Former Porta Chef Claude Lewis Opens the Freetown Road Project in Jersey City

Plus: Other restaurant news in Fairfield, Plainfield and Haddon Township.

Chef Claude Lewis at Porta in Jersey City. Photo courtesy of Pete Bonacci

Open:

—We spoke to Claude Lewis back in April of last year, when the chef—fresh off a win on Food Network’s “Chopped”—was still working at Jersey City’s Porta, and still in the early stages of opening his own restaurant. Time flies, and as of December 27, the Freetown Road Project in Jersey City opened its doors on Newark Avenue in Journal Square. The restaurant does what it calls a “modern take on West Indian cuisine.” Lewis’s parents are from Antigua, and his mother was an avid home cook, which no doubt underlies dishes like braised oxtail, chicken (or vegetable) curry roti, jerk chicken and Chop Chop, an Antiguan vegetable mash-up with eggplant, okra and spinach. The drinks (house-made limeade, ginger beer and sweet-sour hibiscus-y sorrel) are already drawing some passionate diner feedback. The space looks to be cozy and demure, with Caribbean flavors center stage in the relaxed backdrop. Freetown Road Project, 640 Newark Avenue, Jersey City; 201-653-6533

—There’s a new entrant in the blissfully endless challenge to create Jersey’s best deep-fried hot dog. Big Jake’s in Fairfield opened late last year, and it does indeed offer deep fried hot dogs, as well as the requisite flat-grill delicacies like (mini) hamburgers and cheeseburgers and bacon-stuffed grilled cheese. Big Jake’s goes a bit farther in sandwich offerings than most ripper joints; for instance, they do a lobster roll two ways Maine style (mayo) and Connecticut style (butter). They also have the classic New Orleans  meat-stuffed muffaletta sandwich on toasted Calandra’s ciabatta roll. (All their bread is Calandra’s, all the meats Thumann’s.) The space, on the end of a small strip mall, is bright, colorful and casual. And prices are low (unless you add lobster to the grilled cheese). Big Jake’s, 20 Passaic Avenue, Fairfield; 973-882-8208

In the Works:

—In partnership with Landmark Hospitality, David Felton, who left Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone last April after a 10-year run as founding chef, has a new project, slated to open in late March (early Spring). We spoke to Felton about the project earlier this month, with Felton calling the 110-seat restaurant more “casual” and “approachable” than Ninety Acres, with a wood-fired grill and open kitchen (though he plans to use the 14-seat private dining room as an outlet for his higher-end culinary expressions). The restaurant, called DJBK short for DJ’s Bar & Kitchen, is located in the former home of the Courier-News and is part of a block now almost entirely owned by Landmark Hospitality (Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station, Felina in Ridgewood, Liberty House in Jersey City, among others). Coordinated with the DJBK project but physically separate is a soon-to-open cooking school, Art of Hospitality Path to Success, which will create opportunities for underserved populations (the school is being created in partnership with Landmark as well as the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association). DJBK, 226 Park Avenue, Plainfield; no phone yet.

—A new beer hall for Haddon Township is still very much in the planning stages, but the fact that it’s the brainchild of local businessman Dave Welsh means it’s likely to go from concept to reality with few hiccups (no pun intended). Welsh is a lifelong native of the township, and if all goes well he’d be adding the beer garden—called Reunion Hall—to a business portfolio that includes a South Jersey athletic retail chain called Running Co. and a beer-centric, 36-tap bar in Runnemede called The Mile Pub & Kitchen. The new spot would up the ante with two floors, open-air seating, and 72 taps, not to mention practically any style of beer-friendly food you could hope for (barbecue, pizza, Mexican, etc., with decent vegan options). The hall will be located in the former home of NAPA Auto Parts on Haddon Avenue. Considering Welsh still needs a few zoning permits, this project is likely some months out. But keep an eye out; Welsh is also an avid competitive runner, so he likes to do things fast. Reunion Hall Beer Garden, 206 Haddon Avenue, Haddon Township; no phone yet.

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