Like most chefs, David Burke spends a lot of time on his feet. Unlike most, he also spends a lot of time on a seat.
Burke—who owns or operates nine restaurants, including the 2023 NJM Top 30s Red Horse in Rumson and 1776 in Morristown, plus the Dixie Lee Bakery in Keansburg—racks up about 50,000 miles a year keeping tabs on his tasty empire.
Which just got a little bigger. He and his partners have taken over the venerable Bernards Inn in Bernardsville. “This is my first foray into being an innkeeper,” he says. “There’s an existing staff. We’ll work with them, bring in some operations guys. I’m contemplating whether to do a Red Horse by David Burke there. We’ll rename it Bernards Inn by David Burke.
“There’s a restaurant space downstairs where the wine cellars are that will have its own entrance. It will be a little trattoria or speakeasy called The Birdie. Casual—small plates, the neighborhood hang.
“Upstairs will most likely be a Red Horse or some type like that. There’s a bar room we’ve expanded with bar and dining seating. There’s a sunken living room off the bar. We don’t have a name for the bar and bar room yet, but it will be lively and there will be music.
“I want to bring a little formality back to dining,” Burke, who’s 61, explains. “I would never do 100 percent formal. To invest in a place that only does fine dining is almost suicide. But there’s an opportunity to do a fancier room, quieter, with candelabras on the table, where people might enjoy dressing up. There’s not many places you can go on a date or family night and get dressed up. It’s kinda sexy—formality with some hipness.”
Burke keeps his foot on the gas in every sense.
“I put a thousand miles a week on the car,” he says. “And I work from my home office, where I hold meetings and have two assistants help sort out my schedules. At night I hit the restaurants. We have a couple projects that are a year out—one in West Palm, one in Manhattan.
“For somebody like me, traveling and dining out is inspirational, and leads to stronger ideas.”
Two vehicles share the workload. A Jeep Gladiator “that looks like a pickup truck” is the workhorse. The thoroughbred is a Maserati Trofeo. Calm down, it’s just an SUV—albeit one with 572 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. Burke has put about 20,000 miles on it since he bought it two years ago.
“I’m not really a car buff,” he says, “Not a typical Maserati driver. I’m more of a SUV guy, but I got a great deal on it. Somebody lent me a Bentley because my Rover was in the shop. It was always in the shop. Finally I got frustrated.”
When Burke test drove the Maserati, a floor model, he found it “wonderful—more understated than a Bentley, not as recognizable, not as showy. It doesn’t turn heads when you pull up. Inside, the sound was like being in a jet. It felt powerful, fun to drive, the best-built vehicle I’d ever been in.”
“I’m 61. I’m going to have this car for 10 years. In 10 years, I’ll probably want something not so showy. So why wait? Do it now. When you’re going down I-287 late at night when it’s not crowded and you step on the pedal—it’s beautiful.”
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