AFTER A CAREER AT A RANGE OF INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANTS, THIS FORMER LIFEGUARD AND “SHORE BOY” CAME HOME TO START A NEW CULINARY ENTERPRISE WITH THE HELP OF HIS BROTHER

BY DAVID BURKE

I always imagined that, no matter where in the world my culinary adventures led me, I would return to my roots here at the Jersey Shore. I am a Shore boy at heart a former lifeguard, a beach lover, and always dreamed of coming back to renew my connection to this special place. From early days mastering French culinary techniques at The River Café to founding David Burke’s Prime house in Chicago to appearances on Top Chef Masters, the Rachael Ray show, and NBC’s TODAY, the thought never left that a return to home turf was inevitable.

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My previous Shore restaurant, the Fromagerie in Rumson, was the start of that dream, but it wasn’t actually on the beach. What I really wanted was a location literally on the shore; a place where people could smell the salt air and feel the ocean breeze and immerse themselves in that authentic experience.

Now, I have found it. At Drift house, from this ideal spot on the oceanfront in Sea Bright, I can see both the crashing waves of the Atlantic to the east and the sun set over the Shrewsbury River to the west. It is this area at its best sun, sand, and sea.

About a year ago, I was dining with a friend on the outdoor deck of the restaurant, which was known as Ama Ristorante at the time, and at which my brother, Robert, had recently been promoted to executive chef. My friend said to me, “You should do a wine dinner here with your brother.” The guy at the next table overheard and offered, “That sounds like a great idea!” It turned out that guy was Bill Stavola, a co-owner of Ama. So, we started planning a wine dinner and decided to feature bottles from Bill’s friend at Seamus Wines.

That dinner, held last November, was a great success, and led us to begin discussions on a partnership, which ultimately resulted in the opening of Drift house on March 1.

My brother and I have worked together over the years, and he has also played roles in the kitchens of remarkable chefs like Michael Mina. As consulting chef and partner at Drift house, I recognize that Robert’s task is a challenge, but he can smell success here. I also was able to bring along two of my former managers: April Nikorek as general manager and Alexander Loehwing as assistant manager. Their skills and commitment, along with the restaurant experience the Stavola family has gained from owning and operating Ama for five years, has created a great synergy.

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Our menu is directed at casual eaters and fine diners alike dishes in the former realm include fresh oysters, charcuterie with cheese, and octopus kebabs…in the latter bison short rib with orecchiette, mushrooms, a carrot relish, and truffle mousse, and hand cut squid ink linguine fra diavolo, with clams, shrimp, and calamari.

As I get older, I understand that achievement in this industry is about meeting guests’ expectations, not those of your peers, and so we created an adult casual setting here, with the right menu and ambiance and at the right price. Certainly, we will evolve and strive to improve, but for now, Drift house is a dream of home become reality.

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Drift house by David Burke
At the Driftwood Cabana Club, 1485 Ocean Avenue,
Sea Bright, 732.530.9760 /
drifthousedb.com