Chef Chat: Jamie Knott On His New Saddle River Café

Owner of the upscale Saddle River Inn adds a fast casual café.

Courtesy of Jamie Knott.

Since purchasing the Saddle River Inn in 2013, chef Jamie Knott has won a devoted following for his refined new American cuisine and made NJM’s Top 25 restaurant list every year.

On Tuesday, July 17, Knott will open a casual companion spot, the 44-seat Saddle River Café. Like the Saddle River Inn, the café will be BYO.

Table Hopping: How did you come up with the idea?

Jamie Knott: I couldn’t get what I needed in the morning from my local Starbucks—fresh-pressed juices, smoothies, healthful food, great coffee. I drove by this place [the former Carucci’s] every day for three years. Finally, I called the landlord. I set up a meeting and the rest is history.

TH: How did the concept evolve?

JK: In the beginning it was gonna be coffee and doughnuts. But as we got into it, I looked at the space and thought, Why dumb down a great space and surroundings? You have a demographic here that lets you aim for the fences.

So we started doing an elevated concept—elevated food, elevated coffee. All our coffee is from Devoción, out of Brooklyn. It’s really the freshest coffee in the country. And it’s shipped direct. [Owner] Steven Sutton’s parents are coffee bean farmers in Medellín. His whole family lives there, he’s the real deal. We have drip, we have modbar [pour-over], and we have three taps—cold brew, nitro cold brew, and cascara. Cascara is the fruit of the coffee bean, it almost has a cherry cola flavor to it.

TH: And the juices?

JK: We have five juices, five smoothies, wheat grass, everything pressed to order. An example is the Carrot Orange Crush: orange juice, carrot juice, turmeric, ginger, coconut milk and fresh lime, shaken over ice. It’s amazing.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Knott.

TH: What’s on the menu?

JK: There will be a cold case with grab-and-go options. We’ll have tuna in olive oil for tuna salad, hummus, things that are light and quick, refreshing and healthful. Then we’ll have three bowls, with an açai base. One example is the açai base with cacao nibs, apples, raisins, granola, toasted coconut and peanut butter.

TH: And the sit-down menu?

JK: We have a huge menu—24 food items. Five of those have four options for proteins—Creekstone prime skirt steak, jumbo shrimp, jumbo lump crab, lobster. But a lot of our dishes are vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free. We also have Salad Nicoise 2.0, I call it, and chicken paillard with Bell and Evans natural chicken breast.

TH: What about the space?

JK: We literally gutted the place, laid new pipes in the kitchen, took up the concrete and laid new floors. I wanted something really natural, open and airy.

Interior of Saddle River Café. Photo courtesy of Jamie Knott.

TH: And the prices?

JK: I think our check average is gonna land somewhere around $25 for a meal. Our drip coffee is $3.50. The Nitro cold brew is $4.50. It’s light and airy, and it’s hard to put down.

TH: What about splitting time between the Inn and the Café?

JK: You know, doing something during the day, close to home, just feels right. I love Saddle River. I love the community, love the people. It’s a special town, no doubt about it. With any luck, we can find five more special towns in the next three years.

TH: So you’d like to expand?

JK: Definitely. We’re on the second version of a lease for another store or café.

Note: Knott got back to me later. “New location is in Madison.”

Saddle River Café, 171 East Saddle River Road, Saddle River. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 6 AM to 4 PM; 201-282-2300

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