Month: April 2019

Top-Rated River Palm Terrace Steakhouse Sold

MAHWAH, NJ — The River Palm Terrace, one of the top-rated steakhouses in New Jersey, has been sold.

Barry Bielat of Bielat Santore & Co., the broker for the sale, announced the transaction Monday. The restaurant also has locations in Fair Lawn and Edgewater.

The River Palm Terrace restaurants are consistently ranked atop many “best of” lists. The Daily Meal last year named it the best steakhouse in New Jersey in 2018. The restaurants are known for its hand-cut steaks and fresh seafood dishes.

New owners Frank Gashi and Patriot Gjonbalaj intend to run the restaurant as a classic New York steakhouse. They want to enhance businesses with strategic changes.

A bar menu will be offered for the first time. A mixologist will design specialty drinks and pair them with the bar menu.

Gashi and Gjonbalaj have each spent “a good part” of their more than 20-year long careers training and working in New York City steakhouses, said David Alvarez of Bielat Santore & Co.

Prior to buying the River Palm Terrace, they managed Il Mulino Prime Restaurant in Manhattan. They also worked together as manager and head captain at Scalinatella Restaurant in Manhattan.


Hasbrouck Heights College Student To Receive Prestigious Award

HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ — Cynthia Caruso graduated from high school more than 20 years ago.

She earned clinical medical certifications and worked in health care for more than a decade and raised her son before deciding to return to college.

Caruso will receive Berkeley College’s Robert Maher Award at the college’s commencement ceremony May 10. The award is presented to a graduate who has met a high standard of academic excellence while overcoming personal, professional, or other obstacles.

“I had worked in healthcare my entire career and I wanted to continue my education in the same field,” Caruso said. “Once I saw that I could earn a bachelor’s degree online I was sold … It was important to me to be able to keep my daily schedule, especially being a mom.”

Caruso earned dean’s or president’s list honors every semester at Berkeley. She was inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society. She also served as a peer mentor and on the Online Student Advisory Board.

“I come from a background of working with patients. Now I can put myself in the position of the employer and know what it takes to make decisions that are crucial for the employees as well as the facility,” Caruso said. “I’ve also learned how important and rewarding it is to be able to give back to the community.”


Jersey City luxury tower reaches 75% leasing

A Jersey City luxury apartment building has reached 75% leasing after a five-month rental effort, according to developers Ironstate Development Co. and Panepinto Properties.

Leasing at the new 51-story building known as 90 Columbus, which features 539 luxury rentals in the downtown area, is run by the Marketing Directors. More than 400 of the units have been rented out since November, the developers said.

“Like Jersey City itself, 90 Columbus reflects an evolution in the lifestyle experience sought by today’s renter, which is centered around the best of city living,” Michael Barry, Ironstate’s CEO and president, said in a prepared statement. “We’ve successfully attractged a wide range of residents through great design, an amenity package that delivers both recreational and communal work spaces, and a vibrant location with walkable access to neighborhood dining, retail, nightlife, culture and transportation.”

The tower is the fourth and final phase of The Columbus Collection, a mixed-use project that totals 1,484 residences, a hotel, parking garage and retail space.

“The Grove Street neighborhood has evolved into arguably the most exciting neighborhood in Jersey City, with a comprehensive offering of lifestyle attractions that embody Jersey City living,” Joseph Panepinto, Panepinto Properties’ CEO and president, said in a statement. “90 Columbus enhances the overall setting while placing residents in the very heart of the neighborhood. The extraordinary pace of leasing activity we’ve experienced certainly underscores the value and appeal of that.”

At 90 Columbus, rents start at $2,995 a month for studios, $2,950 a month for one-bedroom units and $4,120 a month for two-bedroom residences. Immediate occupancy is available.

“Jersey City has matured in every way imaginable and earned a reputation of its own as a world-class destination in terms of arts, culture, dining and nightlife — which enhances its inherent attribute, proximity to Manhattan,” Jacqueline Urgo, Marketing Directors president, said in a statement. “In 90 Columbus, Ironstate Development and Panepinto Properties have delivered a truly remarkable property that elevates the overall lifestyle to new heights.”

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With clock ticking, lawmakers could split incentives vote from budget process

Legislators have been discussing an extension for the timeline to vote on and implement new tax incentive programs in the state, separating it from the budget process, as the start of the new fiscal year approaches.

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark), the Assembly budget chair, suggested as much Tuesday while speaking on a tax incentives panel at an Edison event held by the New Jersey chapter of real estate group NAIOP.

She said the incentives are too complicated to craft and pass in the 60 days left until the state has to finalize its Fiscal Year 2020 budget, and is requesting an extension to set up five new incentive programs proposed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

“We’ve been having a lot of discussions, and I’ve approached (Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Woodbridge) … because I would hate to have this jumbled up with the budget,” Pintor Marin told ROI-NJ.

“We’re probably going to have disagreements on the taxing portion of it or whether or not we can find savings. The program is just very complicated. If we’re really trying to help businesses, and we’re trying to reduce some of the red tape, let’s just do two (programs). If I have to work through the summer on this, I will.”

Pintor Marin, who has sponsored one of the incentive bills, suggested focusing on the replacements to the Economic Redevelopment and Growth and the Grow New Jersey programs, which are set to expire on June 30 — the same day the new budget needs to be passed.

The governor has also outlined three other incentive plans, including a brownfields tax credit, historic preservation credit and an innovation fund.

“I think there’s a lot of room to negotiate,” Pintor Marin said.

“The innovation fund, the tax credits for historical sites, obviously the brownfields is such a huge issue especially with my district … so, I think there is a lot of room.”

State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown), who spoke on a separate panel at the NAIOP NJ event, said he, too, supports an extension.

“This is something we have to get done right and we shouldn’t rush it by any deadline, so I would be inclined at this juncture to make sure we have enough runway to get this done, so an extension is appropriate,” he said.

“If the legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office can come together — and I think substantively they’re not as far apart as people think — if they come together and we can meet that deadline, then we should. But the devil is in the details.”

Singleton added that he, as a prime sponsor of the economic act in 2013, believes in tax incentives and their use as tools, but that bad actors should be held accountable.

“We need to make sure we have a framework, a policy framework and a statutory and regulatory framework that allows us to hold individuals accountable,” he said. “Not just for the jobs that are promised and economic growth that is promised, but, when they cheat the system, they are also held accountable.”

Several legislative sources, who spoke to ROI-NJ on background since they were not authorized to speak publicly, said legislative leaders have, in fact, been discussing the idea of the extension as recently as Tuesday, and that some key leaders are on board with the idea.

To-date no bills have been introduced, despite drafts existing as early as November for all five programs.

A spokesperson for the governor said entertaining the idea of an extension is unlikely because the legislature has had enough time to pass the needed bills.

“The governor proposed his economic development package in October and his plan is to move forward with that package,” spokesman Darryl Isherwood told ROI-NJ.

“Two audits and a task force hearing have outlined the flaws in the current system and the bottom line is substantial changes need to be implemented.  Gov. Murphy has made reforming tax incentives a central goal of his administration since day one. The economic development initiative proposed last fall achieves that goal. ”

But Murphy’s task force, which will have its second hearing this week to continue investigating alleged abuses of the existing and previous tax incentive programs, has yet to complete its task.

When setting it up, Murphy previously said it’s role was, in part, to, “help provide a roadmap for how tax incentives can be responsibly designed and implemented going forward.”

But some said that can be resolved through amendments if the new incentives have already been set up before the task force is complete with its investigation.

Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, who attended the event, said the chamber would support an extension.

“We have to have an extension,” he told ROI-NJ.

“Tomorrow is May 1. I know what the next five weeks is going to be. That, and if they try to jump-start marijuana, nothing against the Legislature, but when you put that pressure on somebody to do … the complexity and magnitude of something like that, we need time to get all the right stakeholders, involve the Governor’s Office — but this cannot get embroiled in some of the other major legislative issues that are going to happen.”

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Hasbrouck Heights High School Ranked Among Best In US

HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ — Hasbrouck Heights High School ranked among the best high schools in the United States, according to US News & World Report’s 2019 rankings of the best high schools in the country.

The publication ranked the state’s top 350 and showed where they landed among more than 20,500 public high schools in the United States.

Hasbrouck Heights was ranked 123rd in New Jersey and 3,034th in the United States.

The factors considered in compiling the list include college readiness; reading and math proficiency; reading and math performance; underserved student performance; college curriculum breadth; and graduation rates. College readiness measures participation and performance on advanced placement and international baccalaureate exams.

U.S. News & World Report, which released its 2019 best high school rankings on Tuesday, is the gold standard for education rankings and is widely considered the global authority. Anita Narayan, managing editor of education at US News, said the aim of the rankings is to give families more information about the schools in their district.

“By evaluating more schools than ever before, the new edition expands that focus so all communities can see which schools in their area are successfully serving their students — including historically underserved populations,” Narayan said in a news release.

Click here to view the complete rankings.


Mahwah steakhouse has new owners, real estate firm says

Bielat Santore & Co. has brokered the sale of a Mahwah steakhouse, the real estate company announced this week.

The River Palm Terrace, at the corner of routes 17 and 202, is one of three River Palm Steak House locations, along with Fair Lawn and Edgewater restaurants. The new owners, Patriot Gjonbalaj and Frank Gashi, are New York-based restaurateurs, according to the Allenhurst firm.

“The new proprietors … are both very familiar with New York City high-end restaurants, having spent a good part of their 20-plus-year careers training and working in them,” Bielat Santore sales associate David A. Alvarez said in a prepared statement.

Alvarez, along with Barry Bielat, handled the deal for Bielat Santore.

Gjonbalaj and Gashi had worked together managing Il Mulino Prime Restaurant, after working together at Scalinatella Restaurant, both in Manhattan.

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Step Back in Time at Bernardsville’s Cross Estate Gardens

The two-level historic walled garden, designed in the 1930s by noted landscape architect Clarence Fowler with homeowner Julia Cross’s input, is filled with perennials planted in symmetrical parterre garden beds, connected by brick paths. Photo by Laura Moss

Visiting cross estate gardens is like stepping back to a more formal time of grand country estates. Yet despite its prim-and-proper vibe, Cross Estate is open to the public, dogs are welcome, and visitors are encouraged to meander and enjoy the gardens—which are indeed formal.

The noted civil engineer John Bensel built the original estate, Queen Anne Farm, in 1905 as a summer cottage for his family. The stately 23-room mansion, on 300 rolling acres in Bernardsville, overlooks the headwaters of the Passaic River. Also on the sprawling property: a carriage house, a smaller gatehouse, and a majestic, five-story stone tower that once fed well water into the mansion. 

Several years after Bensel’s death in 1922, his widow, Ella, sold the estate to W. Redmond Cross, a New York investment banker who renamed the property Hardscrabble House. Cross’s wife, Julia Newbold Cross, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, worked tirelessly to restore the mansion and the grounds. With renowned landscape architect Clarence Fowler, she designed a formal, English-style garden with an unusual assortment of plants and flowers. “Julia was the real mastermind behind the gardens,” says Joan Ryder, president of the New Jersey Historical Garden Foundation, the volunteer group that maintains and raises funds for the park.

Historic Cross Estate Gardens features a walled garden with several hundred different sun-loving perennials, a stone-columned pergola and, in the background, magnificent 18-foot-tall native rhododendrons. Photos by Laura Moss

Redmond and Julia raised their five children on the estate and employed a large staff to maintain the gardens. “They didn’t have a lot of inside help, but a lot of outside help,” explains Ryder. 

After both were gone—Redmond died in 1940 and Julia in 1972—their grown children sold 162 acres of the property to the Morristown National Historical Park, including the primary buildings. The acquisition was key to providing protection for the adjacent 18th-century New Jersey Brigade Revolutionary War encampment area and became a preservation corridor for Jockey Hollow, the centerpiece of the Morristown National Historical Park. Several hiking trails connect Cross Estate to Jockey Hollow, Lewis Morris Park and the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary.

Unfortunately, only limited federal funds were allocated for maintenance, and none for the gardens. In time, the estate fell into disrepair. Enter Chester resident Jean Pope, who in 1977 began a volunteer brigade to bring the gardens back to life. 

“Back in 1977, there was no deer fencing. Everything had been left untended,” says Ryder. “But the bones of the garden were there. Jean Pope, along with her friends, started weeding to show off the existing structures.”

Spring flowers include Siberian iris Caesar’s Brother and clematis Henryi. Photo by Laura Moss

Pope and her volunteers discovered and refurbished several distinct garden areas: a two-tiered, walled, sunken garden; an expansive allée of mountain laurels; a lawn garden with native primroses, rhododendrons and other perennials; and the most popular attraction, a spectacular, 200-foot-long, wisteria-covered pergola.

“A lot of what you’re seeing today on the outside is the imagination of Julia Newbold Cross,” says Jude Pfister, chief of cultural resources for the Morristown National Historical Park. “She was an expert—that’s not too strong of a word.”

The mansion also remains, but in an altered state. After Redmond’s death, Julia hired architect Frederic King to downsize the home to reduce expenses. King removed the entire east wing and several terraces. “I enjoy trying to envision what that house originally looked like,” says Pfister. “This is one of the few intact estates from that time period that is open to the public.” 

Thankfully, the water tower remains intact and still supplies water. “The view from there, overlooking Somerset Hills, is gorgeous,” says Ryder.

A dedicated group of about 30 volunteers still maintains the gardens. “We start in late March or very early April,” says Ryder. “Not everyone is a skilled gardener,” she says. “We do it out of love.”

The group meets every Wednesday from 9 am-noon, with a mid-morning break to enjoy baked goods and chitchat, says Ryder. “We’re all very good friends.”

About 2,000 visitors come year-round to enjoy the flora. A self-guided tour allows guests to explore at their own pace, wandering through historic trees, including rare silver maples and dawn redwoods. There’s something new to see every month, says Ryder. “It’s a riot of color at the end of May.”

Cross Estate Gardens is a project of the New Jersey Historical Garden Foundation in cooperation with the National Park Service. It is open from 8 am–dusk year-round. Admission and parking are free. Tours are available 10-11:30 am Wednesdays from mid-April through October. Call 201-240-5898 for reservations or visit

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6 NJ Restaurants to Visit for Mother’s Day Brunch

Photo courtesy of Personal Creations, via Flickr Creative Commons.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, we rounded up a few exemplary brunches. Not that you’ll have trouble finding a budget-friendly brunch nearby; we just wanted to give you a sense for the true variety of options—and special touches—out there, from sophisticated tasting menus to bottomless sangria to a Middle Eastern-inspired feast that basically demands Mom be reclining luxuriously as she eats. Wherever you go, book soon; there are lots of amazing New Jersey moms and seats tend to fill up.

*Where special hours and prices aren’t listed, they’re either standard or not yet available; call the restaurant and inquire when making your reservation.

Meat-Eater Mama

If Mom’s looking to do more than toast mimosas over a plate of scones this year—if she’s looking to do some serious eating—you might try the prix fixe Mother’s Day Brunch at Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick. Not only can Mom tuck into her choice steak (Filet Mignon, Flat Iron Steak & Eggs, or Seared Wagyu Flat Iron Steak, a $20 supplement), she’ll opt for other hefty proteins like Fried Chicken with Garlic and Piri Piri Honey or Braised Lamb Shank with Anson Mills Polenta and a Sunny Side Egg. The Dessert Bar is equally extravagant—Coconut Sabayon, Ivory Chocolate & Banana Bread Pudding, crème brulee, cheesecake. $39.95 per person, 11:30am – 1pm. Stage Left Steak, 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick; 732-828-4444

New American Elegance

As we noted in its ranking among our 30 Best Restaurants, Restaurant Serenade is well-named: Chef James Laird’s quietly precise, ingredient-exalting food does everything but get off the plate and sing. (If brunch talk slows, tell Mom the New York Times once referred to Laird as “one of the best classically trained chefs in New Jersey.”) No shock it’s a slightly pricier prix fixe, but you’ll see sophisticated seasonal dishes like Fresh Bacon with House-cured Grilled Ramps and Pickled Fennel, Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Sesame Seeds and Crispy Phyllo, Organic Berkshire Pork with Potato Pancake and Zucchini Chips, etc. Add the gorgeous dining room and “special occasion” setting in general and you’ve got plenty to make Mom feel extra special. $89, $40 for children 10 and under; Restaurant Serenade, 6 Roosevelt Avenue, Chatham; 973-701-0303

Très French

Think of the three-course prix fixe at Chez Catherine as three ways to say “Maman, je t’aime” (especially if she likes snails in garlic butter). The menu is reliably, richly French—Steak with Bernaise sauce, Chocolate Mousse with Salted Caramel, even Ganache de Foie Gras with Apricot Vanilla Conserve and Hazelnut Brioche (okay, that one’s $15 extra). Add to that the comfortable elegance of a snug-chic dining room, a dash of tableside service (if you get the Sole Meuniere) and Maman will feel like a queen. $70 per person (with an added automatic 20 percent gratuity); Chez Catherine, 431 North Avenue West, Westfield; 908-654-4011

Vineyard Feasting

Willow Creek is importing chef Brian Parker from Cape May’s Southern Mansion Bed & Breakfast to for its Mother’s Day menu. The big menu veers breakfasty—Brioche French Toast with Mascarpone, Cheese Blintz with Raspberry Melba Fruit Sauce, Farm Fresh Egg Station—but you’ll definitely find ham and roast beef carving stations. No small points for being at a winery (a bottomless sangria bar pretty much guarantees Mom isn’t taking any guff this year), with the kind of idyllic rustic farm scenery that’s made Willow Creek a frequent wedding destination. 9:30am – 2pm; $40 per person, $20 for anyone under 21. Willow Creek Farm and Winery, 160-168 Stevens Street, Cape May; 609-770-8782

Chef’s Tasting Menu

There are three levels of prix fixe available at Nicholas Harary’s near 20 year-old culinary gem in Red Bank; you can choose three, four, and six courses. One of our 30 Best Restaurants in the state, Restaurant Nicholas might be the ideal “special occasion” spot—culinary sophistication, posh surroundings, highly refined dishes (Mom could easily get a “regal vibe”). Even the three-course menu sounds elaborate (Pickled Heirloom Beets with Mascarpone, Salted Pistachios, and Local Honey; Bourbon-braised Suckling Pig with Parisienne Apples and Maple Jus). If Mom’s a dedicated foodie, opt for the six-course Chef’s Tasting Menu (with wine pairings)—by the time she’s biting into her Buttermilk Fig Ice Cream with Oat Crumble, you’ll have proven yourself a good son, daughter, husband, etc. 2–8pm; $80 (three-course and four-course Garden menu), $100 (six-course Chef’s Tasting Menu; $160 with wine pairings); Restaurant Nicholas, 160 Route South, Red Bank; 732-345-9977

Mom on the Mediterranean

If you’re looking for something slightly more exotic for Mother’s Day Brunch, try Zeugma Mediterranean Grill in Montclair. Not only does the interior have the far-off feel of a Mediterranean port city (the kind of place where cafes stay open late), chef Can Alp’s menu transforms richly flavorful Turkish and Middle Easter flavors with classical European polish. The restaurant’s full Mother’s Day Brunch menu isn’t available online yet, but example dishes include things like Roasted Haloumi Omelet with Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto, house special Z-Pancakes with Fresh Berries and House-made Tahini Chocolate, and the Mom’s Day tailor-made Medi Breakfast Platter, a mosaic bounty of bites like Ricotta with Honey, Spiced Pumpkin, Simit (Sesame-studded bread) with Jam, Za’atar Olives, Feta, etc. 8am – 3pm; Zeugma Mediterranean Grill, 44 South Park Street, Montclair; 973-744-0074

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Bergen Man, 18, Stabbed To Death: Prosecutor

Authorities are investigating the stabbing death of an 18-year-old Bergen County man.

Ismael Fajardo of South Hackensack was found unresponsive Saturday after South Hackensack police officers responded to a 911 call on Hoffman Street, said acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo.

The caller requested medical assistance for a man who had been stabbed, Calo said. Officers found Fajardo lying in a second floor bedroom, unresponsive, he said.

Fajardo was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, Calo said.

An autopsy conducted on Fajardo determined that the cause of Fajardo’s death was a stab wound to the heart, Calo said.

No charges have been filed.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, and the South Hackensack Police Department are conducting an investigation into Fajardo’s death.


Bergen Woman, 28, Killed By Tow Truck ID’d: Police

The woman who was killed after she was hit by a tow truck crossing a Ridgefield street Saturday has been identified, police said.

Yoon Hee Ko, 28, was identified as the victim, Chief Tom Gallagher confirmed. A native of Korea, Ko moved to Palisades Park a few years ago before moving to Ridgefield in November, he said.

Ko’s relatives flew in from Korea Monday and identified her as the victim, Gallagher said.

Ko was crossing Broad Avenue when she was hit by a 1999 Chevrolet C600 flatbed tow truck, police previously said.

Police responded to the scene at about 9:15 a.m. after getting a call about the hit, Meurer said.

Police and emergency medical service personnel provided emergency first aid to the woman. She was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center where she subsequently died of her injuries, police said.

Police are investigating the accident. Anyone who may have seen it is asked to call the Ridgefield Police Department at 201-943-5210, ext. 5021.