“Oh, this is where it is? I wouldn’t have expected that,” was my mom’s sentiment as we pulled into the parking lot to celebrate her birthday dinner at Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge, NJ.
The surprisingly small parking lot, home to close to a dozen other businesses, is already starting to fill up, despite our early reservations for 5 p.m. Though my mother is technically old enough to partake in the classic early bird special, $10 prime rib that her contemporaries often do, she never does.
A four-course celebration to be exact.
That is the deal at Heirloom. Pre-fixe menu. Appetizer. First course. Main Course. Dessert. And you’d be a fool not to order whatever their bread selection is.
The spring-loaded outer screen door slams behind us as our party of 10 enters the bright, but not aggressive, open eating area. It truly mimics a kitchen, but not like any kitchen you’ve ever seen; unless you’re Oprah. Unlike most vapid celebrity kitchens loaded with top-of-the-line equipment, Heriloom’s kitchen gets a workout from some of the most innovative and talented chefs in the area.
The area is completely open, with one large room that is peppered with tables and chairs like you’d see in a family kitchen. At the head of the room is the chef’s counter, propped up by the work area. Stoves, ovens, sinks, appliances, and a hood vent that could clear out a three-alarm fire.
The chefs are busy at work. Uniformed in their matching aprons, the area is buzzing with the finishing touches of mise en place to get ready for the dinner service.
“Would you be so kind as to wait over here while we prepare your table?” the hostess asks as she gestures to a nook off the main floor. It’s stacked with books and other unique trinkets.
Melissa hoists our wine collection and shuffles us into the nook.
“Why did we bring so much wine?” asks my mom, “there’s no way we’ll drink this all.”
“Is this not an acceptable problem to have?” I ask, “Oh no, too much wine. Why must we be made to suffer so?” The dramatization in my exaggerated British theater accent is certainly annoying to my mother. And I know this.
“Don’t worry, we’ll drink whatever you don’t want,” Melissa chimed in as the hostess came back to us.
“Your table is ready.”
My four favorite words.
We take up the largest table in the restaurant, and I have a distinct feeling that we’ll be the loudest.
Our waiter, Noah, is a delight. He walks us through the culinary experience that my mom and her friends are about to enjoy for the first time.
Pristine wine glasses are placed in front of each guest.
“Shall I open the red or white first?” Noah asks.
“The table unanimously and resoundingly replies, “both”.
As it’s a prix fixe menu, we place the order for all of our dishes at once. I started with the heirloom tomato salad with Bavarian cream, shallot, garlic caramel, and pickled basil seed. Do you need a moment to let any of that sink in? Because I didn’t know what to make of garlic caramel and then they hit me with the pickled basil seed. And this is just the salad.
Melissa ordered the citrus-cured snapper served in a watermelon broth, thai chili, furikake tempura, and makrut lime oil.
What the fuck?
Listen. We are foodies and we love food from all corners of the globe, but whenever we go to Heirloom we have to bring a dictionary. This is a good problem to have. Trust the process.
As we’re placing our orders, Janette, to my left, points to the menu and from the expression on her face I can tell what’s coming next.
“Is it possible to substitute the asparagus for…” Jeanette begins, but she doesn’t get another syllable out before my hand is on her shoulder.
“This is not the kind of place where you ask those questions,” I gently told her. Noah nods to me ever so slightly in appreciation.
The heirloom salad was bright and impossibly tasted like there was a vinaigrette on it, despite all evidence to the contrary. The watermelon broth that the snapper was in was almost like a gazpacho. Slightly sweet but also savory. Two perfect summer starters.
For my second course, I ordered the sorpresine, which was a pasta with prosciutto, cherry tomato, peach agrodolce, and stracciatella. Obviously homemade. Obviously delicious.
Melissa ordered the squid adobo; charred calamari, squid ink adobo, serrano chili, and green mango atchara. We are of the belief that charred octopus can be served with nothing other than salt, pepper, and olive oil, and it will be flawless. All of the additions to this dish simply enhanced all of the natural squid flavors.
We had barely finished ordering and noticed that a bottle and a half of wine were already lost to the fun. It became apparent just how much fun we were having when Jeanette knocked her glass over; thankfully a glass of white. Much easier to clean.
Duck was on the list for the third course.
Pastrami spiced duck confit with white asparagus, English peas, couscous, and blackberry beurre rouge.
Jeanette raised her hand again as if she was in middle school, “How is the duck cooked?”
With my hand on her shoulder again I whisper, “It’s cooked the way that it’s supposed to be cooked,” I look for Noah’s approval, “I promise it will be fine.”
I ordered the tamal with pork belly, mole, fermented peach, gooseberry, wax bean and NJ sweet corn. If you’ve never experienced NJ sweet corn in the back half of summer, you simply haven’t lived. And I feel sorry for you.
By the time the first course has been consumed, the wine supply has been halved.
Normally Melissa and I skip dessert. Putting aside that you can’t do that here, we wouldn’t want to. This is not your standard American restaurant dessert menu wasteland with chocolate lava cakes, oversized cheesecakes, and stale chocolate chip cookies with a scoop of Breyers.
Basil mousse with white chocolate, lemon curd, olive oil cake, pine nut brittle and parmesan ice cream.
Beet velvet cake with raspberry bavarian creme, black currant sherbert, and hibiscus.
I ordered for Jeanette because dessert might as well have been written in Sanskrit.
Melissa and I and our party left with full stomachs, completely awed part guests, and zero bottles of wine.
We’re Matt and Melissa, and this is our food blog, though it may not be the food blog you are expecting. We are here to take you on a culinary adventure through our kitchen, our passions, our stories, and our liquor cabinet. Residing in Monmouth County, NJ (the best county in NJ) we love to cook and create in our kitchen. But we know we’re not the real experts and the only thing more fun than tasting our own creations are tasting others’. When we’re not cooking for you, we’re around town sampling all that New Jersey’s culinary scene has to offer. Let take A Couple Bites!