When I opened, I wasn’t aware of the food cult in the Kenilworth-Cranford area,” admits Boulevard Five72 chef-owner Scott Snyder. “Basically, I found this beautiful space, and it’s near where I live in Colonia.” Snyder soon discovered “great family-owned food businesses right here, so I can count on quality ingredients.” And, he says, “people here know their food and wine, and support the local restaurants.”
Two years after opening, Snyder’s “casual, everyday gourmet food,” as he calls it, draws demanding diners from Kenilworth, Cranford, and beyond. His gracious, versatile bistro serves dinner, lunch, brunch, and wine-pairing dinners, and his seafood, beef, game, and house-made pasta are terrific.
An Ohio native, Snyder, 42, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and cooked in respected New York kitchens of various stripes: French (The Sign of the Dove, La Grenouille), Southwestern (Arizona 206), and steakhouse (Gage & Tollner). He is a co-owner of Henry’s, a long-running Upper West Side bar and grill.
Snyder’s confident cooking unfolds within Boulevard Five72’s inviting faux-Tuscan villa that once housed Tosca restaurant and, before that, Cafe Repetti. Depending on where you sit, vaulted-ceilinged, jazz-soundtracked Boulevard Five72 seems a romantic bistro, a convivial bar, a leafy outdoor café, or a private-party heaven. Personable young servers quietly attend to diners’ wishes; they are well trained by Snyder and his wife, partner, and CIA classmate, Allison.
Two-thirds of Boulevard Five72’s appetizers spotlight seafood that is Jersey-sourced when possible. Snyder serves excellent linguine with white clam sauce using sweet, local, littleneck clams and one-two punches of crisp, dry-cured sopressatta salami and toasted garlic. Snyder’s winning shrimp corn chowder is a thick purée of shellfish stock and sweet Jersey corn sparked with applewood-smoked bacon and lots of plump diced shrimp. He grinds and mixes numerous spice combinations daily; the chowder calls for paprika (smoked and not), cumin, chili, and celery seed. Pan-seared crabcakes, all jumbo lumpmeat save for a dash of panko, benefit from Snyder’s expertise with seasonings.
I am still marveling at Snyder’s chilled seafood platter for two. It easily feeds three or even four as an appetizer, and, says the chef, “is a popular order at the bar, with champagne or white wine.” It includes four oysters and four clams; six hefty, deftly grilled shrimp; a heap of yellowfin tuna tartare; and all-meat salads of lump crab and calamari with shrimp and scallop. All the seafood was flavorful and dock-fresh, but I wish the six accompanying sauces were tastier; they came across as various shades of mayonnaise.
Snyder clearly has an instinct for seafood and a generous way of serving it. His seafood risotto is loaded with lobster, Jersey scallops, and shrimp. Its long-stirred Arborio rice is cooked in lobster broth girded by black truffle, not the usual truffle oil. The liquid is thickened, not with butter, but with mascarpone, yielding an especially rich, velvety texture. Snyder’s mostly line-caught fish—Atlantic cod, red snapper, organic salmon—are simply grilled or pan seared, dusted with the chef’s fresh spice powders, and served with judiciously chosen accompaniments.
“As a chef matures, the food gets simpler,” Snyder says. “Too many things happening on the plate, too many flavors—that’s fluff. For me, it’s all about the ingredients you buy.” His sparkling-fresh seafood is delivered six days a week, and he changes his menu to reflect seasonal catches.
Some of Snyder’s beef is sourced year-round from Mayfair Provision Company in Kenilworth. Silky filet mignon has a traditional, palate-gratifying Danish blue-cheese topping. Juicy strip loin and nicely marbled ribeye are dry aged 25 to 30 days for a minerally tang. The strip loin is seductively plated with Snyder’s so-called onion fritters, more like fried shoestring onions. They are sensational and can be ordered as a side dish.
Snyder’s got game—elk, venison from Quebec, and the occasional wild boar. Loin of venison, the choicest cut of deer, is as tender as roast beef and pleasantly gamy, its earthiness amplified by sautéed wild mushrooms. A perfectly pink, lush-textured Long Island duck breast is served with a rich, slow-cooked confit leg. Braised Colorado lamb shank, sort of a red-meat osso buco, falls off the bone, and braised short ribs tossed with house-made cavatelli pasta are equally tender. Everything I tasted at Boulevard Five72 was worth finishing. And portions are substantial.
Snyder’s pastry chef is a dessert diva. Diana Plesniarski, a Bayonne-raised CIA grad, creates superlative sweets, including intense gelati, cliché-transcending hazelnut tiramisu, and—for the parties that fill Boulevard Five72’s two handsome private rooms—artful cakes. Plesniarski calls her wondrous dark-chocolate caramel tart her signature dessert, adding, “it represents me.” A layer of caramel goes into the pastry shell first; then the shell is filled with dark-chocolate ganache softened with cream. Finally, crunchy crystals of fleur de sel (sea salt) are sprinkled on top. We should all be so well represented.