When you step inside South+Pine today, you might feel like you’re in an entirely new restaurant. The American Eatery on 90 South Street got its biggest facelift since it opened seven years ago, just ahead of its anniversary in May.
Today, the restaurant reopens after being closed for three weeks, now showing off its revamped look that includes brand new flooring, plateware, wallpaper, painting, lighting and more. “It’s now got more of a modern farmhouse vibe, as opposed to the shabby chic farmhouse look that we had before,” described the Executive Chef and Owner Leia Gaccione. The restaurant also boasts a new winter menu starting this week, featuring special desserts. The new look is something Gaccione has had on her mind for a while now, and she’s glad she finally went for it. “I’m obsessed, I’m in love all over again. I feel like they call it the seven-year itch for a reason.”
It’s been a stressful two years for Gaccione with the pandemic, but fortunately she was able to pay her staff for the three weeks the restaurant was closed for remodeling. “Everyone has worked really, really hard over the past couple of years, with the challenges that we’ve faced, and it’s nice that we were able to take a break while paying the staff,” Gaccione said. “I was very fortunate and proud to do this.” People can also expect more exciting changes this year, according to Gaccione, who hinted at a “cool addition” to the patio.
Gaccione prides herself on the quality of South+Pine’s food. The restaurant sources its food locally and makes sure that all of its proteins are humanely raised and that all of the produce is seasonal. “We really try to use things that are at their peak time of year so that they taste the best.” Some of Gaccione’s favorite items on the menu include the polenta fries, spicy lamb meatballs and a new menu feature: the duck breast. “The polenta fries are addictive and delicious. They’re like little pieces of heaven… they’re creamy polenta that we set and then cut into a rectangular shape and then we put a really light batter on it and fry it and we toss it with truffle oil and parmesan cheese and fresh parsley and it’s crunchy and creamy and cheesy and I just love them so much.”
Gaccione’s passion for the kitchen isn’t anything new. She worked for celebrity Chef Bobby Flay as an Executive Chef & Chef de Cuisine for a little over seven years at five of his fine dining establishments, including Mesa Grill, Bar Americain and Gato in New York, Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, and Bar Americain in Connecticut. She also competed as Bobby Flay’s Sous Chef in three episodes of Iron Chef America. “Bobby Flay was really, really good to me, and I think everything in life happens for a reason. And without having had that experience and working for him, I don’t think I would be where I am today.” While she was working for Flay, her friend contacted her to see if she wanted to open her own restaurant, but she turned the opportunity down because Gaccione was living the dream.
Several months later, she took her friend up on the offer and found the space in Morristown through a mutual friend. She was initially drawn to the spot because of the outdoor patio space, but she soon realized how quickly Morristown felt like home because of the community. “I didn’t have it planned in my mind like I wanted to be in Morristown, but I’m so fortunate to have stumbled upon Morristown because Morristown has been wonderful and I love it here.”
Her accomplishments don’t stop with working for Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay. She has appeared on “Iron Chef America,” “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Iron Chef Showdown,” “Chopped” and is the host of the documentary film “Her Name Is Chef.” South+Pine was featured on Restaurant Hunters on Verizon FiOS1, named for Best Burger by the Meadowlands Racetrack and named in the Top 30 Best New Restaurants in the NJ Monthly.
Most recently, Gaccione has been chosen to compete as one of the fifteen chefs in Season 19 of “Top Chef,” which premieres on March 3 on Bravo. Her mission at South+Pine is to make it a neighborhood staple and to treat guests as though they are home for dinner. Gaccione personally comes up with the menu ideas every three months to change with the seasons. Gaccione also credits the staff and customers for without whom the restaurant wouldn’t exist. South+Pine is still experiencing staffing issues from the pandemic, but Gaccione is thankful for the core group of employees she has. “If it was just me running that restaurant, we would have failed a really long time ago. These people are the heart of it.”
South+Pine is open for brunch, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.