Who could resist a trip to NYC during the holiday season - especially when Jersey City, Manhattan's neighbor just across the Hudson River, has some pattern playing fun to serve as the cherry on top of this quintessential Christmas sundae? This December, Christiana packed her bags and headed east to check out Mathews Food and Drink, a unique eatery in Downtown Jersey City that brings a unique, thoroughly modern take on Southern-style comfort food to this trendy Northeast neighborhood.
From the stunning digs (walls of windows meet cozy modern meets lots of pattern) to the mouthwatering menu (which has something for everyone, from your vegan best friend to your meat-loving man), Mathews is exactly the kind of local bar and restaurant that makes this city so special. Christiana stopped by for great eats, hygge cocktails, some snaps of our H&W patterns on the job, and a chat with Mat himself to talk food, holidays, and more.
Chef Mike and a perfectly crispy-yet-moist fried chicken sandwich
Hygge & West: Your website says that your food is inspired by "the unique spirit and dining culture of the South." Can you describe that spirit and culture and how it influenced your restaurant and the cuisine and cocktails you serve?
Bloody Mary and deviled eggs
Matuesz Kopec: We were influenced by the warmth of the people, their southern hospitality, the freshness in ingredients (produce, meats, fish), unique spirts, and the use of color palettes on the buildings during our trip to Charleston. We then tried to replicate these into everything we do at Mathews. We sourced great local purveyors - Pat la Frieda for our meat, Balthazar for our bread, Anson Mills for our grains, and local farms for our produce. We tried to hire people who were genuinely warm, experienced, and committed to hospitality as a career. Within the cocktail program, we contracted Cody Goldstein from Muddling Memories to create a fun, fresh, and unique cocktail program.
H&W: Jersey City is a relative newcomer to the national foodie scene - what has it been like being a part of that? What drew you to this city, and Downtown in particular? What does this city offer that other places can't?
MK: We have been in Jersey City since 2005, and its been a great ride. The scene down here had only a few restaurants, but we knew it was going to grow with its proximity to New York City. The original draw to downtown was its proximity to New York City. This city offers a great talent pool, transportation, and access to great purveyors.
Pineapple (Ebony) in the gorgeous bathroom at Mathews
H&W: There's an intimate connection between food and the location in which people enjoy it. What was your goal with the design of your space and how did you achieve it?
MK: Our goal with the space was to create a bright airy and homey feel like how the people of Charleston welcome you to their city. While in Charleston, we noticed beadboard ceilings on the porches, wallpapers in the restaurants, and bright white colors. This translated into the our selections of wallpaper and the use of blues and whites. Also, Charleston has a pineapple fountain which represents hospitality. We used this symbol on the backs of our menus and in the bathroom wallpaper selection.
H&W: You've used our Peonies paper in Pale Blue in the restaurant. What do you think this pattern brings to the space? How does it complement your menu?
Christiana getting the perfect shot
MK: The peonies pattern delivers the feeling of home, warmth, and coziness, but yet feels graceful and refined. We translated this into our menu by delivering fine dining in a simple, approachable menu served in a casual dining room. The peonies complement our dinnerware, our plates, and our flowers on the table. They really do make you feel like you're at home. They're easy on the eyes, and let you know it's time to relax.
H&W: The holidays are all about tradition. Do you have any special holiday traditions either at the restaurant or in your personal life?
MK: Being born in Poland, we have one special holiday tradition at home called sharing of oplatek (pronounced opwatek). Sharing of the oplatek is the most ancient and beloved of all Polish Christmas traditions. Oplatek is a thin wafer made of flour and water, similar in taste to the hosts that are used for communion during Mass. The Christmas wafer is shared before Wigilia, the Christmas Eve supper.
H&W: How is Mathews celebrating the holidays this year? Do you have any special plans, recipes, or events in the works?
MK: We typically close after lunch on Christmas Eve and close Christmas Day to let our staff spend time with their family. Family is important to us, both inside the restaurant and out. But during this time of year, we try to incorporate comfort dishes into our menus, like braised short ribs, duck, matzoh ball soup, and lamb.
H&W: Our favorite part of the holidays is the food. Do you have a favorite dish you prepare every year for the holidays, in the restaurant or at home?
MK: At home, my mother makes pierogies. It’s our family recipe passed down from grandma in Poland. We make sauerkraut and mushroom and farmers cheese and potato versions. However, my favorite is the sauerkraut and mushroom sautéed with butter and onions served with sour cream. Yummy!
H&W: No holiday season would be complete without a good cocktail. What's your favorite cocktail to enjoy during the holiday season?
MK: Our favorite cocktail during the holiday season is the signature Mat-hattan made with rye whiskey, our house blend vermouth, walnut liqueur, and bitters. It definitely warms up the body after number two.
The TLC (Tequila Loves Chocolate) is hot chocolate, tequila, and ancho chile liqueur topped with toasted marshmallows
H&W: Hygge loosely translates to "cozy" in Danish. What are your must-haves for a little extra hygge during the colder months and especially around the holidays?
MK: For a little extra cozy during the colder months, hot toddies, hot cocoa, chicken soup, meatloaf, and pasta.