Walk inside the under-construction space at 601 Mattison Avenue in Asbury Park, and you can—with the help of a couple of couples who are spearheading the work—imagine sitting in a booth upholstered in green leather and studded with brass, eating smoked, fried chicken and shrimp-and-grits while sipping from a glass of decidedly natural and “esoteric” wine.
In your fantasy, you just might have to look up over the bar at an artful display of concentric mirrors to reassure yourself that you are actually in this haven for Southern cuisine, which will be called Modine.
Though the scene today is dust and plywood, punctuated by the screeches of buzzsaws and workers carrying planks, the reality is that Modine is likely to be your cocoon-come-true this winter, when the team behind Talula’s (also in Asbury Park) will be serving forth.
In fact, says Shanti Mignogna, who with her husband, Steve, owns Talula’s, Modine is on target to open mid-December.
“We are excited to bring something totally different to the landscape here,” she says, then turns to smile at her partner in this new venture, chef Jill Meerpohl, who with her partner in the kitchen and life, Chris Davin, will be in charge of the food at Modine.
The two couples are joining forces with Christopher James, who will serve as bar director, and Andrew Rasizer, who will not only be on the ownership team but also serve as general manager. Matt Carmona will be the sous chef.
With a talent pool this deep, it’s no wonder the bar for Modine can be set so high: The former home of Fish, set in Asbury’s historic Post Building, is being stripped away right now to bring light and an airy feel to the space.
“It’s got good bones,” notes Shanti Mignogna as Meerpohl nods. “We’ve definitely opened up the space, whitewashed it and uncovered windows.”
“The light is awesome,” adds Meerpohl.
Space Exploration, an architectural firm based in Brooklyn, is in charge of the design and renovation, paving the way for installation of those green leather booths, an extended bar, and banquettes across from the bar. The space that once held a vault—when the Post Building was a bank—is scheduled to open by next summer as a semi-private dining room for groups and parties.
“We’re taking the vault down to its original steel,” Meerpohl says.
While walking back to the kitchen, the chef notes that she and Davin will be “paying close attention to the history of Southern cuisine”—and that of coastal communities in the Southeastern part of the United States. For inspiration, they look to the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization devoted to the diverse food cultures of the American South based at Ole Miss in Oxford, MS.
And look as well, Meerpohl adds, “to my grandmother,” whose middle name gave Modine its name, and who plied her considerable cooking skills while living in Virginia.
Want another reason to feel as though Meerpohl and Davin are going to bring something special to the table in Asbury Park? “My husband and I spent our honeymoon traveling down the Southern coast—eating,” she says. Now that’s true love.
Shanti Mignogna smiles. “You have to see this,” she says, waving her arm in the direction of a space behind the kitchen that fronts Bangs Avenue and Emory Street.
“We have a huge kitchen, yes, so we thought we’d do a whole take-out and lunch counter area in the back of it,” she says. Folks in the neighborhood will be able to pick up or eat lunch there, while those ordering dinner take-out or fetching catering orders will have a place to convene as well. So while the dining room, which will seat 140, will be dinner-only, the “back of the house” will expand service to lunch.
While the mood of Modine is destined to be fun-meets-fine dining, the Modine team is setting the stage for the overall experience to be “truly special,” Shanti Mignogna says.
Adds Meerpohl: “There’s a certain style of food in the South, a way of entertaining and even just daily dining that speaks to refinement. The table becomes a special experience. That’s what we want to do.”
So there will be traditional dishes, with riffs and spins that will put the stamp of a thoroughly modern Modine on the menu. Sides will be seasonal and classics—perhaps tweaked, or even revamped.
Scallop hush puppies, anyone? Fried chicken-skin sliders?
Davin, also a butcher, will be heading up the in-house butchering program. You read that right: Modine will make its own sausages and grind its own beef for all-luxe burgers. Ready for dessert? Think layer cakes. Meerpohl is a huge fan of the almost lost art of baking layer cakes.
“Oh, you’ll see layer cakes here,” the chef says. “Really good layer cakes.”
At this point, the team’s master mixologist Christopher James and Steve Mignogna, the wine wizard, who deliberately put the “esoteric” into Talula’s acclaimed list and is plotting the same for its sibling, join the conversation.
“We have a 100 percent natural list at Talula’s,” Steve Mignogna says. “Here at Modine, that’s what we’re shooting for, too.”
The cocktail program will be A-1 quality, because as Meerpohl says, “You can’t have a good Southern restaurant without cocktails.”
The team takes a look around Modine, as workers prepare the space for the booths, banquettes, bar and myriad fixtures being made off-site. The mission they dreamed together is being accomplished.
Notes Shanti Mignogna: “We’re all passionate people. Our leadership team is united in its passion. We’re doing this.”Click here to leave a comment