Why Sustainable Seafood Matters to Summit House

By Martin Kester, Executive Chef

It’s becoming impossible to ignore the dire state of the world’s oceans and the degree to which they are overfished. Sourcing and supporting programs that push farm-raised industry standards towards the highest sustainability and lowest environmental impact is an initiative Summit House fully embraces.

As consumers and restaurants, we have great power create change by educating ourselves about the foods we choose to purchase and sell.

Our seafood is carefully sourced by purveyor Sona-Far Hills Seafood, drawing from sustainable, wild and farm-raised sources as approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that's fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations.

Summit House focuses mostly on local East Coast species and we do proudly offer some excellent farm-raised fish. 

Our raw bar program highlights local East Coast shellfish with some seasonal offerings from around the country. We regularly feature three species of Crassostrea virginica, more commonly known as the Eastern oyster. Focusing on a single species is a great way to highlight the source of the oysters, as the flavor profile, much like wine, varies significantly depending upon the waters in which they are raised.

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One of the oyster companies we work closely with is 40 North Oyster FarmThey are currently farming oysters on several separate leases along the Barnegat Bay. For centuries, New Jersey was home to a vibrant oyster industry until a bacteria outbreak in the 1950s led to a collapse of the ecosystem. Today, there are only a handful of recently formed oyster farms in New Jersey working to rebuild the industry and our waterways. In addition to being a truly delicious local product, it's revival will have a truly beneficial impact on our local environment.

If you haven't taken a moment to watch our day visiting 40 North, it's worth the time. And so is any effort you make to think sustainably when consuming seafood.

Supporting the Arts in Our Hometown

Our first foray into outside catering was for a cause near and dear to Team Summit House: the Arts. 

We recently joined Hendrick's Gin as gold sponsors of "Gin & Jazz," an event to raise funds for the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, the more than 80-year-old Summit-based organization whose mission includes a dedication to bringing art and people together. Our motto is #communitythroughcuisine, so we're delighted to join forces with a group that cares so deeply about community. 

Here's a brief glimpse of the 180-person event, including the appetizers Executive Chef Martin Kester put together for the evening.

Click through to enjoy the slideshow:

Say Hello to the Summit House Summer Cocktails

With summer suddenly upon us and Summit House now open for Sunday Farmer's Market Brunch, lead bartender Bobby Frascella created a number of new cocktails perfect for early Sunday afternoon or any time your want to feel as though you're on vacation. All ingredients other than spirits, bitters, and sodas are made by Bobby, and the garnishes are prepared fresh on a daily basis by our bar staff.

And if you haven't checked out brunch yet, service runs from 10:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. We begin serving alcohol as soon as the clock strikes noon, the earliest currently allowed in Summit. Stop in then or any night of the week and let us know what you think.

Jerry's Caprese Shrub: (Served only during brunch) Jerry's Vodka, tomato-basil shrub and BBQ bitters, garnished with a coppa "flower," a slice of capocollo filled with a mozzarella ball and and basil leaves. 

A light, refreshing alternative to the bloody mary, shrub (basically a combination of fruit, sugar, vinegar, water) has its origins in 17th-century England, where vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of berries and other fruits for the offseason. Fruit preserves made in this fashion were themselves known as shrubs and the practice carried over to colonial America.

By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit (traditionally berries), which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails. 

Framboesa Beret: Avua Cachaaca, raspberry-mint syrup and limes, garnished with fresh raspberries and mint. 

The addition of raspberry (Framboesa in Portuguese) and mint to the classic Caipirniha, the national drink of Brazil, gives it that extra spring/summertime punch.

Melón de Vida: Vida Mezcal, Melon Puree, Honeydew Syrup, lime, Bittermens Hellfire bitters, soda, garnished with cantaloupe balls.

The combination of smoke from the spirit and the light sweetness of the honeydew is a great way for newcomers to Mezcal to enjoy, but not feel overwhelmed but its unique vegetal and smokey qualities. 

Mezcal is growing in popularity every day and is one of Bobby's favorite spirits with which to work.

SPF 30: Plantation pineapple, Mezan XO, grapefruit oleo-saccharum, pineapple syrup, lime, angostura bitters, garnished with pineapple leaves.

Looking for a drink to get you into beach or pool mode without having to deal with the traffic and blazing heat? Here you are!

Many Shades of Pink as Our Wine List Evolves for Summer

The U.S. market took a bit longer than those in most mediterranean cultures to realize chilled pink wine is more than just tasty and refreshing; it's a perfect complement to the foods of late spring and summer. 

But caught on, we have. For the past five years or so, rosés have become the drink of summer and the current Summit House wine list reflects this trend. So, as Northern Jersey heats up this week and we head toward summer, take a look at some of the rosés we're serving:

The Summit House rosé list comes in many shades of pink

The Summit House rosé list comes in many shades of pink

  • Robert Sinskey, "Vin Gris," Carneros, California, 2016  -- Its 25th vintage.  Mr. Sinskey was one of the first American winemakers to branch out in to rosé, helping to popularize it since 1991. 
  • Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre, Loire Valley, 2016  -- Like the Sinskey, it's made with Pinot Noir and from that grape has a light blush color and a zippy acidity. Perfect complement to high-acid foods such as local heirloom tomatoes.
  • Mas de Daumas Gassac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin Mousseux, France, 2016 -- One of the first sparkling Cabernet Sauvignons that I've had the pleasure of trying.  From the Languedoc of Southern France. Plus, its Bubbly :)
  • Liquid Farm, "Vogelzang Vineyard," Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, California, 2016 -- Made from the Provençal grape Mourvedre by the Nelsons of the Central Coast, mainly from the region of Happy Canyon. It certainly lives up to its name.
  • Ameztoi, "Rubentis," Getariako Txakolina, Basque, Spain, 2016 -- From the region know as Txakoli in Northern Spain. It's made from Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarabbi Beltza. These two grapes are known to pair with the local crudo and raw shellfish dishes of the region and the rosé follows suit nicely.
  • Yves Leccia, Nielluccio, Patrimonio, Corsica, 2016 -- This Corsican delight is made from the grape Niellucio, which for the longest time was thought to be closely related to Sangiovese. It does have the zingy nature of Sangiovese, but has a certain weight that allows this rosé to pair well with grilled meat dishes. Especially Chef Marty's Grilled Pork Chop.

House-Made Pasta Blooms in Summit House Kitchen

All our pasta is made in-house, adding a level of freshness and flavor that translates to the dishes we place on your table. 

The bronze attachment on our extruder, seen below, is known as the die. It can be swapped out to create different pasta shapes. We're currently extruding semolina campanelle. Shaped like a flower, it's a perfect spring pasta. 

The extruder makes about five pounds of pasta per batch.

Chef Martin's current menu features campanelle with morels, ramp greens and smoked bacon. He sources the morels, seen below, both locally and from the Pacific Northwest, where they're also in season and more abundantly foraged.

Morel mushrooms

Morel mushrooms

The ramps, which grow wild throughout the Northeast early in spring, are a perfect complement of garlicky flavor, and the bacon comes from the finest heritage breed Berkshire pork.

The final result? A pasta dish that shows off the best of the season.


Don't Fear the Bloody Butcher

Heirloom vegetables are old-time varieties, those made from seeds so good they're worthy of being passed down through the generations. 

At some point, the world decided to start growing vegetables based on yield or other cost-saving factors, devaluing flavor in the process. Some, however, resisted by holding onto their seeds and keeping them going year after year. We're thankful for those who've taken the time to preserve these flavorful ingredients, and Chef Martin uses heirlooms throughout his menu.

For example, we source our grains from Castle Valley Mill in nearby Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Castle Valley works with farms that grow a specific heirloom variety of corn known as Bloody Butcher, so named for the bright red exterior of its kernel. 

Bloody Butcher corn, courtesy Castle Valley Mills

Bloody Butcher corn, courtesy Castle Valley Mills

Bloody Butcher corn 

Bloody Butcher corn 

Chef Martin and team mill the flavorful Bloody Butcher in-house to be used as a corn cake. It's then served as a dessert with fresh strawberries, house-made strawberry sorbet, a strawberry jam flavored with smoked paprika and a touch of crème fraîche. 

Try the Bloody Butcher dessert this spring, perhaps complemented by one of our several rosés. They're a perfect way to cap off a flavor-filled meal. 

Ramping Up in Early Spring

One of the first edibles to show up each New Jersey spring is the ramp, a wild, garlicky, leek-like member of the onion family. Its annual arrival is short-lived and dramatic.

"When they do show, it's a frenzy; they're everywhere," says Chef Martin, who is currently using ramps in two Summit House dishes. 

With bright green nine-inch leaves that makes them easy to spot, ramps are usually found within about 100 yards of water. Chef Martin forages for some in a favorite spot along the Raritan River, also occasionally sourcing from Northern New Jersey purveyor Foraged Feast.

He chops the greens and tosses them into his house-made campanelle pasta, along with morel mushrooms and smoked bacon. 

House-made campanelle, with ramp greens, morels and smoked bacon

House-made campanelle, with ramp greens, morels and smoked bacon

The bottom of the ramp looks like a stemmed garlic clove, though it's less hot. It's more of a cross between garlic and a leek.

Pickled ramp

Pickled ramp

Chef Martin pickles that part of the ramp, adding it to his lightly cured fluke appetizer along with rhubarb, radish and lemon balm. 

Lightly cured fluke with rhubarb, pickled ramp, radish and lemon balm.

Lightly cured fluke with rhubarb, pickled ramp, radish and lemon balm.

Try the ramp in either dish and let us know what you think, but do it fast because soon ramp season will have passed. It lasts for just four or five weeks. Enjoy! 

Chicken Wings and Cauliflower: a Chef Martin Recipe

Looking for a spicy, interesting take on chicken wings this football playoff season? Chef Martin has the answer: dry-rubbed chicken wings and cauliflower in espelette, coriander and black pepper. Here's his recipe:

  • 2 dozen Large Chicken Wings
  • 1 Head of Cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Espelette Pepper Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Ground Coriander Seed
  • 1 Tbsp Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 Limes

Preheat oven to 350 F

  • Prepare chicken wings ahead of time by spreading them out on a small sheet pan
  • Season liberally with salt and pepper, adding 1/2 cup of water to the tray
  • Bake until chicken wings are cooked through and water is gone, 30-40 minutes
  • This step will speed up your final cooking time and give you a crispier wing because the fat has already been rendered. You can do this up to one day ahead of serving

Prepare cauliflower by turning the head upside down and cutting around the stem to remove the core. From the inside, free the florets by cutting the connecting stems. Next, cut the florets into pieces approximately the size of your chicken wings by splitting them through the stem into two or four pieces.

Preheat oven to 425 F

  • Toss the chicken wings & cauliflower separately with olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt
  • Arrange each separately onto small sheet pans without pieces touching
  • Bake until the wings and cauliflower are crispy and caramelized to your taste
  • Transfer to a mixing bowl and season liberally with the spices and salt, tossing to coat them
  • Arrange on platter and serve with slices of lime for you guests to squeeze over their plates
  • You can also drizzle with honey or serve with your favorite dipping sauce

Enjoy, and best of luck to your team! 

Kinship & Kombucha: The Summit House ‘Mule of the Moment’

The Moscow mule, which this year celebrates its 75th birthday, was born much closer to Summit, New Jersey, than to Russia or even California, where it gained its popularity.

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The copper-mugged cocktail was invented in 1941 at New York’s Chatham Hotel, a result of three friends’ curiosity as to what would happen if Smirnoff vodka was mixed with Cock ‘n’ Bull ginger beer, which had just arrived on the East Coast from Los Angeles.

Curiosity and friendship are also key ingredients of the Summit House kitchen as we prep for our early 2017 opening, making our version of the mule, which we’re calling the “Mule of the Moment,” a fitting addition to our craft cocktail menu when the restaurant opens this winter.

With seating for 16, we hope to serve plenty of mules at the Summit House bar, which will be the focal point of the cafe that looks out on to Springfield Avenue. The seasonal American restaurant also features an open-kitchen dining room and space for private dining. 

Tad Carducci, the renowned spirits expert who’s designing the Summit House beverage program, has considered executive chef Martin Kester a friend for almost two decades, having both grown up in Hackettstown, New Jersey. It’s a relationship that will make our kitchen and bar entirely cohesive. The House drinks, developed by Tad, will be infused with the unique, seasonal flavors Chef Martin creates.

For the mule, that special ingredient is kombucha, made by fermenting green tea using a beneficial “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast,” or SCOBY. The result is a sweetened, effervescent non-dairy liquid that’s more probiotic-filled than Greek yogurt. That’s right, the Mule of the Moment has health benefits.

“I’ve known about kombucha but never been part of the production process,” says Tad. “Chef Martin and I spent a couple of sessions working to perfect his version. He walked me through the process, showing me the SCOBY and all the stuff in it, making ginger syrup and adding flavors to replicate a ginger beer.”

The result of their research will accompany an apple-based vodka and fresh in-season persimmon, completing this winter’s Mule of the Moment.

“The flavor profile is unique but still completely friendly,’’ Tad says. “Anyone who’s traditionally enjoyed the Moscow mule or is used to drinking ginger beer is definitely going to love this.”

While kombucha is just one cocktail menu component, don’t be surprised to see it served alone or as an ingredient in certain Summit House dishes.

“Very early on I had it in my mind that we were going to employee kombucha in different ways throughout the menu,” says Chef Martin.  “It’s a nice blank canvas to which you can apply a lot of distinct flavors.”

The Mule of the Moment will be available the moment Summit House opens. 

Why `Summit House?'

The substance of Summit House is exceptional seasonal American cuisine. Its soul, however, can be found in its connection to the community, from downtown Summit to the farmland and rolling hills of surrounding New Jersey towns.

In opening Summit House, two local families aim to provide an extraordinary culinary experience for guests in a welcoming, neighborhood atmosphere. That is our simple goal.

Courtesy Summit Historical Society

Courtesy Summit Historical Society

Tying the restaurant’s name to the community was an important way to show that dedication to our environment, so we visited the Summit Historical Society to seek inspiration. We found plenty.

The original Summit House, a family boarding house, was located at the current site of the Presbyterian Church on Maple Street and Morris Avenue, and established in the 1840s by town founder Jonathan Crane Bonnel.

“Among those who in the first half of the century figured prominently in the public life of New Jersey was this gentleman, whose labors materially advanced the interests of the community with which he was connected, and whose works are yet manifest in the improved conditions of the county,” according to “History of Union County, New Jersey,” originally published in 1897.

Summit House eventually succumbed to a fire, though the name carried on in several iterations, including a restaurant, for well over a century before finally closing in 1970. Early 2017 marks its return.

Summit's first police booth stands outside 395 Springfield Avenue in November, 1928. Courtesy Summit Historical Society.

Summit's first police booth stands outside 395 Springfield Avenue in November, 1928. Courtesy Summit Historical Society.

The new Summit House will open after more than a year of renovating 395 Springfield Avenue, which initially was constructed in 1894 as a YMCA. The shell of a small swimming pool is still visible in our basement. 

“We loved the idea of embracing that history, and a time when food came from local farmers, local butchers and local fisherman,” says Dylan Baker, operating partner. “In renovating this amazing 120-year-old building and taking the Summit House name, we hope our guests feel as though we've peeled back time just a bit."