Long Islanders are a bacon-savvy bunch: Bacon candy, bacon jam, bacon ice cream and bacon-infused bourbon have all become almost commonplace. But neither Nassau nor Suffolk county has ever seen anything like “clothesline bacon,” foot-long strips suspended from a wire by a clothespin and spot-torched to bestow just the right amount of char.
This is just one of the new menu items introduced by chef David Burke, the P.T. Barnum of fine dining. Earlier this year, he entered into a partnership with the Garden City Hotel, and last month he officially took charge of all food and beverage operations: restaurant (now Red Salt Room by David Burke), bar, catering, room service, afternoon tea and Sunday brunch.
“Red salt” namechecks one of the chef’s most famous inventions. In 2011, he was granted a patent for salt-brick aging: The walls of Burke’s meat locker are lined with bricks made of red Himalayan salt, and the resulting saline atmosphere controls and tempers the aging.
But Burke has invented scores of culinary blockbusters that could have lent their name to the restaurant. There’s the clothesline bacon. There’s pastrami salmon (salmon cured with pastrami spices) which, at Red Salt Room, comes with an “everything” waffle. There’s “angry lobster,” a 2-pounder that’s been cut up, sauteed, dusted with black pepper, red pepper flakes and cayenne and, finally, formed (using a floral-arrangement “frog”) into a monumental crustacean sculpture garnished with fried basil leaves. For dessert, there’s a tree (complete with greenery) composed of his cheesecake lollipops, spheres of cheesecake encased in chocolate.
All of these creations are now on the menu in Garden City, thanks to the hotel’s general manager, Grady Colin, who cold-called Burke last year. The Burke brand — equal parts high-end and whimsical — was just what the hotel was looking for. “We want to make the dining here approachable,” he said, “not just the place where you go for your anniversary.”
Burke, a New Jersey native, burst onto the dining scene in 1988 when, at the age of 26, he earned three stars from The New York Times for his work at The River Cafe in Brooklyn. A partial list of his subsequent ventures includes Park Avenue Cafe, davidburke & donatella (with Donatella Arpaia), Fishtail by David Burke, Tavern62 by David Burke (all in Manhattan) as well as restaurants in Chicago, Las Vegas and Foxwoods Casino, in Connecticut.
Just in the past two months, he launched David Burke Off-Premise Catering, a collaboration with caterer Andrea Correale of Elegant Affairs in Glen Cove, and Woodpecker by David Burke, a wood-fired American restaurant on West 30th Street in Manhattan.
He cannot be everywhere at once and, to sustain his empire, has developed ways to “Burke-ify” operations in his absence. In the case of the Garden City Hotel, he said, “We’ve added a few layers to the culinary team to help it get going.”
But the key player in executing Burke’s vision is Ari Nieminen, who has been the hotel’s executive chef since 2016 and who has known Burke for 30 years. Soon after the Finland-born chef came to New York, he found himself working under Burke at The River Cafe. “I know from working for David what his expectations are.”
The transition to full-on Burkitude will be gradual. “First of all,” he said, “we didn’t come to Garden City to fix something that’s broken. The idea is to enhance what’s here.
The bar (now King Bar by David Burke) has gotten a minimal refresh. The restaurant has been lightly redecorated with new light fixtures, artwork, chairs and tabletops. The most notable new element is the lavish use of Himalayan salt for which Red Salt Room is named. There are walls of red (actually more pinkish) salt bricks at the entrance and in the private dining room; huge chunks of it hang from nautical ropes in the divider between the two rooms; each table is set with a cylindrical salt candle holder.
But Burke’s ministrations in Garden City go far beyond the flagship restaurant, and beyond his showy signature dishes to the needs of hotel guests ordering room service, or throwing a party. “We have to have a great burger, we need to provide a turkey club at all times.”