There's something in the air at Highlawn Pavilion - they call it amore. Perhaps it's the reverberation of marriage proposals past, or the remarkable Italianate aesthetics that have you at "hello," "Salve." Or maybe it's the gracious patio, lined with tropical Mandevillas and fluttering butterflies, that envelopes guests as they blithely gaze at a sweeping city skyline. Pardon my romantic waxing, but if I were a songwriter I'd be inspired to pen a ballad for Highlawn Pavilion. Alas, I am no songwriter, my gift is my review, and Highlawn, this one's for you.
My heart tells me that Mitchell Altholz, executive chef at Highlawn Pavilion, is a bit of a gastronomic romantic. Each morning Mitchell visits the garden and hot house at the Pleasantdale Chateau, where much of the produce used at Highlawn Pavilion is grown. There, Chef Mitchell selects the finest of what is in season, and incorporates it into the dishes he prepares.
On my recent visit to Highlawn Pavilion, Chef Mitchell prepared a stellar assortment of selections from Highlawn's exquisite Bar Menu that has forever altered my preconceptions of bar fare. Want to see what we ate?
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The Bar Menu features high quality offerings such as three American Wagyu Sliders topped with Cheddar and Applewood Smoked Bacon, priced at $10, and Braised Short Ribs with Fingerling Potatoes and Truffle Sauce priced at $13. The Fruit de Mer selections on the Bar Menu will absolutely astound. Options include a divine Colossal Lumb Crab Cake with Tomato and Cucumber Salad (pictured left) sourced from the Pleasantdale garden, priced $14, and an abundant Shellfish Platter (pictured above) including Fisher Island Oysters, Little Neck Clams, Gulf Shrimp Cocktail, Scallop Ceviche, Colossal Lump Crab Meat, and King Crab Legs, priced at $39. Bar Pies are also a very popular Bar Menu choice. Chef Mitchell recommends his favorite Bar Pie, topped with Chorizo, Wild Mushrooms, and White Truffle Oil. I spotted two people sharing one. It's surprisingly large and priced at a reasonable $13.50.
During my visit to Highlawn Pavilion, I enjoyed cocktails prepared by bartender, Joe Palmieri, who has been behind the bar at Highlawn for ten and a half years. Joe pours passion and pride into each of his cocktails. I enjoyed a Mango Margarita, but the show stopper of libations was the Mojito - heaping with fresh mint, fresh lime, and yes, just the right amount of rum.
Says Baristanet gourmand, Annette Batson, "It's the best Mojito I've ever had."
Perhaps Highlawn Pavilion's charm lies in its rich history. Thomas Edison spent many years at Eagle Rock Reservation for work and pleasure. In 1903, the reservation was used to film part of The Great Train Robbery, and in 1914 Edison's daughter celebrated her marriage with a reception at the arched, open masonry structure atop the reservation, known as The Casino.
According to Michael Mahle, director of public relations at the Highlawn Pavilion, the name Casino was adopted from the old Italian word casino, meaning country villa, summerhouse, pavilion, or gathering place.
Over the decades that followed vandalism took its toll on the structure. In 1985 the Knowles Family, owners of other acclaimed New Jersey restaurants, acquired the dilapidated and heavily graffitied Casino from Essex County. Through their dedication and investment both personal and financial, the family restored the building to its former grandeur.
The Casino, which resides half in Montclair and half in West Orange, was built in 1910. On Monday, September 27, 2010 Highlawn Pavilion will turn the clock back a century for a 100th Anniversary Celebration featuring music, drinks, and a custom three-course prix-fixe menu indicative of the period. Wade Knowles, co-owner of Highlawn Pavilion, vice president of the Edison Innovation Foundation, and trustee of the Charles Edison Fund, has acquired for the evening of the celebration Thomas Edison's Model-T, a gift to Edison from Henry Ford. The antique motor vehicle will be parked in the front of the restaurant. There will also be a photo gallery of the history of Highlawn Pavilion/The Casino and a wax cylinder recording session and discussion. The dinner is open to the public, but reservations are required. The tickets are priced at $85 per person, with wine included. To reserve a table for this dinner celebration, please call Christopher Gellings or Paul Keenan at 973-731-3100.
Have you dined on the Patio at Highlawn Pavilion? Did you fall in love?
*Photo of Casino, circa 1921 credit to www.firstbaptistbloomfield.org/westorange.htm
Also published at http://www.baristanet.com/food/