Savage Dream

Lisa Savage, chef/owner of the new Savaradio restaurant in Linwood, remembers weeping from exhaustion during her first week of culinary school and wondering aloud, What have I done?

Despite the hardship—she was also working full-time as a casino dealer, often juggling cooking classes and her overnight shift on four hours of sleep—Savage says that she knew immediately “there was no turning back. The smell, the feel, the environment—I was hooked.” Winning a four-month scholarship to study cooking in Turin, Italy, sealed her fate. “I was hungry for knowledge, and these were some of the finest chefs in Italy,” says the 47-year-old Bergenfield native.

Savage learned some kitchen basics from her late father, who raised six children alone. While she was working at the casino, a roommate, impressed by the impromptu meals Savage would whip up, registered her for a cooking class at the Academy of Culinary Arts in nearby Mays Landing. The rest, as they say, is history.

And it’s a history that’s proven fruitful. The Linwood restaurant is Savage’s third Savaradio. (The name is a blend of Savage’s name and that of her first business partner.) The previous incarnations, both in Ventnor and now closed, were tiny but hugely successful. Last year, two investors who had heard of the South Jersey culinary superstar approached her and offered to help her open a large restaurant. Savage jumped at the chance.

The resulting Savaradio, which opened in October, is “like a dream,” Savage says. The service, the dramatic decor, and cuisine work in synergy to create a knock-your-socks off dining experience. Housed in the former cafeteria of a long-abandoned Prudential office, the dramatic space includes a 7,700-square-foot dining area that features oversize booths, sparkling golden curtains, live trees, and a circular bar complete with a glowing countertop. The striking earth- and jewel tones, set against rustic waterfalls, bamboo, and stacked-slate walls, complement but never overpower the menu, much of which Savage transplanted from the earlier Savaradios.

Entrées range from a perfectly seasoned sesame-crusted tuna with sweet-spicy mustard set atop crisp Asian veggies to savory asparagus gnocchi in a rich lemon-cream sauce. Piping-hot brick-oven gourmet pizzas and lavish salads are big lunchtime draws, as is the expansive antipasto bar that Savage lobbied for, which offers no less than ten types of salads and veggies. “That was a concept I had for a long while,” she says. “It’s something that truly sets us apart.”

Having gone from a 70-seat bistro to the new 200-plus-seat restaurant still amazes the affable chef. “Sometimes I can’t believe this is mine, the grandeur of it all,” says Savage, who employs more than 100 people, including 5 chefs and a pastry chef. “My twin sister said to me recently, ‘If Daddy were here, he’d be so proud.’ ”

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