EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Chef David Burke didn’t actually know anything about the town of East Brunswick when he was contacted about opening one of his restaurants in the New Jersey town. Though a New Jersey native, Burke had never been to East Brunswick before and was largely unfamiliar with Middlesex County. But where others may have seen a town where fine dining is relatively scarce, Burke saw an opportunity.
“It’s very exciting to be here,” Burke said of the location. “Being in a remote area like this wasn’t a deterrent because people will travel for the right product. Most people who have eaten here in the first few weeks haven’t been from East Brunswick. People are excited. It’s always nice to have a good restaurant in the community.”
Burke’s latest restaurant, Orchard Park, opened on December 8, 2020, at East Brunswick’s Château Grande Hotel and has already seen considerable success. Though some may be put off by indoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, the award-winning chef and “culinary prankster” has received acclaim for the restaurant’s New American cuisine and its atmosphere, which is unlike any other East Brunswick restaurant.
Orchard Park features an open kitchen so that diners can see the chefs making their meals, as well as accents of Burke’s trademark - Himalayan pink salt, which he used to pioneer a new aging process for beef. The restaurant’s wine room even has a whole wall made of Himalayan pink salt blocks, creating an effect that some describe as therapeutic. There is also a bar and a lounge nearby that connect to the rest of the Château Grande Hotel, and a patio with outdoor seating overlooking the Middlesex County Fairgrounds is to be set up soon.
Some dishes on the menu, such as the maple-glazed Clothesline Bacon, the Tuna Tartare Parfait, and the Pretzel Crab Cakes, are signature dishes of Burke’s. But others are inspired by the tastes of New Jersey. Burke has been working with local farmers and food co-ops in order to add a local flavor to his dishes. Most notably, he began working with the Barnegat Oyster Collective during the pandemic. The seafood industry in the U.S. has been under some duress due to coronavirus and the fact that people are far more hesitant to dine out.
Chef Burke has been a NJ resident for many years. He has a condo at The Modern in Fort Lee, where VENTANAS is located, another of his restaurants, and recently purchased his home in Atlantic Highlands where he quarantined and started his cooking demos with Lefto. Burke bought his New Jersey home six months before the pandemic, and started recording home cooking videos from there while under self-quarantine. But these videos also started because of his involvement with the Barnegat Oyster Collective. “We videotaped us cooking with the oysters with this puppet I got as a gift a few years ago,” Burke recalled. “We put on music and started cooking, not really following recipes, but we improvised.” Since then, he’s continued to post cooking videos and tutorials to his Instagram account - along with the puppet, who has since been named Lefto.
Orchard Park was a special challenge for the chef, whose past ventures have mainly been based in restaurants that were already built. Typically, he does not get much say in the architecture of the restaurants that he owns. But Orchard Park was built from the ground up as part of the Château Grande Hotel, so he collaborated with the construction team in order to work on it. Parts of the restaurant, including the outdoor patio, are still a work in progress. General Manager Nicholas Steighler says that outdoor diners will soon be able to enjoy Burke’s signature dishes while watching the fireworks from the nearby Park Estate Château and Gardens and Middlesex County Fairgrounds during the fair season.
“This is a majestic place,” Burke noted of Orchard Park’s Cranbury Rd. location. “This is like a landmark. You have to stop and say, ‘What town is this?’ I love being across from the fairgrounds with the lights.”
Burke doesn’t have any particular recommendations for the best dish on the menu, as he says that everything served at Orchard Park is something he likes and that he can’t pick one as a definite favorite. But he does note that “the chicken is phenomenal,” and that there’s an assortment of menu items to satisfy everyone’s tastes.
The Orchard Park dining room is open at 5 PM daily, while the bar is open from 4 PM on Mondays through Thursdays and from noon on Fridays through Saturdays. Reservations can be made and more information can be found on the restaurant’s website https://orchardparkbydb.com.*
*Editor's note: As per NJ COVID-19 protocol, all guests are required to wear masks. Temperatures are taken at the host station before seating. At this time there is no outdoor seating, though patrons are seated in a socially-distanced manner in the dining room and at the bar. There are plans for outdoor seating and an outdoor bar that will open this spring.
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