The new AJ’s Steak and Pizza building being erected off Route 4, just south of the center of Goshen, has drawn so much interest from patrons that it has become something of a tourist destination.
“People are always stopping by the site to get a look at the building,” says owner Mark Wasdo. “Everybody has been talking about it and are really looking forward to it opening.”
The owner hopes to greet customers at his new digs sometime this May, he says.
For the past 21 years, Wasdo has operated AJ’s Steak and Pizza in a building on Route 4 just north of town, near to the local Post Office. The establishment is housed in what was once called “Punky’s Pub,” a local watering hole that one might have entered with some caution on certain evenings. AJ’s dining area is located in the basement of the building, which lends a certain offbeat flair to the pub. Peanuts are doled out free to diners, with shells littering the floor.
While the locals remained at the core of AJ’s clientele over the years, the pub built up a strong and varied following, from firemen and blue-collar laborers stopping in for a drink after work to families and weekenders spending time at their second homes at Woodridge or Tyler lakes and stopping in for dinner on a summer evening, Wasdo says.
“It’s common to see a group of ladies from church sitting next to a bunch of guys who drove up on their motorcycles and are having a few beers and sharing some laughs,” says Wasdo. “Everyone blends and gets along.”
They come, perhaps for the laid-back atmosphere, but also for the menu that the owner calls “comfort food.” It’s classic pub fare, ranging from a cheeseburger and fries to affordable steak, chicken and fish dinners.
There’s a special five days a week, such as $7.99 burger night that includes a beefy burger with your choice of several mouth-watering toppings and sides. One of the most popular specials is the $10.99 prime rib on Thursdays, featuring a 14-ounce cut of beef served with au-jus and house-made garlic mashed potatoes. Wasdo admits he doesn’t make much of a profit off of the dinner, but it’s all in keeping with making AJ’s a place where you won’t bend your wallet for a good meal and a few refreshments, he says.
Wasdo (who operated an AJ’s in Watertown for five years before managing two establishments became too complicated) opened AJ’s when he moved to town from Florida two decades ago.
“I was living in Florida and the house I was in got taken by eminent domain,” he says. “So, I moved to Goshen and decided that I was going to open a pub. The kitchen at Punky’s Pub was closed and they weren’t serving food. I wanted to reopen the kitchen and continue the pub. They had pool tables in here that I took out, and they told me that I was foolish because they were making $200 off the tables a week. I said if I couldn’t make that up in food sales, I was doing something wrong.”
Well, Wasdo’s pub quickly became a popular destination for people from all walks of life and various towns around Litchfield County and beyond. If you can’t find something that tickles your taste buds on the menu, then might want to rethink your eating habits. There’s a popular Caesar’s salad with the house’s own dressing, wraps and subs, an assortment of burgers (you’ve got to try one topped with fried onions and mushrooms), a 16-ounce rib-eye steak, clam strips, cheese quesadillas and nachos, half a dozen specialty pizzas and desserts. Oh yeah, order up a dozen or more of AJ’s famous chicken wings that come in four flavors: hot, Cajun, garlic parmesan and Carolina tangy. You won’t be disappointed.
“We cook 800 pounds of wings a week,” says Wasdo. “Those are obviously big sellers, along with the Caesar salad, burgers, steaks and appetizers, like steak on a stick (an eight-ounce USDA choice tenderloin grilled to the customer’s liking).”
Wasdo’s daughter, Alicia, runs the bar and helps wait tables. His son, Josh, has recently jumped into the business with both feet. The name of the pub is a combination of the first letter of Wasdo’s children’s first names.
“Everyone is excited about the new place,” says Alicia Wasdo, taking a minute off from her duties on a sunny afternoon. “You will have the 1 percent that like the pub the way it is and where it is, but the vast majority are really looking forward to the new place.”
As for the new AJ’s, it will have 3,200 square feet of space year-round, jumping up to 5,000 square feet seasonally. Plans are for a rather expansive outside seating area with its own bar that will be utilized during the warm weather months. Seating will jump from the current 60 to 90 and perhaps beyond down the road.
“The new building will have a banquet room, something that we don’t have right now,” says Wasdo. “The inside will have a cathedral ceiling and a faux post and beam design. We were going to go with true post and beam, but it was just too expensive. We will have fun decorating the interior and give it a pub feeling. We want to make it homey. One very important facet of the new building is that here the kitchen is upstairs, and it is difficult for the wait staff. Everything will be on one floor at the new building.”
He continues, “We will maintain our menu at the new place, but we will be able to go from seven beers on tap to 14. We will keep the specials intact and may add some new things from time to time.”
While one might think that Goshen (population 3,092) could be a tough place to run a food and beverage business, such is not the case.
“We actually have a lot of people who pass through town or stay here during the summer,” says Wasdo. “There are the two lakes, Torrington Country Club just down the road, people going to Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, and the events at the Goshen Fairgrounds. The town is very busy much of the year.”
Wasdo himself can’t wait to swing open the doors of his new pub.
“Really, it’s kind of difficult for me to fathom starting the business 21 years ago and hoping it would succeed and now going to a large, new building,” he says.
Once the move is made, AJ’s will be open from 11 a.m.to 9 p.m. weekdays, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (or perhaps a bit later) on the weekends.
AJ’s maintains a Facebook page and can be reached by phone at 860-491-4733.