Dominic and Lindsay Piperno hope their brand-new BYOB will elevate the fine dining experience available in South Jersey. Hearthside opens September 18.
By Matt Skoufalos | Photos by Tricia Burrough
September 14, 2017
Inside the dining room of his new restaurant, just two days before its soft opening, chef Dominic Piperno is hustling.
Kitchen staff portion out ingredients, twisting past one another from station to station.
Designer Sam Farraro climbs and descends a step ladder, adjusting the directional focus of the spotlights above.
The phone rings constantly. People poke their heads in the door, or peer in the floor-to-ceiling windows for a closer look at the activity within.
Since the paper came off the glass, “we’re in a fishbowl,” said front-of-house head Delise Barron.
“It’s a healthy balance of panic attacks and elation,” she said.
To Piperno, the natural light pouring into the space from the street outside is more than a complement to the glow of the wood-fired oven and grill at the center of Hearthside, his New American fusion eatery. After two years of planning, designing, and ground-up construction, it’s more like the proverbial light at the end of a long tunnel.
“It looks exactly how I envisioned it,” Piperno said.
“I won’t ever have that experience of walking into this restaurant and seeing it dimly lit with the fire going, but the first time I walked by and saw the fire lit, it’s pretty cool.”
Piperno is tight-lipped about the menu, not wanting to rob his earliest guests of that first impression, or influence their notions of what Hearthside should be based on reading the description of a dish.
He does let a few of the opening-day starters slip through, if only to showcase the diversity of flavors at his command.
There will be beef carpaccio accompanied by mushroom vinaigrette with parmesan cheese and rosemary breadcrumbs; hiramasa crudo with pickled cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and basil-tomato water; smoked celery root agnolotti, a stuffed pasta with brown butter, almonds, and pickled celery.
For those eating family-style, there’s a 30-day, dry-aged, 35-ounce porterhouse steak that chef Aaron Gottesman pats like a proud father.
There are smoky, complicated flavors at the root of the menu that Piperno and Gottesman have engineered for the grand opening; both are aware that they require subtlety to execute well.
But the focal point of the restaurant is wood-fired cooking, and when it’s done properly, another dimension of taste emerges, Piperno said.
“A regular stove doesn’t change the dish, whereas each oven and each grill adds a flavor profile,” he said.
“Learning how to tame that aspect is what’s going to be the tricky part, but also the thing that’s the most exciting.”
The fire may take center stage at Hearthside, but the set pieces that give it the room to shine have been equally considered and well executed.
Danish modern chairs offset solid-top wood and marble tables. A live-edge, family-style dining table accommodates larger parties; tall-backed booths offer greater intimacy along one wall; and four café seats overlook the action at the grill. When the weather permits, some of them will migrate onto the sidewalk.
A mixture of design elements—exposed brick, barn wood, and steel girders—complements the “rustic-yet-romantic” experience that Piperno’s wife, Lindsay, Hearthside’s general manager described as the intention of the restaurant.
“Building it from the ground up, I decided to think about what were all the elements that I enjoyed going out; what did I visually like to see,” she said.
“We took a lot of these different materials and put them into one space, but softened everything up with candles and flowers and the furniture.”
Barron promised that the service at Hearthside will follow suit.
She and Lindsay Piperno have worked to establish expectations for the staff that they say will raise the level of the dining experience there.
“We’re trying to do something that’s a little bit different, and I think the staff recognizes that,” Barron said.
“They’re really excited to be able to elevate service for everyone in town,” she said. “If you have great food and bad service, the food’s not going to taste as good.”
True to Dominic Piperno’s belief that local culinary talent gets poached by the other side of the bridge for want of opportunity, the majority of the opening-night staff are New Jersey-based.
“There are plenty of talented people who live here who go to the city for work, and we’re just trying to stop them from doing that,” he said.
“We have a tight kitchen team, and we’re super-excited.”
Gottesman said he hopes that Hearthside will inspire the same devotion among its customers.
“If you have great service and great food, the food’s going to taste better; the experience is going to seem a little bit better,” he said.
“We want the people who are having incredible experiences to stay here and get the same experience here that they would in Philly.”
Hearthside is located at 801 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood. Hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 856-240-1164 or visit Hearthsidebyob.com.
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