Restaurants are few and far between along the stretch of Jersey City’s high-rise-dominated waterfront walkway that sits between the Colgate Clock and Hoboken Terminal. Most of the eateries that are there lack access to the unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline on display through the glass walls of Taphaus (2 Second Street, Jersey City; 201-626-6000), now open at Crystal Point. Reality star chef Chris Nirschel describes the 200-seat, 48-tap beer hall as a “gastrogarden.” He serves more than 40 sub-$20 savory plates, many of which are on the cusp of gimmicky, including wontons stuffed with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, fried chicken and waffle sandwiches, and buffalo-sauced rock shrimp.
“I know there’s a food culture already in Jersey City, and craft beers have become huge all around the world, so I didn’t want to focus on one region,” explains Nirschel. “I wanted something diverse, just like this area, which is why I’m catering to all different demographics — I have gluten-free options, I have vegetarian options — I made sure the menu had everything, because I don’t want someone leaving because they can’t eat my food.”
Nirschel made a name for himself in nearby Hoboken, where he lived while appearing on the seventh season of The Next Food Network Star. Though he was eliminated halfway through the show, he’s landed on one reality series after another since, including VH1’s Couples Therapy, where he mended a two-month-old relationship with Jersey Shore‘s Angelina Pivarnick, and MTV’s House of Food as a culinary coach. In between, he’s served as executive chef of Celsius in Bryant Park, and the shuttered Slide, on Bleecker Street.
This is Nirschel’s first project as food and beverage director — he’s simultaneously running the kitchen and dining room and developing the food, beer, and drink menus. The latter includes a bourbon cocktail shaken with a maple-bacon reduction, and a “Chocolate Covered Banana” that’s half banana beer, half chocolate stout.
Nirschel’s intention at Taphaus is not to choose between his on-air and front- and back-of-house duties. There are already plans to open a second Taphaus in a second waterfront development — DUMBO — in the next 18 months. A new reality series is also in the works.
“I’ll be on TV again, but I want people remembering me as badass chef — ‘He’s the culinary bad boy, he’s a bad son of a bitch,’ versus ‘Oh, he was just funny on a TV show.’ ”