Hopewell has definitely become a destination location for fine dining and shopping, and SweetGrass is adding excitement to the mix with its “seasonal fare with a southern flair.” Located in a smooth, modern-style East Broad Street venue that had been The Bell and Whistle, the restaurant is now run by chef Sarah Gresko, who is creating inviting comfort food with a kick.
Gresko cannot remember a time when she was not in her mother’s kitchen, stirring, chopping, and learning, and that love of cooking led this Jersey girl to Atlantic Cape Community College for formal culinary training and then south to Johnson and Wales University in North Carolina to learn management and operations.
Later, in Charleston, South Carolina, she began to absorb the southern style of cooking. While working on a plantation, she learned how to fry chicken and do right by collards. After 19 years’ experience, she longed to express her personal cuisine and moved, with the help of family in Pennington, to the venue now named for the fragrant grass, iconic to the Gullah culture she discovered in the Carolinas.
SweetGrass has been open only a month and is already a popular lunchtime stop. The sleek stone and blond wood decor is warmed with the smiles of the welcoming staff and the aromas from the kitchen. My friend and I arrived before 6 p.m. on a Thursday, and within minutes the tables were filling and the food flowing.
The fried green tomato starter ($8) was an eye opener, not for the bed of rich grits but for the sweet/savory taste that was completely undefinable accompanying them. The secret was bacon jam — who knew! Gresko said it has become so popular that patrons ask for extra on the side for dipping french fries. In fact, customers are known to order her SweetGrass BLT ($9), with fried green tomatoes and applewood bacon — and the jam — two or three times a week. Other appetizers include zucchini fritters with pickled beets and roasted pear ($6), and a salad of ribbons on squash with eggplant caponata, feta, and prosciutto chips ($7).
For mains we ordered the pork with baked apple, Brussel sprouts, and celery root/parsnip puree ($24) and the pork ribs with grits and roasted corn and lima bean succotash ($22). Crab cakes ($28) and the seafood stew ($24) were tempting, but something has to be for next time.
Lunch offerings include pulled pork sandwich with roasted apple slices and coleslaw ($9), hearty salads ($9 with chicken, shrimp, or a crab cake additional), and shrimp and grits with pickled okra ($10). And of course, both lunch and dinner offers fried chicken with black-eyed pea cake and chard ($9). Dessert features Halo pub ice creams.
The menu will change to feature fresh seasonal foods. One hopes that one constant will be the bacon jam.
SweetGrass is an ideal date night venue and is quite appropriate for a business lunch or dinner. Children with adventurous tastes would enjoy the menu as well. Gluten-free and other dietary requests are happily accommodated. There is outside seating as the season allows and ample, convenient on-street parking.
Gresko runs a “scratch” kitchen (as in made from scratch), and the attention to detail shows. On two subsequent visits, my friends and I were glad to have made reservations.
SweetGrass is a return destination that enhances the diversity that Hopewell now offers. Creative cooking that is not too chic for words is the goal, and SweetGrass hits the spot.
SweetGrass Restaurant, 9B East Broad Street, Hopewell. Lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. www.sweetgrassrestaurant.com or 609-333-8912.