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Foodservice Forum: Above Restaurant & Bar enjoying great success in first year of operation

by Christina DiMartino | March 29, 2010
Open for just less than a year, Above Restaurant & Bar in South Orange, NJ, shows all the signs of staying "above" in its future success, growth and expansion.

Terry Hickey, general manager of the up-scale contemporary American restaurant, told The Produce News that the eatery and bar has a flair all its own.

"Our executive chef, Paul Lustbader, has a creative ability that is by far the main reason we can label the restaurant contemporary," said Mr. Hickey. "The plates are consistently high quality, but Chef Paul then adds an artistic touch that takes our menu to a level with which other restaurants cannot compare. The presentation of our dishes is always outstanding."

Mr. Hickey pointed out that there are a lot of Italian and other culturally themed restaurants in this area of New Jersey, about 15 miles west of New York City, but it was lacking in an upscale eatery like Above.

"We started out of the gate strong, and we've been growing ever since," he added.

Chef Lustbader is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. After completing an externship at the institute, he took a position as banquet chef at the Manor in West Orange, NJ, where he was promoted to executive sous chef. He then worked as executive chef at several other restaurants in New Jersey. He opened his own restaurant, Trattoria Fresco, also in New Jersey, in 2004.

Chef Lustbader has received a 3.5-star rating from The Star Ledger and a "Very Good" rating from The New York Times.

Mr. Hickey has worked in the restaurant business for 20 years. Before joining Above, he worked for Harvest Restaurants, a privately owned company with seven restaurants located in central New Jersey.

"My mom is a nurse," said Mr. Hickey. "We often joke about how similar our jobs are in that anything can walk through the door at any moment, and anything can happen."

Above's menu is designed with an extensive small plate selection offered as appetizers or for lunch.

"Paul's plate presentation is outstanding on every one of the dishes," said Mr. Hickey. "As for entrees, his grilled double-cut pork rib chop with house- made sausage is to die for. It is served with melted leeks, roasted chestnuts and crispy sage.

"Another favorite is the duck tasting," he continued. "This is a seared duck breast served with whipped parsnips and chips, duck leg confit, spaghetti squash and Savoy cabbage roll. Our sea scallops are marinated in grenadine, and then skewered and grilled with sugar cane and crispy ginger. The dish is served with coconut Jasmine rice and steamed broccoli."

Above offers a wide selection of fresh produce side dishes. Favorites are escarole and white beans with crispy pancetta, steamed spinach, charred mushrooms, broccoli rape and grilled asparagus.

The desert menu also incorporates an abundant use of fresh produce. The popular fruit plate is served on a compartment plate with an attractively prepared fruit in each section, making an elegant presentation.

"The demand for this plate is very strong," said Mr. Hickey. "Many people today are eating healthier, and they want to stay away from rich desserts. The plate features berries, grapefruit, figs, watermelon, pineapple, mint and apple. It's enough for two people to share, making it a great value at $9."

It's little wonder that Above is able to take advantage of a nearly unlimited supply of fresh produce to complement its menu. It was the brainchild of four produce industry and retail professions. Owner-partners, Mario Andreani, Mustafa Coskun, John Coskun and Stephen Katzman are all involved in fresh produce on some level. The partners also own Eden Marketplace, a European- style gourmet market that offers a large number of specialty items. The market is located on the ground floor beneath Above Restaurant & Bar. Brothers Mustafa and John Coskun also own five Garden of Eden Gourmet markets in New York and New Jersey.

Stephen Katzman is the owner of S. Katzman Produce Inc., located on the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY. Mario Andreani is the company's general manager. The coming together of the four partners was the result of the professional relationship and friendship that evolved as Garden of Eden Gourmet markets sourced produce from S. Katzman Produce over the years.

Above Restaurant & Bar occupies the second and third floors of the building above Eden Marketplace. As a matter of convenience, Eden Marketplace receives produce ordered by the restaurant, of which 95 percent is sourced from the Hunts Point Terminal Market.

"We have a truly spectacular view from our two outdoor dining terraces," said Mr. Hickey. "With the terraces included, we can seat 300 people. The spaces are jaw-dropping, and always draw gasps from patrons. The restaurant's overall d├ęcor has a Euro-Mediterranean feel to it that reflects Mustafa and John Cosgan's Turkish heritage. It features mahogany floors, tables and bar. Beautiful water features are displayed throughout the restaurant. Our centerpiece is a two-story atrium water fountain."

The larger terrace, which seats about 120 people, is currently being renovated. About one-third of it is being converted into a bar. Mr. Hickey said plans are now in the works, and he hopes it will be completed by May, in time for the spring season.

"We also have a third floor dining space for private groups that seats up to 55 people," he said. "It is perfect for family events, business meetings and other small affairs. We offer catering packages for events held in the space, which are a reflection of the restaurant's main menu."

Above Restaurant & Bar has a smart-casual dress code. It offers free parking and complementary valet service from Thursday through Sunday. The establishment features a full wine menu, a brick pizza oven and open kitchen.

During happy hour, on Tuesday through Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., patrons receive $1 off on all drinks, and pay half price on a select appetizer menu.

Other special events include wine tasting and education programs, which are regularly scheduled.

Service industry night is for those employed in the foodservice industry who typically have Mondays off from work. Above Restaurant 7 Bar offers happy hour specials every Monday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. that are geared toward this group.

Cheese and wine pairings are scheduled monthly, with different cheeses featured each month. Above's popular "Brunch Above" is served ala carte every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

(For more on Hunts Point, see the March 29, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)