Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the November 21,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Blues, Brews and Seafood
Arrive at the Big Fish Bistro on any Friday or Saturday
night, and you’ll enter a noisy, crowded restaurant. Stick around
a few hours, when the band begins to play, and you’ll find yourself
in a comfortable spot to hear some good roots music.
All of this is by design, according to general manager Richard
The D.C. native says the Big Fish Bistro, at 7,200 square feet with
a 2,500 square-foot bar area, was designed to be a noisy, informal
restaurant with good service, not a quiet place for ultra-fine dining.
And with generous fish sandwiches offered for around $7.50, along
with fried clams, blue marlin, catfish, Maine Atlantic salmon, and
plenty of other seafood soups and dishes, clearly, the restaurant
is doing something right.
Big Fish Bistro opened just 18 months ago. Located inside the
mall on Route 1 South, Big Fish hosted its first blues festival,
in early October, which it hopes to make an annual event. Bands set
up on the bistro’s outdoor patio, and the front parking lot was closed
to allow for a crowd to gather.
True, the event his the only bad weather of the month, something
attributes to the luck of the draw. Moscovitz says next year’s event
may be scheduled slightly earlier or later in the hope of drawing
a bigger crowd than it did at its debut.
"Although we had a beautiful afternoon, it rained all
he says. "Also, it was our first year and I understand it takes
a year or two to grow on the community.
"We are actually part of a collection of about 20 restaurants
around the U.S," Moscovitz explains in his office on a recent
Friday. Big Fish Bistro is operated by the C.A. Muer Corp., a
company based in the Detroit area. "We call them a collection
of restaurants, not a chain, because every restaurant is different,
in design, in menus, and each restaurant is independently run,"
"We do have a corporate structure but it’s really the operators
of the restaurant who control the direction and destiny of the
The whole concept at Big Fish Bistro is that the guest is the big
fish, and it’s all about hospitality and great service and
Moskovitz says Big Fish serves between 650 and 800 dinners on a Friday
or Saturday night, and there is often a 60 to 90-minute wait for a
table. Friday night is the best beverage sales night, he adds. While
Big Fish appears to be booming, anyone who knows the restaurant
knows that profit margins are slim on food, especially after the
and waitresses, bartenders, chefs, and kitchen help are paid.
"The original concept was actually called Big Fish Blues,"
says Moscovitz, who came to central New Jersey after many years in
the restaurant business in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
all of our restaurants have some form of music and it has always been
in the culture of the company to offer some kind of live
"We wanted to put some Blues Brothers sunglasses on that big fish
we have in the dining room. But we were also looking for ways to bring
in more people on weekends."
Big Fish brings in blues bands on Friday and Saturday nights, with
sets beginning at around 9:30 p.m. Usually the first set is more
but bands are free to turn up their amps for the second set.
"I thought blues fit what this restaurant is all about," he
says, "and we’ve been doing this about a year now." In the
restaurant business, he explains, "you try to do everything you
can for the incremental dollar, you know, Can I keep people at my
bar until 12:30 or 1 o’clock if I have music?"
Bands that appear regularly at Big Fish Bistro include Chuck Lambert,
Scarlett "Lee" Moore and her quartet, Filthy Rich and the
Poor Boys, Ron Kraemer and the Hurricanes, Lenny G. and the Soul
and the Killer Blues Band, a trio. Dr. Barry, an eye doctor and
who runs the Princeton Eye Laser Center, often performs as a solo
act on Saturday nights.
"We’ve developed a bevy of bands that can play here, because
the room is challenging," says Moscovitz. In other words, it can
be a loud place made even louder by bands with amplifiers.
Moscovitz recalls how the first few bands he brought in last season
first cleared the bar and then cleared the restaurant. Clearly, that
"Now the bands we have are bands that can play real soft for the
first set and then, as people finish eating, they can come over to
the bar and the musicians can turn it up a bit." Moscovitz adds
that Big Fish also booked some jazz bands but the reaction "wasn’t
On a recent Friday night, Ron Kraemer and the Hurricanes were onstage
with Piscataway-based harmonica player Dennis Gruenling, who also
leads his own combos. The band’s first set, with John Barry on
was a perfect example of great ensemble playing at low volume. For
the second set, the band turned it up as they added their own spin
to such blues classics as "Chickenshack" and other tunes
by Louis Jordan and jump-blues outfits of the 1930s and ’40s.
Guitarist Ron Kraemer, whose band performs at Big Fish on a monthly
basis expresses his enthusiasm simply: "I love this place because
they feed me and my band."
— Richard Skelly
November 30: Lenny G and The Soul Searchers. December 7: Papa Majama.
December 14: Ron Kraemer and Hurricanes. December 21: Scarlett
Moore and Band. December 28: Lenny G & The Soul Searchers
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