It had been a bit over a year since my first and only visit to Jockey Hollow. That visit yielded some mixed results, but overall I walked away very positive about the place. Why it took so long to return is beyond me. Indeed, two recent meals suggested to me that Jockey Hollow is one of the best and well-run restaurants in New Jersey.
Our first recent visit included one of the best burgers I've had in quite a long time. Everything about it was outstanding. The bun was a perfect size and texture, the meat had a course grind, and was super-beefy, the garnishes were creamy and acidic and sweet and smokey and salty (the bacon), and the damned thing just worked. Really well.
A pristine piece of Branzino was served with pickled vegetables and a cauliflower velouté with some roasted cauliflower. A simple preparation on the face of it, but one which brought some creamy notes and some acidic notes to the table. Along with lots of textures. A real pleasure this dish.
Fast forward two weeks or so, and we're watching Youtube videos on Italy, one of which has a chef making a very simple pasta dish with guanciale. I think to myself "why can't we have a restaurant in New Jersey that uses guanciale." All I wanted was pasta with guanciale. I got myself into a lather, filled with disappointment. The missus out-of-the-blue says "Do you want to go back to Jockey Hollow?" I figured that would be a good move, and I pull up the menu. BOOM. Guanciale, in a pasta dish. Off we went.
But first, a cocktail.
They've got an extensive cocktail list at Jockey Hollow, because they are saints and care about me, and their boozes (like everything about the place) are top-notch. They've got producers I've never heard of. Hard-to-find stuff. And they handle them well.
We had a couple of cocktails, one of which was a boozy affair posing as an easy-drinking island-y deal. Rum, pineapple cordial, coconut liquor. Served with a charred marshmallow. Not my kind of drink, but my guest enjoyed it. I stuck with my more typical spirit/citrus drinks.
The oysters on our prior visit were outstanding, so there was no reason to not get them again. Jockey Hollow employs people who understand how to handle oysters. Crazy, right? They are chilled properly, and the liquor is left in the shells. As I've noted, the liquor is the whole damned reason for eating oysters. It's all about the liquor. I mean I've seen idiot shuckers dump the stuff out! Ugh. These, again, were outstanding.
The burger this time around suffered from a bit of overcooking, but even with that flaw, it was still exceptional. Overcooking will destroy a lesser burger. But not here. It's all working together so well that the temperature became a minor issue.
And then the pasta. Not only did they have a pasta with guanciale, but it was squid ink pasta, with shaved calamari. I can't think of a better way to get guanciale into my face.
The pasta was impressive, with various textures (crunchy, chewy, luscious) and flavors of the sea and flavors of the jowl of a hog and it was just outstanding all around. Oftentimes, for me at least, after the 8th forkful of pasta, I get kind of bored. But that wasn't the case here. I plowed into that dish until I couldn't plow anymore, and then packed the rest to take home.
The staff at Jockey Hollow has been great. The runners are pleasant and efficient (none of the "which of yous got the burgah"), and the bartender at The Vail Bar (they have several rooms, we usually eat at The Vail Bar) is a real pro.
I can't say enough about this place. I'll be going back soon, because I just know they have to slip up in some way at some point. I'll be happy going regularly until they do.
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen : 110 South Street : Morristown, NJ : 973.644.3180