Have you been to in Clark lately? Now under new management, General Manager Eddie Muraca gave Patch an exclusive interview on how he's fixing what he calls the restaurant's "identity crisis" and why it'll be the perfect place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Read on for the scoop and let your voice be heard in the Patch poll and comments section to help Senorita's name their new margarita.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to Senorita's.
Before this job, I was the bar manager at the East Hanover T.G.I.Friday's. I'm from Belleville, and I graduated from Montclair State University with a degree in communication. Through networking, I met Anthony DeAngelis, who is the director of operations for both Senoritas – this one and the flagship in Bloomfield. When I came down to look at this place, I saw lots of potential and signed on in December.
What’s different about Senorita's since you've taken the job?
I did a lot of research, reading online reviews of Senorita's. Most said the food was okay or good, but many had complaints about the service. That's been my big push — I want to make sure customer service is going in the right direction. Also, our future goal is to franchise the place and to do that we're making things more consistent between the two locations. We took two guys from the Bloomfield kitchen and moved them here to help with that. Also, we do share space with the golf course and that's a two way street. We have developed a much better relationship with the managers over there.
The menu at Senorita's has gone through quite a few changes, most recently to including both Italian and Mexican food. Can you talk about the menu now?
In discussion, having a half-Italian, half-Mexican restaurant seems like a great idea, but when you go to execute that it becomes more difficult. It's very hard to find a good Mexican restaurant OR a good Italian restaurant, never mind one that's good at both, right? We wanted to bring back a full authentic Mexican menu, but we also created a pub menu – burgers, appetizers, wings, potato skins, fried calamari, etc. This way, if you're here with a group and you don't like Mexican food or if you come off the golf course and want to sit in the bar and have something quick, you can still get, for instance, a really good burger on a really good bun with really good meat. Also, on the regular menu, we've doubled our Mexican selections and we're bringing back tableside guacamole.
Anything new on the cocktail menu?
We have a new margarita, and we're holding a contest to help name it. The drink is a margarita in an authentic Mexican margarita glass with clips that hold one or two upside-down Coronitas in it. It's awesome. Whoever comes up with the winning name gets an iPad. The contest ends May 4, so we have a name by Cinco de Mayo. We've also changed our sangria recipe to make it a little stronger and taste better. And now we have a happy hour every day with drink specials, $4 appetizers, $3 imports and $2 domestic bottles.
We've noticed there haven't been too many big live music acts anymore. Why the change?
I know in the past they used to do bands every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and we’ve definitely gone away from that. We want this to be a family restaurant, a place you can come with kids. On Friday nights, we have an acoustic guitarist, Sami Eldebs, who I was blown away by when I saw him at another bar. He lays down his own background tracks and plays guitar and sings covers and originals, very mellow acoustic music. He does this awesome, slow cover of "Eye of the Tiger." It's nuts.
Between the golf course and the patio, this is a very tranquil spot and it was never in the original business plan to have loud music here. The question is, is it a bar that plays lots of loud music or a family restaurant? I think the band nights caused an identity crisis with people stepping over audio equipment to go inside and eat dinner with their kids. We’ve been discussing a 10-week concert series over the summer either on Thursdays or one day over weekend, but it'll be light music that you can have a conversation over.
So, a mellow Cinco de Mayo or a fiesta?
Cindo de Mayo is the one day of the year we're going to get a little wild and crazy. Obviously it's the biggest day of the year for any Mexican place. We wanted to take it to next level, so we got a special event permit and we're going to have two areas of activity. The front parking lot will have a big tent with a band, beer stations, vendors and barbecue. But, on the other hand, you can come inside or sit on the patio and it'll have an area for families and kids with a moonbounce and different music. We want to cater to both demographics. The band Punchbully is playing — Sami is part of that band and he'll also be performing in the early afternoon by himself. The festivities start start at noon.
How psyched are you that Cinco de Mayo is on a Saturday this year?
I'm very excited. We got lucky and can take advantage of the whole day. I've been checking the weather like a madman. So far it looks perfect — 77 degrees and partly cloudy. We're hoping for a great turnout.
Name that margarita! In the comments section, leave your name, suggested name for the margarita (see the photo of it in our gallery, above right) and your e-mail address. We will forward to Muraca, who will enter you in the contest.