Growing up, I could never envision the Asbury Park my parents told tales of. Small little remnants of their stories still remained in Asbury when I was a kid. I remember the carousel, the Palace Amusements, the Five and Dime store. I also remember how distraught these places looked and often tried to imagine this resort type place my parents spoke of. When I looked around, I saw the furthest thing from a vacation destination. I saw graffiti, weeds, and crime, and a smiling face on the side of an abandoned building. Tilly’s face was like a small glitter of hope amidst a town of destruction. And then, one day, Tilly was gone too.
If you had told the “young, adolescent me” that in the future, the “adult me” would adore Asbury Park, I would have bet money on it that you were wrong. Dead wrong. But here I am today, totally, head over heels in love…with a town. Not only do I love this place for what it is now, but I love it for its story, its history, and the people who “Bought In” and brought it back.
I came to love Asbury through pure immersion. Paul’s affection for this town, you could say, rubbed off on me. If it weren’t for Paul taking me to Asbury on the weekends, I would not have discovered just how special it really is. He’s captured Asbury through the lens of his camera on both its bad days and its good, seeing its beauty when, at times, it wasn’t apparent to the naked eye.
My first trip to Asbury with Paul was for breakfast on the boardwalk. We ate outside at a little cafe that is now the site of Stella Marina. It wasn’t a fancy place, but it was a great meal and the service was excellent. I remember the owner coming out to talk to us. He said he probably wouldn’t be in business much longer because Asbury Park had bigger plans and his building would be sold. It was a sad story and I remember feeling bad for the man. Here was someone who, through small steps, was bringing Asbury back. I often think about him and wonder where he is or what he is doing now. I’d even like to thank him. While I think Stella Marina is lovely, what it was before was something special. A small businessman trying to bring “the glory days” back to a little seashore town.
So what do we love about it now? Well…here goes. First of all, we are season beach badge holders. Our summer days usually begin in the early morning on the beach and end at Pop’s Garage on the boardwalk. We love this little establishment, owned by its successful and tasty neighbor, Langosta Lounge. We love to go to Pop’s for tacos (Paul loves the chorizo and I love the cuban pork). We also love the locally bottled Piri Piri sauce and can’t have a taco at Pop’s without it.
Our absolute favorite place of all is on Bond Street. You can find this place by just looking for the sign with the eye. If you love small places with cheap, fabulous food, then this is your spot. We LOVE this place! Maybe it has a great deal to do with the chef. The chef here is the former cook of another love of ours, Market in the Middle. Sadly, Market in the Middle now sits empty. Unfortunately, one winter day, while going to indulge in our favorite Market tuna wrap, we discovered they’d closed their doors. It was unexpected and depressing. Luckily, however, we found the chef on Bond Street and now, we are happy again. Where else can you go and get the most delicious and juicy burger you’ve ever had in your life for just $5? You can also get pork roll fries with barbecue cheese sauce. It may sound gross and unhealthy, but they are amazingly tasty and every once in a while you should entitle yourself to a grease fest.
Walk to the corner of Bond Street and you will find two other delectable establishments: Trinity and the Pope and Taka.
You can find Trinity by its enormous hanging garlic bulb that shines purple at night. Trinity has rich and delicious New Orleans style food. The building is beautiful, architecturally unique, and an excellent location for a restaurant. We used to go here when it was formerly known as Mattison Park. Mattison Park had the best Margherita pizza in all of the land (ok, maybe not all the land, but it was good) and then one day, as our luck would have it, they closed too. We hope this won’t be a trend.
Across the street is Taka, a sushi restaurant with a great atmosphere and succulent sushi rolls. They serve other Japanese cuisine that always looks really good when delivered to other tables, but we are sushi lovers and can’t bear to go without sushi if it’s readily available. We tend to gorge ourselves on raw fish until we can’t gorge no more.
Another excellent place is Belmontes on Cookman Ave. One night while Paul was attending one of his “super” meetings, my mother-in-law and I treated ourselves to a dinner at Belmontes. When it’s just the two of us, we usually hit up Luigi’s or Tally Ho, but this night we decided to get a little crazy and go somewhere else. First of all, this place is a small and adorable Italian restaurant with a great menu. Actually, the menu was so great that we had a hard time deciding on what to eat. The waiter was extremely helpful and courteous and assisted us in making superb choices for our meal. We had eggplant rolletini as an appetizer and two pasta entrees that were fantastic! When all was said and done, we told our waiter just how much we loved the meal, and at that moment he thanked us and told us he was one of the owners. What a great guy! He even walked us out the back door and outside to make sure we got to our car safely. If that’s not good service, I don’t know what is!
So if you haven’t noticed, the world is now officially obsessed with sliders. Everywhere you go, you can get them: cheeseburger sliders, chicken salad sliders, pulled pork sliders, pork roll sliders, tuna sliders. You name it and you can find a slider for it. Maybe this is our way of allowing ourselves to eat several sandwiches in one sitting without feeling guilty, or maybe we just like how cute they are. Whatever the reason, I’ve got quite an affection for them myself. I’ve also found a great place to get them: The Brickwall on Cookman Ave. First of all, they use slider size potato rolls, and what goes inside is completely up to you. I personally love the spicy sloppy Joe sliders with a side of tater tots. Any place that serves tater tots is serious about customer satisfaction and I just can’t resist them.
Wherever you go to cure your hunger pangs, make sure to walk it off on the Asbury boardwalk and stroll through Convention Hall and the old casino. Then, make your way to the Berkeley Carteret hotel and check out the great renovations inside. There you can find another person who is bringing wonderful things to Asbury Park, Peter James. Peter was the person responsible for making our special day beautiful and for fulfilling our desire for an “April in Paris” wedding. I can’t thank him enough for making the flower and centerpiece decision-making process easier than I’d ever dreamed, and for bringing the Eiffel Tower from Paris to Farmingdale, just for me.
Perhaps, one day, we will live in Asbury Park. I’ll wake up in the morning and race my bike around the “circuit”, have coffee and bagels on the beach, watch the sun rise over the carousel house each morning, and watch it set while eating at Moonstruck. We’ll send you a post card…”Greetings from Asbury Park”. Of course, I’ll have to fit this all in between our apartment in Paris and our villa in Tuscany, but it can be done. A girl can dream right?
A small little Michelle and Paul factoid-Did you know that our first choice for a wedding venue was the Carousel House in Asbury? Unfortunately the “no running water”, “no bathrooms”, and “you have to supply your own generators” aspect made this bride-to-be a little uneasy. I was a little more than worried that the day of my dreams would become a disaster. On the other hand, I predict that some day, the carousel house will be the venue of choice for many young couples. You just wait and see…