The nice couple next to us mentioned that there was a time, 25 years ago, when they came 3 times a week. They didn't look that old, but it was a reminder of how old the Belmont is. In fact, it's way older than that. How old you ask? I have no idea. But it's old.
And throughout its history it has been a required stop if you're in show business and in any way related to north Jersey. The walls are covered with autographed photos of the usual mostly Italian suspects. It also features a photo Studdering John Melendez. Yes of course.
Studdering Stuttering John (Edit: more than two years after the fact I realize that I spelled "stutter" incorrectly).
Here's what you need to know:
When you walk in you have to find John (the maitre d, not the stutterer), who is the guy who pretends to take your name down (he just remembers it I think. Sort of). Then you try to get the bartender's (Jimmy, oftentimes) attention (he doesn't care about you) and you order a drink (not Budweiser, because you'll probably be told "they got bud around the corner" as the barman walks away from you) or maybe a carafe of their cheap Italian red wine (it's Californian). When a table opens up, John will look around and decide if you should be seated. If you get lucky, he'll seat you in under an hour (no reservations accepted).
A crappy bread basket will arrive at the table (why can't they just get some good Italian bread from all of those great old bakeries in Newark and Bloomfield?) along with some old menus. Everything here is old.
I've read lots about the gruff service and the no-nonsense style, and I have to say that the ladies who have taken care of me during my visits are very nice indeed. They are, though, no-nonsense. they're more interested in getting your order than chatting. Our comment of "if we're still hungry after that we'll order more" after ordering what was clearly not deemed enough food, was answered with "not if it gets crowded you won't." We ordered an extra dish right then.
I'd get a couple of carafes of that red wine of theirs. It comes out of a jug that says "burgundy." You have the option of ordering it "chilled" or "room temperature." Our waitress last night said "I'd get it chilled, it's not very good to begin with." She's right. Get it chilled. It's not very good to begin with.
If you're really interested in a decent wine, they do have a "list" which i'd think has chianti in some form and whatnot, although it's probably not printed.
You want to start with some oreganato dishes. I say go with the clams and also with the shrimp, which isn't on the menu. And an order of hot peppers (they're summer peppers: summer hot, summer not so hot). You'll also be getting a salad of lightly-dressed salad greens. And they're quite acceptable.
Even if you don't want it, you'll be brow-beaten into ordering a pasta course (ahh, just like Italy). You can get the cavatelli with pot cheese, or the spaghetti with olive oil and garlic, or pasta with clams, or any number of the 5 or so on the menu. All are reasonable versions of Italian-American dishes.
You also want to order the shrimp "beeps", which are (lightly battered?) shrimp in a somewhat spicy tomato sauce. This is good stuff. I'm told that one order (14 dollars) is five shrimp, cut in half. So order 2. In fact, go with a small group and order 2 orders of everything. That will save the waitress some time, as she won't have to say "you want 2 orders of that, don't you. That's not enough food. You're getting 2 orders." In fact, the Belmont does not serve large portions. That's refreshing.
The Belmont is famous for being famous and for its Chicken Savoy. Chicken Savoy is 1/2 chicken, broiled with some cheap balsamic vinegar, some herbs, maybe some grated cheese. And it's quite good. They also have Chicken Murphy (if you want potatoes in it, you have to specify that you want potatoes, and then hope that you get them), and what amounts to a plain broiled chicken ("Mad" Chicken, as the menu states). The mad chicken is actually a nice contrast to the vinegary Chicken Savoy. And it's more crisp than fried chicken.
I was tempted to take a picture of the facade of the Belmont and post it, because it's really old-school and pub-like from the outside. But there's something about the Belmont that suggests to me that it remain mostly a mystery until your first visit. Half of the fun is walking up to it for the first time.
And whatever you do, don't try to pay with a credit card.
12 Bloomfield Ave.