IT ISN’T CALLED THE GARDEN STATE FOR NOTHING. From tomatoes, corn and blueberries to pasture-raised meats, New Jersey is ruling the roost when it comes to farm-fresh ingredients. Here’s a sampling of where to plan your next green-minded dining event.
Sustainability and Quality
At twofiftytwo restaurant in Bedminster, executive chef/owner Melissa Hill seeks out local, organic ingredients for her American cuisine. "I cook very simply and I highlight the product that I’m working with; if I don’t start with a good product, it’s not going to end well," says Hill. "So that led me to the farms." Hill buys her produce directly from farmers and other high-quality local food producers, including Valley Shepherd Creamery, Three Meadows Farm and Boylan Bottling Company. A meal at twofiftytwo might include fresh herbs from the restaurant’s backyard garden, meat from humanely raised animals and locally made gelato.
Located in a renovated craftsman-style home, twofiftytwo embodies a modern, simple and chic vibe. For private events, the restaurant seats up to 36 guests for dinner and up to 50 people for passed hors d’oeuvres and food stations. A small outdoor porch seats 12, weather permitting.
Tradition with a Farm-Fresh Twist
Set in picturesque downtown Ho-Ho-Kus, the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern is a historic restaurant and inn showcasing updated classic American cuisine. With farm-fresh produce provided by Zone 7, the produce distribution service that connects regional growers to restaurants, the menu items change with the seasons. "We like to support local farmers," says Andrew Rodriguez, executive chef. "At a time when so many things are commercially produced, you can really taste the difference when you buy ingredients from a farm. The taste speaks for itself."
The Dutch colonial building was painstakingly restored and reopened in 2009 and features six elegant-yet-cozy event spaces that can accommodate up to 180 guests.
South of the Border Flavor
At The Tortilla Press in Collingswood, chef/owner Mark Smith’s goal is to offer fun, fresh and festive Mexican-influenced cuisine, all while being considerate to the environment. "Supporting local businesses is part of my core philosophy as an independent restaurant owner," says Smith. "I come from the Midwest, so working with the farmers was second nature to me, and the more you talk to farmers, the more aware you are of your business’s impact on the environment."
To that end, The Tortilla Press has formed strong bonds with local farmers, whose produce they buy and feature at the Collingswood Farmers’ Market each week. The Tortilla Press also purchases seafood from sustainable, local sources and serves fair-trade organic coffee. And they keep waste management under control by composting about 60 percent of what they process and using biodegradable takeout
Neither a traditional Mexican nor a Tex-Mex establishment, Smith combines dishes familiar to the American palate with Mexican sauces and seasonings to give a new twist on old favorites (entrées include the award-winning chipotle peanut BBQ pork platter, and the goat cheese and seafood enchiladas verde). Private parties at the restaurant can be served buffet-style or sitdown and seat up to 80 guests.
For 24 years, Cafe Metro in downtown Denville has been offering planet-friendly food from a wide range of cultures (Asian, Mediterranean) and ideologies (vegan, macrobiotic). "Cafe Metro is an eclectic, organic restaurant that caters to an array of customers. We use local ingredients," says manager Deanna McHugh. Healthy habits hit a home run at Cafe Metro, where the ambiance is friendly and relaxed, and the food (think grilled tempeh with seasonal chutney or panko-encrusted crab cakes with lemon caper remoulade) is delicious. Even the wine-from Cape May County’s Balic Winery-is local. Cafe Metro can accommodate private parties from 10-75 on Saturdays and Sundays.