A place where Italian elegance is perfectly paired with warm gatherings. That is what owners Anthony and Jennifer Frungillo wanted to create when they acquired The Highlawn {1 Crest Dr, West Orange, NJ 07052; 973.731.3463; www.highlawn.com} in 2021. With their personal Frungillo touch they revitalized the Grill Room and the Oak Bar also adding vitality to The Patio space. The venue is gorgeous, the food is superb, and the views are breathtaking. When the Frungillo family dynasty purchased The Highlawn they became the owners of a historical venue, they added exceptional food and gave their guests a place where they could create memories to last a lifetime.

The Location

The Highlawn restaurant and wedding venue boasts the most iconic panoramic views of the New York City skyline. The Highlawn, once designed after one of the oldest restaurants in Italy, is considered the gem of Essex County. One great reason for its popularity is its location. The Highlawn is nestled on a 400-acre nature preserve called the Eagle Rock Reservation. The beautiful views and the great lawn after which the building was named makes a place for romantic picnics and couple strolls.

The History

In the early 1900’s the newly constructed building was called “The Reservation.” It held a refreshment stop and was a perfect scenic overlook for the NYC skyline. The main floor was nicknamed “The Casino”, derived from the Italian word “casa” meant to describe a country style summer home. In the 1920’s people would drive their automobiles filled with picnic baskets up the road into the Eagle Rock Reservation to visit the summit. Over the next 60 years the building became abandoned and was considered unsalvageable. In the 1980’s the Knowles family took on the massive project of restoring the building and turned it into a restaurant and event venue. Originally designed as a Florentine Style structure, Knowles traveled throughout northern Italy seeking décor for the new space. The buildings central “open kitchen” was designed after one of the oldest restaurants in Milan, Italy.

Passing the Torch

After 35 years running The Highlawn Pavilion, the Knowles family passed the torch to the Frungillo family. Anthony Frungillo grew up in the family business of catering. His parents Alfred and Hope were part of the legacy of Frungillo Caterers, one of New Jersey’s premiere catering and hospitality services in New Jersey. Anthony and his brother Michael would spend time with his dad in the kitchen on the weekends. His dad would put together bags of bread to form a playpen when he was little, and as they grew older Anthony had fond memories of washing vegetables or shining the silverware to help. In 1988, their Gourmet Dining Services expanded to include college and university accounts around Northern Jersey. Alfred and his two sons, Anthony and Michael, worked together to acquire 13 different accounts in 17 locations within New Jersey. For years the Frungillos brought their family celebrations, events and business meetings to The Highlawn Pavilion. Anthony explained, “Anything that was important to celebrate we were always here.” They became friendly with the Knowles family who owned the property for over 35 years. “We had become very friendly with them and we always “tongue in cheek” joked that if there was ever an opportunity, and they didn’t want to be in the business anymore to let us know.” When COVID-19 hit New Jersey in 2020, the Knowles made the decision to sell the property, passing it to a family dynasty they knew so well – the Frungillos. Anthony and his wife Jennifer agreed to purchase the property with the promise to maintain the integrity and spirit of the historical place. So, in late March of 2021 they began the extensive renovations and opened the doors for the first time with the new name The Highlawn on October 1st, 2021.

The Grill Room and Skyline Ball Room

At the entrance of The Highlawn there is a main foyer adorned with exquisite seasonal décor that embraces guests encouraging celebrations and holiday gatherings. The sweeping staircase guides event guests upstairs to a spacious Skyline Ball Room banquet hall with dance floor. Here is the perfect venue to celebrate weddings, showers, birthday parties and retirement dinners. The Highlawn is well-known for their 5-star reviews for wedding celebrations, and impeccable service where no detail is overlooked promising the perfect celebration for everyone. On the main floor is the stunning dining area known as The Grill Room. It is designed with floor to ceiling windows ensuring every seat has access to the magnificent view. Dining at sunset showcases a view of what appears to be a golden city reflecting the warm glow of the setting sun on New York’s skyscrapers. The prominent open kitchen design creates a sense of friendly ambience that draws foodies in to share in the passion and excitement of watching the chef add their special touch to a perfect dish.

Sal Fell, Anthony Frungillo, and Chef Will Punty

The Menu and the Chef

The Highlawn’s talented Director of Culinary, Chef Will Prunty and the award-winning culinary team has created a delicious menu with top quality, dry-aged steaks, classic Italian dishes and local seafood. Chef Will added his own style with seasonal items and some of his specialty items to really expand the menu. A favorite appetizer is The Highlawn Meatball made with fresh ricotta cheese and anchovy butter on wood grilled focaccia bread and finished with micro basil. Another popular one is Fritto Misto which is a spin on the classic fried Calamari. What makes it different from regular fried calamari are the Gulf Shrimp, fried long hots and haricot verts. This unique flavor with the sweetness and the spiciness of the long hots goes great with the calamari and shrimp. A perfect choice for an entrée would be The Highlawn Signature Slow Roasted Boneless Prime Rib, served to perfection in a warm raifort sauce, 72-hour natural veal jus, and accompanied with the classic English Duck Fat Popovers. Also recommended is the Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass and the Seasonal Roasted Branzino. This Mediterranean Branzino fluctuates throughout the year offering warm vegetables and tasty flavors that complement each unique season.

The Highlawn offers supreme desserts. Their staple dessert is the Blueberry Almond Crumble with toasted almond ice cream, topped with hazelnut in-house whipped cream. The Highlawn Sunday is a favorite because of the homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream that is made in-house and garnished with chocolate brownies, candied walnuts, crème Chantilly, chocolate caramel sauce and chocolate tuile. If guests have trouble deciding from the dessert menu, they can always choose the Vita Dolce Classic Italian sampler. This delightful sampler includes a homemade rainbow cookie, tiramisu, a lemon ricotta cannoli and a pignoli cookie.

The Bar & The Patio

Each evening the bartenders mix up fresh seasonal craft cocktails from the drink menu at the beautifully renovated oak bar. Patrons can order a glass of fine wine or a favorite mixed beverage at The Bar or sit out at The Patio. Delicious menu choices are also offered for lite dining. Live music and entertainment from local artists can be enjoyed Wednesday through Sunday at both The Bar and The Patio. Gaze at the view while listening to music spanning from Jazz to modern covers, from piano players, and singing duos, to a trio of musicians. At the bar the Beverage Director Paul Obando is excited to offer the new Fall beverage menu. In addition to the classics, the mixologists will be offering seasonal cocktails. The Autumn Bramble consists of fresh in-house blackberry pomegranate syrup, lemon juice, crème de cassis and Bluecoat gin topped off with a culinary foam just to give it a nice froth on top. Sinatra’s New York Sour with smoked plantation pineapple rum, house-made simple syrup, fresh lemon juice is poured with a sparkling Lombardini Lambrusco. This sweet savory autumn cinnamon flavor is perfect for fall evenings on The Patio. They make a thyme syrup in-house with oregano, and hints of sage that is batched and simmered for about four hours and used in The Tymeless Apertif with Lillet Blanc, Tanqueray, Belvedere Heritage, lemon, and club. All these craft cocktails are modified seasonally, and of course, the bar is always fully stocked with fine wines, sparkling wines and draft or bottled beers.

A Revitalized Landmark

The history of The Highlawn has made it a landmark in New Jersey, but their future is even more promising. They welcome families, couples, ladies’ night out, business lunch and weekend brunch in three elegantly designed spaces. The majestic ballroom on the second floor is perfect for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. Bring all of your celebrations to The Highlawn where superb food and magnificent views will keep you coming back for more!

Holidays are Ahead

Visiting this Italian-style country dwelling during the holidays is not to be missed. During the Christmas season the decorations are magnificent with a 20-foot-tall Christmas tree. Every Saturday and Sunday in December, The Highlawn will host a Santa Claus brunch from 11:30am to 3:00pm. They will also be taking reservations for New Year’s Eve dining with a Frank Sinatra singer at either a pre-fixed 4 course meal at the first sitting or a pre-fixed 5 course meal at the second seating. {The Highlawn, 1 Crest Drive, West Orange, NJ; 973.731.3463; highlawn.com}

By Tara Jean McDonald