Iconic Spot: A Red Horse Trek Back to the ’70s at Fromagerie

Call it a sign of tradition. Rumson locals are seeing red again at the site of the iconic Fromagerie of 1970s fame — Red Horse, by David Burke, that is.

You could say that Burke rode back in on his red horse, to start. Then there’s the actual thematic color pop. The red door and shutters are back and a bit brighter, less burgundy, to signal something old being new again. There’s also a new retro truck parked on the front lawn. Things have come full semi circle, like a horseshoe, at the spot that has been reopened since the end of March. It’s marked a reincarnation of sorts.

So, what’s in a place? A lot — morsels of memories that satiate the hometown palate. In a press release, Burke called the iconic spot a “landmark property (on that corner lot at Avenue of Two Rivers and Ridge Road) in a really great community. It’s a part of the fabric of the community without a doubt.” And it is just that. Has been for decades.

The coming full semi circle? Locals who comprise that community quilt are also finding, once again, that swath of celebrity chef stitched back into the iconic niche where he got his start as a line cook at what was the area’s “in” place — that elegant French restaurant on the corner. The Fromagerie was as “in” when it opened as Burke became.

Over the years, even eras, Burke rose to his own fame, added his name to the sign, sold it and came back again this time to transform the spot into a modern American tavern. More specifically, the cuisine is billed as the steakhouse and sushi variety. Rumson House was farm-to-table. Fromagerie was French all the way until its reincarnations as David Burke’s Fromagerie.

Two icons in a pod. Yes, iconic chef David Burke is back where he started — the iconic Fromagerie restaurant spot. After his 70s line cook start and stint, Burke in later years became part of a group that owned and operated the Fromagerie from 2006 to 2015. It was sold in 2015 and then reopened as the blue-tinged Rumson House. Now, Burke is holding the reins of Red Horse.

The change came with a change in building ownership. What was most recently the Rumson House building was sold to a New Jersey real estate investor, as part of a 1031 real estate exchange, said sale broker Richard Santore of Bielat Santore & Company, Allenhurst in a released statement. 

“The investment was strictly a real estate play and the new owner has engaged the services of chef David Burke to operate the day-to-day restaurant business,” the statement added.

“David Burke is one of the best known and most respected chefs in modern American cuisine,” the release said. “Burke, a New Jersey native, is also recognized internationally for his revolutionary techniques, creative concepts, exceptional skills, as well as his many TV appearances. David is not unfamiliar with this territory.”

So what’s in a chef’s name? The attachment of the place where it all started, of course.

And while Burke is a celebrity chef in his own right in this era, there’s a lot of power in an iconic place like Rumson’s Fromagerie. It’s been a locals’ anchor for decades, since it was revamped from The Colony restaurant and opened as the fine French eatery back in 1972, under the ownership of Hubert and Markus Peter.

Thinking back to the 1970s, with Burke’s line cook start, the memories of the initial incarnation of the Fromagerie for longtime Rumson-Fair Haven area folks seem to be forever simmering on the front burner, or, rather coveted like the perfect soufflé.

A lot of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) students were valets at the restaurant. It was pretty common to drive by and see a student out in that busy circular driveway parking cars. The work was prolific, sought after, and all who did it had a special camaraderie.

It was a guy’s job back then — the valet. And it was usually filled by those licensed students who loved cars. The coolest of the cool. They got a bit of a thrill driving some high end classics and sports cars a few feet, socializing, forging connections and bringing home some nice tips.

Then there were those milestone celebrations — elegant birthday, graduation, and anniversary fetes — to which any area teen hoped to get an invite. Some on the outside of the exclusivity of the posh place had noses pressed to the glass (figuratively speaking, of course) to get a glimpse and a taste of it all. After all, it was a Rumson Epicurean staple in the highest of social of circles.

That or they sought work there or babysat for waitresses who offered a taste of the inside scoop.

The waitress uniforms were hand-sewn French peasant outfits, made by Hubert Peter’s wife. Her first name isn’t even mentioned in the story below, as wife was sufficient in those days. Imagine that.

The staff affectionately referred to the place as The Frog, the “it” and “in” place to work and fine dine. The decor was “modeled after a French monastery, where monks make their own wine and cheese,” the pre-opening story in December of 1972, by Marybeth Allen, of the Daily Register, said. And the wine glasses came from Germany and fondue pots from Switzerland. Never mind the bread making tools.

Give Allen’s story a read. It’ll take you back to where and how it all started on that iconic corner with an iconic chef.

Allen is now deceased. But, she was an area reporter for many years. She also reviewed many area community theater shows when reviewing them was standard. Many of the plays reviewed by Allen were staged at The Barn Theater down the street from Fromagerie.

Trot on over to Red Horse and remember …

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management