Bell & Whistle

Jeffrey and Donna Bartlett offer Southern-inspired cooking restaurant at their new restaurant in Hopewell, Bell & Whistle.

Jeffrey Bartlett spent 30 years in the restaurant business as a chef and consultant before opening his first place, Bell & Whistle, in Hopewell this past July. Bartlett, 50, is a Johnson & Wales graduate who in his salad days worked at the Nassau Inn and Colligan’s Stock- ton Inn. More recently, he was with the Catering Company in Blawen- burg and before that the erstwhile Dakota Steakhouse — one of sev- eral restaurants to occupy the site that is now Tusk on Route 206. Bartlett says that the restaurant was seven years in the making be- tween him and his business partner Jason Machinga, an area developer and businessman whose construc- tion firm oversaw the building of their unique 1,300 square foot space. “Jason and I met eight years ago and began conceptualizing this shortly after that,” Bartlett says. The restaurant is an equal partner- ship between the two, both of whom live in town — Bartlett just two blocks from the restaurant. Although Bell & Whistle’s offi- cial address is East Broad Street, its newly constructed contemporary building sits directly behind Boro Bean coffee house. Its most strik- ing feature is a high, vaulted, half- barrel shaped roof, the interior of which is covered in natural maple slats interspersed with skylights. The light-filled building has sever- al green aspects, including low-flow water fixtures, high efficiency kitchen equipment, and some recy- cled construction materials.

The partners made a point of employing as many area artisans in the execution as possible. The restaurant’s soaring back wall, for example, which is covered in local- ly sourced stone, took the crafts- men of Buena Vista Landscaping in Hopewell eight months to erect. “We also used a local copper work- er, our uniforms are from Fancy Threads here in town, and our web designer is based in Pennington,” Bartlett says. The building was de- signed by Russell DiNardo of HACBM in Lawrence.

The menu comprises what Bartlett terms “favorite American comfort foods with a contempo- rary twist.” Many of these have a New Orleans, Low Country, or American South bent, such as gumbo, Cajun-spiced pork chops, crispy fried oysters with Creole mayonnaise, and Southern fried chicken breast with a buttermilk biscuit. These are rounded out with modern American favorites, in- cluding fish tacos, cedar plank Alaska wild salmon, and a vegetar- ian dish of four kinds of mush- rooms in a garlic-cognac cream sauce between layers of puff pas- try. Dinner entree price run from $18 to $24

Bartlett extends the “think lo- cal” philosophy into the kitchen as much as possible. He makes two of the menu’s desserts, but the rest come from Bakers Treat, the Flemington-based organization whose profits support women in recovery from abuse. He features Cherry Grove cheeses, Griggstown poultry, and coffee from La Sierra Roasters near Clinton.

Running Bell & Whistle, which takes its name from the church bell of the nearby Baptist church and the town’s fire department whistle, is a family affair. Jeffrey Bartlett’s wife of 22 years, Donna, is manag- er. “I was a banker for 25 years,” she says. “Jeffrey and I are working together for the first time, but he had been training me unofficially, and the timing was right.” The cou- ple’s 12-year-old son, Jeffrey Jr., can often been seen doing home- work at the restaurant, and helps out as, his mother says, a server-in- training. “We call him the future owner of Bell & Whistle, and he actually takes that quite seriously.”

The biggest surprise for the Bartletts has been the response of the community. “When we opened, we didn’t advertise or anything, and yet folks just came, right from the start. It was amazing,” Jeffrey says. “We thought we were doing a soft opening, and that we would be ready to announce our presence by September, but people have been filling the seats since day one.” The dining room holds 46; next spring patio seating will be added.

This article has been provided by Princeton Info.