If you own one of the many Italian, or Italian-sounding, restaurants in Baristaville, something’s got to stand out to get a resident’s attention. At True North Osteria, which opened on Bloomfield Ave two months ago, it’s their pizza crust, grilled to mouthwatering perfection.
The restaurant was opened in October by owners Leah and David Moon, Bloomfield residents who are just past their mid-30s. Leah’s parents were in the food manufacturing business, which formed the basis of their inspiration to open an eatery.
Heading to True North recently with the lovely Debbie Galant, we were greeted outside by a sign saying, “This pizza will change your life!” An invitation (and challenge) that was hard to resist.
True North turns out not to be an Italian restaurant, but offers twists on Italian and other international dishes “reinvented for the Modern American table,” with counter service allowing for quick meals at prices that are hard to balk at; lunch specials run through the week at $10. Ingredients are fresh and locally sourced, the restaurant was bright and inviting, and everything Debbie and I ordered was visually very appealing.
Osteria, explains Leah, who is of Italian-Jewish extraction (David is of Irish descent), refers to an owner-served informal restaurant, which describes True North to a tee.
“We’re both big nautical fans, and the true north is a fixed, absolute point, which for us symbolizes being grounded,” she says.
Debbie and I had the chickpea and fennel soup, which had a robust aroma of fennel and homemade stock, but could have used some other spices to pop a bit more. We also tried the roasted tomato polenta – a little bowl of red and yellow cherry tomatoes served on a bed of slightly runny polenta. This got the thumbs-up from Debbie; but the slightly runny texture wasn’t doing it for me.
The champion of the meal was the Provencal pizza, with caramelized onions, a generous sprinkling of sliced olives and white anchovies – heaven in a pie for two anchovy lovers. The crust was delightfully thin and crispy in the middle, bursting with the aroma of having been seared carefully on a grill, and the edges were moist, and exceedingly tasty. If you have sworn off carbs, this is not the thing to order. Mmm.
Here’s an interview with co-owner Leah, who said that True North is the couple’s first restaurant:
Why open a restaurant, and why in Montclair?
It’s the American dream. We love the industry and wanted our own piece of independence. Montclair is a fantastic town with a lively downtown area and great demographics. It’s got romantic nostalgia for us too; when we used to live in Elizabeth, we’d come here for date nights!
When did you take over the lease and when did you open?
We took over the lease in April, and opened only on October 15. There was a lot of red tape and paperwork, and we were naive and didn’t know what was normal to expect. But our contractors, who said every town is different, thought this (wait) was extreme.
How is True North different from other Italian restaurants?
Well, we don’t consider ourselves an Italian restaurant, for one! Our inspiration comes from the state of NJ and our menu tries to reflect our combined family recipes, reinterpreted for America. Take our bruschetta – instead of balsamic we used citrus, instead of basil, it’s parsley, making it almost a southwestern version.
Our pizzas are made with our own special recipe and they are grilled, which is a nod to America’s favorite cooking activity! We’ve eaten at every fancy Italian restaurant that we could find, and each was trying to recreate pizzas from Naples and so on. But we’re in NJ and we can make everything our own with what’s available to us here. So our pizzas never go in the oven, we use NJ tomatoes and make our own mozzarella and pretty much everything is made in house, from mayo to the soups.
Have you had culinary training?
Neither of us have had formal training, but we’ve both had lots of restaurant jobs.
It’s a collaborative effort. I do much of the prep, David does the line cooking. I do the veg dishes, he does the baked items, and the pies are an equal split.
What’s your favorite thing to cook at home? Do you serve it at the restaurant?
At home, one of our favorites is pasta with pesto, mozzarella and oven-roasted tomatoes. At True North, we converted this to a pizza.
Any winter specials coming up?
We are serving a Winter Green pizza. This is a white pie with our homemad mozzarella, caramelized onion, ricotta, parmesan, arugula and pistachio, on a pumpkin curry sauce. It’s like a winter landscape with green on it, hence the name.
What would you like people to know about True North?
It’s a great place for kids and families, and we make elegant, high-quality, flavorful food in a casual setting.
345 Bloomfield Ave,
Montclair, NJ 07042
973 744 4960