PEAPACK-GLADSTONE – Every New Jersey foodie has heard of Ninety Acres, the award-winning upscale New-American restaurant situated among 90 acres of Natirar, a 500-acre Somerset County park that was once owned by a former king of Morocco.
What those foodies — and restaurant regulars — haven’t seen yet is the developed Natirar resort, which will include a 66-room boutique hotel, 24 residences, a gala event venue, spa and existing pool, tennis courts and fitness center surrounded by 400 acres of lush green space and trails in Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster.
“We want to take our dining experience and those amazing views to the next level by weaving our farm and the resort together,” said Bob Wojtowicz, founder. “When we started, we had this idea of Ninety Acres being farm-to-table, but over time, we are now thinking of it as a table at the farm.”
That idea isn’t incorrect — Ninety Acres is quite literally a table at the farm, surrounded by a 12-acre farm that sources the restaurant’s organic vegetables, herbs, berries, lamb, pork and egg-laying chickens.
Now, the developers of Natirar want to take that experience from mealtime to all the time by building the luxury resort, which Wojtowicz said he anticipates being completely finished in the next five years.
The team is doing renovation work inside the Natirar mansion, a 40-room 1912 Tudor mansion that will serve as the property’s gala event venue starting in June 2017. Envisioned by architect Guy Lowell, who is also behind the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the New York County Court House in Manhattan, the mansion’s interiors, fine oak paneling, molded plaster ceilings, period lighting, stone fireplaces and limestone detailing will be restored. Plus, a ballroom will be added adjacent to the mansion.
“There’s a lot that’s been kept in great shape,” said Wojtowicz. “The mansion has amazing bones, and watching it come back to life has been exciting.”
Work on the next phase — the hotel — will begin in the next several months, followed by the new residences.
Wojtowicz pitched Natirar as a resort property to Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, in 2000 with the idea that it would be the first Virgin property in the United States, with 535 acres and close to New York City. At the time, it was still owned by the Royal family of Morocco.
Simultaneously and unknowingly, the Somerset County Park Commission was pursuing the property for preservation purposes. The idea of a private-public partnership was conceived, and in 2003 the county leased 90 acres to Wojtowicz, who renovated and converted the carriage house into Ninety Acres, a private club, cooking school and farm with plans to add more resort amenities later.
“People will be able to have a lifestyle where they are more carefree on a property like this,” said Wojtowicz. “There’s a lot of natural beauty and vastness here. How the county is preserving it makes an amazing opportunity to create something.”
At Ninety Acres, this relaxed attitude starts with the drive to the restaurant from Peapack Road and into the park. With over a mile drive surrounded with nothing but fresh air and greenery, Wojtowicz said that people enter Ninety Acres with a new mindset.
“Being on the Natirar property itself makes us special,” said David Felton, executive chef. “New Jersey has all four seasons and you can see them here and on our menu — we see the greenery of spring with our abundance of vegetables, the heartiness of fall ingredients and the whiteness and bleakness of winter root vegetables.”
Once visitors are inside Ninety Acres, which is a restored carriage house, they’ll see rich woods, brick walls, high ceilings, Palladian windows, wrought-iron accents, original wood sculptures and art works made from trees on the property.
On the menu are several possible dining experience — an a la carte menu, a prix fixe menu, a feast at the Communal Table or Bring Me Food, a personalized tasting menu based on fresh ingredients, and personal preference prepared in an open kitchen.
“I talk to the neighbors from time to time, and people really love coming to Ninety Acres,” said Wojtowicz. “I think that people will enjoy having all of these other resort amenities close to home.”