By GRACE WILLIAMS
For Montclair Local
You don’t have to be in Montclair for that long to discover the town’s rich foodie culture. And with hundreds of options to choose from, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the New Jersey Monthly list of its Best New Restaurants and Best Restaurants for 2018, four local establishments were cited. From sushi and ramen to steak and pasta (with some seriously delicious Ethiopian and burger joints sandwiched in between), diners are inundated with choices. This makes being included all the more compelling. Here are the two newcomers and two “regulars” who made the cut this year.
Marcel Kitchen & Bakery
A newcomer to the New Jersey Monthly list is Marcel Kitchen & Bakery.
After opening Mishmish on Glenridge avenue in 2014 to a solid customer base, owner Meny Vakin brought his vision uptown, opening Marcel Kitchen & Bakery in 2017. Feeling that the uptown vibe had a more “sleepy” feeling to it, Vakin got to work and created a café that possesses more of a restaurant vibe. That vision has quickly become an uptown favorite known as Marcel. Named for his grandfather, an artist, Vakin ended up providing a space like ones that can be found in New York featuring long, communal tables alongside smaller, more intimate tables. This experience was something that he sensed was lacking in Montclair. “When you come in, we want you to be transformed,” he says.
Patrons can enjoy baked goods and coffee alongside smoothies, traditional Israeli and Mediterranean fare and items such as flat breads or pizzas from the shop’s pizza oven, which Vakin considers to be his favorite, signature item at the moment. Being more of a cafe in nature makes scoring a Best New Restaurant nod even more special, according to Vakin. “It’s nice to be acknowledged,” he says. “Are we considered a restaurant? In some ways we are like one because we use top notch ingredients, but we put it out without fanfare. It’s a great thing for me, a boost of motivation.”
While not technically a “newcomer” by some standards, Café Giotto is more like a resurrection. Its first go-round was through the beloved Osteria Giotto, located on Midland Avenue. After the establishment closed in 2016, the owners Robert Pantusa and Luca Valerin moved their operation to Church Street and opened Café Giotto in 2017.
Speaking on behalf of herself and her three other business partners, co-owner Debora Galassi said they pride themselves on having everything served to customers made in-house, from the cafe’s pastries, breads and pizza, to its fresh egg pasta and lasagna to the eggplant parmesan. Café
Giotto also makes its own sauces and pesto and Galassi said the signature dish is the lasagna. “We feel honored and proud [to be included on the New Jersey Monthly list,]” said Galassi.
Patrons will find a menu that runs the gamut, from pastry and coffee to salads and pasta to its cult classic, the infamous lasagna from Osteria Giotto.
Serving up “Italian without borders,” Fascino has had the privilege of making the New Jersey Monthly list “Best Of” for quite some time now. But a restaurant doesn’t consistently top lists unless it is getting things right. According to general manager Chris Pavone, over the past 15 years, the restaurant has created a more family-like kinship among the staff members. This spills out into dining room each night.
Every time the restaurant makes the New Jersey Monthly list, it’s great, Pavone says.”We like hearing from our customers,” Pavone says. “Any time we get put back on the list, it’s a positive for the team. It gives them a push too, to be noticed.”
In addition to staff and regulars, Pavone says that while the menu rotates seasonal items in and out, some items have stayed the course throughout the years.
“Chef Ryan’s signature dish, the Ricotta Gnocchi Bolognese, which is all homemade, has been on the menu for all of our years,” he says.
Laurel & Sage
Named for the daughters of husband and wife owners Chef Shawn Paul Dalziel and Jennifer Sransky, Laurel and Sage opened its doors in 2015. The restaurant touts itself as a “modern American restaurant featuring globally inspired, locally sourced cuisine.”
The restaurant has limited hours, open for dinner only Wednesday through Sunday. Dalziel said in an email, “The globally inspired, locally sourced menu represents the culmination of my culinary career which includes a background in seafood, farm to table, Italian, Asian, Mediterranean and American fare. We hope there’s something for everyone. This is a family affair, my wife, Jenny, is very involved behind the scenes and connecting with the community working the front of the house. So many of our guests come back again and again and for this we are are so very grateful.” He is honored to make the New Jersey Monthly list, he wrote.
Laurel & Sage prides itself in its seasonal and local offerings that rotate with dining trends while keeping it local. In addition to a traditional surf & turf of lobster and steak, diners might find themselves trying something more adventurous like a pomegranate molasses short rib or a black kale a sprouts salad, which boasts Medjool dates and grapefruit.
In this article:
• Marcel Kitchen & Bakery. 631 ½ Valley Road. Marcelbakeryandkitchen.com, 973-842-4088.
• Café Giotto, 42 Church St. Cafegiotto.com, 973-746-0111.
• Fascino, 331 Bloomfield Ave. Fascinorestaurant.com, 973-233-0350.
- Laurel & Sage 33 Walnut St. Laurelandsage.com, 973-783-1133.