Let’s start with the menu — because that’s what you do at a David Burke restaurant.
Red Horse by David Burke at the Bernards Inn will feature premium local and global seasonal ingredients, from truffles from Italy to bison from New Jersey’s Fossil Farms.
It will have local Garden State products from land and sea, including roasted local chicken from Griggstown Farms and East and West oysters from Barnegat Bay.
And it will offer 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.
Of course, Burke’s restaurants always are about more than just the food. The ambiance sets them apart, too. That’s the key here.
Burke has overseen extensive renovations at the 116-year-old establishment, creating a modern American steakhouse with a new, fresh, exciting look bursting with his signature style, vibrancy and sense of whimsy.
The changes to the main dining room and main bar/lounge area are subtle, but noticeable, as new colors of white, red and black warm the dining area and bar, to the delight of both former fans and new ones.
Burke, speaking at the grand opening Thursday night, promised the venue will be an elevated dining experience like no other in the area. He delivered.
“We are all very excited about this project,” he said. “This is one of New Jersey’s greatest, iconic properties and we are bringing it back to its glory days.”
This is Burke’s ninth restaurant in New Jersey and his 19th worldwide.
Jean Marie Philippou, owner of Banyan Consulting in Garden City, New York, and the supervisor of the renovation project, appears to like it the best.
“Chef Burke’s renovation invigorates the property with a sensitive eye on its past,” she said. “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.”
Phase one of the multimillion-dollar renovation project has breathed new life into the space while simultaneously paying homage to the building’s bones and character.
The lobby will have a large VIP table with a glass top and tree trunk base perfect for community seating or chef’s tastings.
The main dining room’s design has a whole new look while embracing the original floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, impressive dark wood molding and huge original windows — all works of art in themselves.
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 also is 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.
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 has overseen the food and beverage and eventually will operate the 20-room inn.
Alex Imperatore, senior real estate manager with Hampshire Cos. and the grandson of family patriarch Jon Hanson, is thrilled with the partnership.
“We are excited to partner with Chef David Burke, given his excellent reputation for owning and operating numerous award-winning restaurants,” he said. “We feel it is time to raise the bar and infuse the Bernards Inn with new energy and an updated concept. With his culinary achievements, creativity, finesse and solid professional connections, we believe Chef Burke is the right professional to help us achieve our goals.”
Burke, who is always on the lookout for new investments, said it was the Bernards Inn that chose him — as a chance comment from the hairdresser of Imperatore’s mother led to the two coming together.
Of course, Burke had always known the area — his 1776 restaurant in Morristown is nearby.
“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,” he said. “The area’s residents are well-traveled, sophisticated diners who want a relaxed, yet refined place to dine nearby.”
The aim, he said, was putting his own spin on it.
The Red Horse name came from a painting of a red horse by Tuan Tran that Burke discovered in the early gloomy days of the pandemic in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
Burke said he bought it knowing that the image would one day become a theme for a restaurant — a goal he reached when he opened a restaurant with the Red Horse name in the spring of 2021 in Rumson at the legendary Fromagerie.
Since Bernardsville, like Rumson, is a favored community where horses play a big role in the lifestyle, bringing the name here made sense.
“I looked to the old horse country feel — and the graciousness that came with that era — and invigorated it with my playful style,” he said. “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.”
Burke did it, however, with a glance toward the past.
“The ability to come in and restore something back to the original finesse and glory it once had is something we were interested in doing, and I think the clientele of the town loves that,” he said.
Burke said the bones of the restaurant are the same — just maybe a little more lively.
“We just modernized it,” he said.
As only Burke can.