hostess. The staff was equally attentive and checked in on our table regularly, removing dirty plates on cue and refilling drinks the minute they were empty. What differentiates the hospitality at Mathews versus any other restaurant is that the staff seemed genuinely friendly and they also seemed to have a good rapport with one another.

On to the drinks. Mathew’s cocktail menu was created by Cody Goldstein, founder of Muddling Memories — a cocktail and bar consulting firm based out of New York. Cody’s work has won accolades in New York (Time Out, Eater, Town & Country) and will help elevate Jersey City’s cocktail options even further. The Mat-hattan, for instance, is a fun take on the classic Manhattan where the bitters, house-made vermouth, and rye blend harmoniously to create a perfectly sweet cocktail. Meanwhile, the Johnny Apple Cedar is a spicy, fall cocktail that tastes of apple and cinnamon with a smoky, woodsy finish. Cocktails are all $13 with the exception of one communal drink (serves 4-6 people) that comes in at $48.

The wine list is mostly American and European driven with one Argentinean Malbec. Wine is available by the glass or by the bottle with bottles ranging from $28 to $59; a good amount of bottles are available in the low $30 range.

The restaurant was filled to capacity on opening night, so we waited a noticeable amount of time for our food. (Normal for an opening week). We started with the Charred Octopus ($16) with roasted fennel, olives, and ground chickpea. The octopus was perfectly crusted on the sides and meaty within. The Fisherman’s Stew ($26) was the standout entree. The dish is a rich, seafood stew served in lobster broth with mussels, shrimp, cod, crab, and clams. It comes with two slices of grilled bread with saffron aioli. If you’re a seafood lover, you need must to try this. I didn’t try the Hanger Steak ($25), but it was a generous entree paired with potato wedges, roasted tomato, and chimichurri.

Dessert was good, but didn’t deliver the knockout punch we hoped for. Currently, there are only three options: a seasonal fruit pie, a triple chocolate cake, and a “cafe con leche.” The triple chocolate cake was dry and not very memorable. The “cafe con leche” — perhaps a throwback to the former Conguita — was good. It’s not actually milk and coffee, but instead a pudding of salted caramel, Cafe Bustelo, and vanilla cream.

Minor gripe — the music was a little weird. It was a little too W Hotel for a restaurant. The noise level inside the restaurant can also get loud. Not South House loud, but you’ll definitely have to raise your voice if you go on a busy night.

Minor gripes aside, it’s hard to find a restaurant — in any city — that manages to get the food, drinks, and hospitality right. At first glance, Mathews delivers above and beyond in each of those departments.

 

tldr: The food, cocktails, and service at Mathews are spot-on. Portions are hearty; Fisherman’s Stew is superb. Pass on dessert (for now) and get another round of cocktails — they’re that good.

 

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Mathews Food & Drink | 351 Grove Street | www.mathewsrestaurant.com