If location, location and location are the three most important ingredients for a successful restaurant, than local restaurateur/chef Bill Hurst has surely proven his third location to be the charm.
In 1989, Hurst and his dad bought and kept the name of Fitzpatrick's Jewish Deli on Ocean Heights Avenue in Somers Point. Moving to a larger location in the Groveland Center in 1994, then in 2012 to the more spacious New Road address, Hurst has built a business based on consistently good food, family values and a nod to community service.
Fitzpatrick's Deli & Steakhouse has long been the go-to place for many locals looking for a great breakfast, lunch, and now, dinner. After 23 years, at three locations, and still going strong, Hurst took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his own likes and dislikes when it comes to food and dining out.
Question: Which foods are your guilty pleasures?
Answer: My guilty pleasures would be creme brule's sweet hard crunchy shell of melted sugar with a creamy custard and a good vanilla bean or a warm, decadent ganache, providing it is made with good chocolate, fresh heavy cream and butter. It's just the way it melts in your mouth with normal body temperature heat.
Q: What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
A: The best meal I have ever eaten is a difficult question to answer. By nature of being a chef, I am always looking to improve a sauce or side dish by cooking it less or more. Whether the dish is sauteed or broiled, roasted or pan fried, there is always something you can do to improve the meal. Having said that, there is a Southern restaurant chain called Ceviche's that serves tapas with aged cured meats from Spain and great imported cheeses. All the dishes are well thought out and served perfectly with a good sangria for a very enjoyable meal.
Q: How would you describe your personal cooking "style?"
A: I like to think I cook with a technical style using fresh ingredients (what I mean is using only whole foods, not processed foods.) I like to mix flavors and colors that complement each other to create an artistic eye-appealing dish. If I had to pick one style, I love to cook northern Italian. I love the style of French and Italian mixing together with different techniques and ingredients native only to that area which makes all the food blend and taste incredible.
Q: Do you watch any culinary shows on TV?
A: I am addicted to the show "Chopped." I am amazed at the endless possibilities they create with a few ingredients. I like to play along and try to figure out what I would create with some of the difficult items given. Sometimes I win, other times I am not even close. I would love to take the challenge in this fast-paced contest to test my endurance and validate my skills.
Q: Do you cook at home?
A: I enjoy cooking at home. In the summer I especially love to cook pizza outside on the grill and experiment with grilling different fruits and vegetables. The dish I love to make at home is homemade pasta - cavatelli, involtini and fettuccini using an old-time pasta machine.
Q: What's one kitchen ingredient any home cook shouldn't be without?
A: The secret ingredient in my kitchen is sun-dried tomatoes. It goes with everything and has great flavor and texture. They can be chewy, or you can cook them out to be soft. Especially tasting great in appetizers, dips, entrees, pasta and sauces.
Q: What about a kitchen gadget?
A: The mandolin is a helpful kitchen gadget. It is an important preparation tool to use to ensure all vegetables are cut uniformly to allow for consistent even cooking and for artistic form.
Q: How about a cookbook?
A: Cookbooks are great for the non-pros. If I had to recommend one it would be, "The Joy of Cooking." It has great information on how to create a basic stock, soups and sauces. It teaches you the pure fundamentals of cooking.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
A: I knew I wanted to become a chef when I learned I could actually create a dish that tasted pretty awesome. Starting in my young teens at a local Italian restaurant as a dishwasher and then pizza maker, I began to take a greater interest in my next five years of employment in the field, with the help of a mentor who taught me how to cook and manage a kitchen.
Q: What do you enjoy cooking most?
A: I enjoy creating new soups like chicken quesadilla soup, baked potato soup, roasted garlic and crab bisque, or asparagus and shrimp, and stews. I like to take inexpensive cuts of meat and make a great meal out of it.
Q: What's your ultimate desert island meal?
A: My desert island meal would be homemade pasta and chicken cacciatore with a good bottle of Chianti. What can I say, I am Italian at heart.
Q: What are your culinary influences?
A: The first chef I worked for taught me good basic skills and helped to develop my love for cooking. After graduating culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America, I opened both the Playboy Casino Hotel and the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City. Both positions offered me experience working in very high volume restaurants that included butcher shops, garde manger, pastry shops and main and satellite gourmet kitchens. It exposed me to many different culinary styles along with experience in cutting meats, making desserts and managing different culinary vocations.
Q: Which is your favorite meal of the day?
A: My favorite meal is dinner. I like the creative side of preparing entrees and sides that are different and yet pair well together to create a great dining experience. I love to incorporate a deli twist to basic dinner entree dishes for a different concept in dining.
Q: What prompted your interest in deli-style restaurants?
A: My interest in deli-style dining was by chance and I realize now it was my food business destiny. While working at Showboat Casino I was offered a position in their deli and was responsible for managing the kitchen. As time went on, my urge to go into business for myself was getting stronger and when I began searching for a location, a turn-key deli/sandwich shop became available and it just seemed right. I partnered with my dad who was a carpenter by trade, but who loved the food business. We did not change the name of the restaurant, as it was not cost effective to do so. My dad and I were a good team for 15 years. His skills as a carpenter helped to remodel the place and made the decor new and fresh. I would work the shop and dad would come over to help every night, pitching in where needed. When we moved to our second location we rebuilt the new store in a month and added breakfast and catering to our services. It is always great to have family members partnered with you. You may not always agree on things, but it is nice to know they have your best interest at heart and they stand behind you like no one else. Now 23 years later, in our third location and with the addition of dinner service, my son and wife have joined the family business and everyday is a pleasure to come to work to see us working for a common goal, to better Fitzpatrick's Deli & Steakhouse with the breaking out of a new deli-dining concept.
Q: What is your favorite deli dish?
A: My favorite deli dish has to be beef brisket that is braised until fork tender. We like to serve it with potato latkes.