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Bistro La Source: French Cuisine in Jersey City

by Chris Goodlof
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Among the many American and Italian restaurants dotting the map of Jersey City sits a unicorn in Paulus Hook called Bistro La Source. This French homestyle cooking subverts the common misconceptions about French cuisine. The restaurant’s warm, homestyle dishes harken not to fancy restaurants, but something learned from mother. Read on to learn more about Bistro La Source located at 85 Morris Street in Jersey City.

The Foundation

bistro la source jersey city

{Photo credit: @bistrolasource}

Owner Bill Spitz was born in New York but grew up in New Jersey. Spitz, 65, has worked in the restaurant industry since 1983, most notably as a renowned chef in Manhattan restaurants up until 2008 when he opened the locale. 

“I have a background in French bistros,” said Spitz, “and when I saw the space, I thought it lent itself to that. 

“Everyone else around here is doing either Italian or American, nobody was really paying attention to classic bistro.”

Spitz says that while a lot of places call themselves bistros, most of them are taverns. Traditional French restaurants, according to Spitz, should pay homage to classic French cooking like beef bourguignon, coq au vin, cassoulet, and desserts – all dishes served at Bistro La Source. Burgers, said Spitz, do not make one.  

bistro la source

{Photo credit: @bistrolasource}

Spitz has a background in French cuisine. As a prominent Manhattan chef at famed restaurants such as Voulez Vous, Virage, and Man Ray, Spitz got quite the crash course in French cuisine.

“Most of them had French owners so I was tasked with cooking French food for French people,” said Spitz. “I was pretty much told and shown how everything should taste, and I just brought that experience with me here.”

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But why open a French restaurant? 

“Competition,” said Spitz. “There’s like 300 Italian restaurants probably within a 10-mile radius, but nobody was doing French. So, as a result, I got a very international clientele here.” 

Spitz trains the cooking staff himself, regularly introducing them to new recipes and giving demonstrations. After all, Spitz’s trial by fire in Manhattan French-owned locales makes him an invaluable resource to his staff. 

The Food

bistro la source

{Photo credit: @bistrolasource}

Spitz likes seasonal cuisine and trying new things. For example, the restaurant’s fall and winter menu heavily features warm and hearty stews, which they call braises, and are perfect cold-weather comfort food. 

The locale is well known for mussels, which are more of a Belgian dish than French. In the restaurants that he previously cooked, Spitz had mussels on the menu. The previous restaurant in the space too served mussels, so Spitz wanted to keep that up and apply his expertise. Fortunately, mussels are easy and profitable. 

“Once you learn how,” said Spitz, “it’s very easy to do and very easy to do a good job on them.”

bistro la source

{Photo credit: @bistrolasource}

Spitz adores French-style cuisine. The restaurant’s style, which Spitz said is referred to as the “cuisine of the mothers,” is homestyle cooking, not haute cuisine. 

“It’s not food that’s cooked for aristocrats,” said Spitz, “[where] everything’s been carved into little diamonds and precious little shapes, and there’s a little dab of sauce here, a little dab of sauce there. This is food that usually takes hours to prepare, it’s cooked slowly and it sort of creates its own sauces as it cooks.”

bistro la source

{Photo credit: @bistrolasource}

While Spitz worked in several well-known French restaurants in Manhattan, French cuisine is quite underrepresented in Jersey City. But just what is it about traditional French cuisine Spitz finds so endearing?

“There’s a reason why people love this sort of food,” said Spitz, “and why these recipes and things have endured not just for decades, but centuries. You look at all the other trendy food that’s come and gone, all the things that become the latest trend and then it just disappears; French bistro cooking just doesn’t. French bistro cooking endures and the reason is it’s good.” 

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The short rib and beef bourguignon has an over 24-hour preparation, hence its depth of flavor. The cassoulet is also a daylong preparation, which Spitz attributes to knowledge and patience.

Adjusting to the Pandemic

bistro la source

{Photo credit: @bistrolasource}

The locale has a parking lot, which is one thing that attracted Spitz to the space in the first place. Coming from Manhattan restaurants, parking lots are a precious and rare commodity. But when the pandemic hit, Spitz realized he had more than just a place for customers to park — he had a place for them to dine.

“I realized that the parking lot was going to have to become my dining room,” said Spitz. “It was June, so I just took all the tables I had in the restaurant, put them out in the parking lot, spread them out, gave everybody plenty of distance, and we were fine. We had a very good summer.

“Any space that had a parking lot was able to adapt.”

As fall and winter approached, Spitz came up with the idea of clear tents as a solution for when the cold weather moved it. Fortunately, the tents protect not only the customers but also Spitz’s staff too. Each tent also features a heater, which Spitz says will keep customers warm all the way down to freezing temperatures outside. 

“People are surprised once they get into the tents by how warm and comfortable they are,” said Spitz. “Hopefully by next fall, none of this will be necessary.” 

Restaurants, according to Spitz, are one of the purest forms of entertainment: sharing a meal. And during a time where life is upended and we’ve been stripped of so many things we love to do, Bistro La Source offers a brief, but well-deserved respite. “We provide adequate shelter and a good dining experience,” said Spitz, “and at least it gets you out of the house.”


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