10th Ave. Burrito owner Brian Katz with a mural depicting luchadores in an agave field—complete with a tequila distillery. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
10th Ave. Burrito Company opened in Red Bank last week, and there’s no mistaking: it’s serious business, aiming to leverage its 165 seats, a coveted liquor license and primo views of the Navesink River to success.
But with a giant mural of masked Mexican wrestlers, a cadre of tattooed and weird-bearded servers, and a barely filtered owner, the West Front Street eatery appears to be off to a running, if low-key, start on his goal of “bringing something unique” to the town.
Bar manager Dudley Delhagen with the faux cathedral window tequila display, which features 116 varieties. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The vision, owner Brian Katz said, includes not only a “Mexicali” menu perfecte over the last 13 years at his first restaurant, in Belmar, but live music – cover bands need not apply – a panoramic river view and a bar with more than 100 flavors of tequila.
“I think every other Mexican restaurant in New Jersey, their main focus is sombreros and blankets and maracas,” Katz told redbankgreen on Wednesday. “We wanted to hit another side of it,” with elements such as the the the comic mural and screened loops from classic 1970s luche libra wrestling films featuring the Blue Demon and other luchadores.
“Just in the past week, I must have had 30 people ask me, ‘what are these movies?,'” he said.
It’s “tapping into a culture most Americans don’t know about,” said manager Chris Masi, formerly of the Downtown, just a few doors away.
After starting off as a cook, the 46-year-old Katz, who grew up in HIghtstown, landed in the San Francisco Bay area in 1987, where he spent several years “cooking and doing a lot of speed, because I was working a lot of hours,” he said with his characteristic lack of self-editing. It was there, he said, that he got his introduction to avocados and fresh ingredients of the kind that weren’t common back in New Jersey.
“I wasn’t seeing it around here 30 years ago,” he said.
After working kitchens in South Beach and elsewhere, he launched 10th Ave. Burrito 13 years ago in a 400-square-front storefront in Belmar, where every meal was cooked to order, he said. Some of his original crew is still with him, he said.
An attempt to get a second store going in Point Pleasant Beach failed, Katz said, because he couldn’t get a license to sell booze, and “it’s hard without a liquor license. It’s really hard.”
But whereas the Belmar location has a seasonal license, the Red Bank restaurant has the year-round benefit of the license owned by the landlord, Mike Gilson, who owned the predecessor Fixx and Chubby’s nightclubs there. Katz said he and Gilson “partnered up” on the concept after a friend who knew he was looking to open another restaurant introduced them.
The bar is a key element of Katz’s plan to distinguish 10th Ave. in an increasingly crowded restaurant market downtown, and tequila is its star. It features 116 tequilas under 45 labels, the bottles colorfully backlit by a faux cathedral window.
Too many people associate tequila with their first, youthful experience of downing nasty, low-quality product, said bar manager and tequila aficionado Dudley Delhagen. But the good stuff reveals great flavor richness, he said.
“It’s great, because it’s so complex. There’s a different flavor profile for every tequila out there,” said Delhagen, who joined Katz’s tag team after stints at a handful of Monmouth County bars, including Watermark, Angosta Lounge and Porta in Asbury Park. “The way they make it, the way they barrel it, where they harvested [the pima, the heart of the agave], what the elevation is. It’s mind-boggling.”
For newbies and devotees alike, Delhagen has arranged flights of tequila, priced from $15 to $22, that include a silver, a reposado, and a more full-bodied anejo, all from 100-percent blue agave plants. For the truly devoted or deep-pocketed, there’s Herradura Suprema, which goes for a pricelist-topping $70 for a two-ounce shot. He’ll also be offering tequila tastings aimed at educating the curious, Delhagen said.
With the opening of the Red Bank restaurant, Katz is no longer in the kitchen, thanks to a staff of 100 employees over the two locations. The only branding the servers are required to wear is a 10th Ave. t-shirt, but that’s just so customers know they work there. Otherwise, employees “can cut them up and show their tattoos,” he said.
It’s part of creating a relaxed, authentic atmosphere that’s as far away from chain Mexican as you can get, said Katz.
“We didn’t do the fanfare when we opened” last week, said Katz. “We wanted to just open the doors and let it happen.”
10th Ave. Burrito Company is at 26 West Front Street, at the corner of Boat House Way. It’s open for dinner starting at 5 p.m. now, but will be adding adding lunch in a week or two, said manager Chris Masi. Meantime, the live music lineup includes the Brummy Brothers Friday night at 9 p.m. [NOTE: The original version of this story said the Banditos would appear on Friday, August 7. They’re scheduled to appear on Monday, August 10.]