17 Summer, Lodi
Siblings Jenna and Joseph Cuccia grew up about half a mile from the property they now own, a circa 1910 ice shop that in 2012 became Joseph Cuccia Catering. In March 2015, the siblings turned it into 17 Summer, a 24-seat BYO that changes its menu every six weeks. Joseph, who attended culinary school at night while still in high school and was working for Drew Nieporent in Manhattan by age 18, makes lots of things from scratch that many chefs buy, including fresh pasta, sausages, burrata, breads and desserts. His imaginative updating of classics has won him an ardent following and an invitation to cook a five-course meal at the James Beard House in Manhattan on February 20.
Jenna, the manager, notes that 17 Summer features items not commonly found on local menus. These include brandade, venison, fettuccine made with chestnut flour, and the Cuccias’s Sicilian family recipe for tripe in spicy tomato sauce. Joseph’s small plate of baby root vegetables braised in red wine and chicken stock, topped with fried brussels sprouts (and two slices of his exceptional country bread to sop up the liquid) led one recent guest to exclaim, “My mouth is singing!”
17 Summer exudes warmth, beginning with the candles flickering in the windows. “This is where we are rooted,” says Jenna. “We love that we’re bringing something to the community.”17 Summer Street; 973-928-4780.—MACF
Abril Cocina, Maplewood
This 40-seat BYO opened in April 2015 serving an eclectic kind of Mexican fusion. By fall, Friday-night lines for dishes such as hanger steak with fresh corn grits and ancho-umami sauce ($19) were a dozen deep.
“I didn’t expect a sudden success,” says owner Mario Valadez, who came from Monterrey, Mexico, in 2010 with his wife, Nora. The couple moved for Nora’s job; she works in finance and was transferred to New York. Mario, an industrial engineer, found himself with time on his hands. So he enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. There he met fellow student Johangel Rosario, a native New Yorker with Dominican roots who would become his chef de cuisine.
“As soon as we started talking, we knew our ideas complemented each other,” Valadez says. “We wanted to do things that were like popular dishes from other countries, but Mexican.” That includes a spin on Buffalo wings—mole chicken wings ($10) with sesame seeds, lime crema and chipotle salsa. (All salsas and chips made in-house.) A banh mi sandwich ($13) features pulled pork in adobo, pork rillettes, pickled vegetables and chipotle aioli. 175 Maplewood Avenue; 973-327-2023.—TLG
Chef Andre de Waal earned his spurs in fine dining in 1998 at the original Andre’s, a congested space in Newton that he eventually shut down and reinvented in 2014 as the casual Dre’s. But his heart, as ever, belongs to fanciful French- and Asian-influenced food. At long last he has the right location for it.
In August he debuted an entirely new and elegant Andre’s in the large-windowed space at the edge of Lake Seneca that once housed Zoe’s on the Lake. There, a recent menu included a mixed-seafood bisque that gained distinction from a dollop of tarragon cream; a bacon-dashi broth with an unusual combination of bits of foie gras and späetzle; sumptuous rack of lamb with Madeira sauce; and Vietnamese coffee with a layer of sweet condensed milk at the bottom. Andre’s may not be everyone’s cup of Vietnamese coffee—the food isn’t uniformly excellent and the waitstaff is sorely under-trained—but it’s Andre in full. 112 Tomahawk Trail; 973-726-6000.—SZL
Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, Asbury Park
Some restaurants cast their spell the moment you step inside, so evocative is the space. Before you even read the menu, you want to order everything, such is the allure of its type and design. That’s what happens at Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, Andy Ivanov’s latest Old World beer hall (after Radegast in Brooklyn and Pilsener Haus in Hoboken). The stalwart promise of the retro-industrial design—with its wood-slab tables, stenciled-brick façade and Austro-Hungarian graphics—is fulfilled on the plate and in the stein. With your wursts, schnitzels, sauerbraten, smoked trout or goulash, choose from 36 imported and domestic drafts and another 68 in bottles, plus wine and cocktails. There’s live music, which in summer literally rises above the neighborhood on the Festhalle’s rooftop garden. 527 Lake Avenue; 732-997-8767.—DH
B2 Bistro+Bar, Red Bank
Clifton native and CIA grad Cesare “Chez” De Chellis returned from five years cooking in Manhattan to launch his first solo venture in a tucked-away corner that formerly housed Sal’s Tavern. He and partner Andrew Rasizer, a sommelier and fellow CIA grad, chose the offbeat location for their rustic hangout because “it makes it more special,” De Chellis says. From the open kitchen come hearty plates of lentil salad with spiced pumpkin; roasted prawns with fennel and Pernod; Arctic char with cauliflower couscous; and slow-cooked pig with braised greens, apples and mustard. Add a host of beers, and cocktails as well conceived as the food, and you just may B2 happy to call it a night. 141 Shrewsbury Avenue; 732-268-8555.—DH
The Bar Room & Kitchen, Deal
If you walked into the Bar Room & Kitchen after a long, hard day, you’d find the solace of a dimly lit, self-described blue-collar bar where you can unwind among a neighborly crowd of regulars. But your eyes and nose would soon alert you that, in addition to craft beer on tap, the place sends out comfort food of a high order.
“We started to notice that people were having a couple of drinks here, then going somewhere else to eat,” says Jay Vacchiano, owner of the 45-seat restaurant (with a 15-seat bar). Vacchiano and chef Dino Fornicola, whose family owned restaurants on the Asbury Park boardwalk when he was a child, doubled down on giving customers reasons to pick up knife and fork instead of just a glass. “Now we offer a range of stuff, from an $8 hamburger to a $20 piece of locally caught fish,” says Vacchiano, a Deal resident. In that range, you’ll find charred roasted cauliflower with chili flakes and parmesan ($8), an iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing and lots of bacon ($8), creamy lobster risotto ($18) and well-executed specials like salmon in coconut curry with shrimp, rice and spinach ($18). 100 1/2 Norwood Avenue; 732-686-1295.—TLGClick here to leave a comment