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The long awaited Cinder Bar Cross Keys location opened just over a month ago, and across the board patrons are Wow’d by the experience and food.  Unlike the national chain eateries along Berlin Cross-Keys Road, Cinder Bar promotes an experience where effort is put into making every aspect of the experience fresh, local and hand crafted.  Expectations were very high for this Williamstown eatery and bar… and based on the consistently packed house and amazing Facebook reviews, they are exceeding everyone’s expectations!  If you’ve ever watched Guy Fieri’s Food Network show when he visits restaurants where everything is made from scratch and wonder “why don’t we have a place like that around here?”.    Well now we do.

I’ll talk more about their attention to detail in the food and restaurant design but let me offer this as a teaser…  When I visited Cinder Bar just before opening  I was given an insider’s tour by the General Manager.  Whiskey is a featured part of the bar offerings and they could’ve simply dropped ice cubes into your glass, but at Cinder Bar they take it to the next level!  They ship in pure filtered water to make crystal clear sheets of ice.  They then cut the ice into large cubes in a band saw.  Yes, they really do have a band saw in the kitchen to cut ice cubes square!  So with pure water as the source the cubes are perfectly clear… but that is still not enough.  They also have a metal stamp to press their logo into the cube!!   That’s the level of attention to details and a unique experience that will continue to pack the place!

A look at Facebook reviews average out to 4.9 rating out of 5 from 106 different reviews!  I personally trust the Facebook review system more than other online review sites, because those other sites seem to get reviews only when someone is ticked off.  Facebook is more representative of both the good and the bad reviews as it’s easier for the general population to add a Facebook review. This one from the end of December sums up everyone’s thoughts:

Absolutely loved it! Beautiful atmosphere, incredible craft cocktails, excellent food and service. Without going to the city it’s hard to find drinks at this level, but not anymore.

So while 42Freeway has followed the construction the entire way, and was a guest at the preview dinner… we never officially published a post about the opening of this new and beautiful restaurant, nor give an overview of the experience.   Well here it is!

The Decor

The first thing that your going to notice is the “setting”.   This is not flat painted drywall with a couple photos hanging.  Every aspect of the building inside and out was carefully considered to be as pleasing to the eye as the food is to the mouth!

Before you even enter the building, the outside shows off the large curved glass enclosed patio which already gives you the feeling you are in for something different.  And yes in warmer weather the entire side patio bar opens up!

Inside, the true design of the restaurant kicks in.  They’ve used a mixture of textures, painting and design elements to give every corner of the room a distinctive look, while still being tied together.  The rustic brick wall entry way to the right with a graffiti-esque style print of “Vote against prohibition” and the “Whisky By the Drink” on the far end brick wall.  Another wall is rough stucco with exposed brick peaking through like you would see in a small Italian village.   A large square bar sits in the center of the room dividing the large eating area into sitdown tables and high-top bar tables.

In the back far corner is an elevated VIP table which can be curtained off for privacy. And of course there is a wood burning oven in the pack, fully open to the dining area.

We sat in the side patio area and even the high-top tables were custom crafted for the restaurant, imprinted with a story that the tabletop wood was from around the Civil War time, reclaimed from the Broad Street station in Philadelphia!

This alone is enough to be a full sensory experience for diners, but there is much more!

The Whiskey Mill Patio Bar

Remember I mentioned the glass enclosed patio area?  Well off to the right side is a second area featuring a large rustic bar, more seating and the other side of the fireplace with furniture set-up in a cozy living room seating fashion.

This entire second area called The Whiskey Mill is still very large on its own and the outside wall and ceiling is all glass… and yes, as I mentioned earlier the entire glass curved wall is motorized on rollers and can be opened up.  Not just a portion.  Not just a window.  But the entire 100 ft glass wall.  Well, I am guessing at the length, but trust me when I first visited one of the partners Bob opened up the glass for me.  Awesome.

Overall the entire restaurant has a woodsy rustic vibe to it, and in this side patio the beautiful second bar with its detailed wood shelving and back wall really bring home the rustic experience.  This is where those fancy clear ice cubes really come into play as this Whiskey bar is tailored towards today’s hottest adult beverage trend. Don’t get me wrong, craft beers are still hot but the connoisseurs of alcohol looking for the next great thing are moving on to Whiskey, and boy does Cinder Bar deliver.  How about 200 varieties of Whiskey!  Did I say 200?  TWO HUNDRED!  A look at their online menu shows dozens and dozens of offerings from the $6 Four Roses Yellow  to the $96 Laphroig 25y!   If Whiskey is your thing and you want to try something new to you… Cinder Bar’s Whiskey Mill is the place you have to try!

Oh and beer!  Did I mention beer?  How about 70 beers mixed across bottles and taps.  Cinder Bar wants to continue to make the experience one of surprises so yes they have the usual suspect beers, but they are featuring craft beers from around the country that you may not ever heard of, as well as many beers from local breweries such as Tonewood, Cross Keys, Bonesaw  and Yards!

Hand Crafted Kitchen Offerings

Cinder Bar Cross Keys is the second in a growing chain of restaurants where the local owners are putting the extra care and dollars into creating a hand crafted experience.  At Cinder Bar, nothing is pre-packaged.  They make the pierogies from scratch (see photo).  Bloody Mary’s… there’s no packaged mix here.  And yes they have the bar “staples” like buffalo wings (which are delicious!) but they also have unique food items like Candied Bacon, Wood Fired Brussel Sprouts, Empanadas, Short Rib Poutine and more!

While there are delicious full entrees on the menu, “Small Plates” is the overall theme.  Guests can order a variety of items to share at the table so that everyone can try the variety of delicious food.

And we can’t forget the pizza!  It’s Wood Fired Pizza… hence the name “Cinder Bar”!…  and it is amazing.  We tried the Margherita Pizza and everything about it was perfect.  Crisp thin crust.  Fresh and tasty ingredients!    Amazing.

There are also many sandwich options all with that special Cinder bar twist such as the Cheesesteak is short rib, the Tuscan Chicken Cutlet features kale, provolone peppers and more… and the grilled cheese offers fontina, gruyere cheese, apricot spread, brioche.

Entrees feature Cedar Plank Salmon Fillet, Steak Frittes, Calabrese Stuffed Chicken, Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, Short Rib Bolognese, Chicken & Waffles and Short Rib & Mushroom Risotto.

The Ownership Team

The Cinder Bar restaurants are a collaboration between two successful South Jersey Business people… Bob Ciconte and Tony Stavola.  Well, I think the better description is “Business Families”

Bob Ciconte

Bob tells me he started out as a pizza man and cook at a Bellmawr Pizza shop, and was presented an opportunity to take over his own shop in Gloucester County.  While there may have been some reluctance and worry in that decision, Bob and his wife never looked back and expanded into several Ciconte Pizzas.  

Bob’s first entry into own a bar restaurant came when a bar in the same shopping center as his Swedesboro store became available.  He was told by many “you really know how to run a business. you should buy that bar”.   And just like that, the first Village Pub was opened.  Bob later added as second successful Village Pub in Washington Twp.  (I’ll add that the Twp Village Pub is close to me and we visited it many times under prior ownership and it was never crowded.  Under Bob’s ownership the place has taken off and is packed every night of the week!).

Bob really enjoys the restaurant operations side of the business.  The recipes.  The fresh food offerings.   The day-to-day operating decisions.  And while both families contributed to the design of Cinder Bar, I am told Bob’s wife had a significant influence!

Tony Stavola

I first met Tony and his wife in December at the Cinder Bar preview dinner.  Tony explains that he was the founder and owner of Stavola Foods in West Deptford.  He started the business as a young man delivering food to area pizza shops and grew into a regional food distribution powerhouse “Probably 90% of the pizza shops got their food from me”.  Stavola Foods expanded to create their own food product lines… all under the guidance of Tony.  He grew the business over the decades, increasing sales by offering great products, living up to promises, and an acquisition or two and maintained a large distribution warehouse in West Deptford.  Recently Tony sold the business to a larger company, and Cinder Bar represents a new chapter in his life.

And that’s how Bob and Tony formed a partnership to build out the Cinder Bar restaurants.  Bob had been buying his restaurant products from Tony for years, and they helped and watched each other grow their separate businesses.  It was a natural connection to do something together.

A Successful Balance

Bob and Tony balance each other’s personalities very well.  Both are great guys that you’d enjoy sitting at a bar chatting about whatever is going on in the world…  but my quick assessment is while they both love the excitement and challenge building these unique destination restaurants, Bob leans more to the operations side of the business… I don’t know this for a fact but I’ll bet that every week Bob can be found trying out new recipes and even making pizzas in one of his many restaurants!  Tony offered, “Bob is an amazing operator”.

And Tony… well he is a successful big business builder who knows how to get things done, makes promises, and deliver.  When I met Tony and chatted with him for a few minutes, he put his one hand on my shoulder, handed my his business car with his other hand and offered “If there is anything I can do for you, any questions you need answered… just call me and I’ll make it happen”.  And let me tell you… I 100% believed him!  Tony and Bob are not stopping with two locations… and already have locked on to a third location, and Tony seems to be leading that charge.  I know that style of business is what took Tony from a 20 yr old kid delivering pizza sauce in his car, to growing it into large business… and then led him to partner with Bob to create Cinder Bar and now take it to the next level.

Cinder Bar Cross Keys
410 Berlin Cross Keys Road
Williamstown, New Jersey 08094

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