The Fox & Falcon by David Burke

David Burke is no stranger to making something old new again. For 85 years, the Dixie Lee Bakery was a local institution in Keansburg, NJ. It was the kind of bakery that had a little bit of everything, ranging from black and white cookies and lobster tails to cupcakes, wedding cakes, and beyond. Although it was regarded as a popular spot among locals, its visibility outside the immediate Bayshore area was limited. That all changed when David Burke claimed ownership of Dixie Lee in May 2022. Over the past 10 or so months, Burke has elevated the bakery’s status, giving it a kind of nostalgic glow in Instagram posts and raising its profile through strategic partnerships with nearby restaurants and community pie-eating contests, all while maintaining the crux of Dixie Lee’s appeal to locals: straightforward counter service and a little something sweet for everyone.

When I heard that Burke was taking over the Fox & Falcon in South Orange, I was intrigued. Burke is well-versed at the area, with 1776 in Morristown getting rave reviews and a previous post at the Orange Lawn Tennis Club just down the road from downtown South Orange. He’s developed a reputation as a restaurant kingmaker all over New Jersey, with eateries following along the shape of the state, from Sea Bright all the way up to West New York and Rumson.

Having lived here for many years, I had been to the Fox & Falcon frequently, always hoping for something more with each visit. The menu was limited, the entrees were a tad pricey, and the sheen it conveyed through its handsome, masculine interior turned out to be hollow when it came to flavors. Rumor had it, that management was taking advantage of its waitstaff in late 2022 — the community around here is very on top of sudden and unexpected closures of all places in SOMA — and it sounded like it was only a matter of time before the Fox & Falcon as I had once known it would close for good.

Last night, MDP and I had a date night — the first one in about eight months — and decided to give the new Fox & Falcon by David Burke a try. I had seen photos of our village president proudly attending a ribbon cutting with Burke earlier this week. When I checked the website, I noticed an expanded menu on the site, with some intriguing options (clothesline bacon, anyone?). I’m glad we made a reservation because every single seat — including surrounding the unusually shaped bar — was taken. I had never seen this space so crowded, and the vibe was one of anticipation and excitement among the patrons. I couldn’t help but notice that the number of tables in the long restaurant space nearly doubled from the previous form of the restaurant; a nod to Burke’s knack for business. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s cramped now and may have been overly spacious previously!)

We arrived early so we decided to get a drink at the bar, since, as luck would have it, two satisfied customers had just departed, leaving their half-eaten FOXY burgers on the counter. It took about 15 minutes for the plates to be cleared and for us to receive a menu. As a note, in general, my overall impression of service at the new Fox & Falcon is there are a few kinks to work out. When I asked for a Maker’s Mark (guessing that they’d have this old reliable, as most bars do), I was told they only had two bourbons available, neither of which this bourbon aficionado was thrilled about. Once it has its wits about it, I expect the restaurant to stock typical liquors, so I’ll give them a pass for now! They’ve got negroni on tap — which MDP felt was a little bitter and compensated for with a tad too much sugar — and a healthy draft list, so I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like when you go!

After we sat down at our table with menus, we settled on the chickpea and herb hummus as an appetizer and took a bit more time to decide on the entrees. Something entirely new with this iteration of the Fox & Falcon is the speed at which service is happening. It’s evident a seasoned restauranteur is now at the helm, given the two minutes flat it took for the waitress to come over and take our appetizer order, and the approximate seven minutes to get our dish. Knowing how to turn over tables well — without customers feeling rushed — is certainly a skill.

The hummus is outstanding. To my surprise, it came with a little, lightly dressed baby kale salad, which was delightful and fresh-tasting. The hummus itself was spread out in a thin layer across the dish, with ample points of pita bread forming a layer over it. I’m not sure I’ve ever had hummus this good. Yes, herbs were there, but the overall flavor profile was far punchier than any flavored hummus I’ve ever had. I suspect this particular appetizer will go under the radar, as it is accompanied by a lot of really intriguing brethren in this dish category (tuna tartare tacos, “wings and rings,” and lobster dumplings, to name a few), but don’t sleep on this one if you’re looking for something relatively light.

Burke has chosen to keep some of the old standbys of the previous Fox & Falcon menu — a few standout pastas, a falafel burger (which was actually quite good), and a burger the restaurant could apply its impramatir to — but has expanded the menu in notable ways. For one, there’s now a few steaks available — TL;DR: the steak is delicious — and there‚Äôs also chicken parmesan, baby back ribs and shrimp, and a few other dishes that caught my eye. The overall theme of the menu expansion appears to be more approachable for a wider audience, rather than convey that this place is for exclusive palates only, as the previous owner seemed to communicate.

MDP ordered the rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe, and he felt the dish was very good. The pasta appeared to be cooked just-right (al dente, for those who wonder what this could possibly mean). His only complaint was the “woodiness” of the broccoli rabe. This may be one of those quirks the restaurant is still smoothing out, however.

I opted for the 12 oz. sirloin steak, which came with watercress and something called a B1 sauce. I found the steak to be delicious in the parts that were cooked to my preferred temperature (it was a bit unevenly cooked) but I’m not sure I could detect the sauce’s flavor.

We also ordered three sides: broccolini, roasted brussels sprouts (truly roasted!), and the Falcon fries. For me, the simply sauteed broccolini was the winner. Yet the Falcon fries were pretty good and these fries were a vast improvement over the prior Fox & Falcon’s “salt and pepper” kind. Falcon fries are tossed with bacon, shishito peppers, and a few spices, and the resulting effect is robust and delicious.

We couldn’t resist dessert — the menu came to us midway through eating our entrees, positioned as “be sure to save room for dessert” (pretty seamless, I’ll admit) — so we tried the key lime pie. Tangy and creamy, the key lime pie filling was yellow-y goodness and covered with a hearty layer of lightly sugared whipped cream. I found the crust in particular to be quite good.

I highly recommend the Fox & Falcon by David Burke to anyone near and far. Judging by his track record, I expect Burke’s touch on this space known for turnover will be to elevate the restaurant as a destination dinner spot. Now that South Orange is hip as hell — a pretzel shop (!), a storied bakery, a beer hall, and an aerial fitness studio (????) all claim the downtown area as home these days — the Fox & Falcon by David Burke may become a cornerstone of a new wave of interest in SOMA.