New Jersey Eats: Top 10 Central Jersey restaurants

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 9/13/17

Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Union counties are known for their incredible mix of countryside, metropolitan living, diversity and vitality, and this is ever-reflected in the cuisine of the region.

Here in Central Jersey, you can find everything from five-star formal American dining to ethnic fare with a modern twist and everything in between.

Courtesy of Stage Left

Stage Left

Stage Left has always been known as one of the best contemporary steakhouses in the state, with owners Francis Schott and Mark Pascal pulling in awards for the restaurant since its inception 25 years ago.

“We’ve had this place since we were 27,” said Schott. “We’re very good friends, and this is our house. Our staff is the immediate family that welcomes you in.”

Following a recent renovation and rebranding, Stage Left has fully embraced its steakhouse status with expanded steak and chop options, interesting side dishes, sauces and appetizers, fish for non-meat eaters and more casual dining options. Customers flock to the eatery for their favorite items such as the jamon iberico de bellota ribs ($39) and 42-ounce, 45-day dry-aged prime tomahawk steak ($125).

Courtesy of Stage Left

Stage Left has recently launched an online wine shop, StageLeftWineShop.com, where it  presents a well-curated list of unusual wines and exceptional values, fewer than a hundred selections, based on its award-winning in-house collection of more than 1,000 bottles.

Restaurant Legend: Fine Dining. Reservations Recommended.

If you go: 5 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick; 732-828-4444, stageleft.com, @stageleftrestaurant

Courtesy of Ninety Acres

Ninety Acres

Farm-to-table is a new dining trend that has swept foodies everywhere. However, Ninety Acres, which is situated on the Somerset County Natirar estate, is literally a table at the farm thanks to Natirar’s 12-acre sustainable farm located right outside the door of the restored carriage house.

Guests perusing the menu will take comfort in knowing that the meats and sausages are house-cured from the pigs raised on the farm, seasonal items drive the ever-changing menu and the farm also influences Ninety Acres’ bar program, where fresh herbs are used to make infusions, syrups and tonic.

Courtesy of Ninety Acres

If guests want to take their table-at-the-farm experience to the next level, they can utilize the Bring Me Food experience ($105), where they can opt for a seat located near the open kitchen and instead of reviewing a conventional menu, patrons view a list of the night’s fresh-from-the-farm ingredients, discuss their likes and dislikes with their server and are treated to a five- to seven-course menu created on the spot by the culinary team.

Restaurant Legend: Fine Dining. Reservations Recommended.

If you go: 2 Main St., Peapack-Gladstone, 908-901-9500, natirar.com/ninety_acres, @Natirar1912

Courtesy of Portuguese Fisherman

Portuguese Fisherman

Restaurants are notorious for short lifespans, but the same can’t be said for the Portuguese Fisherman – ‘The Fish,’ known for its Portuguese grilled meat and seafood dishes served in contemporary surrounds, has been serving the South River community for 41 years.

Come October, expect to see new dishes besides old favorites following Chef Manny Alves and owner Mark Silva’s return from Portugal to bring home fresh and new concepts for the menu. Currently, you can try hot items such as the carne alentejana, which are marinated pork cubes, pork potatoes and clams ($18); and the angus na casserole, which is certified Black Angus served in a hot clay dish with garlic butter ($32).

Restaurant Legend: Casual.

If you go: 11 Jackson St., South River; 732-238-5188, portuguesefisherman.com, @portfisherman

Courtesy of Uncle Vinnie’s Clam Bar

Uncle Vinnie’s Clam Bar

Uncle Vinnie’s Clam Bar of Raritan might be quite a drive away from the Jersey Shore, but if you order one of its seafood entrees with an Italian slant, you may think that you are there — the seafood, delivered every day, is made-to-order and is as fresh as it gets with dinner entrees ranging from $12.50 to $23.95 (not including dinner specials).

In this no-frills eatery, which features a large center bar and an open-view kitchen, you’re bound to see a full restaurant every night of the week at every hour of the evening – for good reason. This local staple is extremely popular due to the scrumptious seafood and friendly owner Lou Malenchek, who seems to somehow know every customer in the eatery.

Restaurant Legend: Casual.

If you go: 5 E Somerset St., Raritan, 908-526-9887, unclevinniesclambar.com

Courtesy of Roosterspin

Roosterspin

Roosterspin, a new Korean eatery in Westfield that just opened its second location in New Brunswick, has a fresh, approachable take to Korean fare with dishes such as kimchi fries ($9), a Buffalo chicken sushi roll ($14) and a bulgogi burger ($10), which is made up of thin, marinated slices of beef or pork.

You can also thank Roosterspin for bringing the Korean fried chicken craze to New Jersey, a must-try dish that has been sweeping the fryers. At Roosterspin, you can try the double fried chicken brushed with a soy garlic or spicy soy garlic sauce. ($18-$23)

Restaurant Legend: Casual.

If you go: 120 Albany St. New Brunswick, 732-545-4500, roosterspin.com, @roosterspin

Courtesy of Saly G’s

Saly G’s

Saly G’s, an elegant eatery that serves traditional Neapolitan-style Italian fare, is a hidden gem in every sense of the word – the restaurant, tucked behind a strip mall, has a sophisticated ambiance also exuded in its dishes such as its popular tomahawk steak for two ($85), truffle gnocchi ($23) and 12-ounce meatball with pork, beef and veal ($12).

Chef Joseph Gramaglia is also a hidden gem himself – guests would never guess that he has no formal culinary training under his chef’s hat and instead, learned the ins and outs of cooking alongside his mother and grandmother as he pored over cookbooks and cooking shows on television. Now, he brings that passion to Saly G’s every day as he makes everything handmade in the restaurant.

Restaurant Legend: Fine Dining. Reservations Recommended.

If you go: 169 Washington Valley Road, Warren, 732-667-7400, salygsrestaurant.com, @salygsrestaurant

Courtesy of Frog and the Peach

The Frog and the Peach

Chefs who have fine-dining restaurants in small cities can usually be found at their newer, sexier destinations such as in Singapore or Palm Springs, but at The Frog and the Peach, which has consistently been recognized as one of the best eateries in the state, you’ll always be able to find Chef Bruce Lefebvre in the New Brunswick kitchen.

At the American eatery, duck dishes tend to reign supreme — currently, customers can try the poached Long Island duck breast on the summer menu, which includes cured leg croqueta, fava beans, fiddlehead ferns and ancho chili romesco ($33).

Restaurant Legend: Fine Dining. Reservations Recommended.

If you go: 29 Dennis St., New Brunswick, 732-846-3216, frogandpeach.com, @frogandpeach

Courtesy of Osteria Morini

Osteria Morini

Bernardsville residents have their New York City counterparts to thank for the opening of Osteria Morini — after the successful launch of the restaurant in SoHo, a Bernardsville location opened in 2012 with entrees ranging from $21 to $29.

At Osteria Morini, “guests can enjoy a rustic, family-style dinner featuring all the signature classics from Bolgona, Moderno, and Parma, coined ‘the bread basket of Italy,'” said Mona Carbona, general manager.

Plus, with the Nicoletta Pizzeria opening up adjacent to the restaurantlast year, guests can enjoy specialty pizzas, small bites and soft-serve gelato at Osteria Morini.

Restaurant Legend: Casual.

If you go: 107 Morristown Road, Bernardsville, 908-221-0040, osteriamorini.com, @moriniNJ

Courtesy of Verve

Verve Restaurant

When Verve Restaurant, a cozy bistro offering a French-American menu in a white-tablecloth dining room and a sidewalk-seating area, opened its doors in Somerville in 1996, the New York Times said, “As goes Verve, as goes Somerville.”

The quote holds true today. As the town was growing and changing, the Times knew that if a French-American bistro could make it in the borough, Somerville was surely turning around, and that it has. Today, the restaurant still offers quality fare such as Parisian gnocchi ($14), Long Island duck breast ($30), butter poached lobster ($35) and stuffed Turkish figs ($16) alongside an inventive cocktail menu.

Restaurant Legend: Fine Dining.

If you go: 18 East Main St., Somerville, 908-707-8655, vervestyle.com, @vervestyle

Courtesy of Clydz

Clydz

These days, speakeasy-style restaurants and bars are all the rage, but Clydz, a New Brunswick underground restaurant featuring exotic meats, has been utilizing the theme with exposed brick, fireplaces, stamped ceilings and 1920’s décor since it opened 20 years ago.

Patrons enter Clydz by going down steps covered in fresh rose petals daily, where they are greeted by a menu of more than 100 different artisan and classic cocktails as well as international dishes such as kangaroo loin ($38), alligator in a blanket ($11) and braised python ravioli ($15).

Restaurant Legend: Fine Dining. Reservations Recommended.

If you go: 55 Paterson St., New Brunswick, 732-846-6521, clydz.com

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