Like many other South Jersey restaurant workers, chef Dominic Piperno, who lives in Collingswood, used to commute to a job in Philly. But last September, he and his wife opened Hearthside to plant a flag in their own town. Named for its big, wood-burning oven, Hearthside is a byo whose rustic New American menu features convincing Italian accents. After some shaky early weeks, it began to come together and is showing the potential to become one of the leading restaurants in the area.
801 Haddon Avenue, 856-240-1164
Hunterdon, Jersey’s wealthiest county, might seem to have plenty of everything. Not quite, say Josh and Jennifer DeChellis, who grew up there. With Juniper Hill, the couple set out to fill a gap and are doing a terrific job of bringing delicious, accessible, yet sophisticated food and drink to an area that could use more of it. Josh, the chef, who worked in Japan, has a deft touch with seafood, but also serves a pork-cheek rice bowl and a sunchoke-and-porcini soup that swagger.
73 Beaver Avenue, 908-335-8905
Chef Meny Vaknin, an Israeli émigré with a degree from the French Culinary Institute, made Montclair’s notably choosy eaters fall in love with his sensuous Middle Eastern food at Mishmish. In October, he converted a luncheonette on the other end of town into a bright, modern eatery with a grab-and-go premise and just enough seats to make each one precious. The draw? Terrific pastries, egg dishes, salads, smoothies, grain bowls, shakshuka, pizzas and coffee.
631 1/2 Valley Road, 973-842-4088
Given chef Marcus Samuelsson’s international reputation and reach (32 restaurants), the most surprising thing about his first New Jersey restaurant is how small it is—fewer than 40 seats, tucked into the less prominent side of the massive former Hahne’s building. The space is cozy, informal and totally charming, perfect for the simple, homey, well-executed menu, led by its staggeringly good fried-chicken feast with fixings. But the modest dimensions make sense, suggesting prudence rather than overreach, appropriate at this stage of downtown Newark’s restaurant revival.
56 Halsey Street, 973-645-0004
Shanti and Steve Mignona, creators of AP’s artisanal-pizza temple, Talula’s, are backing this ease-on-down adventure in Southern cooking from married chefs Jill Meerpohl and Chris Davin, who first gained attention for their New York City food truck, El Gato Nacho. The 150-seat restaurant, inspired by the couple’s travels from the Smoky Mountains to Key West and named for Meerpohl’s grandmother, offers low-country classics, plus smoked fried chicken, a pork chop with grits and collards, coconut layer cake and a full bar.
601 Mattison Avenue; 732-893-5300