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Where to Eat in Monmouth County, NJ

  • j

My wife and I are having a heck of a time finding good places to eat in and around Red Bank, NJ. We have had no problem finding bad places -- uninspired German restaurants with splendid ocean views and very ordinary food; dime-a-dozen Italian places serving ice-cold mozzarella; etc.

I wonder if anyone can recommend some real find in this area -- Red Bank, Long Branch, Rumson, Middletown, Atlantic Highlands, etc. Almost anywhere in Monmouth County will do; we're getting desperate.

We have a few that we like.

We know about Fromagerie in Rumson, of course -- and go there about once a year or so, or whenever the bank makes an error in our favor.

In Red Bank, the Bistro seemed very good on the first visit but now seems perhaps only good. There is some great stuff there but a lot of what I call "hyperambitious" food and combinations. They have a "crispy" spinach that seemed a marvel at first but soon seemed only greasy. Still, a decent place.

Joe and Maggie's, in Long Branch, has been very good to us. It's a great little place, our favorite in the area. Menu changes all the time. Everyone always likes what they get there.

Siam Garden (Thai) in Red Bank is good, but the 8-pound wooden menus have got to go. Service can be awful.

Topps in Red Bank is a good place for German food. The shared platters of red cabbage and potato salad are a bit much for the summer though.

I liked Crown Palace (Chinese) in Middletown two years ago; lately, it seems more and more like your everyday mediocre Chinese place. Service is starting to get bad, too.

I'd love to hear suggestions from others.

John Tracey
Rumson, NJ

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  1. I live in Middletown and I read your recommendations with interest. I really enjoy Joe & Maggies. I'm going to try Topps. Please see the URL below for some recent recommendations I posted here on Chowhound. (I recommended Barnacle Bills, but was disappointed on my last visit.)

    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    14 Replies
    1. re: Val G

      I have to say it. The food that best meets its culinary objective is to be found at Max's in Long Branch. Most every time I have dinner somewhere in Monmouth County I wish that I were having a few of Max's hot dogs with a beer instead of where I find myself eating. But maybe I am being to critical trying to make a point.

      1. re: Peter

        Where is Max's? Is it a hot dog stand? Anything for non-meat-eaters?

        1. re: Val G

          Max's is close to the southern border of Long Branch and is about a block or so in from the ocean. It is quite well known in the area, just ask anyone for its whereabouts. It used to be a stand many years ago when it was on the boardwalk in Long Branch. Now it is a fairly large place that sells a whole lot of hot dogs.

          1. re: Peter

            So, Peter, would you place Max's ahead of or behind Windmill in the battle for the best hot dog in Jersey -- or at least on Ocean Avenue?

            1. re: John Tracey

              I've been to both Windmill's and to Max's. Honestly, I used to love Max's years ago, but now (after 20 years later) Windmill's hot dogs nowadays tastes just like the old days of Max's. I've stopped going to Max's because of their overpriced meals, and I like Windmill's much better.

              1. re: John Tracey

                For past 45 years have enjoyed Max's hot dogs on yearly trips Florida to NJ. It's the first place we stop. I understand that Max's uses Schickhaus hot dogs. Can anyone confirm and suggest places that ship down South?

                Windmill is great, too, but for real crunchy dogs and cold bear, it's Max's.

                1. re: Jim

                  Agree fully about Shickhaus franks. Have been enjoying them for over 50 yrs. Max's used to be a small stand on the boardwalk in Long Branch. The franks used to be able to be purchased from a distributer in Long Branch, uptown. Forget the name of the place now but a little snooping should be able to turn it up.
                  Still stop at the new Max's when we hit the area and even "Mrs Max's" obnoxious arrogance can't take away the flavor. She claims they are made only for her but good sources say otherwise and they are Shickhaus.

                  1. re: gary

                    True they are not made for her...My father owned stands in Belmar, His friend owned Juniors on th epier in Long Branch.. Both sold Shickhaus.. Though We used to go to Max's on the Boardwalk.. The little old one.. Not the newer one on the boardwalk, and then not the one off the boardwalk..
                    I now live in Dallas.. Damn no shickhaus.. Though when I travel to the Shore (mostly for bluefishing in the summer) I buy them a pathmark on 35 in Belmar..And bring home about 10 packs..then the next problems is sauerkraut..damn.. My first time Max's was about 1964 I think I was 6..

                    1. re: gary

                      long branch - hot dog distributor - Wennigs

                  2. re: John Tracey

                    I've been eating at Max's & Windmill for over 25 years now, & I've always thought that Windmill served the better dog. I have lunch at Windmill at least once a week. It's definitely a subjective thing, try both if you can. In the past, Max's was always a little more expensive, but there is waitress service & a more varied menu to choose from. By this past summer, though, I realized that the price of a dog, fries, & a drink at Max's was almost double the price of a comparable meal at Windmill. I made the conscious decision not to eat there anymore, because it's just not worth it. I'll miss Mrs. Max.

                    Other reasons I like Windmill better:

                    1) Cheese Fries! The best on earth! (Mrs. Max only recently started selling cheese fries, which can not compare to Windmill's.)

                    2) Chili Cheese Dogs- Can't get that at Max's. Use a knife & fork, 'cause you aint pickin' it up! (Note- Mrs. Max does serve an interesting take on the cheese dog- real cheese stuffed into a split dog.)

                    3) The fries- I know a lot of people who are kosher & will never know the yummy taste of a Shickhauss frank, but they go to Windmill special for the fries. The secret is that they're fried twice, so they're extra crispy good! Go to Max's if you like big ol' steak fries.

                    4) Coupons- Windmill constantly publishes coupons in the local Ad Mags (TV Shopper Guide?!) for $1.00 off, or BOGOF, and they're not too particular about expired ones, so keep a few in your wallet.

                    5) Open year round, with a choice of locations. Two in long branch, & others in Red Bank, Belmar, & Freehold, that I know of. All locations offer good, consistent, "Windmill" food, the same from one to the other, kind of like Mc Donalds. First timers must go to the original, windmill shaped store, at the corner of Ocean Blvd. & Brighton Ave. in the West End section of Long Branch. It's a cool place, very unique, & open all night, I think. The newer Windmill in North LB offers inside seating, that's where I usually go. Jonesin' for Max's in February? Find Mrs. Max in Florida, and maybe she'll make you one.

                    No disrespect to Max's- It's an institution around here in the summer, and I've enjoyed many dogs & beers there, I just like Windmill better.

                    Other area restaurants I like:

                    Vic's, Pete & Elda's, Il Picolo Forno, Il Giancone's, Mom's Kitchen, Charlie's, Mr. C's, Tuzzio's, Joe & Maggie's, Richard's Deli in West End, Illianos (little), Americana Diner, & Pearl of the Sea (Portuguese, LB).
                    This list is by no means complete, just my favorites.

                    JAD

                    1. re: JAD

                      I stand corrected. Windmill dogs are Sabrett, Max's dogs are Shickhaus.

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                      1. re: JAD

                        Max's WAS great before the Long Branch boardwalk fire, when Max himself used to grill up dogs. It was a tiny place w/ great dogs. Max's now is simply overpriced and not so great. Oh, and the service (good luck getting the "waitress's" attention) simply sucks. Stick to the Windmill for dogs or hit Jersey Joe's in Port Monmouth for great Italian hot dogs and/or sausages.

                        1. re: cozmikchuck

                          Hi cozmikchuck!

                          I see a Jersey Joes at the corner of Wilson Ave and Port Monmouth Rd. Would that be the place?

                          I recently enjoyed the Newark-style Italian hot dog at Ricci D's in Keyport (124 W Front St). The pizza-bread roll is really great. Pepper/onion/potato toppings are good -- greasy in a good way. They slather the roll with brown mustard. Next time I will ask for less mustard. I'd recommend ordering a double as the hot dogs they use are small.

              2. re: Val G

                I know a great place to eat in Red Bank. We moved to Pennsylvania, but we come back to red bank just to go to the walt Street Pub. They have the best buffalo wings around, cheeseburgers that are out of this world and butterfly fries that i can't get enough of. They have daily homemade specials and some new additions to their menu. They also have steamed old bay shrimp that rock!!! We always eat here whenever we are in town...a deffinate must. check out their menu...www.waltstreetpub.com

              3. "In Red Bank, the Bistro seemed very good on the first visit but now seems perhaps only good. There is some great stuff there but a lot of what I call "hyperambitious" food and combinations. "

                Hyperambitious is an apt description for The Bistro. I ate there two years ago and have no desire to return. The food was showy but not delicious. (But I keep hearing that it's very good.)

                "Siam Garden (Thai) in Red Bank is good, but the 8-pound wooden menus have got to go. Service can be awful. "
                Try Far East Taste on Rt 35 in Eatontown. It's not elegant, but the food is delicious. Order from the chalkboard.

                "I liked Crown Palace (Chinese) in Middletown two years ago; lately, it seems more and more like your everyday mediocre Chinese place. Service is starting to get bad, too."
                Agreed! I haven't found any Asian that I like, other than Far East Taste.

                Italian restaurants. I wish I knew a really good one. Buena Serra (Maple St, Red Bank) is really popular. It's a lovely festive place. The food is fresh and good, but way too salty for me.
                Piero's is my current local favorite. (1411 State Route 36, Keyport, 732-264-5222) The food is very good, but not inspired. It's fresh, competently prepared northern Italian. Very comfortable place with excellent service. Caveat: specials are double the price of regular entrees.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Val G

                  Thanks for the recommendations. I'm going to try both of them.

                  There's a place in Red Bank that seems to get a lot of hype because of its beer -- Basil Ts -- but I found the place dreadful when I went (once). I usually give restaurants a second chance but it was so bad (sour food, even!) I just couldn't.

                  I've been to Juanita's in Red Bank, too, which I think is probably the best Mexican food in the area -- and Lord help Red Bank in that case. Do not order the hideous glop of greasy melted cheese they call a chorizo cheese dip or whatever -- it's truly horrifying. Once in a while you will find something good on the specials menu -- if you can stomach $17 crab cakes at such an ordinary place.

                  Perhaps it's just me, but I have a real dislike for the two Italian places in the heart of town -- La Pastaria and Mamma Mia (I think it's called). La Pastaria especially, which is packed every night, serves dreadful bread and (my opinion, of course) uneven meals pretty consistently. They set up a "tapas" bar a while back that bothered me too -- seemed very touristy, and what they chose to serve there was so ordinary -- basically salads and bad antipasto. I had read Saveur's amazing article on tapas recently and expected lots of good stuff. I may just be in a cranky mood, but -- is there a good Italian place in Red Bank? I don't think so.

                  My wife and I had found an ugly little Greek place in Shrewsbury -- the restaurant capital of America, with both a Perkins-type family place and a Boston Market in one square mile -- and went their religiously for a month every week, getting delicious grilled meats and a fabulously tangy lemon chicken soup. Then one Friday they were gone. (sigh)

                  1. re: John Tracey

                    Let me know how you like Far East Taste. Please don't expect too much from Piero's. It's one of the best Italian restaurants I've found in the area -- but that's not saying much.

                    More on Red Bank:

                    The food at Juanitos is passable, and yes, the best in the area. My husband and I were both sick after eating there once. Maybe just an off night. ***But!!! I saw a little Mexican luncheonette in Long Branch -- on Broadway, on a corner near Joe & Maggies. Haven't tried it yet. But my radar says it may be good.***

                    I found La Pastaria to be ordinary. I didn't know about the tapas bar. Maybe they're trying to grab some of The Bistro's trendy-minded clientele.

                    I think Red Bank is cursed for restaurants. The only food I really like in Red Bank is the salad bar at the Second Nature health food store and the pancakes at the Broadway Diner. Red Bank calls itself "the hippest town in NJ". I think their restaurants try to be cool or cute or retro. They care more about the look than the cook. They are blessed with hordes of people who come in to town on the weekends to hang out.

                    Middletown is another sad story. 40 square miles and only 1 good place to eat - Navesink Fishery.

                    1. re: Val G

                      The Bistro in Red Bank is pretentious and just no fun; Far East Taste is awesome, but try to ask for one of Richard's special fish dishes. He catches much of the fish fresh and it tastes amazing. Good Mexican in Red Bank can be found at a place called La Chalupa's right near the train station. It's not fancy, and rumor has it the chef came from Juanito's. As for Juanito's, it ok but too heavy/greasy and the portions are too large.

                      That sad story about the Greek restaurant is an ongoing obsession for my husband. It was called Mykonos (in the Marshall's shopping center in Shrewsbury) and he swears he sees signs for it every once in a while when the craving for chicken souvlaki overtakes him. Despite having many diners in the area, there is no good Greek restaurant around here (aside from It's Greek To Me--which is a chain). We usually end up at the Americana diner (good chicken souvlaki and matzoh ball soup).

                      I like San Remo's for Italian, but I was only there once. Rosina's is ok for Italian take out. Mirasol (for Portuguese) is TOOO salty and the shrimp was a bit nasty; I'd head to South Amboy or Newark or experiment with some of the places in Long Branch. Pearl of the Sea is ok, but not great.

                      On the higher end:
                      Doris and Ed's--huge disappointment; La Frommagerie--worth every cent; Joe & Maggie's--B+. Does anyone know about Nicholas in Middletown? Top rated in Zagat's, but I don't know anyone who has been there.

                      Best Burgers: Barnacle's in Rumson, Java Moon in Shrewsbury (but the service absolutely stinks and I won't go back); the Globe in Red Bank (awesome wings and sweet potato fries); and all of the restaurants in the Pour House/Sitting Duck/Main Street chain (but don't order anything other than a burger or maybe the French dip--anything with seafood stuffing is horrid).

                      Fish & Chips are ok at Stewart's and Thompsons, but you're probably better off making them at home. Do NOT get them at the Dublin House in Red Bank or you will be disappointed.

                      1. re: Heidi61

                        Heidi61, There are many fans of Nicholas on this board, including me, who consider it one of the best restaurants in the state.

                        When you say Joe & Maggie's, do you mean their original restaurant? They sold it, and the new owners re-named it Cask 571. Joe & Maggie now own Bay Av. Trattoria.

                        1. re: Heidi61

                          Heidi, Welcome to Chowhound. You probably didn't notice, but the post you replied to was dated September 2000 :-).

                          Since I wrote that post I've been to Nicholas several times and I love it. Despite the high prices, I consider it a good value for the quality and service.

                          best regards
                          Val Ann C (formerly Val G)

                          1. re: val ann c

                            hmmmm...Fromagerie...where was that overrated restaurant thread again? :)

                          2. re: Heidi61

                            I think La Chalupa is one of Red Bank's best-kept secrets. When we lived in Monmouth County my wife and I went there all the time and experimented with many different dishes. We loved every single thing that place made. I miss it so. :(

                          3. re: Val G

                            Val G, Though their p.o. address is Red Bank, Nicholas is actually in Middletown. So, that makes two!

                        2. re: Val G

                          I always liked the Murphy style grill, in downtown red bank. great prime rib and sizzling steaks served "murhpy style". and reasonable , too.

                          1. re: ellen

                            Murphy's actually changed alot since 2000 - we go there frequently however have calmed down on them - there portions have lessened as the prices increased - also things like "would you like to add lettuce and tomato to your burger for $2.00) are you kidding me?? Things like this turned us off big time - however - 2 lobsters for $22 can't be beat!

                        3. If you like Portugese food try Mirasol in Sea Bright.
                          Cousin's in Highlands is good too but not consistently
                          so. Great Szechuan in Aberdeen is an excellent
                          Chinese restaurant with absolutely no ambiance
                          (in the Grand Union strip mall). It's tough to find good eateries in the area.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: christina z

                            Haven't been to Mirasol in over 5 years - however when we went it was fantasic -the sausage, seafood paella and the sangria were all amazing - anything change? Is it still the same after all these years etc...?

                          2. what about the irish bar across from the train station and the german place right by there, are they still open? I used to hang out around there and really liked the food at both places. the irish bar was a bar, but with good sandwiches and corned beef and cabbage if you were in the mood.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: lee

                              The german place is the Little Kraut. Still decent though it has slipped a bit over the last 10 or so years. Outdoor dining in the summer and a decent beer list and some good german wines

                            2. Another "on someone else's dime" or special occasion place is 2 Senza, in Red Bank. It's in that big converted warehouse place just off the main business district (The Galleria?). Very expensive but very good. Smallish kind of place and BYOB, though I seem to recall them starting to sell wine that you could buy and then bring. Outdoor eating in season. I have fond memories of the bread and tapenade they brought out, a seared tuna appetizer that was yummy, but my brain refuses to recall the entrees I had. The only time I recall being disappointed is when I threw caution to the wind and ordered a salad with quail and then rabbit for the main course - the meats were yummy, it was just too much work to eat them!

                              I agree with you on the Bistro - I'd heard good things about them, but once was enough for me. Crowded *and* smoky. Ick.

                              I work in Middletown, and on the occasions where I'm eating in the area by myself, I usually end up at the Macaroni Grill. Yeah, it's a chain, but I enjoy them, and I'm usually fussy about Italian. It's the place Olive Garden would like to be and never will.

                              Link: http://www.gooddeed.net/vacation/

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Jen Kitchen

                                I love the murphy style grill in downtown red bank.
                                great steaks and prime rib, reasonable too. I find it espescially frustrating finding a good, (unique) restaurant in my sister's suburban world of Manalapan/ North Freehold. who wants to go to fridays and olive garden? I like the independant / ma&pa places, and I'm sure all of you chowhounds do , too. Or else we would'nt be here!!

                                I'm beginning to think the diners along rt. 9 and rt. 18 may be the best bets. I had an excellent hamburger (and I am very particular about my burgers!) at the PeterPank diner on rt. 9 in Old Bridge, just today.
                                Enjoy, everyone!!