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New Jersey Monthly

New Jersey Monthly's 1999 Choice Awards


The Ryland Inn, Whitehouse

The Frog and the Peach, New Brunswick

Fromagerie, Rumson

Harvest Moon Inn, Ringoes

Stage Left: An American Café, New Brunswick


Stage Left: An American Cafe

And the winners are . . . !

We should have a drum roll at this point. This is the sixteenth year that you, the readers, have named the restaurants that you consider to be the very best in New Jersey. If there were ever any doubt about who decides whether or not a restaurant will succeed, our annual Readers' Choice Awards make it very clear: The customer rules.

As usual, you chose the winners by region, with five top restaurants each in the northern, central, and southern portions of the state. The uncontested winners are the restaurants that give their guests what they want. These are not necessarily the most expensive places. Diners can enjoy good service, atmosphere, and great food without running up a terrifying tab. Nor does a cheap meal always translate into a good value. It is the total dining experience that gains a restaurant a favorable reputation, which is why establishments like the Manor in West Orange and the Saddle River Inn appear here year after year.

The Knowles family, which owns both the Manor and Highlawn Pavilion in West Orange and the Ram's Head Inn in Absecon, have scored a hat trick this year. All three restaurants were voted among the Best of the Best, with the Manor the clear favorite in the north for the fourth year in a row (also earning the award for Best Service), closely followed in second place by Highlawn Pavilion. All the Knowles restaurants share superb management and a special ambience, such as a fantasy decor or spectacular view, and that winning combination seems able to surmount any changes in the kitchen. Scalini Fedeli in Chatham has jumped two places this year to come in third in the north, no doubt due to the talents of chef/owner Michael Cetrulo as well as to the charm of the Tuscan-style restaurant; Scalini Fedeli also wins for Best Fine Italian cuisine. Fourth is Hans Egg's Saddle River Inn. The charming converted barn has been popular from the moment it opened almost twenty years ago, and Chef Egg's French Continental cooking continues to reap high praise. Il Capriccio in Whippany, with Tony Grande ever at the helm, reappears as a favorite, in fifth place this year.

In Central Jersey, the elegant Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, another four-time winner, not only places first in the Best of the Best but again tops the region's four other categories: Best Atmosphere, Best Wine List, Best Service, and Best Romantic Dining--and no wonder, with its four incredible acres of gardens, tended by experts, that provide the vegetables and herbs used to advantage in Craig Shelton's kitchen. The Frog and the Peach was New Brunswick's first serious restaurant. With Eric Hambrecht in the kitchen and its pretty outdoor dining area, the restaurant garners second place, as it did in 1998. Third in this category is the wondrous Fromagerie in Rumson. Last year it placed fifth, so obviously owners Markus and Hubert Peter and their chef, Cory Heyer, are doing all the right things; Fromagerie also wins Best French cuisine. The charming Harvest Moon Inn in Ringoes, absent from last year's list, makes a very welcome return under chef-owner Stanley Novak, in fourth place. Finally, Stage Left: An American Café takes fifth place in Central Jersey's Best of the Best. This chic bistro in New Brunswick's theater district has Parisian-style sidewalk dining and a new chef, Patrick Yves Pierre-Jerome, whom many remember from the celebrated but now defunct Yves in Montclair.

There are no surprises in South Jersey for this year's Best of the Best. The town of Cape May again dominates the region's dining scene, and with good reason. Consider the repeat first-place winner, 410 Bank Street. Chef Henry Sing Cheng continues to man the stoves at this charming eatery, producing dishes that comprise elements of French, Caribbean, and New Orleans-style cuisine with an Asian touch; the restaurant also wins in the Best French cuisine, Best Service, and, notably, Best Steak categories.

In second place is the lovely Washington Inn, where Chef Mimi Wood produces dishes as remarkable as the offerings on the inn's superb wine list, which, by the way, readers voted South Jersey's best; this elegant restaurant also takes honors for Best Atmosphere and Best Romantic Dining--quite a coup! The Knowles's Ram's Head Inn in Absecon, a favorite fantasy setting for weddings, comes in third. And the Ebbitt Room in Cape May, with Chef J. Christopher Hubert's imaginative Contemporary American dishes, was voted fourth as well as Best Hotel Restaurant. Fifth but by no means a runner-up is the Grenville Hotel in Bay Head. This refurbished Victorian home is affiliated with the Renault Winery in Egg Harbor, so if you don't bring your own bottle, you can enjoy a selection from the winery.

It is always interesting to suppose how the Readers Choice Awards can influence restaurant-goers. Last year the exciting Italian restaurant Moonstruck in Ocean Grove was a write-in favorite for Central Jersey; this year readers named it the region's Best Undiscovered Restaurant. In the south this award goes to Girasole, which, after several years in Atlantic City, is again attracting attention. And An American Grill in Randolph has secured a place in this category in the north for the second year in a row.

Although many restaurants in North Jersey have excellent wine lists, Park & Orchard in East Rutherford once again takes top honors in this category, as it has for the last six years. For Best Hotel Restaurant in the north, readers again picked the Dining Room at the Hilton at Short Hills. Chez Madeleine in Bergenfield again was voted Best French restaurant in the region. Best Casual Italian eatery is Foro Italico in Elmwood Park, while John Foy's Sonoma Grill in East Rutherford is where to enjoy North Jersey's Best New American cuisine; Foy and his brother Dennis, now based in Manhattan, are among the gifted chefs who changed the face of New Jersey restaurants, so it is gratifying to know that they continue to excite patrons.

In Central Jersey, Christine's at the Somerset Hills Hotel in Warren has grabbed the honors for Best Hotel Restaurant. The extravagantly decorated La Fontana in New Brunswick takes over as Best Fine Italian restaurant, while Eccoqui in Bernardsville remains the favorite for Best Casual Italian dining. I don't remember a year when Doris & Ed's in Highlands was not given the region's Best Seafood distinction, and why not? The attractive restaurant has a great view, efficient service, wonderfully fresh fish, and a decent list of American wines. If you crave Spanish/Portuguese cooking, go no further than the Portuguese Manor in Perth Amboy, where you can eat and dance outside overlooking the water during summer. Central Jersey's Best Deli is the immaculate

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