This month, the FoodSpy ventures from the predictable and goes a little rouge. After all, how many American and Italian restaurants can we continuously write about (and you read about). We were reluctant, because people are creatures of habit, and tend to frequent restaurants from a shortlist of trusted favorites (don’t you consistently get Chinese food and pizza from the same places?). It’s our goal to maybe get you to add one of our tasty reviews to your “go-to list”.
So the FoodSpy has been spending in Asbury Park. The cool, hipster yet retro feel of the town is easy to get used to like a new pair of REALLY comfortable shoes. And the town is littered with great places to eat, drink and just hang out, as the cultural energy beams from the storefronts like light through a stained glass onto the sidewalks.
One of the coolest, most unique and comfortable places opened its doors, affectionately called THE COMPLEX. This brilliant concept destination is the brainchild of Patrick Fasano aided by his daughter Anna. Pat is a man who, along with a few others, almost singlehandedly re-gentrified the Beach Area of Asbury and made it cool, clean and safe. They believed for decades that Asbury was a gem – and they turned out to be right!
The Complex is actually a triad of restaurants – Capitoline (Italian), La Loteria (Mexican) and The Bond Street Bar & Grill (classic American Bar). All of this interconnected via staircases and hallways to a great underground basement bar. Where crowds spill before and after dinner.
Capitoline which takes its name from the Roman hills and wall, feature’s fare in the ilk of grandma’s cooking, with square pizza slices that capitalizes on the two edged crusts and array of large fresh salads. It’s kind of like being at your grandma’s house when you were a kid – everyone runs upstairs to eat and then back down in the basement to hangout. The chefs meet daily to coordinate seasonal specials. The combined theme to all the Complex bars is simple and fresh. You must try the secret family recipes for the meatballs. The salads are cool and creative – we particularly liked the Mediterranean salad –coupled with The Romulus cocktail with muddled blueberries and basil was refreshing. And the cornerstone is the great pizzas, lovingly crisp with fresh toppings. (Here’s a little secret – Fasano was the one who built Porta, all the rage in Asbury including the a killer kitchen and pizza menu)
La Loteria pays homage to the a la carte Mexican style taqueria. Its name is based on the popular bingo-like Mexican game of chance. As research, Anna Fasano and General Manager Charlie Interrante traveled across the nation and to Mexico for inspiration. What’s resulted, in terms of décor, is a clean modern take on vintage artifacts, reconditioned by Fasano’s construction team. The Loteria menu is clean and simple and far above average on the tasty scale. Highly recommend is the Roast Corn in the Mason Jar, any of the variety tacos that involve meat. And the fish Fish Tacos as good as any place in San Diego. As good as the food is, the service and attention were exceptional.
The Bond Street Bar has been there for years, and ask anybody that knows Asbury – this is one of the best burgers around. Quite frankly, this is one of the best “local pubs” ever. The four-cheese grilled cheese is memorable. Again, the “simple theme” crosscuts the place like a basket for fries. Good music, friendly bartenders, cheap drinks – the definition of a perfect dive bar!
But the food is not the only fascinating thing about THE COMPLEX. What makes all three restaurants interesting is the design along with the use of local and repurposed materials. Local residents seeking a bit of nostalgia during a night on the town will find it here. Items include a chandelier hanging over the stairway to the basement which is made from a pin setter salvaged from Asbury Lanes. In the Basement Bar, there is a washing machine door taken from a machine from Sam Wha’s Laundry (and the door opens, allowing servers to pass food through to the bar). Anna, an artist and a sculptor, designed the two new restaurants and helped her father pick out materials. What caught our eye was the large stained glass piece acquired from the old Merchants National Bank. Fasano’s artists/carpenters personally made the furnishings inside the restaurants. Everything is handmade, including the bar stools…it’s all reclaimed building material from the area – not only amazing, but priceless!
The restaurants are on Cookman, Mattison and Bond streets respectively – so find yourself a parking spot and prepare to stay a while. All this nostalgia and food choice with competitive ping pong and tunes from the 80’s and 90’s pumped through the speakers. Check it out and you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants. If you want an Asbury experience, it’s all in one place…. It’s at The Complex. Visit http://thecomplexap.com.
Until next month – live well, eat well (and venture out of your comfort zone a little).
The Food Spy