Starters: Biddy O’Malley’s in Norwood

Starters is a first look at recently opened restaurants. It is meant to be a descriptive glimpse, not a critical review.

Noel O’Malley and his wife, Eileen, have often dined out and “critiqued every place we ate at — what we would do, what we wouldn’t do.”

As an unofficial critic, O’Malley has some credentials: He worked in restaurants in various capacities for much of his life and owned restaurants in partnership with others. This year, the Englewood resident decided it was time to open a restaurant of his own, “someplace you could have a consistently good meal in a relaxing environment.”

O’Malley spent a lot of time searching for the right location in Bergen County — not too big or small — and found a pub with good potential in Northvale, near small communities that don’t have many restaurants, he says.

When he took ownership, it was “very dark and dingy.” He hired a decorator, who had some colorful ideas to brighten it up. O’Malley was initially skeptical, as were the painters when they opened cans of bright yellow, orange and green, he says.

But the bold move transformed the restaurant into exactly what O’Malley envisioned: “fresh, clean and comfortable.” After renovations, the dining room seats 48 people, the bar about 30.

Biddy O’Malley’s opened in June, a blending of Eileen’s childhood nickname and his last name, says O’Malley, who is originally from County Clare in Ireland. The summer months were somewhat of a “soft” opening, with no advertising and smaller crowds, he says.

“For the first four months, we strictly operated on word of mouth, and that was deliberate,” O’Malley says. “I’ve found that restaurants that do huge business right out of the box make a lot of mistakes. They are not ready, not prepared. As much as it would have been nice to have the dining room packed on the day we opened, you want them to talk about the right things, because word travels fast.”

Since then, business has steadily increased, and O’Malley has started advertising and promoting the restaurant, including posting photos of nightly specials to hundreds of Biddy O’Malley’s fans on Facebook.

Ingredients are a particular source of pride and include certified Angus beef, hormone-free poultry and seasonal sustainable seafood, incorporated into “contemporary American with an Irish flair” by executive chef Ryan Lagud and sous-chef Wilson Lindemann.

As much as possible, O’Malley buys locally for his pantry, including seasonal produce and herbs from Stokes Farm in Old Tappan; quail, rabbit and duck from Goffle Brook Farm in Ridgewood; bread from Balthazar Bakery in Englewood; and ravioli and gluten-free pasta from Star Ravioli in Carlstadt.

He also says that “because we cook ‘from scratch’ we can accommodate any special dietary needs. We even carry gluten-free beer.”

O’Malley is especially proud of his shepherd’s pie made with lamb, “the traditional way” unlike the version usually made with beef in the United States, he says.

Other Irish specialties include bangers and mash — Irish sausages roasted with grapes, olives and mushrooms — and fish and chips complete with “mushy peas.”

The Biddy O’Malley’s burger is topped with Gruyère cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, crispy pancetta and malbec butter. Baked mac and cheese is made with cavatappi pasta, chorizo, green apples and cheddar, Asiago and Swiss cheeses, and topped with pistachio crumbs. Lunch and dinner specials change weekly.

O’Malley — who says his 2-year-old daughter is “the real boss” — says his restaurant warmly welcomes children, with a special menu for the “Itty Biddys.”

Biddy O’Malley’s recently started serving Sunday brunch, including The Full Irish (a traditional Irish breakfast with sausages, black and white pudding, eggs, bachelor’s beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, Irish bacon and homemade soda bread), and bacon and cabbage (“the way we really eat it: cured pork loin, cabbage, steamed red bliss potatoes and a homemade parsley sauce.”).

O’Malley also recommends the French toast, served with Godiva maple syrup and white chocolate ganache.

The dessert list is small, featuring one house-made specialty each week, with patisserie items from Didier Dumas in Nyack, N.Y.

O’Malley is proud of his eclectic selection of wine and beer, including 12 draft and 31 bottled brews, with many from American craft breweries such as The Defiant Brewing Co. in Pearl River, N.Y.

The restaurant offers 14 wines by the glass and has just introduced “25 Wines for $25,” a carefully researched list that “makes wine more affordable in this economy,” he says.

Starting in December, Biddy O’Malley’s will offer a “Chef’s Table” menu one night a week, by reservation only, with a different theme each week.

Source: JoyceVenezia Suss, northjersey.com

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