—La Casetta Italian Bistro opened its doors on Route 9 in Ocean View on November 1. Situated in the long-vacant former home of the Red Sky Café, the restaurant is the brainchild of a young couple with ties already in the Shore restaurant industry: Matt and Nicole Steelman, both of whom maintain full-time jobs in addition to running the restaurant. At the helm of the kitchen is Kenny Fernandez, a well-traveled Shore chef with experience at places like Sapore in West Cape May and La Vecchia Fontana in Avalon. The menu reads classic and generous, which La Casetta (meaning “little house”) seems to present as an overall vibe. La Casetta, 3054 Route 9, Ocean View; 609-478-6748
—Hybrid Coffee + Kitchen started life as a small mobile cart (actually an adorably repurposed old horse trailer) in downtown Jersey City. But as of November 23, just about a month ago, they’re a brick-and-mortar business, too. As the food cart does its thing, the café on Cambridge Avenue does it a little larger, with the same espresso-based coffee program and a larger, Latin-inflected, still developing menu of smaller and larger bites. Both the coffee cart and café close by 5:30pm Monday through Saturday (both are also closed Sunday). Hybrid Coffee + Kitchen, 110 Cambridge Avenue, Jersey City; 201-993-9028
The &pizza chain—with locations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia and D.C.—is expanding into New Jersey (ambitiously, with plans to open “30 new shops in the next 12 to 18 months”). The first Garden State spot will be located in Union, but as of now there’s no sense on just how much territory within Jersey the pizza company plans to conquer. The restaurant serves a fairly spartan menu, with oblong pies with toppings ranging from traditional pepperoni to the fan-favorite “American Honey,” which has pepperoni plus hot honey, goat cheese, and arugula. Considering the expansion plans, the formula must work. &pizza, Union; no phone yet.
—On September 15, the famous Tick Tock Diner in Clifton closed for the first time in 25 years in order to do some long-awaited renovations. They’ve reopened after 10 weeks and the revamping is evident, with a larger bar (moved from the opposite side of the room) that also functions as a dining counter, bright, glassy retro diner surfaces, and bold colors and walnut tables setting off the Art Deco vibe. Designer Richard Bloch, who led the renovations, is also working on projects at nearby American Dream in Rutherford. The diner also has a new chef, New Jersey native Stephen Whiteman (who’s worked under Craig Shelton at the Ryland Inn, as well as Randolph’s and the Black River Barn). Diner fans, rest easy: classics endure. But Whiteman has freshened the menu with more seasonal produce, vegetarian and vegan options, even an updated coffee program (swap your diner coffee for a nitro cold brew every once in a while?). (They also have a decent whiskey menu). The Tick Tock diner has been open on Route 3 since 1948, making it nearly 72 years old. Tick Tock Diner, 281 Allwood Road at Route 3, Clifton; 973-777-0511
In the Works:
—Sumi Ramen is a Japanese restaurant set to open in Plainsboro, likely in the coming weeks (as in several). There’s no date or location available as of yet, but we do know the restaurant will offer a traditional ramen-style dining atmosphere with the addition of communal tables. Sumi Ramen, Plainsboro; no phone yet.
Closing and Opening:
—Kirker’s Inn in Hawthorne has been slinging sauerbraten and steins of Hefeweizen for about half a century, but as of late this year, it’s officially being replaced by Blackjack Mulligans. The Inn had been sold last April, but the new owner passed away suddenly and the restaurant’s fate hung in the balance. It was announced recently that a tiny restaurant chain called Blackjack Mulligans would be taking over the taps and the fires (they have two other locations, in Secaucus and Garfield). Although not exactly the same—the German emphasis might be slightly muted—Blackjack Mulligans does seem to specialize in beer and hearty food, among other things. No word on opening date. Blackjack Mulligans, 278 Diamond Bridge Road, Hawthorne; no phone yet.Click here to leave a comment