The ambitious new restaurant Summit House in downtown Summit was five years in development, two years deep in build, and, at one point, could have been undone by those ambitions.
Longtime Summit residents Dylan and Melissa Baker and Tyler and Sarah Reeder, who thought their hometown could use a fresh restaurant with New York City standards, took on the renovation of the former YMCA at the corner of Springfield Avenue and Maple Street in 2015.
The 1896 building had included a pool in the basement that had been filled in with almost century-old construction rubble, and the owners had the brilliant idea of excavating it for a wine room.
“Crazy talk,” laughs Dylan Baker, the operating partner. Turns out the original pool sloped and was only four and a half feet deep, which would have resulted, he says, in “a wine room for toddlers.”
Summit House, which opened last week for dinner (lunch and brunch is coming), has initially been talked up as the town’s first fully-licensed restaurant and bar in a decade, but the drawn-out renovation meant Piattino, an Italian bistro a block away, an offshoot of the Mendham original, beat them to the punch when it opened in January.
Summit House’s building had been carved up over the years into different retail spaces, and now features a large, high-ceiling front room with a bustling bar, banquettes lining the windows and the space lit by Hollywood Regency chandeliers. In the rear is a more formal dining room with a view of the open kitchen (which is also visible through plate-glass windows from the Maple Street sidewalk).
The owners lured Martin Kester from Natirar’s Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone, where he was named one of Inside Jersey’s top New Jersey sous chefs in 2015. He created a New American menu with unexpected twists and “a Jersey heart,” according to Baker.
That includes a raw bar with oysters from Barnegat Bay’s Forty North ($3 each); Valley Thunder cheddar from Long Valley’s Valley Shepherd Creamery with raw honey and lavender mustard ($5); and steak tartare from Far Hills’ River Bend Farm with egg yolk, Reuben granola and coriander mustard $16).
Try the fermented potato chips with Parmesan powder ($3, the fermentation breaks down the starches for a crispier chip). Vegetarians might like the ricotta cavatelli with a shocking pink beet bolognese ($15), and carnivores have been devouring the Wagyu flat iron with oyster mushrooms, tatsoi, white turnips and miso butter ($32).
Baker says guests have raved about the sunchoke soup ($12), which sounded suspiciously like an oversell, but it’s true: The nutty, knobby tuber is transformed into a velvety puree (it’s actually vegan) served with a dollop of sweet and savory pearl onion jam that Summit House could (and should) sell by the quart.
The desserts range from a trio of ice creams (spiced maple, salted vanilla and chocolate chocolate chip on a recent trip, $5) to a guava doughnut with cardamon sugar and pistachio butter ($12), and the bar features six beers on tap, all from within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant. The signature cocktails includes a seasonal Mule of the Moment, which currently features 13 Tuthilltown vodka, lychee, housemade ginger kombucha and cinnamon.
Saturday nights are booked out into July, although the restaurant keeps a number of tables in the front of the house open for walk-ins. Lunch and Sunday brunch will begin in mid-May, with the restaurant open all day with lighter snacks between meals.