Make Yourself At Home

Chef Pichet Ong, Chef Maricel Presilla and Ivan Ruiz at the Summit Wine and Food Festival.

ON THE MENU Twofiftytwo features a changing menu based on available local ingredients.

WARM WELCOME Soothing tones and repurposed wood adds charm to the entryway.

On a suburban lot, just off Main Street in Bedminster, the intimate eatery twofiftytwo looks quite at home among its residential neighbors, with its charming bright-red exterior and white wooden porch and pergola. Opened in December 2009, this former home is now a cozy BYO that features American cuisine with a commitment to local suppliers and organic, humane and sustainable ingredients.

Here, being eco-friendly isn’t limited to just the food. Much of the décor is repurposed. The waiting room features a wall paneled with salvaged wooden planks from a barn in Pennsylvania. There is also a bank of golden-yellow mailboxes from Yale University that are used for wine storage (and serve as lockers for the Leave a Bottle Behind program, where regular customers can lock up libations for future visits).

“Everything’s kind of reused and repurposed and put into a new life,” says executive chef and owner Melissa Hill, a Johnson and Wales graduate and 15-year cooking veteran.

Although the space is small, the menu is diverse and based on fresh, local ingredients that change with the seasons. Among the local vendors used by twofiftytwo are Three Meadows Farm in Bedminster and Bridgewater’s Applegate Farms.

“You’re not spending the cost to get [the ingredients] to the restaurant, just on the quality,” Hill says on the decision to buy local. For the freshest herbs, the restaurant maintains its own backyard garden.

Hill categorizes her menu offerings as the Beginning, the Middle and the End. She says the idea is that dining is a short journey and a process.

On the dinner menu, the Beginning features appetizers such as pulled-pork fritters with cilantro, corn, a barbeque maple drizzle and chipotle cream; salmon tartare with cucumber, Bibb lettuce, capers and dill; and lobster and corn risotto. Garden State produce is tossed into innovative salads, such as the Jersey peach salad with cucumber, mozzarella, basil and mint; and the heirloom tomato salad, which brings together watermelon, feta, black pepper, lime zest and coriander.

Recent Middle offerings included mascarpone risotto with sugar snap peas and pecorino; roasted organic chicken with sweet-corn mashed potatoes, asparagus and apple cider au jus; and grilled New York strip steak with heirloom tomato bruschetta, blue cheese, potato and leek hash.

Sweet endings are simple desserts such as warm chocolate cake with whipped cream and raspberry sauce, and made-to-order cinnamon doughnuts. Each month, a new assortment of sorbets from Piece of Cake ice cream shop in Rahway are offered.

The restaurant is open for lunch from 11 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday; for dinner from 5 pm to 9 pm, Tuesday through Thursday; and 5 pm to 10 pm,Friday and Saturday. Twofiftytwo also offers full-service catering. A fall menu will be introduced in October.

252 Route 202 South, Bedminster

The skinny:
American cuisine with an emphasis on local sources.

Summit Wine and Food Festival

Chef Pichet Ong, Chef Maricel Presilla and Ivan Ruiz at the Summit Wine and Food Festival.

Chef Pichet Ong, Chef Maricel Presilla and Ivan Ruiz at the Summit Wine and Food Festival.

This month, we caught up with Ivan Ruiz, founder of the festival, master sommelier and owner of the Wine List of Summit, a retail store hosting more than 25,000 labels, a wine club and wine schools, seminars and dinners. The third annual Summit Wine and Food Festival runs September 9-11 at the Grand Summit Hotel. It will feature celebrity chefs and sommeliers and more than 23 events, from wine seminars to food demonstrations.

PP: Why Summit?
IR: I live in Basking Ridge, but my career in the industry started at the Grand Summit Hotel in 1984, so I’ve been back and forth from Summit my whole life. It’s a town that I’m very familiar with, and I’ve seen the changes in the 20-something years that I’ve been in the industry.
Three years ago in January, I was walking in downtown Summit with some politicians and consultants and we counted 22 empty storefronts. So I said to all these consultants, “What can we do to revamp our downtown?” I told them about my idea to invite chefs from all over the country to Summit for a wine and food festival. I went in front of the mayor and presented my idea and they all loved it.

PP: What difficulties have you faced in getting your idea off the ground?
IR: There were a lot of obstacles in the beginning. According to the experts, you can’t do festivals in suburbia. They say it has to be done in tourist areas—New York, Miami, etc.—because it’s easier to fill seats there. They also say that people in upscale towns don’t go out and support festivals. We’ve been able to prove that theory wrong.
These super-power chefs sometimes think, “New Jersey?” But I’m a Jersey person. I raise my family here and I want to show that there are a lot of things that can come out of this state. Eventually, our festival will be huge and it will be one of the top festivals in the country.
PP: Explain the festival’s charitable facet.
IR: We don’t do the festival to get a lot of money. We do it to get exposure and to have a great time with the chefs and sommeliers and to help the charities. This time, for the second year, we’ve selected the Food Bank of New Jersey, which has this very high-standard culinary school for people looking for a second chance in life.

Our idea is to give the students a chance to meet famous chefs. The students come and help at the festival and become a familiar face in these chef’s repertoires. Since the economy is not good, connections really help. I appreciate the help from my mentor chefs and if I can give that back to the community, that’s great. If we change a couple of lives every year, maybe something will change in a generation. So when we raise $100,000 or $200,000 for this charity, it’s about a lot more than just the money.
—Drew Anne Scarantino

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