Bar Brava Dishes up Flavor-Filled Spanish Tapas in Newburgh

An affordable, authentic Spanish tapas experience comes to Newburgh.

Thinking small is paying off big for restaurateur Philippe Pierre. His vision to turn the former Mama Roux (a Southern-style restaurant in Newburgh) into the more affordable Bar Brava—an elevated tapas bar inspired by the cuisine of coastal Spain—seemed like a better fit for the city in current times.

Mama Roux, which debuted in 2019 and closed last October, didn’t quite hit the mark, observed Pierre, who co-owned the establishment with his sister-in-law Sterling Knight. “Fine dining, as we’ve seen with Mama Roux and Liberty Street Bistro, is not having its finest moment, at least in [downtown] Newburgh,” says Pierre, who also operates Ms. Fairfax (a casual American restaurant) and Midnight Ferry, an ice cream shop and dessert café on the waterfront. “Overall, tapas are being better embraced by the dining public. They’re nice because they’re small and manageable, and customers can decide how much or how little they want. It’s a format that can be appropriate for any occasion.”

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While the tapas concept came easily to Pierre—fresh off a trip to Spain’s Basque region—reinventing the look and feel of the restaurant proved to be a greater challenge. “We’re in the old place that the public already knew as Mama Roux, so that was a little daunting at first…Transforming the ambiance was a huge gamble for us. At Mama Roux, everyone loved the interior, so we took a risk. It’s now more of a modern space with reds and dark tones. It’s very sultry and romantic,” he says.

Pierre hired local designer Nadia Tarr to recreate the lighting, colors, and textures while retaining the original bar and banquettes. He also built a modest stage that features live jazz on Thursdays and DJ sets on Fridays, plus an outdoor stage for summer events.

As for the menu at Bar Brava, it begins with the bite-sized snacks called “pintxos,” based on the skewered appetizers one might find in San Sebastian, Spain. Head chef Mike McCree, a Culinary Institute of America alum who had worked as a private chef in Barcelona, creates a medley ranging from crostinis topped with olive, anchovy, and red pepper (“gilda classico”) to another garnished with grilled sausage and quail egg (“chorizo y huevo”). He also whips up the popular egg dish dubbed “tortilla de patata,” a Spanish omelet with potatoes and saffron aioli, and a crab salad stuffed into a “cangrejo tarteleta” or tart shell.

Pierre says the pintxos “get you going” and are a preview of things to come. “Traditionally, they’re consumed at the bar with a beer—something you’ll find throughout the Basque region. When I toured San Sebastian, I noticed that all those nooks and crannies had interesting culinary traditions, and pintxos were a part of that. They are little dishes that you pop in your mouth.”

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From there, patrons can move to the more substantial tapas, like albóndigas, Spanish-style meatballs in rich tomato sauce; fried calamari over arugula with saffron aioli; ham croquettes with dipping sauce; or grilled octopus over potatoes with a kick of chimichurri. And if none of that quells the appetite, entrées such as the garlicky half-roasted chicken with white wine and shishito peppers or the 10-ounce grilled strip steak served with a blend of robust romesco sauce, broccoli rabe and hazelnut should do the trick.

Pierre says so far, paella leads the pack in popularity. Vegans or those observing a gluten-free diet can savor paella di verduras with vegetables, bomba rice, and saffron; seafood lovers will enjoy paella di marisco packed with piquillo peppers, clams, mussels, and shrimp. Pierre says the large portions, just like everything else at Bar Brava, are meant to be passed around the table.

The bar serves craft cocktails with catchy names like Manhattan Perfecto, a blend of Bulleit 95 rye whiskey, vermouth Axta Roja, Alvear Fino en Rama (Spanish red wine), and cherry; and Anticuado Chocolate with Carlos Solera Brande de Jerez (brandy), sugar cane, chocolate bitters, star anise, and cherry. A variety of Spanish wines and local craft beers complete the dining experience.

As someone who’s previously dabbled in accounting, advertising, and even corporate tourism in Europe—being a restaurateur was never an intentional move, but Pierre says it’s a satisfying new career. “Restaurants are great,” he says. “They employ many people, they’re mainstays in the community, and they’re where people come together and do life things…We have a great team dedicated to creating a memorable atmosphere around food, drink, and performance, and we’re excited to flesh that out as time goes on. We believe Bar Brava will become a destination for Newburgh and the Hudson Valley.”

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Bar Brava
96 Broadway, Newburgh
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