During the holidays, Restaurant 618 at Freehold transforms into a winter wonderland, filled with Christmas trees, nutcrackers, lights, North Pole mailboxes and more.
But this seasonal spirit goes beyond decorations.
Each year, the restaurant donates hundreds of toys to Toys for Tots, as well as the Freehold Borough Police Benevolent Association’s annual toy drive. The agents collect the gifts, both from local businesses and from the Prefecture of Police, to be then distributed to local families (the distribution will take place this Saturday, with a donation deadline of Friday).
Restaurant 618 uses its decorations to inspire and attract potential donors.
âWe love that the restaurant is festive so that more people visit and donate,â said Liz Borowski, co-owner of 618 restaurant.
They also usually start each season with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, which this year took place on December 4th.
âGuests are welcome to donate a toy in exchange for a photo with them,â Borowski said.
Go: 618 Park Ave., freehold; 732-577-0001, 618nj.com.
Panini Grill, in full ownership
Once winter arrives, the Panini Grill is covered in vintage Christmas decorations which are all for sale.
When capacity restrictions were in place, owner Rosario Macri came up with the idea of ââturning half the restaurant into a store, reminiscent of “a house in Whoville”, where patrons could find decorations not found in stores. Other products like hot cocoa bombs are also sold in the shop.
Macri enjoys an old-fashioned Christmas, citing the original Coca-Cola Santa Claus as the inspiration behind his decorating aesthetic.
Its real goal in over-the-top display is to make people smile.
âEven though the holidays are a beautiful time of year, it can also be a very sad time of year for some people,â he said. âEveryone is depressed these days about something, and everyone is going through something, so if someone walks in and I can distract them from the whole world for a second, I’ve achieved my goal. “
Go: 31 E. Main St., freehold; 732-845-5440, paninigrillnj.com.
Scarborough Fair, Sea Girt
While this building has housed a few different businesses over the years, it was originally a farmhouse dating back to the 1800s.
Taking advantage of the building’s rustic and cozy feel, along with its original beams, high ceilings and arches, Scarborough Fair is decorated from top to bottom in what manager Hannah Smith describes as a less than conventional.
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âIt’s not just your traditional Christmas trees with red and green,â she said. “We have a lot of lights and others [decorations] hanging from the ceiling, with stars, glitter and more. “
According to Smith, families have had permanent bookings every holiday for decades, simply because of the extravagance of vacations they flaunt every year.
âFloor to ceiling, you can see the lights from all over the street,â she said. âWe’re going big. “
Go: 1414 Meetinghouse Road, Sea Girt; 732-223-6658, sfseagirt.com.
Tucker’s Tavern, Beach Haven
This English-style pub features lots of garlands, colorful lights, wreaths and two oversized Christmas trees.
It’s a decoration frenzy set up by the staff of 30 people. When they are done, “this is a whole different restaurant,” said General Manager Dave Hasenbein.
âWe are a tight knit team and we have a lot of fun together,â said Hasenbein. âIt’s so much fun decorating and getting together.â¦ We celebrate, have a few drinks and then get all of our tables to have dinner together.â
Go: 101 Southwest Ave, Beach Haven; 609-492-2300, tuckerstavern-lbi.com.
Gabriela L. Laracca recently joined the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey and enthusiastically brings her passion for food and culture to our readers. Send restaurant tips to [email protected]