Our backyard grills may be in winter hibernation, but the scent of hardwoods and barbecue are in the air at Sender’s Smoke Joint, 190 West Englewood Avenue, Teaneck. With both a smoker and a wood-burning grill, Chef Alexander Remer is turning out smoked veal, brisket, steaks, chops, fried chicken and his signature hearty meat pizza. Fresh salads, sides and a few mouthwatering desserts round out the menu.
“We have an exciting environment at Sender’s and we’re using fresh, quality ingredients,” said Remer. “The Ole Hickory smoker, la Chingona, as we call her, can hold 10-12 briskets, which we smoke for up to 24 hours.” Sender’s is currently open for dinner at 5 p.m. and will be adding lunch hours after January 1. An arrangement with Filler Up makes the restaurant’s BYOB policy a convenient option.
Remer is inspired by noted California chef Alice Waters, who pioneered the use of modern cooking techniques with fresh, seasonal and simple ingredients. He makes food engaging by combining unlikely-to-be-paired ingredients for contrast and variety, like his marrow bones and chocolate appetizer that he may be introducing to the Sender’s menu. Each bite brings together the distinct elements into a singular, unique taste. The veal and brisket I sampled had a glazed crust that was sweet and salty with a little crunch, and the meat was tender, well-seasoned and easily cut.
Remer’s partner in the restaurant is local chef Gabe Gilbert, an alumnus of Johnson and Wales’ cooking and hospitality management programs. Gilbert, who grew up in Teaneck, met Remer a year ago through mutual friends, and they bonded over food. Gilbert has run a meal-prep business, GutVibes, and managed Teaneck’s Pizzalicious during Pesach.
Remer’s journey to Sender’s Smoke Joint began in Chicago, where he grew up. He was a musician and composer, playing in local bands, and moonlighting as a short-order cook, when Mark DiTomassi, a top-tier local chef, offered him a full-time position as a dinner line cook in a proper French brigade (a restaurant system of hierarchy). He discovered he loved it and quickly rose in the ranks. The techniques and cooking styles he learned there are significant influences on the Sender’s menu.
Remer was also becoming more interested in Judaism. He hadn’t grown up in an observant home and was “hungry to learn more about what authentic Judaism was.” With the support of his parents, he went to Israel for a year, working on a cousin’s kibbutz, and then returned to Israel, attending Ohr Somayach’s summer program. A year after coming home to the States, his father passed away. Remer re-assessed his life, realizing he wanted to learn Torah, although his father had urged him to attend a college. “I called 411 and asked, ‘Is there a yeshiva that’s a university?’ And they said, ‘You mean Yeshiva University?’” He was in.
Cooking was still his passion, only now it would be kosher. He worked in New York’s top-tier kosher restaurants including stints as a prep cook at Le Merais and Levana’s. His most pivotal position, and greatest personal influence, was as sous chef for Chef Seth Warshaw of Teaneck’s ETC Steakhouse, whom he credits with helping him transition from line cook to chef in the kosher culinary world. His first position as head chef was at Fireside in Monsey, where he resided for three years. After spending two years traveling the country and cooking, Remer returned to Teaneck, where together with Gilbert, he opened Sender’s Smoke Joint. Sender is the Yiddish diminutive form of Alexander, Remer’s Hebrew name.
Remer is confident that his innovative and creative style of cooking, along with the attention to detail provided by Gilbert and the entire staff, will make Sender’s the place where diners want to be.
By Bracha Schwartz