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Firebird's Wood Fired Grill at the Monmouth Mall Eatontown, NJ

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As usual I was finishing up a little late last night and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do………..and I remembered reading about this place opening at the Monmouth Mall so I decided to check it out.

I don’t even know where to start with this “experience”……..

I got there around 9:00pm, and I was the ONLY customer in the entire place. When I walked in I was greeted by a gentleman who welcomed me with “Welcome to Firebirds, we close at 10pm”. I assumed he was just letting me know the kitchen was closing at 10pm. When I sat at the bar, all alone, I asked the bartender and he confirmed the restaurant AND bar close at 10pm?!?!?! Now let me preface this with the fact the bartender seemed like a nice enough guy and I’m not trying to be mean or offensive, but I’m not sure he was “all there”. The lights are on but nobody’s home? A few fries short of a happy meal? Not the sharpest tool in the shed? A few peas short of a casserole? I think you get my point.

I ordered my normal drink Stoli Martini, no vermouth, olives. The bar is very elaborate with the bottles on mirrored shelves sorted by color to create a very impressive display. The problem is the pour bottles are also on these shelves and “Skippy” as we will call him was too short to reach the Stoli bottle. What I next witnessed could possibly qualify as some sort of Olympic event of jumping, squatting, jumping, and leveraging on a beer cooler before he was finally able to get the bottle off the shelf. A whole new meaning to “Top Shelf” liquor.

After pouring my drink and walking away I called him back to request the olives which I originally asked for, I figured the exertion of getting the bottle might have distracted him from how I ordered my drink. He acknowledged my request and then knelt down on the floor in front of a cooler and took out the contents, the fruit rack, jar of cherries, bottle’s of drink mix…..just about the full contents of the cooler only to turn around and tell me he doesn’t have any plain olives but will “wash out” some blue cheese stuffed one’s if I like. I declined his generous offer and just took the blue cheese stuffed olives.

I asked for a menu knowing the kitchen was closing soon. I looked the menu over and honestly I was so “uncomfortable” I decided to just get an appetizer and call it an early night. I ordered the crab cakes appetizer and handed him back the menu. As I tried to relax and enjoy my drink I couldn’t help but notice how diligently the bartender was “cleaning” the bar. He took every bottle out of the speed rack and placed it on the bar and squirted and rubbed, squirted and rubbed I honestly thought he might wear the finish off the metal speed rack. Then he moved on draft dispensers….same thing, this guys family must own stock in windex the way he was going through it. I stopped him a second and asked him; “How long have you guys been open now?” he responded “One week”…..I then asked him, how dirty can the bar be if it’s only a week old? He shrugged and went back to his cleaning.

To distract myself from him I took a good look around the place. The build out of the space is very impressive, the bar/lounge is really beautiful, large fireplace (gas fireplace was off) with large piles of wood on each side to fuel the gas fireplace, which again was off. But the place is very nice looking over all. Oh wait they also have a “Firebird” above the fireplace that looked like it was made from recycled Budweiser beer cans, but other than that the place is truly nice looking.

My crab cakes arrived and looked very nice, two of average size. ($15.95) It was served with some kind of a tortilla slaw in the middle and per the menu a “mango habnero chutney” –or- what I would like to call orange marmalade. The crab cakes weren’t bad…..but they also weren’t good either. The whole combination of the dish just didn’t work, the crab cakes had nice lumps of real crab meat in them……but it just didn’t work, I can’t explain it any better than that.

By this time it was nearing 9:45 and while a couple of women came in for a cocktail it was clear they were getting ready to close when the cleaning person came in the front door and started piling up her cleaning supplied at the hostess desk. Back Pack Vacuum (check), Caddy of cleaning supplies (check), box of large garbage bags (check). She then began to “undress” from her out-door winter cloths into her underneath cleaning clothes at the hostess desk as well.

Also during the time I was there the place was visited by a variety of curious people. I assume mall goers that wanted to poke their head in for a look, but I’m not 100% sure of that or if they were members of the bartender’s family checking up on him. I couldn’t really tell.

Various employees mulled around in various forms of uniform and street clothes as it was nearing closing time I assume. The bartender did check on how the crab cakes were and I lied through my teeth and said “excellent thank you”. I would have imagined a manager or someone from front of the house staff would have stopped by to check, introduce themselves or just acknowledge the only customer in the place…..but perhaps they were busy ordering more windex for Skippy.

I honestly haven’t experienced a more bizarre experience in recent memory. Given the location of this place, The Monmouth Mall, in a location an Old County Buffet couldn't cut it I have no idea who this place is trying to appeal to. If this place makes 1 year I will be shocked.

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  1. this is why you don't go to the mall to eat JR ; )

    just kidding....i guess I will pass on this (not that I frequent the mall much.)

    I still want to try Joes crab shack to see what that is about.

    3 Replies
    1. re: corvette johnny

      I hated Joe's Crab Shack so much it inspired me to "re-join" Chow just to post this review, enjoy;

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8276...

      1. re: jrvedivici

        I have no idea what you wrote about Joe's Crab Shack, but I'm impressed (and amused) by your sense of purpose. That place must have caused some seriously strong emotions. I guess now I have to go and read it.

      2. re: corvette johnny

        I like Joe's Crab Shack. I only ate there once, but thought the portions were huge and nothing tasted freezer burned. I don't drink very much so I didn't have any interaction with the bar. I do think it is waaaaayyyy too loud for my elderly ears in there. I ate at the one in Lawrenceville.

      3. Even the name of the place seems off. Surprised to see it's a chain.

        1. ok I guess I will cross joes off my list too LOL

          1. Having worked for a National Chain as part of a Regional Corporate Training Staff to open new facilities.....the cleaning you described is commonplace and required as a part of training and ultimately their cleaning duties before being checked out before the end of their shifts.

            Thanks for the memories...

            8 Replies
            1. re: fourunder

              A few weeks ago I was talking to somebody who services cooking equipment for restaurants in New Jersey, and he said hands down the White Castles in the area are the cleanest.

              1. re: ebchower

                The Private Sector....could learn very much from the Corporate Chain Sector....on how a restaurant should be run, both administratively and operationally...especially when it comes to .standards for food safety and cleanliness.

                1. re: fourunder

                  A friend who has been a waiter at many diners and chains told me he would only trust a chain not to recycle bread that a patron didn't eat.

                  1. re: ebchower

                    He lied, bread can often be recycled. Even if not for service as bread again, for croutons, stuffing, bread pudding any number of things.

                    I taught my children from the time they were babies, when eating at a diner ALWAYS bite the pickle. End the pickle cycle, there are pickles in circulation in NJ diners that were put into service when Nixon was President. Ohhhh if diner pickles could talk!

                    1. re: jrvedivici

                      JR, your posts never fail to make me smile. And yes, restaurants do recycle the bread (breadcrumbs, croutons, etc.

                      1. re: jrvedivici

                        So you're saying if a customer leaves a dinner roll behind, it's acceptable for the restaurant to use it for bread crumbs? That's what he was talking about. The dinner roll you were served may have been served to previous customers who didn't bite into it.

                        1. re: ebchower

                          I'm not saying it is acceptable, but I am saying in probably 50% of restaurants that serve bread/rolls etc will recycle what has been left behind, unused in a basket. Yes. Actually I would say more like 70% as I think of it.

                          If you walk into a typical diners kitchen dishwasher station it will rival the most advanced city recycling center. There are buckets for recycling of un-squeezed lemons, pickles, crackers, butter packets......you name it they recycle it.

                2. re: fourunder

                  I agree completely, all I'm going to say is you had to see this guy clean.

                3. Maybe people were home in bed for work or home watching the Olympics. It is a week night in the dead of Winter. No football, etc.

                  1. Monmouth Mall closes at 10pm and all businesses leased within are also required to close then.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: equal_Mark

                      I do not believe they have a mall entrance so I figured similar to Buffalo Wild Wings they would have their own hours of operation. BWW does not close at 10pm.

                      1. re: jrvedivici

                        i can't speak for Monmouth Mall...but most of the restaurants in Northern Jersey were revamped @ the mall to have their own entrance.....You could enter an hour after the stores close before they would turn you away....then you have another hour to have your meal...but that's also the same for places that don't have their own entrance as well(sit down)

                        1. re: fourunder

                          This is also necessary because of the Bergen County blue laws if mall restaurants are to open on Sunday.

                          1. re: ebchower

                            True..but it's the same now for Willowbrook and probably others as well.

                    2. We got a "$10 off" card for Firebirds in the mail a few days ago. My wife said Let's Go, but I said No -- but only because generic burger/steak chains are not on my ToDo list. If she pushes the issue, now I can instead blame JR! Thanks!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: drongo

                        Lol how does it always wind up bring my fault!?!?! (I don't to discourage people from going to try, like anything YMMV, I just want your expectations to be realistic. I think SusieQQ pretty much confirmed my feelings with her full dinner review.)

                      2. Went to Firebirds on Friday night with the family. There was a 20-30 minute wait for the four of us so we sat at a high top in the bar area. Aside from the attentive servers, this place was a complete let down (and trust me, I didn't go in with high hopes - it's a chain and at the mall). My teenage sons were baffled by the set up of the bar area. They kept wondering if this place is trying to be a restaurant or a bar? There were 4 high tops, each about 14-16" deep and about 4-5' long, fixed in place in what we thought were not the best locations (one was in the middle of the main through-way to the dining room with barely enough space to get through without either skimming the booth on the right or the bar area on the left). When we got our menus and saw that there are only 3 or 4 appetizers and no 'bar foods' we wondered why they have this dedicated large bar area and unusually sized high tops.

                        When we got our food, we had to alternate plates and drinks on the table because the four plates could only fit if they were lined up in a straight line.

                        The food: Yuck. Caesar salad was a lettuce mix completely over dressed. It was presented as a lump of wet lettuce dumped on half of the salad plate. Tortilla soup was OK - but most certainly not homemade or fresh. Two 7 oz filets ordered medium rare came out on the rare side. They were bacon wrapped (you know the kind a restaurant orders frozen by the dozen and the bacon is grey and soggy) and I truly think they used the weight of the bacon to calculate the 7 ounces. The steak did not appear to have been grilled or hand cut as the menu states. Sides of steak fries were limp and they were not even steak fries but rather thicker cut fast food style fries. The tempura fried chicken salad was another lump of wet over dressed bagged salad greens with 4 strips of chicken on top. I have to say that the chicken wasn't bad but that was all that was edible on the plate. And lastely, the salmon was bland and not cooked well and clearly not 'wood grilled'

                        What a waste overall. This is just another chain restaurant using the same food distributers as all the others.

                        Monmouth county deserves better than all these yucky chain restaurants serving bad food, lots of salt and fat, fat, fat.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: McSmith

                          I also did a review on this place...click on my name if you want to read it..

                          Sad thing is that Firebirds and all those other Chain restaurant keep raking in the customers...I don't understand people!

                          1. re: SusieQQ

                            I met a Brazilian woman over the weekend who claims to "know her bbq" (as in grilled meats) and was raving about this place. People are strange.

                            1. re: joonjoon

                              I've been to a Brazilian BBQ restaurant in Rio and believe me it was nothing like this...very strange, indeed...

                          2. re: McSmith

                            sorry, i'm confused. why would you want to get homemade soup at a restaurant? is that even legal? i would hope it is made in a restaurant kitchen.

                            1. re: freshmanjs

                              Sorry, logistical mistake. 'Home made' should have been written as 'not poured from a can'..... Does this make my review more clear?

                          3. Ok, so I was meeting someone for a late liquid lunch and when we were discussing where to meet they mentioned this place and they haven't been. I told them if it's just drinks that's fine, but if they thought there were going to want to eat something I might suggest somewhere else. Drink's it was so we met here around 4pm.

                            I ordered my usual Stoli "martini" up, no vermouth, olive's (no olive juice). Drink was prepared as requested, my friend arrived and we caught up on things.

                            I had a conversation with the bartender and we discussed the 10pm weekday, 11pm weekend closing times. How it's really silly to have such an elaborate bar/lounge area and operate those hours. The place is set up to really settle in and get comfortable, but by the time you do, it's closing time and you would have to bounce somewhere else. Totally kills the vibe or desire to make this a destination spot for a night out.

                            Anyway....my friend decided they wanted a "snack" and asks for a menu. The bartender points out it's happy hour till 6:30pm and shows us the $5. Happy Hour Menu. On it I notice they have Belvedere Martini's for $5.00 -
                            Question;

                            Do you think if you order a drink, which they have on special or happy hour, the bartender should tell you? In other words when I ordered my "Stoli" martini, don't you think the bartender should say "Hey we have Belvedere on Happy Hour"? Your thoughts?

                            I noticed on the Happy Hour menu they offer "American Kobe pigs in a blanket" (WTF?) and "American Kobe meatballs". (WTF? #2) What is American Kobe Beef? Is that what we are going with now? Really? Are people really falling for this or has Kobe Bryant gotten into the wholesale meat business and I missed it? I find this kind of insulting to the consumer trying to play off of Kobe beef. Perhaps it's just me. Sorry I can't let it go yet.....did you read that? American Kobe Beef Pigs in a Blanket? That's a Kobe Beef Hot Dog? Really? Is Japan really shipping us the lips and assholes (c'mon we all know that's what hotdogs really are) of their Kobe Beef cattle and sending it to us in the US to stuff in a hot dog casing?

                            They also had "pretzel's and Sam Adams Beer Sauce", which we ordered. They came out after a few minutes, 4 pretzel sticks, and the sauce. The first thing I noticed was the "film" on the sauce, see my link from a thread I started on the Chains board;

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/969618
                            (this picture is NOT from Firebirds, just illustrating exactly what I'm talking about

                            )

                            As soon as they put the plate down in front of me I showed the bartender the film on the cheese sauce, she immediately offered to bring me a new sauce, which I declined, but I wanted her to take note to observe before serving. This really, really irks me, this dish went from the cook to the runner, to the bartender and not 1 of those people had enough sense to look at the plate before serving it?

                            Anyway the pretzel sticks were way too salty, requiring us to shave most of the salt off the sticks. The sticks themselves were very "soggy" in texture, no true pretzel feel to them at all. Bottom line; they sucked.

                            I loathe this place. If I find myself there again, and have a similarly miserable experience I might actually wish them harm. I hate seeing such money spent on something that is so badly executed. Such a shame, chain or not, the employees, the customers, society as a whole deserves better!

                            Rant over.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jrvedivici

                              Me thinks the bartender hates his job and resents those who look to take advantage of happy hour pricing....thus reducing his check average and tip.

                              Too much salt on a pretzel....now you're the one who expects too much...it's their version of a soft pretzel.

                            2. I have seen the poor reviews on this site, but we have eaten twice there this past month and like it.

                              First, the kids meals are excellent with some great choices different than the usual chix fingers or mac and cheese (which they have as well).

                              The bread is excellent and my wife LOVED her salad, she keeps talking about great it was.

                              I have had the chicken sandwich and the chili-rubbed delmonico, I thought both were very good.

                              We might even go back to there tonight depending on how long my kids allergy appointment lasts.

                              Joe