We will soon be able to say welcome back to two iconic Jersey restaurants, and must bid a fond farewell to a third.
The Ryland Inn, which gained national attention back in the early 2000’s under Craig Shelton, will be reborn this summer by Jeanne & Frank Cretella’s Landmark Hospitality group, albeit without Shelton (who, btw, has returned to NJ after a stint in Texas). Liberty House in Jersey City and Stone House at Stirling Ridge in Warren are other Landmark properties.
Also rising from proverbial ashes: Lahiere’s in Princeton. This venerable spot on Witherspoon Street had been in operation for 91 years when it closed in 2010. I suspect the name won’t be retained, but here’s the (unverified) scuttlebutt: A wealthy Princetonian who owns a farm off The Great Road will turn it into an American farm-to-table spot. Much needed renovations (and demolition) are underway and a September opening is planned.
As for the closure, we must say au revoir to Doris & Ed’s, the also venerable – and Beard Award-winning – Shore eatery in Highlands. The restaurant suffered damage during last August’s hurricane/tropical storm Irene and owner Jim Filip has decided not to reopen.
Floyd Cardoz, North End Grill
I was pleased to read the two-star review of North End Grill in last week’s NY Times. This seafood-centric restaurant is the latest collaboration between Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz, who made his name at the late lamented Tabla. Cardoz is a NJ resident, living with his wife and kids in Verona, and he was winner of the last cycle of Top Chef Masters.
As that cycle progressed, it became clear what a nice, stand-up guy Cardoz is, so just days after his victory last June I interviewed him about his experience, and what was then his restaurant-to-be, North End Grill. Here’s my write-up:
Competing on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters was “harder than anything I’ve ever done,” admits Floyd Cardoz. Nevertheless, he came away victorious after ten grueling weeks during which he often finished in second place (or worse) behind eleven of his peers. In his exit interview Cardoz told Bravo producers that the hardest thing was “not being in control. As a chef, you’re always in control.”
Even so, Cardoz stood apart from many of the genre’s hotheaded, egocentric competitors for his generous nature and how he connected in a seemingly heartfelt way with the non-celebrities in several challenges. During one, he empathized with a Biggest Loser contestant from West Orange; another time he shed tears while being thanked for a basic meat-and-potatoes meal that he produced for a serviceman’s homecoming. For that, he had put aside his prodigious skills in the full knowledge that his non-cheffy choice would likely lose him the challenge. It did. The one thing about the experience that he’s most proud of is, he says, “That I stayed true to who I am. I didn’t change what I do just to win the contest. I stayed true to what is in my soul.”
It also became clear on the show that Cardoz is a dedicated family man. Among those who viewed the final episode with him was his mother, who lives in India. Her husband – Floyd’s father – died of cancer and to honor his memory he donated his $100,000 winnings to the Young Scientists Cancer Research Fund at Mount Sinai. Cardoz, by the way, studied biochemistry before turning to the culinary world – just like New Jersey’s most famous homegrown chef, Craig Shelton of the soon to be resurrected Ryland Inn.
Floyd Cardoz settled in Verona seven years ago with his wife of twenty years, Barkha, and sons Peter, who graduated with honors this past June from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, and Justin, who is 13 and entered St. Peter’s this past fall. Why Verona? “When my wife first came to the United States she lived in Montclair. After we married, I worked in New York and we lived in the city, but she was not happy there. So, we came back to the area she liked.” The couple met as students in hospitality school in India. “We were close friends there but afterwards lost contact,” he says. “Then Barkha arrived in the U.S. two months after me and we reconnected.”
Where do the Cardozes dine when they eat out locally? For dim sum it’s China Gourmet on Eagle Rock Avenue in West Orange, for Szechuan specialties, Chengdu 1 in Cedar Grove, and for sushi, Montclair’s Toro Sushi Bar.
In the hours after his Top Chef Masters win, Cardoz observed that the biggest change in his life was that he had suddenly become a ‘personality.’ Despite the critical acclaim he had received for Tabla, he had never become a household name or star in the chef firmament. So it was especially gratifying to him, he says, that after watching the finale, son Peter told him, “You deserved the win. The recognition is long overdue.”