It would be reasonable to expect Americana from a restaurant called 1776. But David Burke, the chef and managing partner, likes surprises. His Morristown destination—which opened in October, and made our Best New Restaurants list—offers a glamorous, black-ceilinged dining room with white chandeliers, a quiet side nook, a flirty bar, and sports parties in the adjoining Topgolf Swing Suite. “There’s nothing Colonial about 1776,” Burke says. “Revolutionary, maybe.”
Not quite…but audacious, fun, substantial? In my visits, I sampled more than 20 dishes, from pristine sushi to dazzling desserts, and everything easily cleared that bar. If you’ve been to any of Burke’s five other Garden State restaurants, you’ll find old favorites welcoming you back, like his oft-Instagrammed Clothesline Bacon. You get three thick strips of crackly, hickory-smoked, maple-infused bacon, neatly clothespinned to a mini clothesline on a little wooden frame and literally blowtorched before leaving the open kitchen. Sit near the kitchen, and you can watch. As for the fries, you’ll share them reluctantly.
Equally good was Paperboy Shrimp—prawns wrapped in thin sheets of Tunisian brik pastry dough, deep-fried and dusted with mint and fruity Peruvian chilies. Why the name? “Before I started working in Shore restaurants, when I was 15,” says Burke, who grew up in Hazlet, “I was a paperboy for the Star-Ledger. It was printed in this very building where 1776 is. And at the time, I was crazy for fried shrimp.”
Among pizzas, the Angry Butcher, not to be missed, is strewn with prosciutto, chorizo and capicola, then drizzled with jalapeño-sparked honey that ignites all the flavors. “I’m not happy,” Burke says, “till I’ve found the magic ingredient for every dish.”
The generously portioned entrées at 1776, finessed by chef de cuisine Brian Webber, are touched with Burkeian fairy dust. “My nickname growing up was Imagine If Burkey,” he told me. “I was always wondering how something could be better. I’d say to a friend, ‘Imagine if the sky was a big rainbow,’ or ‘Imagine if our pets could talk to us.’ I’m still on this quest to improve the world.”
French-truffle shavings intensify house-made cavatelli, a glorious winter dish loaded with red wine-braised bison short ribs (from Fossil Farms in Boonton). Three Colorado lamb chops get a hint of smokiness from a hay wrap during roasting. The chops come with zesty Moroccan merguez sausage, creamy corn polenta, sweet-and-salty pistachio crumbs, and pomegranate pearls.
Burke’s plump, silken duck breast comes with hefty dumplings that have soaked up the sauce of moistened ginger snaps and kumquat confit. The dumplings themselves are filled with a mixture of duck paté and foie gras. Duck, duck, seduce.
The Hazlet kid who loved fried shrimp has a way with another crustacean. Johnny Hong Kong lobster is Burke’s tantalizing take on Singapore’s sweet-and-spicy chili crab. More than half a pound of tempura-battered chunks of lobster meat loll in the shell, set on splendid vegetable fried rice tingling with ginger, curry and soy.
The rice can be ordered as a side, though it would be a shame to skip Burke’s signature Hipster Fries, a kind of everything-bagel approach to spuds in which more is actually more. The fries are de rigueur with 1776’s cuts of Prime Angus beef. They’re dry aged in Burke’s patented, 100-square-foot aging box lined with pink Himalayan salt bricks. It produces sumptuously tender steaks that are brawny in flavor. Even the beef for the cheeseburger is dry aged.
“I’ve always been passionate about dessert,” Burke says. In 1987, when he was 25, fresh out of the Culinary Institute of America and a sous-chef at the famed River Café under the Brooklyn Bridge, he was offered a promotion to executive chef. “But I wasn’t ready,” he admits. “I told them I could accept once I’d mastered dessert, because your diners must walk away exclaiming, ‘Wow!’ So I went to France for five months to study pastry making at Lenôtre.”
On his return, Burke took the job at River Café and, a year later, earned three stars from the New York Times. Burke has continued to design desserts at his restaurants, assisted by pastry director Stuart Marx. At 1776, the deconstructed lemon cream and berry tart is lovely and enchantingly flavored with, of all things, saffron.
Ice cream sliders may sound ordinary, but these are tall and topped with toasted, kitchen-made marshmallow and Valrhona chocolate sauce. They share the plate with vanilla gelato and Italian bittersweet cherry syrup. But the showstopper, for two or more, is the tin can cake. It’s a dense Valrhona chocolate cake baked in a biscuit tin, served from a cart with vanilla gelato, sauces and toppings.
You don’t need a special occasion to visit 1776. Dinner there is the occasion.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:American - Steaks
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $17–$24; pizzas and pastas, $16–$26; entrées and steaks, $29–$68; sides, $9–$22; desserts, $10–$22
- Ambience:Sleek and dramatic in black and white; serene on weeknights, celebratory on weekends
- Service:Informed and professional
- Wine list:Full bar; wine list includes Old and New World