By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Stepping through the door of 102 Avenue of Two Rivers these days feels more like walking into a garage sale than a spot for pancakes and coffee.
It’s a bit of a cluttered cranny. The windowsills are lined with antiques and tchotchkes. An old Ferris wheel chair looms over the dining room. A large model airplane hangs from a high ceiling amid a wall tacked with old games, toys and artwork, including a blown-up Playboy poster featuring a Born to Run-era Bruce Springsteen. No two chairs match. It’s a dose of colorful cultural clutter with a side of bacon.
But it’s also much more than a trip down memory lane. Nowadays it’s called The Barn, Rumson’s newest eatery.
It’s also what owner Carl LaGrassa calls his labor of love. The nook he finished overhauling just a couple months ago (after more than a year’s effort) had, for the last 30 years, seen different incarnations of businesses, most recently, Sissy’s Place, a luncheonette. The back room, an expansive open space, served as home to Barnstormers Gymnastics, a kids-oriented business that still operates there.
“I know about this place because I brought my kids here when they were two years old,” he said. “I had fun here.”
About two years ago, LaGrassa, an ex-Wall Street trader, got an opportunity to buy the hanger-style building. He saw it as a chance to work closer to home and take on a new venture not to mention clean out his garage.
“I’m an old toy junkie,” the Rumsonite said of the eclectic decorating job. “It’s almost like a bad obsession at points where I’ve had to stop. But the old games, they’re beautiful. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
LaGrassa bought the building and decided that he wanted to make the anteroom a must-see, not merely the place where parents hang out to eat while their kids learn to tumble and jump rope.
“If you want to come and sit down, this is the place to go,” LaGrassa said. “Hopefully it’ll become a destination place. One, the food is worth coming for and two, it’s a fun and interesting environment.”
The Barn is a full-service eatery, with a breakfast and lunch menu and a wait staff to pour you your joe. The menu features the standard fare you’ll find at a greasy spoon his words.
“It’s a neighborhood kinda place bacon and eggs, sausage and eggs,” LaGrassa said.
Situated away from Rumson’s two, small business districts and catercorner to the David Burke Fromagerie, LaGrassa says he’s still working on building up a clientele that will make The Barn a name.
“This is a hard business. Everybody said, ‘don’t do it,’ ‘you’re crazy,'” he said. “The way I looked at it was, it was here before. I can do it better.”
Three months in, he’s getting good feedback. The food gets great reviews, he said, but there’s something else that makes the experience a bit more… interactive.
“Everyone that comes in here, whether they’re young, old, always has some connection to what’s on the walls,” said restaurant manager Doug Barclay. “It’s just weird, odd stuff for people to look at.”
The Barn is open from 8a to 2p Tuesday through Sunday.