The number “618” jumps out from a sign on Route 33 (Park Avenue) in Freehold. It’s both the name and address of a popular two year old restaurant, in a renovated space that has hosted other eateries in the past.

618’s menu is a mix of classic favorites and strategic twists, from its Espresso Rubbed Filet Mignon to the Cajun BBQ Shrimp and Grits. An appetizer of Granny’s Meatballs swims in San Marzano sauce with a hefty dollop of herbed ricotta; a reminder of your own grandmother’s good cooking, perhaps.

Order the “Shakedown Street” cocktail and let the fun begin. Crafted by mix master Danielle Kirk, it is a fusion of 1776 Bourbon, blackberry puree, and freshly squeezed lemonade its ingredients taking bourbon to another dimension. There is an art to mixing a drink, and Kirk, a Howell resident, is at pains to constantly hone her skills and research new recipes wherever she goes labeling her travels “food cations.”

“Charleston, South Carolina’s bar scene is amazing,” she said. “And I recently went to Miami, which has an extraordinary bar program. I research visual presentations, too, and am always taking notes on my phone.” Kirk also relies on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where she follows other inspiring bartenders to gain more tips and tricks.

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“It’s always about growing and expanding,” said Kirk, who’s been at 618 for close to two years. Her initiatives have helped shape the business as also a craft cocktail bar, one where she’s eager to give customers new experiences. Her “I’ll Be Right Back” cocktail, for example, is made with Mezcal (a relative of tequila that has a robust smoky favor), along with basil, kumquat simple syrup, and fresh lime juice as refreshing as it is delicious. Mezcal, according to Kirk, has gained a favorful reputation and has become a staple spirit item.

Cellini Spread

Kirk started in the restaurant business at 16 as a server, and gravitated to bartending after an eight year stint at Martell’s Tiki Bar in Point Pleasant.

“There, the bartender would pour the spirit into a cup and as servers we would build our own drinks adding other ingredients,” she said. “From watching, I started to build my knowledge.”
618, Kirk explained, is an ideal spot for special events in its upstairs ballroom, where “Ten Dollar Tuesdays” are a big hit when guests can purchase a discounted bottle of California house wines, whether dining in or taking out. An Easter Sunday Brunch Buffet began on March 3, and will continue on Sundays through April 21 (seatings at 11:00 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.). Highlights include cinnamon and vanilla brioche French toast, “Salmon Two Ways,” cherry, ginger, and bourbon glazed ham, eggplant stuffed with three cheeses, made to order omelettes, and a dessert table. Kirk recommends adding unlimited mimosas or Bloody Marys at $10 per guest.

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To balance her busy professional life, Kirk is a certified yoga instructor. She taught in Belmar and specializes in the practice of hot (105°F room) yoga the benefits of which include increased calorie burn and making it easier for muscles to stretch, allowing for increased range of motion. “It’s therapeutic for me,” she said. “It helps me relax and have a deeper practice.” She also loves nature and long walks with her dog, and is a part time student at Rutgers University, where she studies nutrition.

“I’d like to work with restaurants creating meal plans for a healthy lifestyle by making smarter food choices,” she concluded. Sounds like a winning cocktail of ambition.

618 Restaurant
618 Park Avenue, Freehold
732.577.0001 / 618nj.com