After serving 950 meals on a hectic Mother’s Day at the McCormick & Schmick’s in Cherry Hill in 2012, chef John Stewart and his fiancée, Diana Smarrito, decided they could defer their dream no longer. Married a week later, they began looking for a space of their own and finally found it in Glendora, Camden County. After extensive renovations, they opened Kitchen 519 (named for their wedding date, May 19) in the spring of 2014.
Smarrito, 32, who has a restaurant background herself, runs the front of the house. Much of the décor comes from her collecting: the antique stove and ’50s aprons in the entranceway, or the mason-jar lights hanging from the dining room’s 20-foot ceiling. Works by local artists cover the walls; all proceeds from sales go to the artist. Kitchen 519 holds regular fundraisers for South Jersey animal and children’s charities.
Growing up in Woodbury, Stewart began experimenting in the kitchen in his teens, then learned by reading cookbooks and on the job at Bonefish Grill and McCormick & Schmick’s. Now 30, he puts a playful spin on comfort food.
A prime example is the rightly popular fried avocado, a dish Smarrito tasted on a trip down South and suggested they recreate. The avocado is halved, pitted and scooped out of its skin. The hollow is filled with smoked Gouda and chopped bacon. The whole thing is tossed in seasoned cracker meal, deep-fried and served with toppings of house-made pico de gallo and smoky cilantro-chipotle aioli.
Another robust starter is Prince Edward Island mussels steamed with house-made chorizo, garlic and shallots in a broth of blonde ale from Lunacy Brewing in nearby Magnolia. The classic Cuban sandwich receives an enjoyable makeover called the Cuban quesadilla. A large flour-chipotle tortilla—covered with roast pork, salami, Swiss and cheddar cheeses and tangy chopped pickles—is griddled, folded into a half-moon and cut into four equal wedges. It was tasty and big enough to make a meal in itself.
Fried calamari (with fried, chopped, sweet bell peppers) is just as generous. The calamari and peppers are tossed with shredded, raw red cabbage and placed over a smear of hoisin sauce brightened with lime juice. Pickled jalapeños are placed alongside.
If Stewart has a weakness, it’s a tendency to overload. In his crab nachos, the mild crab meat was drowned out by spicy pepper jack cheese and roasted jalapeños. Simpler and more successful was coconut-fried tofu, on the seven-item vegan menu. The firm yet creamy chunks were fried crisp in an eggless batter loaded with shredded coconut.
Among entrées, a ribeye steak was tender, if a bit fatty. A topping of confited whole garlic cloves boosted its flavor. A huge, properly cooked pork chop came with a somewhat flavorless crab-meat filling, along with buttery sides of mashed butternut squash and sautéed spinach. Moist and flavorful blackened cobia got lost under chopped portobello mushrooms, feta and crab meat. The macadamia crust on a boneless chicken breast provided a welcome crunch. Though deep frying turned the delicate white meat dry, the pineapple-mango rum beurre blanc—with fresh fruit, real rum and a real beurre blanc—moistened and enlivened the dish.
Other than sorbet, gelato and house-made mini-cannoli, desserts are not about restraint. But excess has its rewards, as in the bananas Foster, served in crispy cinnamon-sugar tortillas, with firm banana slices in a deliciously caramelized syrup over vanilla ice cream. The fried Oreo sundae with house-made fudge sauce will revive your inner 7-year-old, if he or she is still skateboarding somewhere in your skull. Real 7-year-olds will simply gobble it up.
- Cuisine Type:American
- Price Range:Inexpensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $6-$12; salads, $7-$18; entrées, $12-$32; desserts, $5-$8.
- Ambience:Kitschy and casual.
- Service:Friendly and alert.
- Wine list:BYO, and selections from Bellview Winery.