Restaurant Review

Brickwall Tavern and Dining Room

The company that helped spur Asbury Park’s restaurant revival sees Burlington, on the Delaware, as ripe for a revival of its own.

Grilled wings.

Servers at Brickwall Tavern and Dining Room in Burlington wear T-shirts emblazoned with “Burlieve in Burlington.” The shirts are $20, and “the stock has sold out multiple times” since the restaurant opened a year ago, says Mark Hinchliffe, a junior partner in the Smith restaurant group.

Asbury Park-based Smith runs five restaurants: the original 2006 Brickwall Tavern in Asbury Park (and its adjoining Annex Lounge); Porta (Neapolitan pizza and Italian food) in Asbury Park and Jersey City; and Pascal & Sabine, a French bistro in Asbury Park. “We’re doing our best to get the word out about Burlington,” says Hinchliffe. “The more we support growing the brand of Burlington, the more we support ourselves.”

In 2013, when Smith execs first toured historic Burlington on the Delaware River, they saw a city ripe for revival, much as Asbury Park had been. The new Brickwall, with 125 seats, occupies a large, handsomely restored, 1875 brick firehouse (complete with clock tower). While Burlington’s revitalization is “going slower than what we would have liked to see,” admits Hinchliffe, 33, “it’s going in the right direction, and we’ve seen great numbers of people become regulars at Brickwall.”

Smith, initially a design firm, still designs its restaurants, from architecture to typography. The new Brickwall combines decoupaged photos of early Burlington landscapes with one of Brickwall/AP’s signatures—portraits of early 20th-century tradespeople taken by the great German photographer August Sander. The vibe is more playful in the adjoining 90-seat bar, with its high-tops, turquoise park benches, and “Raise Anchor and a Pint” spelled out in nautical rope the length of the room.

The two Brickwalls share an executive chef, Neil West. Burlington’s kitchen is larger, so West can mix and proof his own dough there for the veggie flatbreads unique to the Burlington menu. The nicely charred, pleasingly chewy oblong topped with roasted red peppers, portobellos, fried zucchini and mozzarella was one of our favorite starters.

“Nothing comes out of a can,” says West, 62. “We do all our own roasting and braising, we bring in all the cheeses, and make our own sauces and gravies.” In the menu category of “munchies,” we enjoyed the dark, crisp, house-made potato chips with French onion dip, the giant hot pretzel with mustard and cheese sauces, and the pillowy mashed potato pierogies in butter-onion sauce. Excellent spinach-and-strawberry salad came with goat cheese and candied pecans in a strawberry-honey-balsamic vinaigrette. The watermelon salad needed more feta for balance. Catfish chips, the panko-coated chunks served with house-made tartar sauce, were tasty.

By comparison, dinner platters fell short. Fried clam baskets were made with frozen clam strips, nary a clam belly in sight. The fried chicken cutlet was over-breaded and over-fried. Both came with undercooked fries. Not-very-meaty meatloaf was topped with flavorless gravy. The best platter we tried was a generous Steak Murphy, tender filet mignon tips in a spicy mix of roasted onions, potatoes and hot cherry peppers.

The “tavern” section of the menu was more successful, with deliciously spicy Cajun shrimp and grits; soothing mac & cheese in aged white-cheddar sauce; and blackened catfish tacos in soft flour tortillas stuffed with avocado, cheddar and house-made pico de gallo. You needn’t be a vegetarian to find the black-bean burger satisfying. The patty—whole and puréed black beans, diced jalapeño and sweet red and green peppers, with a hint of cayenne—is topped with a thick slice of smoked cheddar, crispy onions and avocado-corn relish.

We skipped dessert, the only choices being institutional-brand ice cream or sherbet, and beer floats. West says desserts sold so poorly at Brickwall/AP that they vanished from the menu long ago. But with many Burlington customers asking for dessert, he says, “we’re revisiting the issue.” Is it a saltwater versus freshwater thing? Whatever. We assume Burlington will find its own sweet spot.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
  • Price Range:
  • Price Details:
    Appetizers, $3-$12; soups and salads, $3-$14; burgers and sandwiches, $10-$16; entrées, $9-$21; desserts, $2-$5.
  • Ambience:
    Bright, loud, sociable.
  • Service:
    Friendly, if lacking polish.
  • Wine list:
    Full bar; 24 draft beers (8 “resident,” 16 rotating); house cocktails; wine.
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