Smith.

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We have a dear friend who has a spectacular vegetable garden in his backyard.  A visit to his house in the summer guarantees that we’ll leave with a bag of the most beautiful, crisp, and green collard greens we’ve ever had the pleasure of bringing into our kitchen.  When we asked him recently if he ever grew kale, his response was, “I was eating kale before you healthy people discovered kale was cool.”  I have to admit, he’s probably right.  These days, kale takes the spotlight as the new, cool green.  We put it in our shakes, massage it for our salads, and chop it up for our soups.  And while this antioxidant rich, cancer fighting “super food” may have been around for quite a while, in our minds, it didn’t become “cool” until Porta moved into town.

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Porta is just one of the genius creations of the Smith group in Asbury Park, NJ.  Their Cavolo Nero salad puts Tuscan kale center stage in a tangy lemon garlic dressing topped with sunchokes and watermelon radish, a touch of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and homemade chile-garlic crostini croutons.  The Cavolo Nero salad is seasonal and sensational.  We only cry a little bit when it temporarily disappears from their menu.

However, Porta is much more than kale.  It’s an authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurant at the Jersey Shore.  When we say authentic, we mean those pizza ovens came straight from Italy to Asbury Park.  But who says the magic is completely in the oven?  Porta’s pizzas are superb because the ingredients are locally sourced and deliciously arranged atop a homemade crust that will make you sing.  We adore the Arugula pizza, topped with homemade mozzarella cheese, crisp, peppery green arugula, garlic, and truffle oil.  We’ve fallen in love with the Autumn Betty, a seasonal pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, goat cheese, garlic, thyme, and fresh mushrooms.  And when we feel its time to cheat from our mostly vegetarian diet, we turn to the 14 1/2, a pizza of homemade mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, hot soppressata, and Calabrian chiles.  Ultimately, the 14 1/2 is our favorite Porta creation to date.

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It is important to note that while Porta’s food is magnificent, it is the people who complete Porta.  The staff is always thoughtful and attentive, and most importantly, consistent.  We love the culture Porta has created, and we love the amount of energy and devotion the Smith group has put into our little city by the sea.  They have revitalized and refreshed Asbury Park and they see its potential.  We love them for that.  We also love them for Brickwall, our go-to spot for what we consider the world-famous black bean burger, and Pascal & Sabine, the French restaurant that introduced Paris to Asbury Park.  We consider that French connection to be a match made in heaven.

Whether it be at Porta, Brickwall, or Pascal & Sabine, there are always two things that you’ll always be sure of: the food will be incredible and the staff will be warm and welcoming.

Thank you Smith for making kale “cool” and for making Asbury Park even cooler.  Cheers!

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