Hopewell’s Bluest Restaurant

lOn route 518 just east of Hopewell, New Jersey, there’s a modest blue double-wide whose front stairs are painted in blue decorative graffiti. Not the kind of place you’d suspect of being a hub of inventive New American cuisine, yet that’s precisely what it is. This is the Blue Bottle Café, home of co-chefs/owners Aaron and Rory Philipson.

“My wife and I were going over names for a month and a half, and my mother-in-law, who collected blue bottles, suggested the Blue Bottle Café,” Aaron says.

The café serves up a lively blend Mexican, French, Italian, and South American cuisines. Aaron strives to build his menus around foods that are seasonally available and locally sourced. Winters see more protein-driven dishes, whereas the warmer months see more vegetables.

“Whenever I’m planning a menu,” Aaron says, “I make a list with proteins in one column and local seasonal ingredients in another column and then and start mixing and matching the two.”

Appetizers include a roasted mushroom and duck confit agnolotti, and a roasted vegetable tamale with tomatillo ancho puree and spiced popcorn crema. For entrees, there’s roasted rabbit with lentils, carrots, and fennel soubise; and a spiced wine and soy glazed duck breast with fried red rice and miso-grilled eggplant. There’s also Aaron’s signature potato gnocchi with kale, rosemary, walnuts, and grana padano; as well as a pan-roasted chicken breast with pearl onions, potato, bacon, mushrooms, carrot and celery.

When writing menus, Aaron draws on an incredible store of personal experience. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America, apprenticed at La Cote Basque, and honed his chops at Trellis Resaturant, DC Kindead’s, Rats, and Piccola Italia. He’s also traveled Europe, sampling the cuisines of French, Spain, Italy, and Portugal.

“I had the best seafood in my life in Portugal,” Aaron confesses.

l (1)The café seats 65 and has 3 distinct rooms including an enclosed greenhouse overlooking a small stream. Reservations are accepted, and it’s BYOB.

“When you walk in, you’re surprised by the décor because the outside is so bland,” Aaron says. “We’ve got it decorated with blue bottles, cobalt blue, and art from a local artist here in Hopewell.”

Eclectic food, warm ambience, a small-town setting—Blue Bottle Café has it all.