Oven-Made Meals At Medusa

A stone-fired oven reaches beyond pizza at this Asbury Park eatery.

At Medusa Stone Fired Kitchen in Asbury Park, you might catch a whole mackerel. Or a half-chicken. There might be corn on the cob or another peak-season vegetable awaiting its turn in the oven. The eggplant picked that morning might be roasted atop a Medusa pizza that night, and the peaches ripening in a basket in the open kitchen will be turned into a crumble for your dessert.

It’s Medusa’s daily party—except on Tuesdays, when chef-owners Aimee McElroy and Lauren Castellini give their year-old baby a siesta—and it celebrates all that can come out of an oven.

The concept is basic, and a little brave: If it can be fired in the Medusa oven, it can be on the menu. But that’s all they cook with here. The back-stove stockpot isn’t a fixture in the McElroy-Castellini realm, nor is the stir-fry pan or the sous-vide machine. It’s cooking as old as the caves of Lascaux.

Stone Fired Oven at Medusa

On this night, we get shishitos, charred and blistered, ready to squirt with the juice of a fresh lemon wedge.

Shishitos

We get an arugula salad, mounded high, its leaves set astride a chop of yellow peaches and topped with shavings of Parmesan. We get a hearty salad of a meal with kale—crisped in parts from high-heat roasting—that’s spliced with thick cuts of carrots, batons of fennel caramelized by the oven’s fire and shards of pecorino.

Kale salad

What perfect lead-ins to Medusa’s marquee pizzas, I think, as we plow into the produce, as if we’d just spent a day burning calories harvesting it all in the fields. The freshness and sincerity of the food, coupled with the warmth and humor of Aimee and Lauren, cooking it all right there behind the counter where we sit and eat, sets the place apart from the Shore’s big-gun dining palaces.

For they do it all in a 20-seat garage of a space at the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue in Asbury, not in the uber-chic Cookman ‘hood, with outdoor tables available when the weather’s cooperative. The crowd leans local; tourists traffic is elsewhere, feeding the parking machines.

The pizza with the Jersey Eggplant Vintage Summer 2017 is swiped with a verdant, multi-herb pesto that plays off the judiciously spare tomatoes. It’s hand-formed, too, both oblong and curvy, charred and blistered in spots, and served on a pizza pan. I think the dough could be more complex, but, all in all, it’s a worthy pie.

Eggplant pesto pizza

So is the nightly special: brisket pizza, with petite haystacks of the lightly seasoned beef punctuating the white pie base of smoked mozzarella and cheddar. For a spot of color and a smack of extra flavor, the chefs top the pie with a soft-boiled egg. Fun and delicious.

Brisket white pizza

I want that porchetta sandwich something fierce. I’ve already eaten enough for three. One comes out with a side of shishitos and is set right beside me at the counter, awaiting pickup. I’m awfully tempted to grab it (what’s that expression: Act first, beg forgiveness later?), but then our peach crumble arrives. It’s all about homey in all the right ways, and suddenly I’m imagining the rhubarb crumbles of Medusa’s spring menu and the apple crumbles to come this fall.

Yeah, I can come back for a porchetta and apple supper. Medusa, once found, isn’t to be forgotten.

Medusa Stone Fired Kitchen, 711 Fourth Avenue, Asbury Park. Open daily, except Tuesdays, for dinner; currently opens at 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. 732-361-3061. medusaap.com.

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