For celebrity Chef David Burke, Drifthouse {1485 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright; 732.530.9760;} is a homecoming. The New Jersey native, who opened the beach chic eatery in February 2018, has reaped the rewards of his vision with a strong seasonal menu that keeps diners coming back.

“Believe it or not, I was a lifeguard here in Monmouth County in the 1970s. I love the water and the people!” said Burke. “People are genuine here. They have families, they’re middle class, upper class – it’s a good blend of people.”

The stage is set in Sea Bright — the same vicinity where Burke used to lifeguard. Drifthouse by David Burke partnered with the Stavola family, the owners of the Driftwood Cabana Club. The restaurant sits on the second floor of the club and the views are second to none with vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and picturesque sunsets over the Shrewsbury River. The space includes a private dining room and outdoor deck dining. Well into its first year, Drifthouse offers signature David Burke gems and adds a few pleasant local surprises.

“Chef Burke brought in works of art from the Detour Gallery in Red Bank and we brightened up the space by removing the dark colors on the walls, and adding more natural light,” said general manager, Alexander Loehwing.

The sophisticated beach vibe resulted from the transformation of the locale’s prior life as the Italian restaurant Ama. It’s kitchen was helmed by Burke’s brother, Executive Chef Robert Burke. Robert continues to lead the kitchen at Drifthouse and present visitors with a memorable culinary experience.

“Our goal is to do a special dinner once a month,” said Loehwing. “Our most recent wine dinner included an educational experience by Regal Crystal Glass. This interactive demonstration explained how the shape of the glass can enhance flavor profiles. The experience was unique and inspiring.”

Here, food is king and evidenced by Burke’s love of presentation as well as the meticulous attention to detail. The local, seasonal menu includes elements of Burke’s signature panache. There are the strips of maple bacon hung on a mini-clothesline, with honey, black pepper, pickles and lemon; octopus and chorizo kabobs with sweet and sour peppadew, garlic and chili oil. Diners will also find David Burke’s pastrami salmon with cucumber salad, honey mustard, “waffle” croutons and pickled onions and; ‘Hipster Fries’ with togarashi, bacon, shisito and parmesan.

This year, Burke plans to add a new feature to his space just in time for the summer kick-off.

“When I worked in France, the chef had this really large lobster tank that I thought was so cool and dreamed of having one day in my own place,” said Burke. “Now, in May we plan to have new state-of-the-art lobster and oysters tanks that will be available for customers for the freshest servings.”

Burke emphasizes the importance of fresh and highly-perishable seafood like live lobsters and oysters requires serious skill and capital. Now, in partnership with the Stavola family, they have the space and support for these tanks that will be on display in the dining area next to the kitchen. Food will be directly plucked from that temperature- controlled briny saltwater and served directly to the guest.

And for the turf fans, we know that no Burke establishment is complete without steak options.

“Driftwood offers an 18-ounce Prime 40 Day salt-aged Kansas City bone-in sirloin and a 34-ounce Prime 40 Day Salt-Aged porterhouse,” said Loehwing. “The salt-aged brick beef is a patented dry-aging process using Himalayan Pink Salt. It’s designed to purify the air, inhibit bacteria growth, and impart a subtle salinity to the aged meats, Chef Burke holds the patent for this unique dry-aged technique.”

Mains also include the popular housemade rigatoni with sausage, peas and tomato sauce; bison short-rib with orecchiette, wild mushrooms and truffle mouse. The kitchen also offers the famed scallops and octopus veracruz with broccoli and tomato-caper and olive vinaigrette; Porky’s pork chop with pear marmalade, apple chutney and maple-dijon glaze.

And don’t forget the drinks! Drifthouse offers an “Angry Hour” that sets new trends in cocktails.

“We have a couple of new cocktails including ‘You Don’t Sage’ with Asbury Park Vodka, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit, cane sugar and sage; ‘A Drink With Mr. Hendricks’ with botanical gin, ginger liqueur, lime, simple syrup, aromatic bitters and lime and we will be featuring a new Vodka just featured in Industry magazine called VDKA 6100, which is made from whey. It’s gluten and sugar free and will be incorporated into a new cocktail called the ‘Feisty Cucumber,’” said Loehwing.

With so many options, there’s little wiggle room to go wrong at Drifthouse. And according to Burke, the northern Jersey shore restaurant is part of a bigger picture, where the food scene is on the cusp of serious growth.

“The culinary scene in Monmouth county is about to explode,” said Burke. “After decades, a slew of talent has now arrived, and its this competition that brings greatness.”

By Nicole Israel O’Reilly