Morristown is getting ready to add another exciting restaurant to its vibrant food scene. Orale Mexican Kitchen is expanding to Morristown, replacing J&K Steakhouse at 56 South Street. This isn’t your average Mexican restaurant: Orale infuses creativity into traditional Mexican foods and heightens the experience by offering craft cocktails, happy hour brunches and featuring local street artists on the walls of the restaurant.
“We don’t consider ourselves as traditional in any concept. We definitely break the rules when it comes to Mexican,” co-owner Alex Mendelsohn said. “We do have some traditional areas though, like every winter, we always put on a very traditional móle.” The restaurant’s name is unique as well. “Orale is a slang Mexican term, not even necessarily Spanish, but predominantly Mexican. And it has a ton of different meanings… It means awesome, exciting, great, let’s go. If you look it up in Urban Dictionary, you’ll probably find it, but you won’t find it in the normal dictionary.”
Orale’s other locations include Hoboken and their original home in Jersey City, which also encompasses their cocktail bar Dullboy.
Mendelsohn said his friend, who is the owner of J&K Steakhouse, originally reached out to him to gauge his interest in the space, ultimately offering him a deal on the $1 million liquor license. J&K Steakhouse did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Mendelsohn said the Morristown restaurant will be about 75% the same as its other location menus, but they will make changes in some areas, such as expanding the brunch options within the first few months of opening. Orale tries to tailor certain aspects of the menu to the town it’s in, particularly in its desire to feature local small businesses. For instance, in Jersey City Orale worked with a small local cookie company called Bang Cookies for an extended period of time.
In addition, all of Orale’s coffee currently comes from a group called Mod Cup Coffee Company that is based out of Jersey City. Marc Figueiras, Orale’s beverage director for all of its locations who mostly works at the Dullboy cocktail bar, will also be featuring fun cocktails to the Morristown location. “They’ll be bringing amazing cocktails that aren’t just strictly tequila-based, but run the gamut from Mexican-based rum and all sorts of different spirits coming out of Mexico and other areas of Latin America,” Mendelsohn explained.
Austin Torsiello is the culinary director, a role in which he decides unique menu items like their “Taco Machine” or their carnitas. “We serve our taco machine, which is a bone marrow taco, where the tacos are actually served on the bone. And our carnitas are not the traditional carnitas – we actually use a pork belly. And it’s an intense, long process to produce. But the end result of the product is phenomenal,” Mendelsohn explained.
From Mendelsohn’s estimation, the overall project to open the new location will be a “large undertaking” since they are designing, purchasing and organizing everything on their own without any architects or designers. He and his business partner Louis Alvarez predominantly worked in New York City restaurants before moving to New Jersey. They originally met at Rosa Mexicano where Alvarez was his boss, having hired Mendelsohn as a junior manager when he was 22 years old.
Alvarez was in charge of the Northeast region when Rosa was “extremely popular” at the time, Mendelsohn said. They opened up locations in Miami, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and others, predominantly working out of the Union Square location. They worked there together for 10 years until Mendelsohn became the general manager of the popular national restaurant chain The Smith and opened up both their Midtown East and their Lincoln Center locations.
Mendelsohn expressed his excitement at coming to Morristown with Alvarez to open the new Orale. He said they always had their eye on Morristown and were waiting for the right opportunity, though they consistently had other prospects.
“We’re 100% excited and nervous. We’re going into a new town where some of the people know who and what we are, a lot don’t… We hope that everyone likes what we do, but it’s never a guarantee. We just work as hard as we can to make sure we give everything we can, to great food, to an amazing cocktail and a fun evening out with great service.”
They’re aiming to open in mid-to-late spring, but they’re cautious of potential hurdles with the pandemic, such as ordering products that are backed up, finding raw metals for the kitchen, and hiring a staff, among others. The majority of construction needed for the space includes overhauling the kitchen area and cosmetic adjustments to the main dining area.
Orale Mexican Kitchen can be found on Instagram @oralemk and online at oralemk.com
The Morristown location plans to be open 7 days a week for brunch, lunch and dinner.