Is America's Best New Restaurant Here in Collingswood?
Zeppoli, Chef Joey Baldino's Sicilian kitchen, has become a dining destination in just six short months. Its star continues to rise with a national nomination from the James Beard Foundation for Best New Restaurant.
Since bringing his talents to South Jersey, Philadelphia chef Joey Baldino has been quietly turning heads with his new restaurant, Zeppoli.
Now Baldino has a chance to make a lot more noise. This week, Zeppoli was named a James A. Beard national semifinalist for Best New Restaurant—the only New Jersey restaurant to receive such consideration.
Baldino describes his menu as “Sicilian soul food,” fusing the flavors of North Africa, Greece, Spain, and France. To date, the 35-seat Collings Avenue BYOB has drawn praise from Yelpers and restaurant critics, but the Beard nomination represents a third category of fans: restaurant professionals.
“It’s amazing,” said Baldino, who heard the news from a friend who saw the online announcement. “I’m honored just to be a semi-finalist.”
The James Beard Foundation recognizes “the best and brightest talent in the food and beverage industry,” according to its website. Award honorees include chefs, writers, restaurateurs, and even architects.
“There’s no doubt that being cited as a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category is a very special accolade for any restaurant in the nation,” said Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, in an email to Collingswood Patch.
“The fact that Chef Baldino’s Zeppoli is among this year’s 29 semifinalists means this New Jersey restaurant has been recognized for a level of excellence in our industry that is rare,” she said. “This year, our foundation received over 57,000 nominations nationwide.”
“It’s more of a peer thing,” said Robert Crescenzi, sous chef at Zeppoli, who explained that the awards are voted on by a panel of 500—all past winners, restaurant critics, and food editors.
For those unfamiliar with Beard’s legacy, Crescenzi includes him in the pantheon of chefs like Jacques Pepin and Julia Child who rescued American cuisine in their lifetimes with a “fresh, not frozen” kitchen mantra.
The next round of cuts will come March 19, paring down the nominees in each category to five finalists. Winners will be announced May 7 at a Lincoln Center awards ceremony in New York.
If Zeppoli makes the finals, it would be advisable to book your table soon: Even before the announcement, all its tables are spoken for every weekend for the next two months.