Updated: Jan. 25, 2023, 9:10 a.m.|Published: Jan. 23, 2023, 7:00 a.m.
By Peter Genovese | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Stop weeping and whining and whimpering about the cold — it’s winter, for heaven’s sake — and get outside. You heard me. This is the season we all love to hate, and yes, you need to get out of the house every once in a while and enjoy a mellow, memorable meal in a warm, cozy restaurant.
Many of the restaurants on my coziest restaurants list have fireplaces, but the common ingredient is that they are great retreats on wicked wintry nights. Quite a few of those are still ahead of us. My picks are all over the cozy map — a mix of high-end restaurants and low-profile hangouts; hotels and inns; even a diner and Irish pub. “Cozy” doesn’t have to mean small, but it does have to mean warm and inviting, and all of these places fit the bill.
This is an updated version of a list that last appeared in 2022. The places are not ranked, but are listed alphabetically by town.
The Irish Pub, Atlantic City
Forget the antiseptic casino bar/restaurant scene and head to the Irish Pub, a hallowed hangout and decorated with vintage photos and posters. The red hotel pieces in Monopoly are based on the Irish Pub, which opened in 1972. Harp, Bass and Killian’s are on tap, the food’s good, and you can even get rooms upstairs in the inn starting at the unheard-of price of $50.
Circle Tavern, Avalon
The Circle Tavern is the more relaxed, intimate, cozier cousin to the connected Princeton Bar. Kick back at the bar or settle into one of the booths. The Circle’s open year-round; the kitchen’s open until 10 p.m., the bar until 2 a.m. This time of year, it’s just you and the locals. They take fries seriously here; there are four kinds, including the Tavern Fries, with bacon, jalapeños, melted cheese and ranch dressing.
Shady Rest Restaurant, Bayville
Shady Rest is a tile-floored, wood-paneled local hangout known for its seafood, Italian food and pizza. It looks rather unremarkable from the outside but the interior is cozy and convivial. Specials might include the apple, cranberry, and sausage–stuffed pork chops; bruschetta chicken; or grouper oreganata. The rose garden here is surely one of the most colorful spots to eat in the county.
Il Villagio, Cherry Hill
The Chef’s Room at Il Villagio may be the ultimate in cozy: a long table that seats 24 in a closed-door room. The main dining room features a wood fireplace, and the menu offers refined versions of pasta, chicken, veal and seafood standards. “Try the whole fish (filleted) table-side or grilled veal chop!” one reader suggested.
The Barrow House, Clifton
I love the massive wooden bar at the Barrow House, which looks as if it would survive an earthquake, tornado and whatever else you’d want to throw at it. A fireplace and wood floors add to the cozy feeling. “I love the fireplace, the small rooms, one room has sofas and the large room for a party looks like a barn and just a good feeling when you are there,” one of our Jersey Eats Facebook members said. Pumpkin cornbread, Thai cobb salad and chocolate creme brulee are among the creative dishes.
The Cranford Hotel, Cranford
At the Cranford Hotel, you get your choice of cozy: Upstairs is a more sedate bar; downstairs attracts a livelier, late-night crowd. Lot of history here: The building dates to 1882 and the hotel lasted until the 1970s; there was once a bowling alley in the basement. The place serves solid, dependable food — salads, sandwiches, pot pie, steak, seafood, pizza and more. It’s not exactly a winter drink, but the watermelon lemonade, with watermelon, local mint, simple syrup and house-made sour mix, may be the naughtiest lemonade ever. I sampled it during our best bar showdown in 2019.
Filomena Lakeview, Deptford
A stagecoach stop in the 1700s, Filomena Lakeview, named after the owner’s mother, is now one of Gloucester County’s best-known Italian restaurants. There are fireplaces in both upstairs and downstairs dining rooms, and you absolutely must try the gnocchi, made by the restaurant’s octogenarian namesake.
The Quiet Man, Dover
“I always wonder why they don’t make it onto any of these lists, definitely incredible food and super cozy!” one reader said of the Quiet Man in a previous coziest restaurant story. Well, here they are! The Quiet Man was opened by Dublin-born Francis Burke in 1979. The Quiet Man is hallmarked by a friendly, cozy bar and the elegant Maureen O’Hara Room for that special occasion. The menu features such Irish standards as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and bangers, plus burgers, steaks, chops and pastas. The pub’s scalloped potatoes are so popular you can buy them by the tray.
Dunellen Hotel and Rathskeller, Dunellen
You want history? The Dunellen Hotel and Rathskeller has history. The building dates to 1869 and in 1925 it was named the Charlotte Inn, changing to the Dunellen Hotel in 1929. Clark Gable ate here at least once. Walter Stone, writer for Jackie Gleason, was so enamored by the hotel’s atmosphere that he wrote an episode in which Gleason petitioned to buy it in a 1954 episode of “The Honeymooners.”
The upstairs dining room has been extensively renovated, but the downstairs Rathskeller has remained largely untouched, with its hard oak barstools and hand-hewed beams. There’s also a surprisingly good craft beer selection.
Franklinville Inn, Franklinville
Does any state do colonial inns better than New Jersey? The Franklinville Inn started as a stagecoach stop in a town once known as Little Ease. There’s an award-winning wine list, although the Southern Pink Flamingo (coconut rum, peach bourbon, pineapple juice, grenadine) seems a sure-fire winter blues chaser.
Angelo’s Glassboro Diner, Glassboro
Angelo’s Glassboro Diner may be the state’s most quintessential small-town diner and a timeless slice of Americana with its swivel stools, grill out front and cheery waitresses. Nothing says winter comfort food quite like a heaping serving of scrapple, in abundant supply here. Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
The Mile Square City may be nightlife central, but calm, collected refuges like Amanda’s remain. The elegant but unstuffy dining rooms are the perfect place for that special night out, and their Sunday brunches are the stuff of mid-morning legend.
Carpe Diem, Hoboken
The time-warp wonder known as Carpe Diem is one of the Hoboken’s lesser-known restaurant/bars. Famous folks on the walls include Einstein, Lennon, Elvis and Babe Ruth. Menu includes grilled steak sandwich, shepherd’s pie, braised short ribs and hearty homemade soup. Excellent wings, too; they made my most recent N.J.’s best wings list.
Hillbilly Hall, Hopewell Township
The name just screams warm and inviting. Hillbilly Hall is an old-time family tavern, with wood-plank floors, fireplace, live music, and a menu that runs from pizza, poppin’ peppers and wings to cheesesteaks, reubens and burgers. Reporters covering the 1935 trial of Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of the murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son, used it as a base of operations because it had food, restrooms, “and most importantly, a telephone which was still a luxury item up here on the mountain,” according to the web site.
Park Tavern, Jersey City
Dark, quiet, inviting interior; good food on a tiny grill; killer jukebox — Johnny Cash, The Band, Stones, early Bruce and more — the Park Tavern is a welcome retreat from downtown’s clamor. Eight-ounce burger on a Pechter’s roll, with a beer: what more do you need? The cheeseburger ranked #9 on our list of the state’s best burgers. Slip a dollar in the jukebox, and escape from the outside world for as long as necessary. There’s an outdoor patio, for when it gets warmer. Which it will. Eventually.
Anton’s at the Swan, Lambertville
We’ve called Lambertville the state’s best small town, and Anton’s at the Swan is its coziest hangout. Built in the late 1800s, the Swan Hotel was bought in 1971 by Jim Bulger, who owns the Swan Bar. The restaurant is now owned by Chris Connors, who is also the chef. White tablecloths, high-backed chairs and oil paintings lend a refined colonial air; check out the model of Independence Hall. Entrees include roasted asparagus risotto, grilled hanger steak, grilled pork chop with truffle mashed potatoes. The bar menu includes many of the same dishes. And don’t forget the sourdough bread, baked fresh daily. “My sourdough bread contains flour, water and salt,” says Connors. “That’s it, really, that’s it.”
St. James’s Gate Publick House, Maplewood
Sit down at the bar inside St. James’s Publick House and order “a plain one” or “a blonde in a black dress.” They’ll know what you’re talking about (it’s a Guinness). A fireplace provides warmth on the coldest of nights, and Irish music, programmed and live, transports you to the Emerald Isle. If that doesn’t, the food surely will, with Donegal chicken tenders, Celtic wings, Galway salmon, potato leek soup, hot corned beef, whiskey grilled chicken, and bubble and squeak among the offerings. Bubble and squeak is the traditional British dish of whipped potatoes and sauteed vegetables, often cabbage. But you knew that.
Braddocks Tavern, Medford
Another grand colonial inn, Braddocks Tavern dates to the mid-1800s, when it was known as the Medford House Hotel. Today, dining rooms are spread across two floors, and there are two banquet halls, the Colonial Room and Tamberson Hall. Parmesan herb biscuits, chicken pot pie, black Angus meatloaf and rack of lamb are among the menu selections. Save room for the creme brulee or carrot cake.
Blue Monkey Tavern, Merchantville
Never heard of Merchantville? You have now. The Camden County town is home to the Blue Monkey, with its mahogany bar and one of the state’s best craft beer selections. Their burgers are so good I named the Blue Monkey as one of the state’s 18 best restaurants.
Descendants Brewing Co./The Ship Inn, Milford
A cozy port in any storm or blizzard, the Ship Inn in 1995 became the first business in the state to brew beer for public consumption since Prohibition. It is now home to Descendants Brewing. The menu includes the Great Debate Burger (with “pork roll/Taylor ham, local sunny-side up egg, cheddar fries”), prime rib sandwich, cottage pie (ground beef, onion, carrots, peas, tomato, mashed potatoes) and fish n’ chips.
The Grand Cafe, Morristown
The Grand Cafe effortlessly combines elegant and cozy in an alluring package. There are private rooms for that special occasion, and the menu offers American and French dishes, and an impressive wine list to boot. “How could you have missed the Grand Cafe in Morristown?” one reader scolded us about our previous list. “We now live in Charleston, S.C., but no trip back to N.J. for us leaves out a meal in the warmth of the Grand Cafe.”
Stage Left Steak, New Brunswick
“Best steaks in New Jersey” is the modest claim at Stage Left Steak in downtown New Brunswick. Rutgers grads Francis Schott and Mark Pascal opened Stage Left in 1992. They opened Catherine Lombardi, upstairs, in 2006. Both boast excellent wine lists, and Catherine Lombardi is also known for its cocktails. The bar at Stage Left make for a cozy perch. There are eight steaks on Stage Left’s Menu (the 28-day dry-aged porterhouse goes for a cool $159.95) but you’ll be happy with the Stage Left Burger, with aged Vermont cheddar and chipotle mayo.
The Tewksbury Inn, Oldwick
The Tewksbury Inn — the “Tewks” — is not on here because it was the singles hangout when I lived in Clinton, but for its convivial bar and country inn atmosphere, on the main drag of one of the state’s more charming small towns.
The Plumsted Grill, Plumsted
The last time I was in the Plumsted Grill, a waitress walked past me with a plate of pork chops that looked and smelled so amazIng I wanted to snatch those chops and run out the door. Wood beams and a fireplace are the quintessence of cozy. The menu runs from wings, stuffed mushrooms and seafood antipasto to pastas, salads, burgers and steaks. Oh, and those pork chops — available both broiled and pan-fried — are still on the menu.
Nancy’s Towne House, Rahway
Nancy’s Towne House is undoubtedly the state’s coziest pizzeria. It’s like walking into someone’s basement or den, albeit someone who makes excellent thin-crust pizza. It’s one of those old-school haunts — wood-paneling, red-checked tablecloths, bar — you hope survives into the next millennium. The crust here may be the state’s most distinctive as far as thin-crust: crispy, crackly, airy. On my most recent visit, I had one with peppers, onions and sausage, a dazzling doughy trio if there ever was one. Not surprisingly, it ended up on our epic list of New Jersey’s 99 greatest pizzas.
Rocky Hill Inn, Rocky Hill
New Jersey is packed with colonial-style inns; the cozy Rocky Hill Inn, in one of the state’s more charming small towns, is one of them. It’s a gastropub, with the emphasis on beer and burgers. The RHI burger, with applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar and a Griggstown Farm sunnyside-up egg, is an excellent choice any time of the day. And don’t forget to try the homemade onion rings.
Stage House Tavern, Scotch Plains
This version of the Stage House opened in 2003, as the 1737 building — it was a primary meeting place for troop messengers and officers during the Revolutionary War — transformed from a fine dining destination to “quality tavern fare and (a) fun nightlife” spot, so says the website. A Somerset location opened in 2011, and a Mountainside Stage House opened in 2017. “Our favorite go to with a variety of side dining rooms with fireplaces,” one reader noted. “Their filet mignon with au gratin potatoes is to die for! They also have great 4 course meals for a reasonable pre-set price on holidays.”
Sergeantsville Inn, Sergeantsville
Long regarded as one of the state’s landmark restaurants, the Sergeantsville Inn started as a private residence in the 1700s in what was then Skunktown. The post office didn’t much like the name, so it was changed to Sergeantsville. There are fireplaces in the dining rooms, and the ambitious menu includes smoked tea-brined duck breast and chestnut gnocchi.
Andre’s Lakeside Dining, Sparta
You can’t beat the views any time of year at Andre’s, nestled on Seneca Lake. The owners are Andre and Tracey deWaal, and the food is French with an Asian flair. Looking for the ultimate romantic dinner? Reserve the small upstairs party room.
Stirling Hotel, Stirling
One of 10 finalists in our epic N.J.’s best bar showdown, the Stirling Hotel is a rustic roadhouse in a little-known Morris County town that combines great atmosphere, good food and a stellar craft beer selection. Ignore the moose head on the wall, if you can, and pull up a seat at the bar, or a table in one of the dining rooms. Recommended: the Tavern Burger and the great homemade chips.
The Huntley Taverne, Summit
A grand, imposing facade, wood beams, fireplace and high ceilings add up to refined cozy at the Huntley Taverne. The Huntley Salad, with local greens and apples, pancetta, spicy candied walnuts, buttermilk blue cheese and apple cider vinaigrette, makes for a good, and healthy, start. Then you can go to town on the Vermont cheddar burger, the filet mignon wrap, the warm smoked turkey & brie sandwich, and other dishes.
Hawk’s Nest, Red Tail Lodge, Mountain Creek, Vernon
Located on the second floor of the Red Tail Lodge at Mountain Creek, the Hawk’s Nest has that essential country cozy element — deer antler chandeliers! Big comfy chairs, giant fireplace (try to nab the couch in front), outdoor fire pits and a wide-ranging menu. And the mountain views are stunning.
Walpack Inn, Walpack
The Walpack Inn, opened by two Bergen County residents in 1949, is truly one-of-a-kind: gorgeous vistas (meadows, woods, hills), lodge-like interior, and a meat-centric menu geared to satisfy the most primal carnivore. The decor is a blast, a Wild Kingdom of stuffed animals — bear, deer, sheep, buffalo, pheasant and more. Portions are huge, and I’m still fantasizing over the prime ribs on my last visit — and that was 10 years ago.
Sebastian’s Schnitzelhaus, Wrightstown
If wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, sauerkraut and bratwurst in a lively atmosphere with colorfully attired waitresses doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, there’s no hope for you. Sebastian’s Schnitzelhaus has all that, and more.
The Barn, Wyckoff
You can’t get any cozier than a barn. The Barn is an 1879 barn converted to a rustic hangout. American flag in the corner, beams and a wagon wheel overhead. “With the lights dimmed in the winter-time, is incredibly cozy and winter-y,” one reader said on Facebook. “Place is packed all the time from Halloween through the end of the winter simply for the ambience.”
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Peter Genovese may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, @petegenovese. Instagram: @peteknowsjersey and @themunchmobile.