Hat City Kitchen in Orange calls itself the place to be, and once you find the place, nestled a few streets off of Scotland Ave on Valley Street) and step inside, it does feel like you’ve discovered something special. The name is a nod to the neighborhood known as the Valley (which straddles Orange and West Orange) formerly famous for being the hat-making capital of the world. Today, the Valley is getting a new indentity as an artist district with help from Hands Inc.
What else besides soulful food (make that Creosoul — a tasty hybrid of Southern and New Orleans cuisine), a handsome and hoppin’ bar scene, vibrant art work and live music, all housed in an 1890s building, make Hat City Kitchen (HCK) special? The restaurant is a non-profit; using social entrepreneurship model, all profits from HCK go back into the community to support the renaissance of the Valley Arts District.
HCK has a lot to offer — some come for the tempting comfort food created by executive chef Patrick Pierre-Jerome. Others frequent for the hip bar scene and the chance to hear music nightly (check out the hall of fame, showcasing the wide range of musical talent that have played Hat City Kitchen). Others come to see friends and neighbors, eat with their family and be part of what’s become an exciting neighborhood rebirth.
Larry West Weinstein, veteran restaurant owner, operator and consultant, is director of operations for HCK. He’s also a rocker who played bass guitar with his brother Leslie West, (who has also played at Hat City Kitchen).
On a recent visit with friends, we sampled perfectly cooked buttermilk and honey fried chicken and tasty ribs. Other standout dishes were the blackened salmon and the savory shrimp and grits. The bar and lounge area (with tables if you want to dine) are the best spots for watching HCK’s live music. If you want to eat and talk, you can sit in the upstairs dining off the bar and lounge area and still hear the performers.
Hat City Kitchen is open Tuesday through Sunday (check out happy hour with complimentary snacks, 4-6:30, Tuesday through Friday). Full list of upcoming performers here; they also host an open mike on Tuesday nights, with a wide range of performers, including the Murphy Girls, two sisters who played here recently.
Hat City Kitchen
459 Valley Street, Orange
Photos: Michael Reitman