By Celia Belmonte
The city’s sleepers, best bets and the tried and true
Cubacan? Bored of your old beach cover-up? Itching to experience something different but don’t have time to plan an entire family vacation?
For residents of the Two River area, Asbury Park offers the chance to get away without having to go far.
A myriad of new restaurants, bars, and retail stores have entered the historic city in the past few years, helping to fuel Asbury Park’s much anticipated revival.
“It’s becoming a lot harder to talk about the town because there is just so much to say,” said Jacqueline Pappas, executive director of the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce.
A good start to a single day getaway is in one of Asbury Park’s premier artisan coffee shops. America’s Cup Coffee Company at 633 Cookman Ave. is situated on the city’s most famous drag. The shop roasts its own coffee beans on-site, perfect for the customer seeking an authentic cup of brew. Create your own breakfast panini for $5.50 as you sample a small cup of America’s Cup Signature Blend coffee for just $1.64.
Coffee lovers can also travel to Asbury Park Roastery at its original location at 803 Second St. or grab a cup at the shop in the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall. Café Volan at 510 Bangs Ave. is another local hot spot known for its great surfer vibe and treating coffee-making as an art.
After breakfast, stick around the downtown area for some shopping.
Robert Legere Home is located on 521 Cookman Ave. “The store has been here for 10 years,” designer and salesperson Joseph Sisia said. “There is a design center next door as well.”
While Robert Legere Beach, located right on the boardwalk half a mile away, offers a wider array of coastal attire, the design store not only boasts a diverse selection of refined furniture but also sells unique clothes, accessories, handbags and home décor items.
Handbags from Murval and Big Buddha Santa Barbara range from $49 to $109 while chic dresses and flowing tops from Blue Bird, Umgee, and Perch by Blu Pepper stay well below $80. Pick out a patterned scarf for $19 or start preparing for a dinner party with $26 decorative napkins by Harvey & Strait.
There are plenty of vintage boutiques downtown as well.
“Foolish Ginger at 658 Cookman Ave. is a really pretty shop,” Pappas said. “They have great accessories and perfumes.”
Open Thursday through Monday, Blue Hawaii at 529 Bangs Ave. also has a variety of unique vintage looks perfect for summer weather. Asbury Park Trading Post at 110 Bond St. features tops from Free People, 7 for all Mankind jeans and even Manolo Blahnik heels.
After perusing downtown for great summer looks, you can stop into Asbury Park’s many eateries for lunch.
Toast is perfect for a casual breakfast, brunch or lunch at 516 Cookman Ave. With its mantra, “Peace. Love. Pancakes,” the rustically decorated restaurant is committed to maintaining a refreshing atmosphere and serving up healthy classics.
Sip on freshly brewed ice tea served in an old-fashioned mason jar as you treat yourself to bananas Foster French toast from the griddle for $11.25. You can also munch on Toast’s chopped Mexican salad, one of the menu’s many vegan options loaded with roasted peppers, corn, tomatoes, jicama, black beans and avocado in a honey lime cilantro vinaigrette for $9.95.
“[Owner] Amy Russo signed a 10-year lease,” waitress Jessica Pappas said. “This will become a staple of Asbury Park.”
You can also travel a bit further up the main drag to Pure Health Bar at 701 Cookman Ave. Open since January, the made-to-order eatery is anything but fast food, as evidenced by a menu comprised of only fresh, organic and real ingredients. “I am passionate about food and nutrition,” owner Cathy A. Gallo said.
For lunch, try the turkey pesto panini with organic roasted turkey breast, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and pesto for just $6.99. Pair that with Pure’s most popular smoothie. The Rejuvenator, a refreshing blend of acai juice, frozen bananas, spinach and strawberries or blueberries for only $4.99.
After lunch, continue to explore Asbury Park with a five-minute walk from downtown to the city’s historic boardwalk.
Style Rocket offers beachcombers an eclectic mix of hip beach essentials and stylish coastal couture.
“We are in our sixth summer,” manager Jaime Williamson said. “We are open all year-round but in the summer we have a huge boom.”
Get an early start on Father’s Day gifts with a nice pair of men’s Penguin shorts for $69 or snag a graphic tee for your son, now only $10 with the half-off sale.
You can also treat yourself to a new pair of flip-flops from Havaianas, Rainbow or iPANEMA. Along with a great assortment of beach cover-ups, hats, sunglasses and jewelry, Style Rocket also has perfect beach weather bags including a straw bag from Karen Keith for only $29.97.
After more shopping or a dip in the ocean, settle down to a nice dinner at one of Asbury’s premiere restaurants.
“We now have a total of 50 restaurants,” Jacqueline Pappas said. “There are lounges that serve tapas, restaurants that are perfect for date night, others that are great for kids and parents. A lot of restaurants are universal and welcome everyone.”
Stay on the boardwalk and enjoy Cubacan at 800 Ocean Ave. A stone’s throw from well-reviewed Italian restaurant Stella Marina, Cubacan represents both the evolution and tradition of Cuban food. Sip on their delicious sangria and order the ceviche tasting for $14.95 to get a chance to try three of their signature ceviches. Entrees do not exceed $28 and on Saturday nights Cubacan has live Latin jazz.
You can also head back downtown to 632 Mattison Ave. for Japanese fusion cuisine at Taka. The New York Times gave the 7-year-old restaurant two glowing reviews, rating it “very good” overall and awarding it the title “Best of the Shore” in 2009.
“There is something for everyone here,” Taka office manager Diane Ransom said. “We have steak, pork, chicken, sushi, seafood. Even vegetarian items.”
The restaurant’s most popular item is the slow-cooked, boneless short ribs for $28. Entrees start at just $16.
Other Asbury Park favorites include the Mexican fusion offerings at Langosta Lounge at 1000 Ocean Ave., Trinity and the Pope’s New Orleans style fare at 649 Mattison Ave. and the 32-ounce porterhouse steak at Ivan & Andy’s Prime at 508 Cookman Ave.
After dinner, satiate your sweet tooth with some dessert at Day’s Ice Cream. New to the boardwalk this summer, the well-known ice cream parlor from neighboring Ocean Grove has added to the business with a second location between Stella Marina and Cubacan.
“We knew we wanted to be on the boardwalk,” manager Tom Wilson said. “We anticipate a good summer.”
A small ice cream in a sugar cone is just $2.50. Day’s offers a self-serve candy bar as well.
You can also enjoy Italian gelato and outside seating at Casa di Dolci at 539 Cookman Ave. or Ralph’s Ice Cream, a Jersey Shore staple, located both downtown and on the boardwalk.
Finish your night with a drink at one of Asbury’s many new and seasoned bars.
Perched atop Cubacan, Watermark is an upscale tapas lounge. Enjoy the best view of Asbury Park and the Atlantic Ocean through its floor-to-ceiling windows.
Aqua Waterfront Restaurant & Bar and The Beach Bar, situated at either end of Convention Hall, give you the northern and southern views of the beach, respectively.
Other popular watering holes include newcomer Baca Sports Lounge at 533 Cookman Ave., Johnny Mac’s House of Spirits at 208 Main St. and Asbury Park fixtures Wonder Bar and The Stone Pony.
If you don’t fall in love with Asbury Park during your visit, the enthusiastic energy of the city’s locals will surely rub off on you.
“I am from New York but have always vacationed in Asbury Park,” Gallo said. “I love the culture. I love the diversity. Now I live here full time. I will die in Asbury Park.”
Asbury Park’s restaurant and retail owners are proud of what the city has become and will continue to evolve into.
“I love Asbury Park,” Ivan and Andy’s Prime waitress Decoda Johnson said. “It is really on the up and up. If you are going to be anywhere on the Jersey Shore, you need to be in Asbury Park.”
For a full list of store and restaurant locations, descriptions and website links, visit www.asburyparkchamber.com.