It’s been a busy winter out of town for former Altamera Group partners Michael White and Chris Cannon. Just as White’s expanded his empire to a bucolic hump of Westchester, opening Campagna at Richard Gere’s Bedford Post Inn, Cannon’s resuscitated another storied property, with Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen (110 South Street, Morristown, NJ; 973-644-3180), a top-to-rathskeller makeover of the Garden State suburb’s storied Vail Mansion.
Before Jockey Hollow opened late last year, the building had history not just within the community. It was built 99 years ago by a wealthy local executive to house his wife and art collection; the wife passed before construction was completed. The building went unoccupied until serving as Morristown city hall for 72 years. Five years ago, after a development deal for the site fell apart during the 2008 banking crisis, Cannon brought the property to the attention of his then-partners.
“They said, ‘Fuck that, we don’t want to do anything in New Jersey,’ ” says Cannon. “But I said, ‘You really should look at it.’ ” After their breakup, he took on the space himself, opening a casual farm-to-table brasserie on the ground floor. A raw bar stocked with live scallops and littlenecks in the foyer serves a surf-and-turf of sausage and oysters, while a cocktail den is tucked back behind a grand marble staircase.
That staircase leads to a proper dining room, which serves a $72 prix fixe menu carved into fine and weighty sea, garden, and pasture courses. It currently features an array of winter vegetables from nearby Mendham’s Ralston Farms, and a steak-and-egg raviolo served in a caraway broth thickened with bone marrow.
That dish’s hearty counterpoint, inspired by a trip to Italy, is served in the restaurant’s more casual quarters. “When I was in Emilia-Romagna with Michael White doing research for Osteria Morini, we went to this teeny trattoria in Bologna, and they served us a steak cooked in the dish, olive oil all over it, and you serve yourself,” says Cannon. “The dish was emptied, they took it back in the kitchen, with the oil and juices in it, and they fried two eggs in it then brought it back. So we’re doing that with a rib steak for two — take it to the kitchen, fry eggs in it, and if you want, you can slice white truffle on top — Jockey Hollow Steak and Eggs! It’s fun. People are trying to do intellectual — it’s not intellectual. It’s shit you see that’s cool. You get a big piece of bread, sop up eggs from Ralston Farm laid yesterday — that’s the philosophy: Stuff we like.”
“We” includes Jockey Hollow’s executive chef, Kevin Sippel. “The great thing about my chef is we worked together for quite a bit of time at L’impero and Alto, and he got me through my entire divorce with Scott Conant. He was there when Michael White started, and got three stars from the Times,” Cannon recalls, praising the “kitchen geek” for his sensitive palate and blue-collar attitude.
Sippel proved so dedicated, he even designed Jockey Hollow’s kitchens on AutoCAD before the kitchen designers turned in their own plans.
“He was almost in tears when he saw the kitchen,” Cannon says. “The designer said, ‘If the whole chef thing doesn’t work out, you can come work for me.’ ”
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Follow Adam Robb on Twitter, @lifevicarious.