Restaurant Review

Long-Awaited Summit: Summit House in Summit

Summit House's renovation took longer than expected. And with noted chef Martin Kester at the helm, expectations were high.

Photo courtesy of Summit House.

Summit neighbors Dylan and Melissa Baker and Tyler and Sara Reeder had long spoken of owning a restaurant together when, in 2015, they acquired a liquor license and began to convert the town’s historic former YMCA into Summit House. After a long delay and lots of anticipatory buzz, it finally opened in April. With its expansive Victorian-style windows, seasonal American cuisine, alluring cocktails and international wine list featuring keg wines, Summit House proved an immediate draw.

The vibe—and to some extent, the dining experience—depends on where you sit. In the vibrant, coffered-ceilinged front cafe room on our first visit, my dinner mates and I wearied of yelling over the din of the bustling bar beside us and the sound system. The tableclothed rear room, flanked by the gorgeous open kitchen, is more subdued. I asked someone if I’d overlooked the opportunity to choose between them. I was told you can make a note on OpenTable or call and make a request. Wish I’d known.

In either room, diners peruse the seasonal menu of executive chef Martin Kester, 37, whom the owners lured from his longtime post as chef de cuisine of Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone.

His outstanding sourdough spelt bread went well with a divine puréed sunchoke soup enriched with pearl-onion jam and a swirl of crème fraiche.
Seafood was stunningly fresh and deftly treated, from spritely marinated mussels and Jersey oysters to a salmon entrée brightened with preserved Meyer lemon and a luscious artichoke purée.

Entrées are Kester’s strong suit, in particular a Berkshire pork chop glazed with black-pepper caramel, the crisp, ready-to-be-gnawed-on bone thoughtfully removed and set beside it. Griggstown chicken breast was cooked sous vide, seared and served with truffled jus and roasted porcini purée.

Speaking of mushrooms, Kester uses them liberally. Whether with a tasty but tough Wagyu tri-tip or in a side of roasted maitakes with briny sea beans and earthy sunchoke purée, his fungi elicited groans of delight from us.

Not all groans were positive, however. In a cucumber-and-chickpea salad, the cucumber spears were flaccid and draped with sprigs of wilted arugula. The oven-crisped, cumin-scented chickpeas, while delightful, had no connection to the rest of the dish. Beef tartare was unappetizing—chewy, not cold enough, and overwhelmed by a dehydrated beet, cabbage and shaved rye-bread “reuben granola.” A chicken-liver starter took the form of a jiggly, disconcertingly red custard that gave most of us the shivers.

Pastas and grains disappointed, too. Acquerello risotto with fresh peas, speck, herb oil and Parmesan came out pasty and bland. Delicate house-made campanelle drowned under Kester’s tasty yet crazily dense white wine sauce crammed with morels, garlic scapes and bacon.

An intense chocolate pudding with slices of caramelized banana, crisp bits of merengue, toasted hazelnuts and coconut sorbet provided some solace. A dish of bright sorbets won smiles. But a rhubarb tart on both visits suffered from an overcooked, metallic-tasting filling and a leaden, gluten-free crust. An ice cream trio featured a fine chocolate-chocolate chip; too bad ice crystals ruined the spiced maple and salted vanilla scoops. Corn cake (made from heirloom bloody butcher corn) dissolved into paste on top of a smoked-paprika dried-strawberry jam and under a melting scoop of strawberry sorbet.

Kester has to rethink some of his puzzling choices. Service—which managed on one visit to be intrusively attentive yet inefficient, better but not particularly knowledgeable the next—needs to be finessed as well. Summit House may be aiming for the top, but it has work to do before it gets there.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Breakfast - Fusion/Eclectic - Modern - Seafood
  • Price Range:
    Expensive
  • Price Details:
    Dinner, daily; lunch, Monday-Saturday; brunch, Sunday.
  • Ambience:
    Lively, grand up front; subdued in rear.
  • Service:
    Attentive bordering on intrusive.
  • Wine list:
    Full bar; extensive wine list, 17 by the glass.
  • Summit House
    395 Springfield Avenue
    Summit, NJ
  • Reservations:
    recommended
  • Hours:
    Dinner: 5PM-10PM; Monday thru Thursday
    5PM-11PM; Friday + Saturday
    5PM-9PM; Sunday

    Lunch: 11AM-2:30PM; Monday thru Saturday

    Brunch: 10:30AM-2PM; Sundays

    Bar: From open till Midnight

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