By SUSAN ERICSON
The single-story Wharf Avenue bar has been replaced by a rustic-contemporary structure offering stellar views of downtown Red Bank and the Navesink River from its multiple open-air decks. But PieHole was equally blown away by the menu. Could the food possibly be as tasty as the architectural eyecandy here?
“Best burger I’ve had in months,” proclaims customer Jeffrey Gammel of Atlantic Highlands, who’s here for the first time. He’s referring to the $12 burger of the month, which happens to be a 10-ounce beef patty with American cheese, fried egg and bacon.
Burgers in a pub are no surprise, but we see other items on the menu that are definitely unexpected. Mussels in white wine truffle broth? Lobster lollipops? Octopus salad? These are dishes you’ll find on high-end restaurant menus.
“I was in fine dining and pub cooking. I wanted to do something different,” says 37-year-old chef Brian Imbriale, formerly of Harborside Grill and Wine Bar in the Atlantic Highlands, who was brought on to run Red Rock’s kitchen by owner Paul Marcotte.
Imbriale’s duck confit tater tots ($12) catch our eye on the appetizer menu, and we bite. It’s a riff on the Canadian dish, poutine, a staple at most greasy spoons in Montreal and Quebec, and a recent addition to many trendy tavern menus in the States.
Brought up to a gourmet level, this version starts with crispy tater tots in place of the traditional french fries layered on the bottom of a cast iron platter. Duck legs that have been marinated for two days with rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallots, then cooked in duck fat for hours on low heat until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, is shredded over the tater tots. The duck meat and potatoes are then topped with a red wine demi-glace and gorgonzola cheese.
The dish is decadent, deeply satisfying and will pair perfectly with a cold brew or a glass of red wine. It is also “one of the biggest sellers so far — that and the burgers,” bartender Chris Higgins tells us.
Five upscale salads on the menu offer a nice balance to some of the heavier selections. We opt for an ahi tuna salad ($16), and are again impressed by the presentation and mixture of flavors and textures.
Seared, the almost-rare ahi is sliced and served over a mixed green salad. Edamame beans, tricolored slivers of fresh peppers, thick slices of fresh avocado and a made-in-house, mango-infused dressing that lends an imaginative and tasty culinary counterpoint to the savory fish and vegetables. All are topped with a sprinkle of crunchy black sesame seeds.
Red Rock Tap + Grill is open from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. daily.