Good Eats: The Lincoln Inn – Linked in with the Neighborhood
The Economou brothers – Ted on the left, John on the right at The Lincoln Inn
Real confidence in the renewal of the Jersey City Heights continues to build, and the recent completion of a major overhaul of a Heights institution like the Lincoln Inn is just one more indication of it. And when I say institution, I mean it – this everyman’s style of eatery has been in business for over sixty years in the same location on Lincoln Street, just steps off Central Avenue.
The Lincoln Inn was founded and subsequently run by Phil Ackerman for over thirty years until he sold the popular spot in 1984 to George and Nick Economou, brothers who had emigrated to the U.S. from a small town called Preveza in northwestern Greece a dozen years prior. The siblings ran the restaurant pretty much the same way Ackerman had – same menu, same working class vibe – until they retired in 2012. That same year, George’s sons, John and younger brother Ted (pictured right), both of whom grew up helping out in the restaurant (and incidentally lived in the house immediately next door to the eatery), took over the daily operations of the restaurant from their father and uncle.
Despite all of its history, John and Ted knew that the venerable Lincoln Inn was getting a bit stale, and was due for an update. First, they streamlined the menu, which had become too broad. But traditions die hard, as they quickly found out. “We tried to make some minor changes to the restaurant’s signature dish – the sliced steak sandwich – and the old-timers nearly took my head off,” John said with a laugh. So by the time the extensive interior renovations were completed in February of 2013, the brothers figured out the hard way what could go and what had to stay, at least in terms of the menu. According to Ted, “This was about making a long-term investment. Some of the older crowd saw some of the changes as a negative thing, but now we’re actively trying to attract a younger crowd, and as the neighborhood begins to turn over, we’ll get them.”
In terms of interior aesthetics, John (who does much of the cooking alongside a full time cook) and Ted (who is currently studying English at Drew University) were absolutely sure that the dark wood paneling, the 1950s lighting and the – well, pretty much everything had to go. So after a complete interior gutting, the Lincoln Inn now sports a sharp black granite bar with trendy small, colored glass tiles behind it, oversized terracotta tile floors, smart red cloth table coverings, and four flat screen TVs, only one of which was on, and thankfully, none of them blastingly loud when my wife and I went to lunch on a recent sunny Saturday.
From the outside, The Lincoln Inn displays a neat but unassuming red-painted brick façade with two small windows, a face that dramatically belies the deep and spacious interior that seats over 100, not even including the seats at the long bar. The brothers see the location, at least as of now, as a bit of a drawback. The restaurant and bar is far enough from bustling Central Avenue that it can’t easily be seen when strolling down The Heights’ main drag. Because the building has such a narrow and deep footprint, and is directly attached to another structure on one side, it’s short on natural light, but this is an issue that John and Ted are well aware of. Their plan is to eventually knock out a big chunk of the brick façade in favor of a large plate glass window, which they believe will create more natural light and provide a visible and inviting look from the street. Recently, a huge mural was painted by local artist Ed Morris, on the long brick wall immediately to the left of their storefront, which they say has already brought people down the block and through their doors. But again, the brothers are thinking long term. “When Central Avenue really starts to take off, we’ll be that quieter place away from the buzz,” Ted said with confidence.
This new enterprise isn’t just an exercise in biding time for the Economou brothers – they’re actively engaging with the community. They served as one of the venues during this year’s Jersey City Artists Studio Tour, and they plan to continue to feature work from local visual artists going forward. During our visit, one wall was lined with the colorful paintings/multimedia works of a Jersey City artists Stephanie Riggi and Sharon (sharex) Sinton’s photography from her show entitled “A World of Travel” were hung on another.
Promoting new sounds are in the works too. The brothers are about halfway through the process of acquiring a cabaret license to allow live music; the considerable size of the place and a nook at the back of the restaurant make it a perfect place for all kinds of aural entertainment.
These cordial and easy-going brothers seem like they’re on the same page on just about everything that touches their joint project, but brothers are brothers, and there’s an upside as well as a downside to being in business with family. “The best part is the trust,” John said. “You don’t worry about that part of it.” But when I asked them what the worst part of it was, Ted felt that it is definitely “How personal it all gets. When the day isn’t a good one, it can get pretty tense.”
“You just can’t leave work problems at work,” John chimed in.
I ordered a turkey club during my visit, and opted for the beer battered onion rings (most of the lunch plates are also available with fries or potato salad). It came out with a generous stack of deli turkey on toasted white bread with crisp bacon, tomato, mayo and pickle slices alongside a metal cup of coleslaw.
My wife’s burger (pictured right) was one of the best I’ve seen in a while. It was probably a six or seven ouncer, hand-formed, with a thick slice of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on the side, served on a hefty grilled hard roll. I also had an unsweetened iced tea (not from a mix). These are the sort of diner-style items that typify the lunch offerings. The dinner menu is more ambitious. It includes lots of seafood, like baked clams stuffed with onions and peppers and Salmon Livornaise (cooked with mushrooms, sweet peppers and a spicy tomato sauce) as well as mushroom-stuffed pork chops, big sandwiches, pastas, salads and the aforementioned signature sliced steak dish.
And for the first time ever, the Lincoln Inn will soon offer delivery. It’s open seven days a week, with the bar open until 1 am Sunday-Thursday, and until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays.
It’s still early days for the new Lincoln Inn, for sure. That said, these two fellas grew up in the business, and display the even temperaments and warmth necessary to run a successful restaurant. This a joint that retains lots of links to the old neighborhood, and the faithful set of “regulars” continue to file in every day, but as the The Heights changes – and it’s happening pretty fast – these two brothers show the ambition, ideas, and flexibility to adapt with the new neighborhood that is growing up around them.
The Lincoln Inn is located at 13 Lincoln Street, and can be reached at 201 659 8686 or info(at)thelincolninnjc.com and you can find more info on their website thelincolninnjc.com.
Photos by Tom Ciocco