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Peppering the Palate on Monmouth Street

Written by The Two River Times. Posted in Featured, Front Page, News

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Published on February 28, 2014 with No Comments

MonSTFood1-jb-IMG_0254By John Burton

RED BANK – Monmouth Street has developed a world of flavors.

From pizza to Mexican food, with sushi, Asian fusion and good ol’ American hot dogs and subs in between, along Monmouth Street visitors can find a smorgasbord of businesses catering to the epicures among us. The street with its various eateries, has turned into a corridor for foodies.

Someone can stop and pick up a loaf of freshly baked French bread; walk a short distance to get a nice bottle of wine, and step over to the Cheese Cave for selections to accompany the bread; and cross the street for a bottle of imported olive oil.

As Ayca User, owner of Antoinette Boulangerie French bakery, 32 Monmouth St., said, “Viola, you have a nice romantic dinner.

“Come to Monmouth Street,” she said. “It’s like one-stop shopping.”

Along the corridor, one of only three that connects the borough’s east and west sides, there is a patchwork of food businesses. In the western end, there is Juanito’s Mexican restaurant, and its ancillary businesses, along with a variety of commercial and retail interests. But, as one moves east, passing the Count Basie Theatre and its cultural appeal, there are a variety of not only restaurants, such as Teak specializing in Asian fusion-cuisine, but specialty shops catering to food lovers as well.

On the street’s eastern end there are spots offering wines, spices, herbs and teas, imported olive oils, cheeses, and different types of sweets with a cupcake shop, the aforementioned French bakery, and Lil Cutie Pops, with its selection of novelty cake pops.

With the emergence of “interesting food retailers” for the last couple of years, Monmouth Street is “Definitely, becoming a little area unto its own, for sure,” said James Scavone, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, which oversees the borough’s commercial Special Improvement District.

“It probably started a little bit coincidental,” how the shops wound up being establishing on Monmouth Street, Scavone said. “But these things tend to attract each other,” as new business owners look to find a compatible location, he said.

Going back a couple of decades, Mayor Pasquale Menna recalled, Monmouth Street was filled with “small business endeavors, insurance offices, flower shops, shoemakers, this and that.”

Now, Menna believes, it has become a collection of “more avant-garde, forward-thinking type of businesses.” They are establishments that reflect a positive trend for the area, he feels.

What was probably a motivating factor for some of these businesses, is that rents are lower than on the higher-profile Broad Street. Also there is an availability of smaller spaces, which “can bring in different types of tenants, who are willing to experiment outside the corporate box,” Menna said.

Lisa Prepon, who, with her husband, Howard Bernstein, are the proprietors of the Spice and Tea Exchange, moved to their 12 Monmouth St. location late last year.

“We felt this had the best combination of foot traffic and other factors,” she said.

Some of the other factors for their business were that there were similar businesses on the street that would likely complement theirs. “There’s a synergy here” as the businesses seem to attract a certain type of customer, Prepon said. “I think we have the same customer base.”

That includes Shelley Treacy of Sea Bright who was browsing in Prepon’s shop.

“Seriously, this is brilliant,” Treacy said, going through the variety of different peppers and other spices Prepon has available in her franchised location.

“This is certainly turning into a nice gourmet enclave” along Monmouth Street, said Treacy, who is starting her own prepared meal service business.

Treacy said she felt the development in Red Bank had been “a little bit too hipster” for her taste. “Now, it’s more interesting, more approachable,” with these shops representing that, she said.

In Carter and Cavero Old World Olive Oil Company at 19 Monmouth St., customer Kim Jarck of  Rumson said she regularly peruses the shops along the corridor when her son takes drum lessons in the area.

“It’s definitely a different mix. They have different kinds of stores they don’t have anywhere else.”

“I really feel that Monmouth Street is more down to earth, not so hoity-toity,” said Rachel Berkley, Carter and Cavero’s manager.

That accessibility, she explained, comes from the business owners, who, genuinely work together. “We all kind of collaborate,” she said. She will recommend other locations to customers who might be interested in their offerings.

“I really believe the customers in Red Bank really enjoy that,” she said.

MonStfoodCOVER-SL-IMG_6245While Broad Street may offer higher visibility, “there is a sense of community on Monmouth Street,” said Michael Vaccaro, cheese monger for the Cheese Cave, an artisan cheese shop at, 14 Monmouth St.

The proliferation of other foodie locations “has definitely been a boom to us,” he said, as customers make the rounds. Many stroll in on their way to the movie theater on White Street or for an event at the Count Basie Theater. “It definitely brings people to our shop and to Red Bank on a whole,” Vaccaro said.

Anita Morris, who manages Carlos O’Connor Mexican restaurant, called Monmouth Street a place with “so much diversity in such a small space. I have people who come here with wine from the wine shop, have dinner here and go somewhere else for dessert.

“It’s a great date night,” she said.

“I think it might be the sweetest street in Red Bank,” said Melanie Pomerico, owner of Lil Cutie Pops, noting the variety of offerings available. “But, everybody is doing their own thing … not step on each others’ toes.

“It’s nice to have that small-community feel,” she said.

Peter Yim, who manages Teak restaurant at 64 Monmouth St., called the street “the bridge that connects the east and west sides” of the community. “And, it’s attracting people to Red Bank. That’s a good thing, right?” he said,

“It is sort of the cutting edge,” Menna said.

What’s happening here is melding well with existing attractions and will with future developments, the mayor said. A case in point is the large residential complex being built at Monmouth and West streets, which will be marketed toward young urban professionals. “Hopefully, that’ll wake some other projects on Monmouth Street, that it’s time to start building,” he said.

Menna believes the vibrancy on the street would benefit from owners holding small street events during which they can offer their wares while pedestrians strolled – “and have a little tapas here and there,” with the street closed to traffic.

He hopes to announce such plans for summer events shortly.

 

 

 

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