CHEF BRIAN KARLUK’S CULINARY STYLE IS A BLEND OF SIMPLE INGREDIENTS AND PLENTY OF PASSION
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
When it comes to cooking a classic black Angus let mignon, Chef Brian Karluk believes that less is more. Treating each of his dry aged steaks with a simple rub of sea salt, black pepper, and fresh herbs, the seasoned chef simply sears the beef on a 1,200°F cast iron grill before broiling and caramelizing it to perfection. No sauce to disguise…no smother of onions, mushrooms, or garlic.
“When you’re working with high quality ingredients, you want to serve them in their own perfect form,” Karluk said. “That goes for steak, seafood…even produce. I love to let beautiful ingredients speak for themselves whether it’s a beautiful piece of beef or a delicious heirloom tomato.”
That’s the philosophy Karluk has developed over the past decade at Steakhouse 85, his New Brunswick eatery that has become particularly famous for its surf and turf.
“This is the 21st century version of a classic steakhouse,” Karluk said. “Steakhouses serve all of this hearty, delicious food, but don’t typically have a lot of soul; they can be a little rigid. Not only did we want to focus on fresh, super quality ingredients, we also wanted to make sure that we had roots, and examined not only what happens in the kitchen but in the dining room too. Our hospitality and service is just as important as our food.”
Karluk should know. He’s a chef with experience in a vast array of kitchens, but got his start in the industry on a bet.
“When I was 12 or 13, a friend of the family owned a diner,” he recalled. “He made a joke that I wouldn’t last one night in the kitchen, so in the summer between seventh and eighth grade, I started working there as a dishwasher. It was the third shift, overnight, and when you’re 13, washing dishes in a diner at 2 a.m.…you learn a lot of life lessons. But I also fell in love with the culture of the restaurant business. So throughout high school, I took a job in a different kitchen every year.”
After high school, Karluk, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. “While at CIA I did an internship at the Resort Inn at Nichols Village,” he said. “At that point I was fortunate to already have five years of restaurant experience, so my career progressed quicker than most.” He accepted an executive chef position as Ehrhardt’s Poconos Resort, where he worked for a few years before taking a managerial position at Marvelous Muggs in Scranton.
“I had always been interested in the restaurant business as a whole,” said Karluk. “I trained as a chef, but always had a desire to learn more. I managed the dining room there for two years before venturing back into the kitchen.”
His next job was at the Stone Bridge Inn, a small boutique hotel at the base of a ski resort in Union Dale, PA, where he had full control of a menu that changed weekly.
“I had a lot of freedom there, a lot of opportunity to feel things out and create a cooking style of my own,” Karluk said. After a few years at Stone Bridge, he accepted an opportunity with Woodloch Pines, an all inclusive resort on Lake Teedyuskung in the northeast Pocono Mountains Lake Region.
“I really wanted to learn how to hone my skills as a chef on a larger scale,” he said. And Woodloch was a monstrous scale: Karluk went from cooking 100 plates per night to organizing three kitchens and a staff of one hundred. “But the job shaped me. It taught me how to cook on a very large scale while still keeping levels of quality high.”
After a few years at Wood loch, Karluk began investigating opportunities for opening his own place. He took a job with a restaurant group that was building the Witherspoon Grill in Princeton, where he offered input on everything from the menu to dining room build. It was there that he met Matty Terranova, an industry professional with whom he shared a similar vision. “Matty said to me that he always wanted to open a restaurant in New Brunswick, because he felt it was on the verge of an upswing,” Karluk said. So, the pair ate at restaurants throughout that area before deciding that it lacked a proper steakhouse.
“New Brunswick is the corporate headquarters of Johnson and Johnson and home to several other big businesses,” the chef said. “What stood out to us was all of this corporate activity, and not one steakhouse in town!”
So, Karluk and Terranova devised a business plan and built their dream. Ten years later, the concept is thriving.
“We’re in the middle of our busiest year yet,” Karluk concluded. “Our point was to bring quality steak and seafood to this area, and do it with soul. That’s exactly what we’ve accomplished.”
85 Church Street, New Brunswick / 732.247.8585 /