Although the Brass Rail is located in a 100-year-old building at the corner of Second and Washington doesn’t mean that the words “old,” “outdated,” or even “ancient” should be used to describe it — and Executive Chef Douglas Gough helps to make sure of that with his contemporary cuisine.
Since starting at the Brass Rail seven years ago, Gough still stays on top of the food industry, and the restaurant as a whole is constantly setting itself above other Hoboken competitors. One can just look at the recent changes that have taken place to see the difference from other area restaurants — decor renovations indoors and out, as well as a revised menu featuring lighter fare for warmer weather.
The downstairs bar now boasts a more polished feel, thanks to the recent refinishing of the bar surface. Upstairs, the intimate dining area has also been revamped with new floors and tables, fresh paint and a delicate ambiance of sconces and chandeliers.
Gough’s menu is the perfect complement to the classy, relaxed atmosphere. The Boken Online was able to steal a few minutes with him — read on to find out how he keeps things fresh.
THE BOKEN: You’ve been at the Brass Rail for seven years now. Tell us what brought you here.
GOUGH: I started at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona, but there are more opportunities for food out here than out west. So from there, I moved out here and worked in Manhattan. Once my son was born, I worked in New Brunswick at The Frog and The Peach and then at Soho on George, and then I came to the Brass Rail.
THE BOKEN: When you arrived here, in what direction did you take the menu?
GOUGH: I wanted the menu to be fresh and new. It was classical French when I got here, now it’s New American.
THE BOKEN: After seven years, how do you keep people coming back?
GOUGH: The Brass Rail evolves with the times. We renovate, we make new changes, and keep up on what everyone else is doing, as well as being innovative and doing my own stuff. The menu changes seasonally. The new menu just came out Friday with a lighter fare.
THE BOKEN: So what’s on the new menu that people can look forward to?
GOUGH: Now there’s a tuna tartare with spicy white gazpacho, almond caperberry salad, and red grapes. There is a wagyu beef shabu shabu that’s new, where you actually cook the meat in the pot in front of you at the table. The meat is rolled with daikon radish sprouts and enoki mushrooms, and then you take your chopsticks and dip the meat into the boiling broth and cook it. We’re also doing a fresh antipasto salad with octopus, cod, and shrimp.
The new entrees include a halibut with vanilla polenta cake, Swiss chard and a minted sweet pea sauce; mustard-glazed scallops with cauliflower puree, ham batons and snow peas; and Szechuan-dusted tuna with mango, peanuts and white beans with a sambal leek crust. We also have a new dessert menu. The crispy apple pie is very good — we usually sell out of it. There is also a chocolate mousse with a peanut butter ganache and a stone fruit tart. We always use the best ingredients and you get great value for your meal.
THE BOKEN: Where do you get your inspiration and ideas when creating new dishes?
GOUGH: I don’t watch the Food Network and then just copy something, I get an idea of what to do. And it’s not always necessarily from a food show. The inspirations can sometimes come from my son, sometimes from something I watch on television like a commercial, something I see on the side of a bus. (Laughs.) I see it in my head and then I do it.
For specials, it’s whatever is innovative, fresh and different. That’s absolutely the most exciting part of the job is the creative part of it. It keeps it exciting. You always get a charge out of something that’s new and different, and then comes out well.
THE BOKEN: What else do you love about your job?
GOUGH: The pressure, it makes you feel like you are alive when you are cooking and it’s busy. You always want a perfect night.
THE BOKEN: What would you say is your specialty?
GOUGH: I would say the actual creating of the specials. I mean, everyone can cook salmon, filet mignon and what not, but it’s when you create something and the creativity behind it that I think is interesting. People can expect the “Wow” factor when they come here because I strive for perfection. I want everything seasoned perfectly and cooked perfectly.
THE BOKEN: What has been your biggest success as executive chef here?
GOUGH: The success has been an overall thing, I can’t think of any one thing — I consider it an overall success.
THE BOKEN: Now that the weather is warm, people love to come here and enjoy the patio, or sit at the end of the bar where the doors are open wide, allowing the breeze in. What would you recommend for them to enjoy?
GOUGH: If someone was to ask me, I would start by asking what he or she likes. Then, I think about what is the freshest and what came in today. So if the tuna came in today, I’m going to say have the tuna. I’m going to tell you what the best thing is and steer you in the right direction. This way, when I do see them after they are done eating their meal, it’s always nice to hear “Thank you,” and that they enjoyed it.
If you are interested in dining at The Brass Rail, make a reservation because this dining experience isn’t to be missed and it’s hard to get a table. If you want to sit outside, get there early because reservations aren’t accepted for the patio.
The Brass Rail
135 Washington Street