A taste of homeInnovative eatery serves comfort food, canapés and more
Caterer Stephen Henderson had the 1930s in mind when he conceived The Kitchen. Sure, it was the Great Depression, but it was also a time of great joy for home entertaining — the heyday of cocktail parties and passed canapés. Henderson set up 24 seats in a downtown Englewood storefront, put up some patterned wallpaper and retro posters, and figured it would showcase his catering kitchen.
Now it's one of North Jersey's most unusual dining experiences, and word has caught on: "In the winter, we were turning away 25 to 30 people on weekends," Henderson said. The Kitchen filed for bankruptcy in January in what Henderson called a dispute with his landlord, but it was dismissed in July and Henderson is working on moving the restaurant to a bigger location in Englewood. His concept and food, however, will remain the same, anchored by a stream of complimentary hors d'oeuvres passed by the wait staff after you order.
The Kitchen can be a fun experience, but it's important to keep a few things in mind. First, it's best to reserve a table here for a leisurely evening catching up with friends — not when you want to dine and dash. On one evening, 30 minutes passed between when we placed our orders and when we received them. (This didn't bother us, as we anticipated a lag and the canapés made it seem much shorter.) Also keep in mind that delivering hors d'oeuvres creates more work for servers, and they can't be everywhere at once.
Executive chef Wade New's menu is very short and, to its credit, highly seasonal. With one exception — its signature fried chicken and waffles — it's mostly based around proteins. The staff gives you a list of the options — hanger steak, pork chop, veal rib chop, salmon, a fish of the day, a vegetarian plate — and tells you how each is being prepared; they'll also tell you about any other specials that evening.
No one asked us about dietary restrictions, but speak up if you have any. Not just because of the hors d'oeuvres, but also because of the family-style sides that they'll bring to your table. These included potato salad on one evening and black-eyed peas on another; both tasted strongly of bacon, dismaying friends who don't eat pork.
Those who will enjoy The Kitchen the most are people who will be charmed by the retro atmosphere (complete with the same green-lined plates that are probably in millions of American households) and the ability to visit the small kitchen (you'll need to, to get to the bathroom). Also, it's helpful if you're open to trying new foods. While the passed canapés are intended to evoke the '30s, the five items we were served on each visit evoked flavors classic and modern: One dinner included a truffled deviled egg and chicken liver mousse with apple slaw on flatbread; another brought salmon tartare on a lotus chip, cold cucumber soup, and a dollop of macaroni and cheese on a cheese crisp.
But what this lineup needs is a little more consistency. The deviled egg tasted of too much salt and too much time in the refrigerator; the flatbread under the chicken liver mousse was noticeably stale. But the fresh salmon tartare had a great kick, the cold cucumber soup hit the spot on a warm evening, and the mac and cheese was pure comfort-food heaven.
Appetizers aren't really necessary after this, but we tried two, with mixed results. A special of sweet corn soup was thick and rich, topped with a huge scallop ($10), but a corn and bacon pudding tart had a very thick shell topped by a very thin layer of filling, and came with oversalted greens ($8).
Our main courses displayed terrific proteins, though their accompaniments were not always a slam dunk. A gorgeous, perfectly cooked salmon fillet was accompanied by oversalted quinoa ($26), while a thick, juicy pork chop lavished in peach barbecue sauce was served with bitter cole slaw ($29). Beautiful, crisp-skinned grouper was accented by an odd strawberry-thyme sauce that seemed intrusive ($27).
But two entrees sang proudly: flavorful hanger steak, served with a charred tomato and three Johnny cakes ($28); and The Kitchen's signature item: moist Southern fried buttermilk chicken with artfully stacked pieces of a modern-looking waffle drizzled with local wildflower honey ($25).
For dessert (all $8), pick the cobbler of the day; we happily devoured cinnamon-laced blueberry on one evening, rich peach on another. As our waiter warned, only true chocoholics should go for the chocolate decadence cake — divine, but so rich I couldn't manage more than one bite. We had a hard time chipping away at the hard, thick graham cracker crust on the s'mores dessert and were disappointed when the fudge on the "hot fudge sundae" arrived as cold as everything else.
The servers here are right out of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad: black T-shirts, jeans, extremely knowledgeable but a little bored, and not always quick with refills even when we were initially the only ones in the restaurant early one Saturday evening.
We would have liked to come a little later, but were told only 6 and 8:30 p.m. reservations were available — though the restaurant had only two tables by the time we left close to 8 p.m. and one was a walk-in. The atmosphere on a busier weeknight was much more fun: jovial, with a flurry of food coming out of the little kitchen, much like those old cocktail parties of yore.
The Kitchen ** 1/2
98 W Palisade Ave., Englewood201-568-4570
Food: Seasonal American, changing frequently
Ambience: Cozy, retro dining room
Service: Well informed, if seeming a little bored
Value: Great for better items — prices are on par with similar restaurants, plus complimentary passed hors d’oeuvres are included, so menu appetizers are generally unnecessary. Appetizers $8 (specials may run higher), entrees $20 to $29.
Would be good for: Relaxing evening
Less appropriate for: Anyone who is very picky or in a hurry
Recommended dishes: Buttermilk chicken, hanger steak, cobbler of the day
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Liquor, wine: BYO
Noise level: Generally not an issue during our visits; may be louder when full
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Accommodations for children: Items on request
Early-bird specials or deals: No
Reviewed: Aug. 26, 2011
About the ratings
In determining ratings, each restaurant has been compared with others of the same type and level of ambition. Reviewers make at least two anonymous visits to a restaurant, and the newspaper always pays the tab.
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