By SUSAN ERICSON
Val’s Tavern, on East River Road in Rumson, has been a staple since 1942. So, what does it take to keep a bar and restaurant going for all those years? Consistency, a family-friendly atmosphere, and a terrific red sauce.
Named for Valentine Ciambrone, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, and bought by commodity traders Chris and James Smith five years ago, Val’s is anchored by a menu that, aside from daily specials, hasn’t changed. It draws clientele of devoted locals, several generations of whom grew up eating here and still find the neighborhood tavern a go-to for a quick beer or a pizza with the kids.
In a bonechilling spring rain this week, PieHole made its way to the familiar awning-covered back door leading into the bar room. Greeted by the affable Jeff Blaney, a Fair Havenite who has been tending bar there for the last two and a half years, we felt instantly comfortable.
Deciding to plant ourselves on one of the cushy bar stools and chat with Blaney in the pennant-trimmed bar instead of the dining room, we perused the familiar menu. Full of interesting options, its dependably good, thin-crust pizza called out to us. But then the option of a Classic Parm Sandwich – a choice of eggplant, chicken or meatball, all at $9.99 – was just what we wanted.
The eggplant parm was served on an oven-crisped sub roll, filled with fried eggplant and smothered in creamy provolone cheese, which was a much nicer counterpoint to the stretchy mozzarella often used elsewhere. The textural variations in the sandwich and full flavor of the cheese and sauce made this sandwich a happy counterpoint to an otherwise dismal day. A side order of sweet potato fries was also served nice and crisp, making this a particularly filling lunch.
Val’s Tavern was one of the first restaurants we dined at when we moved to the area 25 years ago. The recipe for the kitchens fresh flavored marinara hasn’t wavered, and that is just one its many attractions.
Val’s is open seven days a week: Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m, and Sundays from noon to midnight.