October 28, 2020

New Family-Owned Ottoburger Restaurant Offers Healthy Central European Comfort Food

FARM STYLE: “We are set apart because of our focus on Central European food, our special burgers, and our unique recipes. We grow most of the ingredients for everything we make right here on our farm — including our purple beets!” Maria and Otto Zizak, owners of the new Ottoburger restaurant in Hopewell, are shown on their farm. (Photo by Jeffrey E. Tryon)

By Jean Stratton

We offer healthy comfort food. It is delicious food that tastes good and is good for you.”

Otto and Maria Zizak are enthusiastic about their new Ottoburger restaurant, which has just opened at 21 East Broad Street in Hopewell. And in the short time it has been open, the customers are equally enthusiastic, lining up to enjoy the indoor and outdoor dining or taking home a special burger.

Growing up in what was formerly Czechoslovakia, Otto and Maria have known each other since the second grade. The importance of eating good food, with healthy ingredients was always emphasized.

“My family were food people,” says Otto. “We enjoyed cooking, and eating good food.”

Central European

“As a little girl, I helped my mother and grandmother with cooking,” adds Maria, who oversees the Ottoburger kitchen. “We had our own garden, and we did a lot of preserving, including jams, pickles, etc. I also helped with baking.”

Otto moved to the U.S. when he was 14, and Maria followed later, after graduating from college with an M.B. in economics. They were married, and later were involved in five restaurants, including two in Brooklyn, N.Y. — Korzo and Brooklyn Beet Co. The focus was on Central European food with an informal menu, especially including their unique hamburgers.

Their Korzo Burger was acclaimed by customers and critics alike, earning the “Best Burger in NYC” award twice from The Village Voice, as well as features on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. They also received high praise in numerous publications.

Despite such resounding success in the Big Apple, however, Otto, Maria, and their three children wanted a change.

“We had been looking for a farm so we could grow our own vegetables and provide farm-to-table service for our customers,” explains Otto. “A year ago, we found a farm here in Hopewell with 53 acres. It is less than a mile from our restaurant. We grow organic alfalfa on 40 acres to sell to Double Brook Farm for the cattle. We also grow beets, beans, potatoes, carrots, and we also plan to add fruit crops.

“We had been drawn to the culture, values, and agricultural riches of central New Jersey. We especially like Hopewell. It has the feeling of a country town, and a bit of European flavor, with friendly people walking around and interacting. A community with an actual downtown.”

Family Operation

Opening in the midst of a pandemic takes courage, determination, and faith in the future, all qualities Otto and Maria share.

And it is a real family operation. Their three teenage children (two boys and one girl) all participate, and Otto’s father, Otto Sr., also took part during the building’s renovation.

“My dad is an artist, and he handprinted the sign out front,” says Otto. “He and my sons helped me build the furniture inside, and we used reclaimed barn wood for the tables. We are very hands-on. Maria is the chef, and our daughter, at 13, is a wonderful baker.”

The interior offers an informal, down-to-earth rustic decor, with long counter-like tables as well as smaller ones. A black board lists specials of the day, and a NY-Brooklyn subway sign is an added attraction.

The menu specializes in a variety of burgers, both beef and veggie, and an assortment of other dishes with a focus on informal central European cooking. The award-winning Korzo Burger is among the very popular choices, and features all grass-fed beef patties, special deep-fried Langos bun, apple-smoked Heritage bacon, allgauer emmentaller (cheese), spicy beet house-made mustard, and pickled farm vegetable of the season.

“The burger is wrapped in rising Hungarian dough and deep-fried,” explains Otto. “All our buns are baked in our special brick oven, which has a very high (800 degrees) temperature.”

Secret Blend

Other burgers include The Otto, with a secret blend of 100 percent grass fed local beef, baked potato bun, Lancaster cheddar, organic leaves, New Jersey tomato, organic purple onion, and spicy garlic aioli.

The veggie Beetnik features Otto’s own beets, black-eyed peas, walnuts, carrots, and stinging nettle on a fried bun, with Lancaster goat cheese, crisp porcini, pilsner-caramelized onion, and “something green” from the day’s harvest. Other burgers include a shrimp or pork base.

“Not Burgers” are also on the menu. Salads and a Soup of the Day are available, as well as entrees such as Bryndzove Halusky, with petite hand-cut potato noodles, bryndza cheese, crisp bacon bits, and fresh chives. 

Bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with fine D.O.C. gorgonzola, are offered, as well as turnip-squash pierogi (dumpling) with Alpine asiago and a choice of wild mushroom or Heritage pulled pork.

In addition, there is Otto’s Goulash, a spicy beef brisket stew with crisp spatzle, caramelized onions, and Hungarian peppers; also Apple-Raisin Potato Latkes, including Heritage pulled pork, paprika ragu, or wild mushroom herb creme fraiche.

Sides include red bliss potato chips, hand-cut steak fries, hand-cut yam fries, caramelized beets, and organic market salad.

Wild Berry Shakes

“We have assorted cookies and puff pastries for dessert, and we also feature delicious vegan shakes, such as Black Forest chocolate and New Jersey cherries; peanut vanilla; and wild berry, with local blue, black, and raspberries,” says Maria. “All the shakes are dairy-free, with an organic vegan base. We also have homemade sodas with berries, including elderberry and black current.

“In addition, we make our own ketchup, including our beet ketchup, pickles, Sriracha hot sauce, and preserves. All are made here in the restaurant.”

Otto points out that local sourcing is a priority, and that includes the beef that is humanely raised at Double Brook Farm.

Also, sharing the vegetables grown on their own farm is very important, he adds. “To have any real control over bringing good ingredients into the restaurant, we knew we had to be a part of the entire process. The vegetables that make up our vegan burgers do not travel across the country. You can taste that in the rich flavor of our burgers and other dishes.

Sustainable Farm

Otto and Maria are proud that they have preserved the farmland privately, and their farm is known as The Zizak Preserve, a Sustainable Farm. It also includes their home, a 1700s-era farmhouse, which they continue to bring up to modern day standards — a work in progress!

Prices at the restaurant range from $7 for a smaller burger to entrees from $14; shakes are $4, and desserts $6.

Ottoburger can accommodate 48 for inside dining under normal circumstances, but now New Jersey regulations require seating at 25 percent capacity. Thirty-five can be seated outside. All the safety precautions, sanitation, and social distancing are being observed, and Otto and Maria look forward to even more customers discovering their new restaurant.

“I love to cook, and it is a pleasure to serve our customers,” says Maria. “We want to be a real part of the community, where we can truly get to know people. We hope everyone will come and enjoy our food. We look forward to meeting you!

“We’ve had this dream to have our own farm and restaurant, with real farm-to-table service,” adds Otto. “It’s magical for us. There is a lot to look forward to.”

The restaurant offers lunch, dinner, and takeout, and is open six days (closed Tuesday) with current hours 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (609) 552-5107. Website: www.ottoburger.com.