IN A DREAMY VENUE ON AN HISTORIC SLICE OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY, A SEASONED BARTENDER DELIGHTS GUESTS WITH A FAIRYTALE OF FLAVORS

BY GILDA ROGERS • PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC

New Jersey gets bragging rights for homegrown Garden State talent like celebrity chef David Burke, a product of Monmouth County. His latest creation is the ultra-swanky Orchard Park by David Burke, located in Middlesex County’s Château Grande Hotel. The venue’s castle-like façade and grove of surrounding old-growth trees sprinkled with white lights exude enchantment.

“We provide an elevated experience for our guests, who would have to go to Princeton or New York for this kind of ambiance,” said mixologist Daniel Schuster. Opened in December 2020, Orchard Park by David Burke takes its name from the site’s former use.

“It was an orchard that grew apples for Laird’s,” Schuster explained. The legendary Laird and Company, founded by Scottish settlers in Colts Neck in the 1690s and still run by descendants, is touted as America’s oldest distiller. George Washington was a frequent visitor. After sharing the locale’s history, Schuster followed with the “Walk in the Park” cocktail, made with Laird’s apple brandy, Bitteroma Bianco, and Rosso vermouth, a smooth, sophisticated libation perfect for sipping.

A resident of West Orange, Schuster described his ascent in the bar and restaurant industry as something he “fell into” eight years ago while attending Stockton University majoring in health science and working at a local bar and restaurant. He enjoyed the fast-paced environment and soon discovered college wasn’t for him.

“I love how it’s a social dynamic every moment shared with another (person),” said the bartender. “It’s like living in their world. You get to escape your own life through others.” After entering into the food and beverage industry, Schuster crossed paths with the revered chef at his South Orange restaurant, David Burke at Orange Lawn, which has since closed. These days, with Burke at the helm of Orchard Park, Schuster feels he is right where he’s supposed to be.

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“It is very inspiring to be in a chef-driven environment, because I can be creative,” he said. Burke’s culinary artistry has amassed ample international acclaim; he was the first American to win the coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d’Honneur and was only 26 years old when he became executive chef at the famed River Café in New York. Since then, he has opened several restaurants, guest starred on hit TV shows like Top Chef, and launched his own collection of cookware.

Orchard Park’s pretzel crab cake appetizer is a fan favorite and prime example of Burke’s signature creativity. Made to look like a barge floating down the river, the crab cake is encrusted in crispy Japanese pretzels. Schuster noted he enjoys crafting the perfect cocktails to accompany Burke’s whimsical dishes. As nature comes to life in spring, Schuster is planning a seasonal cocktail menu with refreshing elements. He said, “Gins are oral and earthy, and violet, lavender, and herbs like sage are good for an earthy-based or tiki-style cocktail.” He described the Negroni as an ideal springtime balance of oral, bitter, and sweet.

For a special treat, make reservations for Orchard Park’s Sunday brunch to feast on apple fritters or Titanic French Toast with mascarpone, served with a side of chef Burke’s famous Clothesline Bacon. The “What’s Up Doc?” brunch cocktail with a nod to Bugs Bunny is enough to brighten anyone’s day, made with carrot juice, Beach Bade orange vodka, ginger, and lime juice.

Schuster takes pride in details, infusing fresh ingredients like rosemary, grapefruit, and fresh lime in the “Small Town Girl,” finished with Banhez mezcal and Killinga Bacanora liqueurs, a refreshing drink that is not overpoweringly sweet.

Orchard Park by David Burke at the Château Grande Hotel
670 Cranbury Road, East Brunswick / 732.554.5714 / orchardparkbydb.com