Opening Special: Jockey Hollow’s Latest Catch Is daPesca

Morristown fine-dining restaurant adds a new seafood-centered menu.

If you know Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen in Morristown, housed in the historic Vail Mansion in the downtown district, you know it’s a lot of things under one roof: It’s got bars for dining-and-drinking as well as for more, well, more focused tippling; it’s got a real-deal rathskeller; and it’s got a posh, fine-dining space upstairs.

Who knew that fine-dining space was bugging Chris Cannon, the guy in charge?

Maybe “bugging” isn’t exactly the right word. But let’s say it was on his mind, and he wasn’t letting it go.

After bringing new executive chef Craig Polignano on board this past fall, Cannon’s juices really got flowing and the dream he’d been dreaming started coming true.

And so daPesca, the new seafood restaurant under the roof of Jockey Hollow, will be born on Tuesday, February 6.

It started with a couple of givens. New Jersey, in spite of its 130-mile coastline on the Atlantic, its revived and justly celebrated shellfish industries, its residents love of seafood, has a dearth of independent fine seafood restaurants. Local 130, a relatively new seafood wholesaler/retailer, was an enterprise Cannon committed to several years back when he opened Jockey Hollow. Local 130’s owner and founder Eric Morris is someone Cannon calls a friend, so when Morris was starting out, Cannon was there to buy his fishes.

Fish in the water that day are brought to us—and we serve them that night!” Cannon says, adding, “There are great New Jersey products; in fact, we have more great fish in Jersey than anywhere.”

He pauses, briefly, then continues: “I opened Marea (in New York) because I love seafood.” So given the lack of what he believes New Jersey needs, the literal sea of fishes out there, and a supplier in Local 130 who deals in primo-quality Jersey seafood, it became apparent to Cannon that the upstairs fine-dining space needed a re-do.

Enter daPesca.

I’m an Ital-o-phile,” Cannon says. “A Med-o-phile, really,” he adds, referring to the fishery cooking of the entire Mediterranean region. Think of daPesca as embracing the coastal cookery of that part of the world.

But Cannon, who has traveled widely in general and in Italy in particular, says that the influences of Japan on the seafood dishes in Italy today will be noted by all who dine there.

Italians are interested in Japanese cuisine because the preparations [come across as] simple; keep it simple is the rule,” Cannon says.

Once Polignano joined the team, he and Cannon started planning. “Get through the holidays, then do some renovations to the room, and open in winter,” Cannon says.

The pair plan to post on Facebook the fishes of the day, letting what’s freshest take the lead in the nightly preparations. Right now, they’re talking, for example, about doing whole fishes in salt for parties of two or four, depending on the size of the fishes caught. Jersey’s “everyday” fishes—tile, cod, flounder, fluke, monkfish—will be seasonal staples on the menu, and there will be spectacular specials.

We’re going bananas with ideas right now,” Cannon says as he laughs. “It’s about Jersey. It’s about 130 miles of coast.”

And, if you know Cannon and his wine program, you know what else it’s about.

Yes, OK, I’m buying a little more white wine,” he admits.

daPesca, the fine-dining seafood-centric restaurant, will be located upstairs at Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen, 110 South Street in Morristown. Opening date is Tuesday, February 6. For information, visit jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com.

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