American chef and restaurateur David Burke is overseeing extensive renovations at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, which are ready to be revealed during a mid-October opening.
The changes to the main dining room and main bar/lounge area promise to surprise and delight both former fans and new ones, too. What will be revealed is definitely a horse of another color and what Burke said will be “an elevated dining experience like no other in the area.”
Red Horse by David Burke at the Bernards Inn, a modern American steakhouse, has a new, fresh, exciting look bursting with Burke’s signature style, vibrancy and sense of whimsy.
This is Burke’s ninth restaurant in New Jersey and his 19th worldwide.
Phase one of the multimillion-dollar renovation project breathes new life into the space while it simultaneously pays homage to the 116-year-old building’s bones and character. The main dining room’s design has a whole new look while embracing original floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, impressive dark wood molding and huge original windows — all works of art in themselves.
“Chef Burke’s renovation invigorates the property with a sensitive eye on its past,” Jean Marie Philippou said. Philippou owns Banyan Consulting in Garden City, New York, and is supervising the renovation project. “White marble-topped bar, white bar stools and banquettes, the dark brown molding with Chef Burke’s signature interior red highlights and exquisite lighting bring fresh fun to the room, but are not in conflict with it. This is one of Chef Burke’s most beautiful and stunning concepts. It’s eye-popping, exciting and inviting.”
Earlier this year, Burke entered a partnership with Hampshire Destination Properties LLC, a subsidiary of the Hampshire Cos., which has owned the Bernards Inn since 2006. David Burke Hospitality Management is overseeing the food and beverage and eventually will operate the 20-room inn.
Red Horse is a spinoff of his award-winning flagship restaurant by the same name in Rumson, which opened in March 2021 at the legendary Fromagerie. Both Red Horse and 1776 by David Burke, Morristown, were named to “The Best 30 Restaurants in New Jersey” by NJ Monthly in 2022 and 2023.
The name came from a painting of a red horse by Tuan Tran that Chef Burke discovered in the early gloomy days of the pandemic in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He bought it knowing that the image would one day become a theme for a restaurant, and indeed it has. Bernardsville, like Rumson, is a favored community where horses play a big role within its lifestyle.
“We are all very excited about this project,” Burke said. “This is one of New Jersey’s greatest, iconic properties and we are bringing it back to its glory days. Ever since I was a young chef, I had a lot of respect for this property and its contributions to New Jersey’s fine dining scene. The area’s residents are well-traveled, sophisticated diners who want a relaxed, yet refined place to dine nearby. So, for the concept, I looked to the old horse country feel and the graciousness that came with that era invigorated by my playful style. The décor reflects the equine interest of the area from my signature red and white horse tack wallpaper and a variety of original works of equine-themed art. I also commissioned Tuan to paint a larger version of the original Red Horse painting for Bernards Inn.”
Regarding the menu, Burke said it will feature premium local and global seasonal ingredients, from truffles from Italy to bison from New Jersey’s Fossil Farms. And local Garden State products from land and sea including roasted local chicken from Griggstown Farms to East and West oysters from Barnegat Bay. There will be a variety of cuts of Burke’s U.S.-patented Pink Himalayan salt dry-aged prime beef, lobster with pasta, sushi and whole roasted fish.
Although enjoyed at the end of a great meal, Burke’s desserts are never an afterthought. In addition to being a Culinary Institute of America graduate, he also is an alumnus of the world’s most highly regarded pastry schools, École Lenôtre Pastry School in Plaisir, France. He promises his desserts will be among the best in the state as they are at all his other restaurants.
Burke is hiring local, too, and invites those looking for a position to apply for roles in both the front and back of the house either online or onsite.
Another dining area with its own side entrance that leads to the former wine room/cellar area will be a fun speakeasy/supper club/music venue. “The Bernie” will bring lively entertainment to the area with a casual vibe featuring themed nights like comedy shows, musical entertainment including piano music, jazz ensembles and acoustical music, lecture series, wine dinners, trivia nights and Burke’s popular Dine in the Dark dinners. During the warmer seasons, drinks and food will be served on the patio decorated with lush plantings and pleasing street views.
There is also a more formal and larger event space — a favored intimate wedding destination for many — for private, elegant affairs with a 200-seat capacity, which will be updated at a later date. The lobby will have a large VIP table with a glass top and tree trunk base perfect for community seating or chef’s tastings, and certain elements of Burke’s style are woven throughout the room.