Approaching its two-year anniversary this September, Delmonico Steak & Beyond has established itself as the go-to place in Cedar Grove. That’s because owner and restaurateur Bobby Wong carefully considered the location, the community and the residents.
“I think about the people,” Wong said of his plans for the space when he bought it in 2010.
Formerly Jim Dandy’s Rib Joint, the restaurant Wong had envisioned for the location was utterly different. He transformed the space and designed a restaurant that would suit the needs of the community.
“When the space became available I couldn’t resist,” said Wong. “I saw how underserved the area was.”
Wong moved to Cedar Grove several years ago and noticed plenty of pizzerias and delis — along with Rare, the high-end steak house up the road – and he detected a void.
“There was nothing in between with good food at a reasonable prices,” he said.
Delmonico filled that void. The restaurant and bar, opened with partner James Gandolfini (yes, you read that right), provides a sophisticated yet family-friendly atmosphere with an extensive menu offering a considerable variety of dishes. That’s where the “beyond” comes in.
The menus is filled with a range of diverse choices from swordfish dumplings to tuna ceviche to prime rib and pasta. Plenty of pasta. Taking note of the surrounding area, Wong said he knew he’d better include the Italian mainstay on the menu.
But when it comes to Wong’s personal favorite, it’s the steaks.
“The steaks are tremendous. I always have the T-bone. When I want to go out to eat, DelMonico is the restaurant of choice right now.” Wong added, “I’m actually surprised I’m saying that.”
Wong admitted he doesn’t like to eat at his own restaurants. He’s easily frustrated if the food isn’t prepared perfectly or the service isn’t impeccable, which he said ruins his appetite. But this has not been the case at DelMonico. “I’m very comfortable there.”
Gandolfini is comfortable there as well.
“Every time he’s back in the area, he dines at DelMonico,” Wong noted. “One night he jumped behind the bar and tended bar for a while.”
Wong remarked the two are friends, boating together and spending weekends at the Shore. Wong even prepared the menu for Gandolfini’s wedding at Studio 440 in Manhattan. Then, when Wong was opening DelMonico the two became business partners.
Right now, though, Wong seems to be the man behind DelMonico, which makes sense considering Wong has spent nearly his entire life in the business.
“He started in the restaurant business at 16,” said Caidie Wong, Mr. Wong’s daughter who manages Delmonico.
“Fifteen,” corrected Mr. Wong, who recalled getting thrown out of high school and subsequently out of his home at that age. He went to live with his brother in Massachusetts and found a job working for Joyce Chen, who according to Wong was one of the pioneers of cooking shows along with Julia Child. In fact, the two chefs shared the same set at PBS in Boston where their shows were first filmed.
“That’s where I got my start,” said Wong.
Back then he waited tables and tended bar. He didn’t get his first cooking gig until he returned to New Jersey and landed a job with Landmark Caterers. From there he went to work for another caterer, but the job didn’t last. He found his drive and passion were at odds with his position.
As with everything he does, Wong took the job by storm. He shot like a pinball around the kitchen, much the same way he did decades later when he was interviewed for this story, and his coworkers didn’t appreciate the overabundance of energy.
“The staff there said, ‘Why are you working so fast? You’re making us look bad.’” Wong knew then it wasn’t going to work out.
“I couldn’t let my ethics get ruined. It wasn’t about the money. It was about learning.”
That’s when Wong found work at the premier caterer, Skyline Caterers. There he worked such events as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting, glamouous galas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the inaugural dinner for Governor James Florio’s election – for a mere 5,000 people.
“That’s where I really, really got my experience. That changed my life,” he said.
In charge of the large, high profile event, Wong was responsible for running four kitchens with 26 line cooks in each and a total of 260 servers. Wong recalled holding a bullhorn in one hand and a walkie talkie in the other in an effort to orchestrate the massive event.
“I was on the blow horn synchronizing with the other sous chefs when to fire,” Wong said of the precision involved in cooking 5,000 meals to be served near simultaneously. “After you do stuff like that, a la carte [restaurant] dining seems easy.”
So easy for Wong apparently that he didn’t stop at just one restaurant. With DelMonico being his latest, Wong now owns five restaurants in northern New Jersey and just recently took over as Executive Chef at Forest Hills Field Club in Bloomfield.
Wong manages his various restaurants and maintains consistency by remaining the executive chef at each. He creates all menus, crafts all recipes, and spends months training all the sous chefs.
“I lead my staff in the right direction,” Wong said. “If you work hard, the staff will follow.”
Delmonico is open seven days serving lunch and dinner except for Sunday, when it serves dinner only but runs all-day happy hour specials on appetizers. Happy hours also begin on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then again from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Patrons can sit at the expansive, beautiful copper bar or the shaded outside patio and enjoy $3.95 appetizers and numerous drink specials.
505 Pompton Ave.
Phone: (973) 433-0333 (Reservations recommended)