Reyla, Asbury Park
The team that made Barrio Costero a magnet of modern Mexican food and drink has pulled off a similar feat on the other side of the same building, once home to the Asbury Park Press. The news is that Barrio’s young, hip, boundary-blurring spin can be applied as amenably to the food of the Eastern Mediterranean. Reyla’s cocktails and crunchy snacks were irresistible from the start, but in the early going last summer, some dishes were ill-conceived or inconsistently executed. By autumn, however, Reyla was rocking. Chef Rob Santello’s fish dishes are stunning, especially his cod with squid-ink hummus. Brunch breaks the mold with carob-glazed bacon and toad-in-a-hole topped with crème fraîche and smoked trout roe.
603 Mattison Avenue, 732-455-8333
Roosterspin, New Brunswick
Unofficial history traces Korean double-fried chicken to a Seoul department store in the 1970s. Mihae Cho began serving the spicy, crackly-skinned treat at Bonchon in Manhattan in 2006 and brought it to Westfield when she opened Roosterspin, a byo, in 2014. This second Roosterspin, which opened in July, has a liquor license. Its cocktails, by two noted mixologists, are worth a detour on their own. So is the signature chicken—wings and drumsticks, fried to order, the soy-garlic glaze brushed on by hand so as not to damage or drench the delicate skin. The quality of Roosterspin’s drinks and faster dishes eases the 25-minute wait for the chicken, “always double-fried!”—a trademark Cho says she owns.
120 Albany Street, 732-545-4500
Stone Water, Lake Hopatcong
Unless you were docking your boat in the marina, not much drew you to the finger-shaped northeast corner of Lake Hopatcong. That changed last Memorial Day weekend with the opening of Stone Water, the grandest waterfront construction project on the lake in recent memory. Stone Water pulled in some 1,200 customers that weekend. Deep into autumn, with fireplace flickering and flat screens pumping out sports, the 220-seat space was still hopping. Little wonder. It’s a soaring, rustic lodge with lake views through huge windows and on the long balcony. But its success is about victuals as much as visuals. Chef Domenick Torlucci turns out generously portioned, crowd-pleasing American dishes, some with Iberian accents. Lively, informed servers and a strong bar scene complete the transformation of a backwater into a destination with valet parking.
125 Route 181, 973-810-3858
Wooden Spoon, Bloomfield
When you reach the limits of finger licking at this fetching barbecue and Southern restaurant that opened in July, you’ll be grateful for the cloth napkins chef/co-owner Donald Erickson Jr. thoughtfully provides. The Bridgewater native patrols the pleasingly homespun dining room and bar every night, making sure everyone is happy and well attended to. The self-described “6-foot-5 Irish guy” stands out—and so does his food. Crisp fried chicken pops with juicy tenderness thanks to 10 hours of sous-vide cooking before it hits the fryer. Equally good is blackened catfish, a big, succulent fillet, expertly seasoned and served over rice and beans. Smoked meats and tasty sides will give those napkins a workout.
285 Glenwood Avenue, 973-743-0099
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I definitely can recommend 2nd Jetty. Everything is freshly prepared and creative. Unfortunately, they do not take reservations in the summer (not sure about the off season) and their parking lot is insufficient for the popularity. The food is excellent; the decor is nautical. A big plus is that 2nd Jetty is BYOB. It is a welcome addition to the Sea Bright restaurant scene, which has become a fantastic destination for young, old and those in between.