The parking lot speaks for itself. Never was there a night that I passed by (usually en route to nearby Barnacle Bill’s) that I did not notice a lot filled to capacity. Even last night, a Thursday just after 7 PM, we seemed to pull into the last available spot. Justin and I were looking for a different place to have a date night, and not knowing a single person to have a negative comment about Salt Creek Grille, I decided I would take him here. As you are about to enter, there is a roaring fire pit with a small seating area to your right. It was 32 degrees and dropping, making even the heat of the fire not quite enough to sit there. I had made a reservation for a booth earlier in the day. While the booth seating area was nearly empty, the rest of the restaurant was packed, including a full bar and all of the window seats overlooking the Navesink. The interior is dimly lit and cozy—each booth has a small lantern which emits a soft golden glow across the table.
For appetizers, we loaded up on carbs with the burrata flatbread and the skillet cornbread. The latter is baked to order, which the menu states takes about 15 minutes. It was served in its own cast iron skillet, with bits of mild green chilies and a side of whipped honey butter which was just delicious. The flatbread, meanwhile, had a layer of creamy burrata cheese along with pieces of prosciutto, arugula, cherry tomatoes, a pesto sauce, and balsamic glaze. Our server (Andrew) asked if we wanted both appetizers to come out at the same time or have the flatbread first because of the time needed to cook the cornbread. We opted to have them come out as they were finished. When the flatbread hit the table, it was larger than I thought. We probably could have done with one or the other, but both were so well-made that we were glad we got to try them. The cornbread was perfectly cooked, smoking hot, and made even better with a healthy slathering of that honey butter (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
Unbeknownst to me when I arrived, Thursdays are half-priced martini night. I was getting one anyway, so this was an added bonus. The SCG Classic Martini is made with either Ketel One Vodka or Tanqueray Gin. Since a gin martini is my signature cocktail, I went with that. It was prepared to my liking, ice-cold with just a scintilla of vermouth. Justin had the Navesink Tea, which was Sweet Tea Vodka, lemonade, simple syrup, and muddled blackberries and mint. Not being a fan of mint, I took a sip anyway and thought it was quite refreshing. It almost felt like summer, despite being below freezing outside. We had to have a second round!
On to our entrees: normally, I would get a steak in this situation but I had one the day before and was not in the mood. Torn between the French Dip and the Chicken and Prosciutto Pasta, I asked Andrew for a recommendation and he said he himself gets the pasta frequently and that it was a solid, filling meal. After coming close to finishing, I would agree. The word, however, was “hearty”. Bucatini was served with cubes of grilled chicken, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and crumbles of crispy chorizo in a goat cheese bechamel. It was probably 10,000 calories, but I told myself that I work hard and deserved it! I would not change a thing. The portion was large, the pasta cooked right to al dente, and all contents were plentiful.
Justin had the Creek Burger, which was a mix of ground short rib, chuck, and brisket. It was topped with arugula, cheddar, caramelized onion, and bacon jam (he also added additional bacon, which was a larger serving than needed—four or five strips!) and came on a fresh, pillowy brioche bun. He could not even finish it, and as he said, “Meat lovers will love this burger”. He also, shockingly, said it may be better than the burgers from the place right down the street…just sayin’. The fries that came on the side were a heaping amount of shoestring: crispy, and tossed with Asiago cheese and truffle oil.
At this point, we were ready to burst. However, what would a romantic date night be without chocolate? I had noticed a chocolate souffle on the menu which stated to order in advance because it takes 25 minutes to prepare. Halfway through our entree, we asked for it and said there was no rush. Like the flatbread, it was larger than I expected. Our waiter set it down along with a plate containing fresh whipped cream and a mini pitcher of extra chocolate ganache. This souffle, a rather hard item to pull off in a crowded restaurant I imagine, was perfectly done. The outside was crispy, but the inside contained molten hot chocolate. This was pure decadence, and enough for at least three people. The whipped cream did a lot to cut the rich chocolate.
Well, what else is there to say? We seem to be on a bit of a hot streak with restaurants of late, and Salt Creek Grille not only lived up to but exceeded expectations. There is a reason why they are busy every night. Aside from food and cocktails being excellent, service was helpful and attentive without being overbearing, and timing of all courses was well-done and never rushed. The ambiance was charming, and there would be a beautiful view of the river and Oceanic Bridge in earlier hours. For now, I am going to go with a very solid 4 out of 5 stars which may climb higher on future visits. I am already looking forward to coming back again.
Salt Creek Grille is located at 4 Bingham Avenue in Rumson, NJ.