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Dining with Draz: Skratch Kitchen

By Lori Draz

Spring has arrived. Time to start a new season from scratch and time to try a restaurant that matched that spirit. Off we went to Skratch Kitchen in Bradley Beach for an absolutely delicious and satisfying evening. So many diners have become regular guests, looking forward to trying all the dishes, and after our dinner, we could see why. 

The calm interior has a touch of a nautical feel with sisal-wrapped columns and interesting art covering the walls. It’s a compact space that manages to comfortably seat as many guests as possible, thanks, in part, to a long banquette. The acoustics are great, and the dishes rival any New York restaurant. 

Our sunny server, Ali, brought a complimentary loaf of crusty bread and oil for dipping, and she enthusiastically shared her pride in the restaurant and chef. We were also happy to meet Chef JT, who popped by our table for a short visit. He is fully in charge of his menu, pushing his flavors to the limits while maintaining a well-balanced and authentic Tuscan style. 

We chose two appetizers off the menu, plus a special Burrata with prosciutto, pistachios and pomegranate over crostini. Our first app from the menu was the Grilled Artichoke Hearts. These are three artichoke lollipops, dressed in a dapper suit of lemon whipped goat cheese, with a prosciutto jacket, and a bright citrus reduction. It’s a taste bud tingler, especially if you like goat cheese. Our second was the Beans & Shrooms. It sounds simple, but there is nothing ordinary about the rustic mix of meaty, wild mushrooms and cannellini beans served atop black truffle crostini. This was the woodsy antithesis of the twangy artichokes. 

Now for the entrées. Our first diner chose the Gnudi which are homemade ricotta dumplings, similar to gnocchi but made with ricotta instead of potato. Gnudi is actually the Tuscan word for “naked,” and these are like ravioli filling without the pasta. They were served in heartwarming stew of tender eggplant, oven-roasted tomatoes, basil and mozzarella that tastes like it just came off your the kitchen stove. In fact, the dish brought him back to his mother’s table, and his smile would make his mom proud. 

Diner two selected highly recommended Shrimp and Grits, and she agreed with the numerous positive reviews. These are five juicy, seared shrimp resting on those creamy grits, that get a spicy kick from andouille sausage and the sautéed trinity of celery, onion and sweet peppers. There is nothing timid about this dish. Each mouthful sings with flavor, and she was happy to join in the chorus.  

I was told to try the Pork Chop, and it’s a dandy. Here too, Chef JT shows he’s not afraid of seasoning, which I loved. It’s got that rustic charm with a master’s touch. The onions, roasted potatoes and pepper blend get an extra flavor boost from some savory sausage nuggets, tucked in the potatoes. Think of the best of sausage and peppers with a bold, perfectly grilled pork chop, and you’ve got it!

Now for the don’t-miss desserts. We had two and could have tried three or four more. Our first was the rarely seen Chocolate Budino. It is a decadent dish with a hazelnut cracker base, sweet cherries buried in two inches of thick chocolate mousse, covered with a smooth layer of ganache, topped with nuts, raspberries and whipped cream. Wow! You gotta try this, even the non-chocoholics will fight over the last spoonful. Our second was a Ricotta Cheesecake with a crumb topping and a blood orange reduction. It is the daytime flavor profile to the night-like budino. It is thick but airy and has a little citrus brightness. This chef makes his own desserts, and you can really tell. They are so good; I would stop there just for them. Other selections include a Pistachio Tiramisu and a Carrot Cake with maple glaze and cinnamon ice cream.  

There is only street parking, so give yourself a little extra time depending on the night. On Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, Skratch Kitchen offers a three-course pasta feast that includes a salad, choice of pasta and sauce, and dessert. The menu has options for vegetarians. It’s accessible. BYOB and there is a liquor store just steps away. 

Cost – Reasonably moderate

What we liked- Cozy, relaxing and friendly atmosphere with terrific service and beautiful plating; an exciting menu that makes you want to come back and try other dishes; the confident strength of the chef’s balance of flavor and his authentic style; those delicious desserts and tasty coffee.    

Skratch Kitchen is located at 812 Main St. in Bradley Beach. 732-984-6363. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 8:45 pm; Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9:45 pm and Sunday from 4 to 7:45 pm. Closed Monday. SkratchKitch.com

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