A Hidden Gem

Monica Parpal |
Culinary Personalities

As Owner Keith Roche puts it, The Bouwerie Restaurant is “off the beaten path.” Located in the heart of historic Old Tappan, this place is truly a destination. But once you're there, you'll find a luxurious restaurant overlooking an immaculate fairway dotted with greenery. Coupled with thoughtful service and exciting, seasonal cuisine, just one visit to The Bouwerie often leaves guests with a first-rate impression. DiningOut stopped by to chat with Roche about what makes The Bouwerie unique.

Tell us how you got your start in the culinary industry.

I was born into this business. My family owned restaurants when I was younger, and that got me on the path to catering and hospitality. I was toddling around kitchens when I was just five years old. It's what I know. I started helping out with the family business at 18, working with catering companies and waiting tables. By the time I was 19, I was working as a maître d' at weddings. A few years later I got into catering, working in high-end properties for Dolce Hotels & Resorts and the Wilshire Grand Hotel.

You're now 29, and you own The Bouwerie. How did that happen?

For a while, I ran my own off-premise catering business. And I was doing well with it, but my ultimate goal was to own my own restaurant. When I heard that the space was up for sale, I partnered up with my long time friend Dan Demiglio and we purchased it. Actually, a lot of people warned against going into business with a friend, but I think we're proving them wrong—we're coming up on two years of business now.

Tell us more about the restaurant.

It's beautiful. The interior is decorated with rich mahogany, candelabras, a warm fireplace, and a huge outdoor terrace where we hold events and parties in the warm weather.  The restaurant overlooks the Old Tappan Golf Course, and we get a lot of golfers during lunch. At night, we serve a great upscale dinner and focus more on nightlife. We bring in live musical acts several nights a week, which enhances the late-night scene. We also offer catering, and we've put on some great events both on- and off-site.

Sounds like a great vibe. What about the cuisine?

Our cuisine is what I like to call “eclectic American,” a great fusion of tastes with excellent seafood and steak options. Our chefs, Daniel Fabian and Isidro Mendoza, work as a team and change the menu seasonally—sometimes twice a season. We put out new specials every two weeks or so, and they are a big draw. It's tough to nail down a signature dish, but our Short Rib Osso Buco over noodles has been very popular. We also serve a Filipino Pork Spring Roll with a Thai Chile sauce and water chestnuts that's gotten positive feedback. And actually, we've gotten rave reviews for our soups and salads, especially the Carrot Ginger Soup, which we serve with crispy tempura-battered carrots. Our dessert menu also has a few favorites like Pancake-battered Oreos with Adult Espresso Milkshakes.

Are there any interesting ingredients that you're excited about using this season?

We try not to follow trends, and we like to experiment with new flavors. In the winter, we like use different types of game, and come up with dishes like our Venison Medallions served with demi-glace. Right now we're serving Barbecue Ribs with a sweet corn cake, and it's phenomenal. That's probably the most popular item of the season.

Our mouths are watering already. So, is this more of a local's joint, or is it a destination for out-of-towners?

We've been called a destination restaurant, and a lot of people hear about us through TripAdvisor. There's not a lot of foot traffic since we're off the beaten path. In that sense, we have to be a destination. I truly believe that The Bouwerie is a hidden gem.

What are some of the challenges you face as a restaurant owner?

I think the toughest part of the business is the unpredictability. You can follow your plan and go by the numbers, but you're never going to know what might change. The economy always plays a role. And there's some difficulty in being a restaurant in a small town location. We rely heavily on word-of-mouth.

What keeps you inspired?

My favorite part is the people. I love it when guests leave feeling satisfied. I also really appreciate the creative aspect of what I do. It's easy to build a team around creativity and service, especially since both my partner Daniel and I are people-oriented. At the end of the day, we just want to do it right.