As a sous chef for Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, Jersey native James Avery says he learned, “you’ve always got to be on your game, and a certain amount of theatrics helps make the dining experience.” After building his career under David Burke at Fromagerie in Rumson and at Atlantic City venues, Avery has been applying those lessons to the Bonney Read, a vibrant, 110-seat seafood house that opened in 2015.
“It frustrated me that there wasn’t a single place left where I could proudly take out-of-town visitors for an old-fashioned seafood dinner,” says Avery, 35, who lives in nearby Wall Township. The name is inspired by the early-1700s female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who cut a swath through the Caribbean before they were captured by the British. An e was added to Bonny’s name “for aesthetics,” Avery says.
At the corner of Bangs and Cookman avenues, the epicenter of Asbury Park’s burgeoning restaurant scene, the Bonney Read is lively and bright (if a little noisy, with its miles of white subway tile). The restaurant features a front-and-center shucking station and a bar that draws happy-hour crowds with $5 drafts (Jersey brews duly featured) and excellent buck-a-shuck oysters.
Our deftly grilled catch of the day (salmon one night, Jersey yellowfin tuna another) came with a smear of lemon-infused gremolata that brought out the best in the fish. At $27, though, the plates should have had more ambitious sides than ho-hum slaw and a “loaded” baked potato with meager amounts of butter, sour cream and chives, but no bacon.
As for the menu’s prominently featured seafood boils, our 2-pound order contained chubby, delicious, shell-on Gulf shrimp perfumed with Cajun boiling spice. But even the best shell pickers among us scored precious little meat from the Alaskan snow crab legs—an ouch at $50. A screaming deal, however, is the Thursday-night boiled special, which scores a 1-pound lobster for $20.
Avery’s bestseller is linguini and clams, made with porky guanciale, breadcrumbs and a grating of saline bottarga. “It’s a simple dish made the best possible way,” he says. “It’s the best metaphor for what we do.”
The chef enlivens his hearty Jersey green clam chowder with sausage and fennel. He ladles a silken lobster bisque over a full ounce of tender meat. Fresh mussels fra diavalo (one of three options) bobbed in a spicy tomato broth good enough to slurp. Too bad all of the above arrived at our table tepid.
Terrific clam and chorizo fritters, on the other hand, showed up sizzling hot. So, too, did a flawless platter of crisp, ale-battered haddock and shoestring fries. The scene stealer, however, was gorgeously grilled octopus over pan-fried potatoes and crisped chorizo, with a side of saffron aioli—a small plate satisfying enough to be dinner unto itself.
Avery’s only outright disappointments, besides our seafood boil, were his broiled oysters (overpowered by what amounted to a breadcrumb-and-leek coffin lid) and, surprisingly, his lobster roll. It didn’t lack meat, but tasted flat and seemed embalmed inside its somewhat cool, damp bun.
Yet Avery, who doesn’t have a pastry chef, finishes strong with a brief list of winning desserts. They include a homey individual chocolate cake capped with vanilla ice cream, and a spiffy Key lime parfait that—with its citrus-spiked gelato, graham-cracker crumble and toasted meringue top—would make even a ferocious female pirate crack a gap-toothed smile.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:American - Seafood
- Price Range:Moderate
- Price Details:Small plates, $6-$19; large plates and boils, $17-$80; desserts, $9-$11.
- Ambience:Stylish chowder house.
- Service:On point, seafood savvy.
- Wine list:Tiki-bar specialties; craft brews; wines $44 and under; cask-rum collection.