Enjoy the company of good friends and good food at this stately Dutch homestead.

Patrons who frequent Stony Hill Inn {231 Polifly Road, Hackensack; 201.342.4085; stonyhillinn.com} know it as a treasured destination for power lunches, special occasions and weddings. While the pristine estate’s manicured grounds captivate guests with understated elegance, diners can also enjoy stepping back in time to catch a glimpse of the restored mansion’s past lives.

In the late 1600s, the Dutch established the new Bergen Township, a landscape of new, budding farms attracting settlers who lived side by side with the thriving Lenni Lanape tribe. This was a time before America was signed into a nation and when a piece of sprawling Hackensack land was conveyed to a man named Hendrick Hopper. Generations later, in 1818, his grandson John I. Hopper chose this locale, a site that commanded an unobstructed panorama of the countryside and, together with his wife Maria, built the homestead known today as the Stony Hill Inn.

Inside the lobby, a glass encased vintage menu from the 1930s when the restaurant was called The New Venice lists baked oysters casino and a dry martini for one dollar. An antique “candlestick” phone is securely encased next to two regular pay phones, and a gorgeous grandfather stands elegantly in the entranceway, thanks to a donation by the restaurant’s current proprietor, Joseph Sanzari.

“All my life I was a contractor and I wanted to do something different, so I started in restaurants,” says Sanzari. “You meet a lot of people and you see how things operate in a different way than what I’ve been doing. In the construction business, it’s all hard work, and in this business it’s very personable and you have to make sure you take care of clients and have good people working for you.”

Sanzari is better known across the Garden State as a construction magnate. The best project he said he ever completed as a contractor and project manager was the western interchange for Routes 4 and 17 in Paramus.

“I completed that project 18 months ahead of schedule and we were noticed in the Engineering News as top 25 in the country. That was my best project as a contractor,” said Sanzari.

Another prided accomplishment, he said, was serving as chairman of Hackensack University Medical Center and having built the Joseph Sanzari Children’s Hospital and the Women’s Hospital.

“I’m proud of that,” he said. “The future of this country is our children.”

Since becoming proprietor of Stony Hill Inn in 2007, Sanzari has established his restaurant savoir faire with its burgeoning success. (He also is the proprietor of the Sanzari’s New Bridge Inn in New Milford.) Dignitaries from Presidents George W. Bush and Richard Nixon to Governor Christie Whitman to Senator Ted Kennedy and legendary sports figures such as Yogi Berra have dined as distinguished guests at Stony Hill Inn over the past few decades.

“It’s a novelty where it’s the place to go politically and a place to go if you want to enjoy a good dinner and meet friends,” he says.

The food at Stony Hill exudes Italian tastes with a broader Continental flare. Chef Gabriel Torres has led the kitchen for the last 30 years with regular requests for signature dishes like bone-in, Veal Cutlet Parmigiana; Joe’s Fried Meatballs served with Marinara Sauce and Fresh Ricotta; Veal Osso Bucco – a braised Veal Shank simmered in a vegetable demi-glaze with mushroom risotto; 16-ounce Prime Organic Maple Glazed Pork Chop served with sweet potato fries and his Chilean Sea Bass.

Stony Hill’s general manager Lori Rubino said guests come back for much more especially as seasons change during the warmer months.

“Everyone also loves our pizzas. Our short ribs are a number one seller, fishes, pastas and daily specials are the best!” said Rubino. “And in the summer months, our most popular lunches include the watermelon salad, wraps and sandwiches. Chef Torres specializes in making the best chicken pot pies and shepard pies in the fall.”

Stony Hill’s main dining area is situated in the original homestead. The atmosphere fills with the days of old when the bartenders dressed in crisp uniforms, knew everybody’s name and their cocktail of choice. It’s a quiet elegance of times past, as a dramatic, mahogany, brass rail bar greets guests who enter the room. The bar can seat over twenty as the friendly bartender Paul keeps guests happy throughout the week.

Just a few feet away and a step down is the Garden Room. On Sundays, the room is home to Stony Hill’s Sunday brunch complete with pasta and omelet stations, hot carving stations, salads, hot chafing dishes and an abundant dessert station with a chocolate fountain.

“The main room is the original homestead house with some of the original tile work. Off to the left of the Garden Room is another room called the Pipe room,” said Rubino, “ We made the pipe room into the Sanzari photo gallery. There is a collection of photos with governors, mayors and dignitaries.”

The Garden room whispers a quiet elegance and features the exposed stone from the relics of the Dutch homestead. But that’s not all the space Stony Hill has to offer.

“We have a little bit of something for everyone. We have romantic tables and we have fireplaces in three of our dining rooms,” said Rubino. “We have a casual bar outside, patio, fire pits and a gazebo for our guests.”

Rubino says the gazebo can also be reserved for two to eight people for dinner and is cigar friendly.

The food is only part of what keeps regulars coming back. Stony Hill offers live entertainment on weekends and even Thursday nights during the summer.

“I try to rotate the bands a little bit. I do a weekly entertainment 7-11pm, dinner and dancing for Saturday nights. Sometimes I start it up on Thursdays in the spring since many of our clientele have homes down the shore,” Rubino said, “I do a disco, sometimes bands that cater to all of our guests.”

Expanding for the future

Recently, the restaurant underwent a massive expansion to accommodate weddings and special events. The Inn offers the Crystal Room and the Grand Ballroom. In 2011, both halls underwent a renovation and, just six months ago, another renovation took place to ensure both rooms were in prime shape as demand escalated. Its dramatic palladium windows and high arched ceilings create an open, airy feeling.

“The Crystal room is mostly used for cocktail hour and the ceremony, comfortably fitting 50 to 125 people,” said Rubino. “The Grand Ballroom is mainly used for the reception and has a capacity from 100-350 people. We only have one wedding per day.”

In the warmer months, the doors for the main banquet rooms open up onto the patio with cocktails hours extended outside, including outdoor heaters and a tent to cover the entire patio. This historic home is truly a unique setting for a wedding, bar or bat mitzvah, corporate function, or social gathering. Or a cozy spot to enjoy those afterwork cocktails over a wholesome meal.

By Nicole Israel O’Reilly