Jeremiah and Anthony BrooksMay 31, 2023 01:42PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Since it opened 15 months ago, Hamilton’s on Main has earned a reputation for its eclectic menu, its ambience and its unwavering commitment to create a quality dining experience. Recently, Newark Life met with owners Jeremiah and Anthony Brooks to discuss palates, passions and their idea of one great dinner party.
Newark Life: For several decades, Newark restaurants generally followed the directions that many college towns take: pub grub for the 18-24 demographic. In the past decade, however, visionaries like you are transforming the culinary scene in Newark with bold statements like Hamilton’s on Main. What inspired you to bring your vision to Newark? What possibilities did you see?
Jeremiah: What we noticed when we first visited Newark that there was an ample amount of college-focused restaurants – bars and fast casuals and places for a quick bite. We also saw that there was a burgeoning handful of dining establishments, so we saw an opportunity for a bit more fine dining. The demographic of the University of Delaware’s student body may not be our target, but they come largely from Long Island, southwest Connecticut and suburban New Jersey, where they have fingertip access to some of the finest restaurants in the world in New York City.
We saw a great opening for us to place something that was a bit more elevated for not only these students’ parents, but for the faculty and also the people of Newark who have a hunger for great food but have to travel to Wilmington or Philadelphia to find.
Here’s the flexibility that you are providing your guests: He or she can choose to spend a significant amount for a four-course meal, but you have created such a diverse menu that he or she doesn’t have to.
Anthony: That was one of the most important components on our journey -- to provide our customers with the opportunity to enjoy great food made from fresh ingredients and melded into a creative culinary experience without having to break the bank. We consider ourselves approachable fine dining – giving our guests the freedom to come as they are and not be afraid to take a journey through the menu and make the experience that they want to have.
Jeremiah: If you want a burger, we have a great burger. If you want to steak, we prepare the most amazing steaks to your liking. At Hamilton’s on Main, you can have every day elegance, you can have a special occasion evening, or you can “Tuesday Night” it.
A fine restaurant is not just about what is does to one’s palate, but what it does to the eyes, and Hamilton’s on Main is a taste of the visual. When you began imagining its décor, what did you wish to achieve, and how did you go about doing it?
Jeremiah: Anthony is the producer of this restaurant, and he sets the stage for me, leaving me to put the production on to match the environment he has created.
Anthony: For me, I never begin with a plan. Rather, the space evolves around me and tells me what will work and what will not. I believe in detail and creativity and eclecticism, and Hamilton’s on Main is a mix of everything, with a statement in every room and space.
Our world is all about Instagrammable moments now, and what we try to create is a world where a customer is enveloped not only by wonderful food but by a comfortable coziness without it being overwhelming.
Hamilton’s on Main is not your first collective rodeo. You owned Hamilton’s Tavern 1840 in Harper’s Ferry, West Va. What did you learn there that you have been able to apply here?
Jeremiah: Everything. The first space we had was an 18-seat dining room in a building built in 1840 with two cool patios overlooking Harper’s Ferry. It was very intimate, but the kitchen was eight feet by ten feet in size. Try to create a 22-item menu with no cold storage demanded that everything we made was fresh.
Anthony: We were doing everything, and we learned that we can’t do everything. We learned that we have to surround ourselves with people to do our accounting and our marketing, so that we can focus on the guest experience, maintaining the building, the wine list and the menu.
What – or who – gave you the spark to pursue your passion?
Jeremiah: I cut my teeth as a self-taught chef. Alex and John Burley, two of our dearest friends, are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, and worked with me to help me hone in on my menu ideas and techniques such as plating in our Harper’s Ferry restaurant. They brought so much passion and shared so much information, and I love to learn, so I told them to tell me everything.
They read me in on everything that they had learned, so that I was able to put it into practice for myself, just to be a better leader and be able to jump into the kitchen and take over and be able to confidently step in.
Anthony: As we were preparing to open Hamilton’s Tavern 1840, Jeremiah had curated our opening menu, and told me, “Anthony, I have to find a chef.” I looked at him and said, “You’ve been preparing this food in our kitchen for weeks in order to prepare our menu. You run the kitchen and I will run the front.”
Anthony, what did you see in Jeremiah that enabled you to place so much faith in his ability?
Anthony: When we met, Jeremiah was bartending and a restaurant manager, and I told him that he was working for people who did not appreciate what he was bringing to the table, and that he was destined for bigger things. To me, I could not stand by idly and see him get worn down. Hamilton’s on Main has become an opportunity for Jeremiah to live his best life.
Owning a restaurant is reminiscent of the movements of a swan. There is what happens above water – the elegance, the hospitality, the gracious host. Then there is what happens beneath the water -- paddling furiously to make everything work seamlessly. How do you manage to manage the do both at the same time?
Jeremiah: Anthony and I have said to our team, “This is our passion, and the passion is in the food, in the service, in the beverage and it must also be inside of you.” From day one, we tell our team that there is commitment, passion and trusting in that. There is no hubris or arrogance. When someone comes on board, I look to see how he or she absorbs the information that we give them and how they handle mistakes and how they recover from mistakes.
When everyone feels as if they have a voice in something, they naturally want to sing louder.
Anthony: Our team has genuinely become our family, and we would do anything for them, and vice versa. Everyone is committed and that’s partly a reflection of how we treat them.
Every restaurant, no matter the menu, atmosphere or culture, is on a constant search to find his or her establishment’s niche. What’s yours?
Jeremiah: It’s been about listening and responding and listening and responding to what our guests are telling us. I have changed the menu several times and it took us about eight months, but we’ve determined that we’re about our approachability with sandwiches and shareable appetizers that are fun, and having an entrée menu that is about fine dining.
We re making interesting food from a variety of influences that allow people to come in and enjoy Thai one day and southern-influenced dishes the next. Hamilton’s on Main is everything, everywhere, all at once!
What is your favorite spot in Newark?
Anthony: On March 14, we partnered with Bing’s Bakery to feature their pies here. We have a pastry chef, but we love the people at Bing’s, because they treat us like family.
The two of you throw a dinner party. Who do you wish to invite around that table?
Jeremiah: I am going to choose the dearly departed Anthony Bourdain, because he truly understood the world. I would also love to invite the Italian chef Massimo Bottura, because I would love to sit across the table from this insanely gregarious and passionate person. My third person would be my grandfather, who passed away 17 years ago and never got to see any of this. He was my greatest supporter and was always the first on his feet championing me.
Anthony: I would invite Martha Stewart, for her creativity and making seemingly unattainable things and making them attainable to people through her vast network. I would also invite Jose Andres, because I have a lot of respect for what he does and admire his compassion for the world. Finally, we would invite our mothers.
What item can always be found in the Brooks refrigerator at home?
Anthony: As a joke this last Christmas, I brought Jeremiah a gallon of Frank’s red hot sauce, because he puts it on everything. There is also everything needed to place on a charcuterie board.
- Richard L. Gaw