Esther Davidowitz, NorthJersey.com
Award-winning chef David Burke loves New Jersey. He not only grew up in the Garden State — Hazlet — but resides in Fort Lee. His beach house is on the Jersey shore too.
Burke also loves restaurants. He owns or operates 15.
This past year, he has been busy combining both loves by opening restaurants in his home state, including Red Horse in Rumson and Orchard Park in East Brunswick — and as of last week 1776 by David Burke in Morristown. It’s his sixth in the Garden State. (In North Jersey, Burke is the culinary director of Ventanas in Fort Lee and Son Cubano in West New York.)
The restaurant, designed by the architectural firm Michael Graves, is an expansive 7,000-square foot space that seats 200 indoors and another 150 outside. (It also adjoins six Topgolf “Sweet Swing” simulator suites where, for $75/hour, golf-lovers can pretend to play the game while eating like champs; there’s a minimum food tab of $250 per suite.)
“It’s a big boy,” Burke said. “And it’s a beauty.” Adding: “I wanted a modern American restaurant for an upscale zip code.” One that’s not stuffy, he said, but hip and contemporary.
Here’s your sneak peek into 1776, one of the few fine-dine restaurants that have opened in the Garden State since the pandemic erupted. (The others include The Circle in Newton and Carpaccio at American Dream in East Rutherford.)
In real estate, the saying goes that a property’s three most valuable assets are location, location, location. 1776 overlooks Morristown’s cherished Green, a historic park located in the center of town that once was the site of George Washington’s headquarters. You can bet Burke and architects took advantage of their scenic locale.
They made sure not only to have lots of outdoor seating but ensured that indoor diners can enjoy views of the Green by installing French glass doors onto two walls that overlook the area.
“You feel like you’re sitting off the Champs Elysee, with cars and pedestrians going by,” Burke said. “It’s beautiful.”
Perhaps the restaurant’s most distinct feature is a stunning contemporary 30-seat bar that’s square in shape, marble-topped and wearing sculpted green moss wall hangings that resemble a lush golf course. Above it is a cascade of clear glass bubbles of lights. Its center displays all sizes and shapes of bottles filled with all sorts of spirits. The bar, Burke said, is a signal that 1776, once the home of nj.com, is designed to be a fun, social place.
“You can actually walk around this venue with a drink and flirt,” he said. “You can grab a nibble. You can sit down for a David Burke dinner.”
The dining room
The dining room, Burke said, sports top-of-the-line furniture with tables topped by marble or wood that isn’t hidden by cloth. Above them hang a slew of imposing chandeliers. Two hallway walls feature orange-hued bricks made of Himalayan salt. “They are 100-percent salt,” he said.
“No expense was spared,” Burke added. “It’s triple deluxe.”
The deluxe includes a wine locker, a second bar, a lounge area with comfy couches and an open showcase kitchen.
“The kitchen was built to last,” Burke said. “We didn’t go cheap on it.”
The restaurant, he said, was designed for “luxury and style.”
But of course, you can’t eat luxury or style.
Forty percent of the menu consists of the chef’s oldies but goodies, including delectable lobster dumplings, whimsical clothesline bacon (yes, bacon hanging off a mini clothesline) and his patented Himalayan salt-aged steak. It also features “paper boy shrimp,” crisp-fried head-on prawns bathed in a spicy sauce, Rohan duck breast with foie gras dumpling, crispy tempura lobster with vegetable fried rice (“Something you’d see at Tao or Morimoto,” Burke said.) and a pork chop with Sandy Hook clam casino (“A clam stew Portuguese style that’s really delicious; it sells like crazy.”).
As for dessert, count on Burke to come up with something(s) enchantingly whimsical. When beginning at age 26 (he was the executive chef of the River Cafe in Brooklyn), he came up with a chocolate Brooklyn Bridge treat that delighted sweet tooths. At Venatans, he offers a chocolate George Washington bridge. At 1776, it’s a chocolate park bench (to mimic the benches on the Green) made of chocolate hazelnut cake and as an homage to Morristown’s historic past, a dessert called Curious George (George as in George Washington), a banana butterscotch pudding with cookies in the shape of monkeys (a la Curious George, the insatiably curious monkey in the beloved children’s book).
Lunch begins this week. Brunch in a few weeks. And Burke said the restaurant will be open Thanksgiving ($85/3-course meal) and most probably Christmas. He said the New York Jets have already booked a room in December.
“We’ve got to go piece by piece until we go full throttle,” Burke said.
He added that his New Jersey restaurants are “booming.”
“New Jersey is doing better than New York,” he said. “Larger groups don’t want to be hassled with vaccine cards. What if one in the party doesn’t have a card? Many people are booking parties in New Jersey.”