Italian roots are strong down the Shore, so it’s no surprise a pizza place put Asbury Park on the foodie map, but Porta’s opening in 2011 was just the beginning of what is now being called a real restaurant scene infused with variety and often local, organic ingredients.
Asbury Park has been steadily coming back to life, starting with Brickwall Tavern (522 Cookman Avenue) in 2006 and then Porta (911 Kingsley Street) in 2011, both opened by Mark Hinchliffe and his partners from the branding firm Smith. “When we opened Brickwall, you could basically lay down in the middle of the street and not get run over by a car. That’s how dead it was in Asbury Park,” Mr. Hinchliffe said. “The winter of Porta’s first year, nobody was coming. There would be nights we’d sell five pizzas.” Now, Porta averages 500 pies a night in the winter and 1,200 pies a night in the summer.
In 2013, the New York Times issued Porta an “excellent” rating, bringing New Yorkers to Asbury Park, and soon after, hip restaurants with NYC pedigrees began popping up. 63 restaurants are now registered with the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce.
“What happened in Asbury is like what Danny Meyer did originally with Union Square Cafe. He could have gone to Midtown, but he went [to Union Square] and the area built around him,” said Steven Botta, owner of Brando’s Citi Cucina. “That’s what happened here. A lot of entrepreneurs saw that opportunity.”
Another pizza place to try is Talula’s (550 Cookman Avenue #108), from owners who worked at Saltie and Bien Cuit in Brooklyn and have a hyper-local-quality sensibility. For more formal Italian fare, head to the aforementioned Brando’s Citi Cucina (126 Main Street) for white-tablecloth service and a garden.
The Bonney Read (525 Cookman Avenue) is a corner seafood spot worth its salt by chef-owner James Avery who trained under Gordon Ramsay, David Burke, and other luminaries. For more of a Japanese seafood experience, sushi and a full bar can be found at Taka (660 Cookman Avenue).
No visit to the beach is complete without tacos which are not in short supply. Head to either Pop’s Garage (1000 Ocean Avenue) for a California-surfer style and sustainable Mexican or Mogo Korean Fusion Tacos (632 Cookman Avenue) for a twist on the traditional.
No New Jersey town is complete without a good diner and Asbury Park has two. For the local classic, head to Frank’s Deli (1406 Main Street), and for a diner redux, try Cardinal Provisions (513 Bangs Avenue) where even vegans will find something on the menu.
And one unique restaurant is doing more, building a bridge from one side of the gentrifying city to the other, by hiring locals to learn restaurant skills. Kula Cafe (1201 Springwood Avenue), a nonprofit, helps its trainees find jobs at restaurants in town and also has an urban farm and neighborhood garden. Owner and Asbury Park restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach says, “Why not try and help lift the kids in the community up so they can work?”