—South + Pine ushered in their new summer starter and some serious Mediterranean vibes with Tomato Bread with Poached Mussels and Clams, Fennel, and Sun Gold Tomatoes, aka “Tomato Tartine.” Chef Leia Gaccione is doing tons with tomatoes this season—she’s got a simple Heirloom Tomato appetizer with local burrata and a Summer Panzanella with Grape Tomatoes, and all of it’s the kind of stuff you’d want to eat doing their outdoor dining Music Mondays thing.
South + Pine, 90 South Street, Morristown; 862-262-2700
—Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen rightfully calls this “summer flavors all on one plate”: Tomato Salad with Yellow Watermelon and Fresh Feta. If you haven’t partaken of the feta-watermelon combination yet—or if you have your doubts—this might be the gateway, with a familiar cheese-loving fruit (tomato, ahem) to act as chaperone between the bright salty feta cheese and fresh floral yellow watermelon. The trio aspect works beautifully when tomatoes are in season, with enough body and texture of their own (if not crispness, then decent firm fleshiness) and those intoxicating floral tomato notes that can commingle with lovely delicate yellow watermelon. Order it and then bet on who gives in first and drinks the juice at the bottom of the dish.
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, 110 South Street, Morristown; 973-644-3180
—Bred to be extra sweet, Sungold tomatoes taste exactly the way you think they would: golden, almost honey-sweet (when really nice and ripe). Chef Robbie Felice’s Osteria Crescendo plate here turns seemingly simple combinations—Chitarra pasta, clams, chili and Opal basil—into something sublime. What’s extra fun is the soft-sweet meat of the cooked tomato sort of echoes the soft-saline lushness of the clams, a point-counterpoint of sweet and salty in similar texture that brings out a mellow vibe of late summer, all of it freshened by that Opal basil and sparked up here and there with chilis (standing in for sparklers).
Osteria Crescendo, 36 Jefferson Avenue, Westwood; 201-722-1900
—Rigatoni is a hearty pasta but done delicately, with a light, fresh, seasonal tomato sauce at Zeppoli in Collingswood, it’s the stuff of golden summer evenings. Yes, some people might think it’s sacrilege to do anything but eat tomatoes fresh in the summertime, but light summery pasta sauces are a way to concentrate the innate sweetness of a jewel-red tomato and spread the wealth using toothsome pasta as a vehicle for flavor.
Zeppoli, 618 W. Collings Avenue, Collingswood; 856-854-2670
—Granted, this doesn’t seem like a tomato dish—at first glance, it’s a reverent ode to Wagyu (and good god, why not). But chef Mike Ryan at Elements in Princeton is taking time here and there to explain the concepts and plating of certain dishes, and per his explanation there’s actually a roasted tomato underneath the rest of the goodness here, which includes “unopened daylily flowers rubbed with lamb fat then steamed,” as well as “a piece of cured Wagyu,” placed on top to “melt away,” with aforementioned “slow roasted tomato underneath.”
Elements, 66 Witherspoon Street, Princeton; 609-924-0078