The Bonney Read, Asbury Park
At the open kitchen, patrons can watch the fennel and sausage being stirred into the Bonney Read’s stirring Jersey Green Chowder ($7). “We’re really an old-fashioned clam-chowder house,” says general manager Sebastian Walker of the 78-seat restaurant, with 40 seats at and around a well-stocked bar.
Actually, the Bonney Read is more than that: it’s a magnet for seafood mavens. The open kitchen also affords views of the raw bar’s quick-shucking young crew and of chef James Avery (a David Burke and Gordon Ramsay veteran) and his mates turning out fish and chips, crab-cake sliders, lobster rolls and the latest fresh catch. “James basically just grills the freshest thing we can get with lemon-herb olive oil,” Walker says. Named for what it calls “the two most infamous female pirates that ever lived, Anne Bonney and Mary Read,” the Bonney Read will shiver your timbers but steal only your heart. 525 Cookman Avenue; 732-455-3352.—TLG
Brick Farm Tavern, Hopewell
Stone columns and wood beams accent the elegant dining rooms of this renovated 1800s farmhouse. Virtually all ingredients are sourced locally, from line-caught fish to vegetables grown outside the kitchen door on Double Brook Farm or in its greenhouses. With a menu that changes almost daily, executive chef Greg Vassos turns the provisions into state-of-the-art satisfaction, and general manager Mike Lykens guides you to signature cocktails and food-friendly wines, all at reasonable prices. 130 Hopewell Rocky Hill Road; 609-333-9200.—DH
Plagued by construction and equipment delays and other snafus, this stylish, retro burger joint in the middle of Newark’s Military Park finally opened in November, almost a year late. It was worth the wait. Chef/owner Chris Siversen (of the NJM Top 25 Maritime Parc in Jersey City) serves 5-ounce burgers made from chuck, brisket and short rib “for better richness and tenderness,” and a tad of trimmings from dry-aged beef “to give it a little bit of funk.” Out of 10 burgers (including a tuna, a chicken and a lamb), the bestseller is the Classic (American cheese, lettuce, tomato and “my version of McDonald’s special sauce,” $8.50), followed by the MP (Valley Shepherd Califon, “the perfect blend of gouda and cheddar,” caramelized onions, lettuce, special sauce, $9.25), with the Korean and the Chipotle tied for third.
The most popular sides are battered, fried pickles ($4.95) and super-crispy shoestring fries ($3.50). Made from fresh potatoes, they are triple-, rather than the usual double-fried. “It’s a little bit of extra work, and my guys hate me for it,” Siversen says, “but I think it makes a big difference.” Disco fries are offered with cheese sauce, Long Island Style (Siversen grew up in Merrick), or Jersey Style, with brown gravy. Drinks include a nice selection of beer and wine. You order at the counter, and servers deliver to your seat. There are just 40, and they fill up fast. 44 Park Place; 201-413-0050.—TLG
The Corner, Montclair
Nothing in restaurants is quite as stunning as a moribund space, where nothing has ever quite worked, suddenly having a line out the door on weekends. Somebody has figured something out! In this case, it’s Livingston native Jeff Munoz, 35, who earned a Rutgers finance degree in 2003 and opened this sunny breakfast-lunch-brunch oasis last May at the corner of Walnut and Grove. Scones, croissants, pastries, bread and coveted buttermilk biscuits are baked on-site every day. The Corner smokes its own brisket, makes its own pork belly, has a terrific coffee, tea and juice bar, and nails the essentials (pancakes, eggs, burger). 115 Grove Street; 973-783-2400.—EL
Comfort food goes semi-gaucho at this stylish BYO from two Buenos Aires natives: owner Miguel Aguirre (who named Emma for his mamá) and consulting chef James Muir. At Emma, hand-cut tenderloin, not ground beef, fills the empanadas, accompanied by Argentina’s classic chimichurri. Argentine chorizo is among the toppings offered in the crostini tasting. The grilled skirt steak with coffee jus and chimichurri emulsion will widen any carnivore’s horizon.
Muir, who consulted on Jersey City’s hip Órale Mexican Kitchen, flaunts his global chic in a butternut-squash soup surrounding an island of mashed potato topped with crisped Serrano ham (dark chocolate sauce and torched marshmallow on the side). There’s also a lot going on in his ultra-tender, herb-brined chicken, which comes with crispy brussels sprouts, smoked almonds, dried apricots, quinoa and butternut-squash purée. Muir brings them together harmoniously. Even his burger—topped with blue and Swiss cheeses, crisp pork belly and chipotle aioli—flies the more-is-more flag. Un-Argentine but beloved on the Jersey pampas is fettuccine in a braised beef Bolognese with mascarpone and shaved Reggiano-Parmigiano.
Aguirre, formerly a bartender at Rosa Mexicano and New York’s Fig and Olive, channels his creativity into mocktails like the Angry Apple, infused with basil and ginger. 34 East Palisade Avenue; 201-227-6103.—MACF
Exit Zero Cookhouse, Cape May
Scotsman Jack Wright has spent 12 of his 13 years in Cape May publishing Exit Zero magazine. When the tea room next door closed, Wright’s landlord asked him if he knew anyone who might be interested in it. Wright thought for a day, then stepped forward. “I wasn’t sure what it would be,” he says, “but after a few weeks I came up with the idea of a modern curry house. Curry’s the most popular food in Scotland.”
Wright wasn’t sure how locals would respond, but they quickly fell for the rich bowls of spicy stew, which come in various versions. Watermelon-and-feta salad, lobster-and-crab pot pie, Coca-Cola chicken and Indian naan round out the small menu. How popular has the Cookhouse become? In early 2017, Wright plans to move it to a much larger space being built across the street. 109 Sunset Boulevard; 609-305-5203.—DH
Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Atlantic City
One of the few things to smile about in struggling Atlantic City is the fun that brash Gordon Ramsay has brought to Caesars with his whimsical take on a classic British pub, complete with faux palace-sentry stations. There are 16 beers, and the fare ascends from that humble bar snack, the Scotch egg (here wrapped in delicious garlicky ground pork under crisp panko breadcrumbs), to a well-stuffed beef Wellington with tangy port-wine sauce that actually justifies its $47 price tag. 2100 Pacific Avenue; 609-343-2600, 866-733-5827.—DH