THIS WATERSIDE EATERY SERVES UP A VIBRANT MIX OF CLASSIC FISH DISHES AND OFFBEAT APPS
BY JESSCIA JONES-GORMAN • PHOTOS BY VIOLET KARYN PHOTOGRAPHY
Serving breathtaking views of the Sandy Hook Bay and New York City skyline alongside an assortment of fresh oysters, clams, and tuna tacos, One Willow has built a solid reputation in the New Jersey restaurant scene. Its recipe for success? A prime location, for starters (nestled along the water in the small Victorian town of Highlands), but more importantly, the eatery is lauded for sourcing high-quality sustainable seafood from the area’s finest purveyors and fishermen. Offering an eclectic mix of classic fish dishes and traditional preparations of short rib and filet mignon, the two-year-old restaurant has cemented a name for itself in an ever-crowded market by concocting offbeat apps like fresh octopus smeared with black garlic hummus and seafood donuts. Yes, seafood donuts.
“Our chef, Nicholas Liberto, grew up on the Jersey Shore and draws his food prep inspiration from years of gardening and fishing with his parents right here in this area,” noted Jason Reiff, One Willow’s operating partner. “He practiced a farm-to-table lifestyle long before it was trendy to do so foraging for sustenance and living off the bounty of these waterways so his reliance on local purveyors and cooking simplicity, allowing the product to shine in every dish, is entirely in line with the mentality and motto we live by here.”
Liberto’s donuts a mix of clams, scallops, shrimp, and chives wrapped in dough then deep fried and served with a side of chipotle maple aioli for dipping are a perfect illustration of One Willow’s eccentricity.
Owned by Jim and Luke Bollerman, New Jersey developers responsible for more than 17 million square feet of commercial, industrial, and residential space in the state, the restaurant officially opened in 2019 after the property underwent a complete overhaul.
“The Bollermans purchased the location right before Super storm Sandy hit, which completely decimated this entire marina,” said Reiff. “It took some time but Jim and Luke were dedicated to creating the most formidable, premier marina possible, preserving and improving upon the waterside dining experience that had been here before.”
The Bollermans worked hard to highlight the natural beauty of One Willow’s surroundings. By filling the space with wall-to-wall windows, they could treat guests to unobstructed views from each and every seat. The developers designed the space with a generous amount of indoor and outdoor seating including a beautiful raw bar to capitalize on these water views. When construction was complete, they focused on building a menu, calling upon the area’s freshest seafood to be the star of the show.
“The crux and heart of what we do revolves around our sourcing of seafood,” said Reiff. “In addition to our use of local purveyors, we visit the Fulton Fish Market at least twice a week to select the best quality fish from around the globe. Our raw bar offers the freshest oysters possible, and we take pride in choosing seafood that no other restaurants on the Jersey Shore have.”
The restaurant also features a popular outdoor bar and has live music on the weekends.
“We do a lot of events and functions to keep our guests engaged,” said Reiff. “In the off season we focus on tasting menus; we did an amazing Día de los Muertos six-course offering and also experimented with a taste of Spain. It’s a nice way to let our chefs extend their culinary prowess. We’re entertaining the idea of introducing some other interesting themes from different regions soon.”
Reiff credits One Willow’s staff with creating a special atmosphere that keeps guests coming back for seconds.
“I’ve worked in this industry locally for about 15 years and am a firm believer in the idea of treating guests like family,” he said. “And that’s exactly what you get at One Willow. Service to us is equally as important as the creation of food in the kitchen. We know our clients well and love when they come back time and again.”
1 Willow Street, Highlands
732.730.7770 / onewillowhighlands.com