BEST RESTAURANT WITH DROOL-WORTHY DESIGN AND FOOD TO MATCH
Rails Steakhouse, Towaco
Rails Steakhouse is the love child of a top-notch New York steakhouse and a luxe lodge in Colorado. Nestled on the quaint train tracks (hence the name) in the tiny village of Towaco, this stunning restaurant dazzles from the very first step inside to the final bite of that decadently delicious 10-layer chocolate cake. Rails took three years to build, and the attention to detail is seen in every last inch of this 18,000-square-foot space. From the massive 150-year-old Douglas fir that doubles as a structural element and the sky-high two-level stone fireplace to the stairs that were not only imported from Italy but took a team of five people six weeks to assemble (the sides resemble a chainsaw—it’s worth skipping the elevator just to sneak a peek), the design is nothing short of exquisite.
Then there is that floor. Once you see it, you’ll know the one. Constructed from trees that fell during Superstorm Sandy, the wood mosaic floor (in the appropriately named Mosaic Room) is a work of art that makes walking on it seem like a sacrilege. “We are passionate about wood,” says Mike Mulligan, executive director. “We wanted to create something that reminded you of a Colorado lodge … something we didn’t have here in New Jersey.”
Design isn’t the only thing they’re passionate about, as creating distinctive experiences runs a close second. “We have three concepts here,” says Mulligan. While all levels feature the same menu, the main dining room has a more sophisticated ambience; Rafters, the second-floor bar, has a more casual lounge appeal. Take the elevator downstairs to Thirty3 Speakeasy for an entirely different experience—and a return to the 1930s. This speakeasy even has a secret entrance (we won’t share how to enter but it might have something to do with the name). Whether you choose to host an event on one of three terraces, one of the three different levels or three private rooms, the menu delivers rave-worthy dishes. Steakhouse classics, including crab cakes, dry-aged beef and sides like hash browns and lobster mashed potatoes, are positively divine. And don’t even think about skipping dessert.
BEST VENUE FOR WOW FACTOR
There are times when most venues will do, but when times call for something so spectacular you’ll think you’ve entered another world, head straight for Natirar. With its grand mansion set atop rolling hills, it would be easy to think you’ve landed in the English countryside, but this hideaway is nestled in Somerset County. Natirar (which is an anagram for Raritan, the river that flows through the property) is a classic grand estate and up until now has been best known as the home of Ninety Acres, the awardwinning fine-dining restaurant and farm (which is just steps away from the kitchen, a rarity in the state).
Set in the original carriage house, Ninety Acres has a stunning restaurant and an impressive cooking school, ideal for teambuilding events and demonstrations, but now with the reopening of the grand Mansion, Natirar is sure to be known as one of the best venues on the East Coast. The Mansion, which took years to restore and renovate, simply shines with its unique brand of country sophistication. The ballroom, complete with a living wall, features a dressed-up barn-like appeal and accommodates up to 225 guests.
“I wanted every element we touched and every enhancement we added to reflect a reverence for Natirar’s greater story, which spans more than a century,” says Bob Wojtowicz, founder. “The restoration of The Manson was intended to ensure Natirar’s continued legacy as we look to the next 100 years,” he adds. Other rooms include a living room, conservatory and great room. Of course, nothing beats an event held on the terrace overlooking those endless swaths of green. Natirar won’t be resting on any laurels. “Now that the restoration of The Mansion is complete, we can focus on future projects that will enhance the guest experience, including a boutique hotel, private residential villas and a best-in-class wellness center,” says Wojtowicz, adding, “there is a lot to look forward to.” Indeed.
BEST-KEPT SECRET THAT YOU NEED TO BOOK FOR YOUR NEXT EVENT
Prallsville Mills, Stockton
Some people plan an event in a ballroom or conference room but when you book an event with Prallsville Mills, you get to choose from 10 buildings comprising an 1877 grist mill, a 1790 linseed oil mill, an 1850 saw mill and a 1900 grain silo. Add lush grounds set in a state park fronting the Delaware River and D&R Canal plus gourmet food courtesy of exclusive caterer, Crave Events Group, and you have one of the most unforgettable venue experiences in the state.
“The Prallsville Mills are a natural meeting place infused with nature and history,” says Phil Gutis, director of the Delaware River Mill Society, which operates the Mills. “Our guests love the history of our 10-building earlyindustrial complex and our rustic and historic spaces can be used as is or decorated to match any era or celebrate any occasion. Our spaces can host small gatherings at the Prall House and Quarry House to large parties in the Sawmill, Grist Mill or under our three-season tented pavilion [at the Quarry House]. Each space presents a touch of history combined with today’s modern comforts.”
The Mills are an integral part of this river community, hosting everything from concerts and art festivals to an annual Run of the Mill 5K. “The Mill is an ongoing lively asset to our community while preserving a largely forgotten piece of our agricultural and industrial beginnings,” says Gutis.
BEST CATERING COMPANY WITH A MISSION
Grateful Bites, Flemington
Nothing stops a mother on a mission and Karen Monroy, CEO of Flemington’s Grateful Bites, is a shining example. During the latter part of high school when most parents are considering SAT courses and college selections, Monroy was worrying about her son Zachary’s future. Zachary has autism and unlike many of his peers, his future was very uncertain. Monroy dove into researching his possibilities and soon realized they were appalling. She knew Zachary’s future depended on her creating a better option, and after brainstorming and speaking with a close friend in the food business, she knew it would be the right fit. Ability2Work, the nonprofit that run Grateful Bites, the café, bakery, and catering business in Flemington, was born. Their catering service operates within a 60-mile radius—both New Hope and New York City are part of their service area. Launched three years ago, 100 percent of the proceeds support the nonprofit’s mission of supporting developmentally disabled individuals. The concept pairs trained restaurant professionals with developmentally disabled “apprentices” who are also supported by paraprofessionals. From harvesting vegetables and picking up eggs to cooking and baking, there are 400 different jobs that the apprentices participate in.
“We believe in good food that is good for you,” says Monroy. “We think customers should get what they want—and we believe it’s our job to help them balance the budget with the ‘good for you’ food!” From French contemporary to backyard BBQ, we cover a very wide range of styles and dishes.”
It’s not just a terrific story—the gourmet comfort food is fantastic. They’ve nabbed a number of awards, including “Best Bakery” by the Star-Ledger. Now that’s a win-win.