When it comes to events in Asbury Park, we can be finicky. We’ve seen it all, from the early days of First Saturday when it was the best block party anywhere, to three consecutive Oyster Festivals, two Tastes of Asbury, a semi-washed out Wave Festival, hot-as-Hell July 4th Parades & fireworks, too many Pride festivals to count, the ever expanding Sand Blast Weekends, the ubiquitous Jazz Festival, and countless other smaller events. While we were excited for the Restaurant Tour that took place this past weekend, we had some concerns.
All in all, we had a great time, and we give it an A for effort, with a solid B for execution with some room for improvement. But before we go into the criticism, let’s talk about what went well.
- The Chamber of Commerce anticipated selling between 400-500 wristbands when they first planned this event. Pre-event sales came in at 600 sold. The COC told all participating restaurants to expect at least another 200 wristbands to sell the day of the event. They actually sold an additional 360. This event brought nearly 1,000 people to Asbury on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to try out 35 of our eateries and with that alone it can be considered a success.
- While we have lived in the Downtown for 3 years, and have been coming to Asbury for the last 8 years, we have not eaten everywhere yet, so this was great for us to try some places on our radar.
- The places that totally “got it right” included the following:
- At the Table – On Bond St. behind Trinity & the Pope between Bangs and Mattison. Chef DeMarcus delivered the best traditional Mac & Cheese in town along with some super moist corn bread. We always smell their fried chicken when walking the dog, and after Sunday, they are the first on our “to do” list.
- Langosta Lounge – We have had our issues with Langosta, primarily due to the piss-poor service and some foul food preparation, but we’ve always thought positive of Marilyn. She is a brilliant marketer and does amazing things for the community. That being said, we were totally impressed with her decision to have people sit down at several large tables inside of Langosta, sample a complimentary Mai-Tai and Lobster roll (yes, she served her New England style lobster roll) and soak up the atmosphere. Marilyn herself then requested each person to fill out a quick survey (it’s their standard form that comes with every check) and then proceeded to give each person one of her $5 coupons (legal tender at any of her establishments). Marilyn then proceeded to mention that Dauphin Grille and Trinity & The Pope were also on the tour and they were also giving out $5 coupons. If that was our last stop, we may have been tempted to stay right there, mission accomplished Marilyn. However, we still had places to visit.
- Porta Pizzeria - Ahh Porta, where have you been all our lives? While we’ve had some amazing meals at Porta, we couldn’t pass them up and we were not disappointed. The photo at the top of the article features their house-made fresh mozzarella (still warm), balsamic marinated tomatoes with fresh basil and a home-made herbed focaccia. Simple yet decadent. Too bad we still had places to visit, or this would’ve been our last stop. Could always make room for that Cavolo Nero, or the Day-boat Octopus salad.
- Dauphin Grille - Another restaurant in the Marilyn stable that we’ve yet to try. When you live in the Downtown, the Boardwalk area can be secondary, especially with crowds in the Summer months. We happened upon their dining in the garden while walking the dog in the late Fall and promised to try it out when the weather got warmer. When we saw it on the Tour list, we were excited to just be able to check it out. Again, we have to give props to Marilyn. She worked a little theme into it and did a tribute to Johnny Cash complete with his favorite meal… a huge portion of chili, mac & cheese and cornbread croutons; a variation of his favorite cocktail (Bourbon, Bud Light, and Sprite) as a drink special, and what tribute wouldn’t be complete without the music of Johnny Cash, played expertly by the always entertaining Sonny Kenn. We were stuffed by that time, and over the top afterwards, but still enjoyed hearing Sonny channel Johnny and have the biggest portion of the day. Note: Trinity and the Pope also had live music outside as well.
- Fish – We actually saved them for late in the day. Since the check-in table was right in Press Plaza, the first restaurant on the map and within sight, was Fish Urban Dining. The line at 12:30 was still out the door. We’re actually glad we saved it toward the end. They did it right as they were offering up some great selections from their raw bar. Three different kinds of oysters including Blue Point, Jersey Salt, and a west coast variety, along with little neck clams. Timing was perfect as we were able to sample all three oysters and the clam had we desired. Since we were stuffed, we both wanted to sample the Jersey Salt and we were not disappointed and will be joined with the Blue Points for a combo punch when we order our next dozen.
- Ivan & Andy’s Prime – They made the list because of the simple fact that Ivan broke down a side of beef. Since we missed the sliders and got stuck with the smoked wings and turkey sandwiches, we have to say we were a little disappointed about the food when we arrived at 1:30pm. But this was the only place we know of that had some kind of demonstration that the Chamber of Commerce kept hyping. NOTE: We heard there is a video of Ivan’s demonstration. If anyone has it, we can link to it.
- Not Enough Time – There were 35 restaurants from the Downtown, Boardwalk, and Greater Asbury. The Tour lasted only 4 hours. We chose to walk as opposed to waiting forever for a shuttle because we had no idea what the schedule was. We sampled everywhere we went, hung around for a few minutes to get the feel, and then moved on, and we still were not able to get to every place on the tour. We needed at least another 2 hours at least with that many restaurants, plus we were stuffed after less than half. Either cut the list or expand the length. And we’re not even talking about those people who miraculously filled in the secret word challenge from all 35. Yeah, we know who you were. We saw you come in, ask for the word, and leave without taking a bite. Hey you want to waste $30 a person on the off-chance you’ll win “free parking” or a “season beach badge” go right ahead. We would’ve simply liked more time to actually try all the places we wanted.
- Not Enough Food, Cheap-Asses & Why Were You Even There - Some places didn’t prepare well enough and ran out of food quickly. This could be due to the fact that almost 1,000 people showed up when the COC said to expect 800. Okay, but there were a few places that simply didn’t refill after they were done. We’re not talking about @ 3:45pm, we’re talking about 1:00-1:30pm. Some did their best (kudos to Trinity & the Pope), while some let empty chaffing dishes sit around (Aqua), and others simply chose to close it all down to where you wouldn’t even realize they actually participated (McCloone’s). Then there were those who shouldn’t have even dared include themselves in a restaurant tour with the crap they attempted to provide, the rancid smell, and the unwelcome attitude of the management (Press Room).
- Where was the Live Music? - This was a point of contention in our preview post. We loved Taste of Asbury, primarily because we love street festivals and they had kick-ass bands all day. Other than Marilyn paying for musicians out of her own pocket at two of her restaurants, there was nothing. We don’t know what happened. Live music was hyped to be all over town by the COC. Granted you wouldn’t want a line-up of bands playing a stage in Press Plaza because you want people to get moving, but there could have been some better planning on this one and a list of venues that had live music. We found out during our travels when we just happened upon it.
- Volunteer Guides Needed to Engage - We thought it was great to involve young community members as guides for this event, similar to what Bamboozle wants to do when that comes into town. However, we have to say, when you’re dealing with teens, not many of them are comfortable engaging with total strangers. Not that we needed help, since we’re locals, but we didn’t get one “Can I help you?” all day. We actually helped people out with directions a few times and this was in front of a group of guides. Not everyone was familiar with where places were located, so a little encouragement to the volunteers may have helped.
- Poachers – Yep… there were poachers out there (assholes who didn’t pay, cut the line, and took food anyway) and they were out there. But the biggest one, the “Asshole of the Tour” was a woman at Trinity & the Pope, who proceeded to cut the entire line that was stretched across Mattison, grab an entire tray of Shrimp & Grits and take it to a table. We heard this from a number of witnesses and we only wish we had her ugly mug to share for everyone here. With no one checking for wristbands this kind of selfishness can run rampant. In hindsight, we could have simply gone around and done the tour for free, but that’s not how we roll, because we aren’t assholes.
The Bottom Line in this is while we had a good time and did have some enjoyable food, we felt some major improvements need to happen before it can surpass the fun of 2011′s Taste of Asbury.
Here’s the verdict on the remainder of the restaurants broken down by category:
- We wanted to visit, but didn’t make it there due to time or being full - Mark’s, Chat & Nibble, Metro Grille, Cafe Volan, Trinity & the Pope, Crust & Crumble, Asbury Roastery, Sethery Bogarts (formerly Bar 660), Ralph’s, Confections of a Rockstar (were they even there?)
- We love you, but we were just too damn full - Colonel’s Kissing Booth, Beckman’s, Brando’s, Doc Popcorn, Johnny Mac’s, Lush, Casa di Dolci, Pure Health Bar
- We normally love your food, but felt underwhelmed by what you served - DJ’s, Taka
- You’re just not our cup of tea - Basin Bar
- We’ve had your food before so we’d be really hard-pressed to come back – Toast, Siculiana’s, Synaxis
So there you have it. We’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on what they liked or didn’t. If you Sign in using Facebook, you can comment on our articles.