It's been nearly two decades since Hard Grove Cafe opened, and in that time, the Cuban-themed restaurant has evolved into a place where locals gather to see art exhibits and dance to live music. Of course, the biggest draw is still the authentic Cuban cuisine. Diners can dig into seafood mofongo?roasted chicken glazed with guava-infused barbecue sauce?and tangy ropa vieja, amid other exotic dishes. Vegetarian-friendly alternatives are available, along with sandwiches and burgers for diners who are afraid to use forks. Bartenders whip up refreshing mojitos and cosmos for accompaniment. Sundays bring an extensive brunch with optional bottomless bloody marys and mimosas.
Founded by a bodybuilding and fitness enthusiast, Muscle Maker Grill supplies nutritious high-protein dishes that serve as a healthy alternative to traditional fast food. Guests can commence with a bowl of steamed edamame ($3.75) or shake hands with the buffalo wing's well-behaved younger brother, the texas chicken nuggets, served with fat-free sour cream and celery ($4.75). Grilled chicken breast and turkey bacon team up in the MMG signature wrap, backed by romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and onions with reduced-fat cheddar cheese and a zero-carbohydrate signature sauce ($8.95). Pastafarians can peruse the selection of whole-wheat penne (regular penne available as well) in dishes such as the sesame-chicken teriyaki pasta ($9.25).
Ryan DePersio doesn't have a lot of time on his hands. He runs not only Montclair's Fascino with his family but also the marina-side Battello, which he reopened with a fresh look in early 2014.?The space's revival has quickly made it an in-demand spot for weddings. Here's a look at what's made it so popular.
Something Old: The Food
DePersio found success at Fascino with a culinary style he describes as "Italian without borders." He brings the same style to Battello, with dishes such as homemade ricotta gnocchi, lauded by the Star-Ledger as "an impossibly ethereal dish and is itself worth the trip."
Something New: The Cocktails
Fascino is a BYOB spot, so DePersio was eager to start a cocktail program at Battello. He brought in a mixologist to conceptualize drinks such as the Jules, a simple, yet complex pairing of Glenfiddich and lemon-chamomile syrup. The drink list is rounded out by predominantly Italian wines, as well as domestic and imported craft beers.
Something Borrowed: The Decor
DePersio spared no expense in his face-lift of Battello, hiring HGTV star Anthony Carrino to redesign the interior. Much of the marina-inspired decor is salvaged, including the rowboat hanging above the entrance and the brass yacht lanterns affixed to the walls.
Something Blue: The View
Floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the dining room frame what the Star-Ledger calls "a view of Manhattan that has no peer." Anchored by One World Trade Center, the skyline often looks impossibly blue, thanks to the Newport Yacht Club and Marina waters and endless sky surrounding it.
As a boy, Michael Colletti watched his immigrant father and grandparents prepare age-old family recipes they brought with them from their Sicilian home. He watched them in awe as they used ingredients, such figs and cardoons, from their own backyard to craft an array of traditional Italian dishes. Needless to say, this early fascination led him toward formal training as a grown-up, which launched him into a career as a chef and restaurateur. Since graduating from the Culinary Education Center, he has worked in restaurants lauded by the New York Times, helped found Good Stuff Eatery, and won the "Rachel Ray Burger Bash" contest at the 2009 Food & Wine Festival. After all this success, Chef Colletti decided to go back to his roots. To do this, he opened VB3 Restaurant, where he blends the Sicilian flavors of his youth with the wide array of culinary techniques he mastered as an adult.
Since opening, VB3 Restaurant has really become two restaurants in one. On the one hand, the dining room makes for an excellent place to enjoy a romantic meal featuring the chef’s roasted branzino or seasonal penne primavera, as well as live music and dancing. On the other hand, the take-out line provides easy access to the eatery’s Italian-style pizza—a specialty based on dough recipes a young Michael learned from his cousin, who came up with them during his stint living in an Italian oven.
Though Mantra Head Chef Purvesh Patel is known for his creative takes on Indian cuisine—including chaat, or snack food, garnished with tender lobster meat—his careful, French-inspired cooking also leaves its mark on the menu’s traditional entrees. "Each ingredient seemed to have bathed for just the right number of hours in its yogurt marinade; each was precisely cooked; and each carried a heady overtone of spices," a New York Times food writer recalled of a tandoori dish in 2008. In contrast to these subtle flavors, Mantra’s presentation often has theatrical flair; chefs chop chaat dishes tableside and set a banana flambé dessert ablaze with rum.
Both locations’ sleek dining rooms also go for drama with bold, modern decor. In Jersey City, red accents simmer against warm-toned walls. Next to the Paramus spot's mosaic-tiled bar, live flames dance on the low wall between the dining room and lounge, upping the “amazement factor” for Cody Kendall of the Star-Ledger.
Conceived by Las Vegas restaurateur Mark DiMartino, Tilted Kilt evokes Ireland by way of Vegas, with waitresses dressed in plaid mini kilts shouldering trays of chilled beer and pub fare. Like an enchilada stuffed with four-leaf clovers, the eatery’s Irish nachos interpret a south-of-the-border classic in a Celtic way, slathering potato chips in cheese sauce and seasoned ground beef; alternatively, pot roast and vegetables simmer traditionally in the Olde Dublin Irish stew’s Guinness-infused beef stock. Barkeeps pour a full bar’s worth of wine, cocktails, and beer, which surfaces in bottles, bombers, and multi-brew mixes such as the Blue Moon and Guinness combination. High-definition TVs glow with a ceaseless parade of professional and college baseball, basketball, and hockey, and live bands add to the entertainment smorgasbord on Friday and Saturday nights.