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Underrated restaurants in Monmouth County

  • h

It was only a matter of time before someone posted this. My vote? When they are 'on' the Memphis Pig Out.

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  1. I like Memphis Pig Out. Especially when they are "on". I like the pulled pork sandwich and the salad bar. Their BBQ sauce is good. The homemade french fries are great! I have not been happy with their seafood items.
    This will certainly not compare to a roadside barbecue spot in TN or NC, but Memphis Pig Out is quite good for NJ. I also like their moderate prices and the mid-week movie ticket deal. This is a fun place to take kids.

    1 Reply
    1. re: val ann c

      Don't get me wrong Val, I love The Pig Out. It is without a doubt my favorite BBQ in the area. With that being said, (or written in this case) sometimes it is better than others, though always enjoyable for me. I can however understand why some people don't care for it, mainly because of some inconsistancy.Just as an aside, I really like Mark & Connie the owners. The movie deal is also great!

    2. For me underrated is Eurasian Eatery in Red Bank. Although a Saturday night concert at the Count Basie Theatre can pack the small restaurant, I've been there countless lunches and dinners where I was one of three diners. On quality, portion, price, service and comfort when I'm craving homemade noodles, curried lasagna, mango tea, sweets I go out of my way to stop there. They are closed on Monday and do not accept cc's.

      2 Replies
      1. re: HillJ

        HillJ, I haven't been there in years. I remember I used to enjoy the Macau Paella (sp?). My wife used to order , the name escapes me, a spinach filled bread, sort of like a baked dumpling. I'm glad you posted about EE, it's definately time for a return visit. Also I was wondering if the menu has changed much with new ownership?

        1. re: Herm

          The paella is wonderful and the menu is just as wonderful now as 10 years ago! Herm, pls report back on your experience and help remove this terrific restaurant from the "underrated" list.

      2. I think it's going to be very difficult to get anything like a sizable list going in this category for the simple reason that the food at too many restaurants in Monmouth County ranges from seriously bad to just mediocre. The worthwhile restaurants are hardly a secret, so coming up with a "hidden gem" that might fit the underrated category is, in my view, like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

        21 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Wow what a unexpectedly dismissive post, RGR. With your vast knowledge of all things delicious I seriously doubt you would not be able to open our eyes to some undiscovered, underrated eats. What you might consider mediocre may actually be delightful dining to another CH. Pls share!

          1. re: HillJ

            Hey, HillJ. Call my post dismissive if you like, but the problem is what it is. I'm not keeping any secrets. If I ever discover an underrated hidden gem in Monmouth County, my Hound pals will be the first to know. But as the expression goes: Don't hold your breath! lol

            Barbarella, Regarding my Monmouth County favs, i.e, places we've been to many times, the list is fairly short. No surprise that #`1 is Nicholas. Others: Drew's Bayshore Bistro, El Meson, SamVera, Pete & Elda's, Thompson's Fish & Chips. (Note: When we go to Thompson's, we always have gelato at Cold Cream.) Fritzy's has previously been on the list, but we have not been there since it was sold. Same goes for I Cavallini since the departure of Chef Toni Froio. There are a few places, like Le Fandy, Marmara, and Far East Taste, where we've had very good meals, but since we've only been once or twice, I don't consider them favs at this point.

            1. re: RGR

              RGR, right back atcha! lol.
              Btwn the overrated and the underrated threads on Mid Atlantic it would appear Mon cty offers enough choices to accommodate all of us-no need to hold one's breath. We all have our favs & dislikes. I agree personal gems can be hard to find....or we're just spoiled CH's!

              1. re: HillJ

                HillJ - probably a little bit of both.

                1. re: HillJ

                  HillJ, I don't think it's a question of us Hounds being spoiled. It's that our culinary tastes are at a much higher level than that of the overwhelming inhabitants of the county who, for some reason, have not managed to advance much beyond the style of the food served during the 50's and 60's. How else to explain the continued existence of a place like Buttonwood Manor, in Matawan? Or the fact that there is exactly one French bistro? Also, modern Italian restaurants serve pasta as a separate course; however, most of the Italian restaurants around here still insist on serving pasta as a side to the main course.

                  Overall, I think we're lucky to have even a few good dining spots in Monmouth County. And the fact that Nicholas is one of them is, to me, truly a miracle!

                  1. re: RGR

                    RGR, I mean no disrespect to your experienced viewpoint (I enjoy it) but I do not share your "higher level...overwhelming inhabit..of this county...comment. Further, my experienced take as a NJ girl is that places like (as you mentioned) Buttonwood Manor exist because they cultivate a faithful following well deserved after decades of service. Many places like that (as you know) remain open in nearly every county of NJ. French bistros exist in NJ; my last count 4 worthwhile. As do other specialities for those of us seeking bigger culinary adventures. But, I also have a carefree fondness for nostaglic mediocre fare and always will because for me and my CH friends food is also about memories, comfort and having a familiar "joint" to visit. Spoiled as I am (thanks to dh and several friends and family in the food biz) I will always enjoy both the middle of the road establishment long on history and short on artistry as much as a high end break the bank food master. Said my piece :)

                    1. re: HillJ

                      HillJ - Thanks for the interesting perspective. While I completely understand your position, I have to concur with RGR. I'm from the camp that believes that life is too short to eat bad or even mediocre food. While I can enjoy the company of my friends while eating at McDonalds, I can have an even better time doing so at Nicholas.

                      1. re: bgut1

                        As long as mediocre is subjective, I'm happy. Life is too short and how we spend it eating is completely personal. Thanks. Keep those underrated reviews coming!

                      2. re: HillJ

                        HillJ, My comment about there only being one French bistro was related to the situation in Monmouth County. We certainly have no trouble finding them elsewhere in the state.

                        When my husband and I were younger, we ate regularly at many places where we would never set foot in now. Unlike you, I have not one moment's nostalgic yearning for that level of food. I don't consider myself spoiled, just evolved when it comes to things culinary.

                        I'm with bgut1 when he says that life's too short -- and at my age, definitely getting shorter by the minute -- to waste time eating bad or mediocre food, so I make every effort to avoid doing so. That doesn't mean that every meal has to be of 4-star quality. Just well-prepared and tasty, at least, in my judgment.

                        1. re: RGR

                          I'm in the same camp as RGR/bgut. I just came back from a weekend in Montreal and wow, what an eye opening experience.

                          Americans in general, and most people in Monmouth really don't care much about food. I run into this every day at work - want to go some place interesting for lunch? No thanks, I'm heading out to TGI.McChilliLobsters!.

                          The worst is when you do get a restaurant that serves up food out of the mainstream and fail. I still miss Peacock...

                          1. re: joonjoon

                            yummmmmmm... I miss Montreal. The food cannot compare to what is in this area. I am still talking about a mushroom ravioli I had at L'express!

                  2. re: RGR

                    I agree that most Monmouth county restaurants are asking NY prices for mediocre food but the one "legend" of Monmouth county that never ceases to amaze me is Chef Toni Froio..how can she be so great when every restaurant that she has been associated with has either gone out of business or has given her the boot? She opened an Italian deli in my neighborhood several years ago near the Little Silver train station. The entire area was abuzz with expectations about being able to have "Chef Toni" takeout, catering, etc in our midst. What a disaster that turned out to be..most of the food was below par and I actually was a guest at a high end Rumson party where the catering had been done by Chef Toni and the food was inedible and being thrown in the garbage by a furious host. Time and again, I wanted desperately to like what I bought at her store but was disappointed and eventually stopped going. So did everyone else. I heard rumors that as the business showed signs of bankrupcy, she locked the door one night and never returned. However, months later she showed up in Long Branch with her usual foodie groupies raving about her arrival and following her only to have her run that place into the ground. She went somewhere else (?) and then finally to Colts Neck, and now, big surprise, she is gone. There are many overrated restaurants but she is by far the most overrated chef and her record speaks volumes to back that statement up. Why would anyone follow her around?
                    For whatever it is worth, I was raised in an extended Italian family with my grandmother living with us and was spoiled by authentic Italian cooking 24/7 and my pet peeve is that there are no more Italians cooking in the kitchens in all of the "so called" Italian restaurants in our area..they are all Albanian, Mexican, Israeli, Greek, etc. but very few Italians who are "hands on" in these restaurants...and the food tastes it! For a county that is loaded with Italian restaurants, there really aren't many who are putting out quality food. Yet, we walked by Federicis in Freehold last week and the placed was packed ...their pizza is H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E and their food even worse...It must be me (and my husband) since we are constantly disappointed with most of the restaurants. The only new Italian restaurant around that doesn't disappoint is Ponte Vecchio in Old Bridge (sister of LuCas in Edison)..have anyone tried it?

                    1. re: annmark

                      Annmark - I feel your pain. Have you tried Piccola Italia in Ocean? It may do the trick.

                      1. re: bgut1

                        Yes, many years ago. I can't recall why, but we didn't go back. I remember thinking it was pretty good, will have to try it again!

                      2. re: annmark

                        I agree with bgut1 ... try Piccola. I've also had a pretty good meal at A Tavolo on Rt. 9 in Old Bridge not long ago. As for Chef Toni, I only ate at I Cavallini once while she was there and was disappointed, but seemed to be in the minority. I just read in the Asbury Park Press that she is a guest chef, I think at The Mill in Spring Lake (but I could have the restaurant wrong). Go figure.

                        1. re: jsfein

                          We've been to ATavola and it was good, the female chef was pretty creative but the atmosphere wasn't so great.
                          Chef Toni always seems to pop up somewhere and all her groupies follow her ;Andrea Clurfeld from the APP always gives her glowing reviews as well..I know she was the chef at the Brielle Yacht Club for awhile, too. Will check out the Mill website. Haven't been there in awhile, not since the new owners anyway.

                        2. re: annmark


                          I found your post about Toni Froio very interesting though I'm not sure I completely agree with your views.

                          During the many years she was associated with The Farmingdale House, the food was consistently first-rate, and getting a reservation, particularly on a Saturday night, was often tough. As far as I know, she was not involved in the ownership. Iirc, she left, and it closed shortly thereafter.

                          When I heard she was involved in that restaurant in Long Branch -- the name escapes me, but it was in the building that formerly housed Mumford's -- we tried it once. I couldn't believe this was the same Chef Toni because the mediocre food was nowhere near the level of what she had produced at The Farmingdale House. And, as you said, the restaurant closed.

                          Next, she turned up at Raspberry Cafe, in Ocean Grove, but we never went. She didn't last long, but it's still there.

                          I Cavallini was open about a year when she took over the kitchen. Though we hadn't tried it up till then, it's only a 15-minute ride from our house, so we went for dinner. The meal was superb! We had several other meals there and, with the exception of one dish which was problematical though not horrible, everything was delicious. Whatever her reasons for leaving, I Cavallini remains open and, though we've not been back since, from the looks of the parking lot whenever I go to Delicious Orchards, business does not appear to be suffering.

                          One thing I wholeheartedly agree with you about. Most of the Italian restaurants in our area serve food that can only be described as abysmal! I can't even count on the fingers of one hand the ones that are worth bothering with.

                          Though we've never tried LuCas, it has a good reputation. Ponte Vecchio -- which happens to be across the way from the excellent Thai Thai -- is very conveniently located for us. About 10 minutes from our house. Since you say P.V.'s food does not disappoint, it is now definitely on my "go to" list.

                          1. re: RGR

                            Yes, I pass I Cavallini almost daily and the place is doing well, with or without Chef Toni. Will have to try it now that she is gone!
                            I never had a bad meal at LuCas and since it is right behind the Menlo Park Mall it's a great way to end a day of shopping! And it's a BYOB. When Ponte Vecchio opened I was thrilled to learn it was the same owner as LuCas & also a BYOB. We haven't been disappointed there yet but (as you are painfully aware) there is always a first time so I hope you are as lucky as we have been. Any of their fresh seafood salads (Frutti di Mare) are wonderful. I have to try the Thai restauran; everyone raves about it!

                            1. re: annmark

                              I've been reluctant to try I Cavallini since Chef Toni's departure. So, ann, if you decide to "take one for the team," please report back. :-)

                              P.S. I'm kind of annoyed with the owners because they took down their website -- after I called the restaurant to complain that they still had Chef Toni info prominently on it even though she had been gone for some time -- and they've never replaced it.

                    2. re: RGR

                      Hey RGR,

                      So what are you favs in Monmouth county? can always use a new place

                      1. re: Barbarella

                        A little out of the way - but Labrador Lounge in Normady Beach

                    3. I'm believe the ethnic hole-in-the-wall places are underrated. I wish there were more of them.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: tom porc

                        I've been to the Ruby Palace on 35 in Middletown (or is it technically in Holmdel and quite liked it). Americanized Chinese, but kind of fun.

                        1. re: veganish

                          I know this is a little outside the scope of this topic, but the most underated restaurant in the "area" is Bistro 44 in Toms River.

                          1. re: veganish

                            It's Holmdel. Nice place, friendly people. Food is pretty good. Not the best I've had, but no complaints. And the best value. Large portions, and they always seem to throw in something extra.

                        2. Zaitooni Deli on Mechanic Street in Red Bank - spot on Lebanese.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: MDM

                            I agree. I love Zaitooni. Great food. Pleasant casual seating in the deli. The owners are so nice.
                            I wish they would use real plate and flatware for eat-in customers. I get so tired of disposable tableware.

                            1. re: val ann c

                              Zachary's in Oceanport/LB border. good grub.

                          2. I have not been there this summer yet but I liked Jennie's in Asbury Park. The Banana pudding was about the best I ever had but that is desert. The 'soul food' offerings were all solid.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Geo8rge

                              There are some diamonds in the rough in Monmouth County, for sure:

                              SCARBOROUGH FAIR, WALL: Although SF has the ambiance of a ski chalet, it's a little gem and a fine dining value. It's hard to say what type of food SF serves because the menu is over-the-top eclectic, to its detriment. For example, there is calamari, but it comes with wasabi mayo and simple marinara sauce. The food is very good, however, and the ingredients are fine; it's rare, however, when I clean my plate, because the portions are huge and there is just too much stuff on each plate. As an example of the value, the rack of lamb is about $30-$35, but you get the ENTIRE rack, like 9 bones or whatever. I've paid that much for three bones in other restaurants. The wine is a tremendous value as well. Ruffino Ducale "Gold Label" is just $52/bottle. That wine retails for $38-$45, and I just saw it on the list at Fogo de Chao in Philly for $130!

                              CLEMENTINE'S, BRADLEY BEACH: Clementine's is run by a couple of real foodies. The food is simply scrumptious. You could say that they serve Cajun cuisine, but that tired-out classification does the food an injustice. Last time I was there I made a meal of the out-of-this word-scallop and ground bacon appetizer and sides of jambalaya and sauteed spinach. BYOB. The service is excellent as well. You can tell that the servers really love the food too.

                              FOUR WINDS, WALL: This tavern does three things great that make FW worth the visit: Burgers, the clams casino appetizer and ice cold bottled beer. The burgers have that perfect crunchy surface char that bring them just to the cusp of burnt. The steaks are good so long as you order them without the horrid steak seasoning (McCormick's?) and on a regular plate (they come on sizzler platters). I'm told the prime rib is the house specialty and sells out all the time, but I have never had it. Warning: Do not get the raw seafood. We received putrid oysters the first and only time we ever ordered raw seafood.

                              TEAK, RED BANK: Teak serves pan-Asian gonzo cuisine, none of which is particularly superb, but it is always good. This place is all about fun. The restaurant throbs with a disco beat and is the perfect place to start a Friday night out. All the fried stuff is great with the funky drinks. A good place for duck lovers to go to get some lovin'.

                              JENKINSON'S BOARDWALK BAR AND GRILL, PT. PLEASANT: You just read that and think that I am on crack, but the fish and lemonade stand across the room from the pizza and hot dog line makes a superb fried flounder sandwich and sells this finger-licking plate of thin compacted potato chips made to order from store-sliced potatoes. The fresh-squeezed lemonade is, blessedly, undersweetened.

                              BLACK TRUMPET, SPRING LAKE: Since Foy closed down his last store in downtown Point (it's still a restaurant, anybody know anything about it?) This is about as good as it gets for haute cuisine in these parts. It's wicked expensive, the room is a little shabby (it looks like it has only been spruced up since the Sandpiper days), and the creativity in the menu is probably below average at this price point, but I've always had a good, if not great, meal here.

                              MOONSTRUCK, ASBURY PARK: I haven't dined here since the Ocean Grove days, but I've heard from solid Chow authority that the kitchen is back in the game and the place is rockin. I suspect that getting the prck-owner Luke out of the dining room was the start in reviving this joint.

                              That's a start. More later.

                              1. re: soigne

                                Frankly, I would put Moonstruck into the *overrated* category based on my one experience when it was in Ocean Grove. I have had absolutely no urge to give it another try, and I'd have to hear a whole bunch of raves from Hounds whom I trust before I'd even consider shlepping to Asbury Park.

                                1. re: RGR

                                  Agree that Moonstruck is overrated.

                                  Bistro Ole is Asbury is one of the good places that has popped up in recent years.

                                2. re: soigne

                                  soigne - Thanks for the very detailed post. Based on your recommendation, I'm happy to add Clementine's to my short list (sounds like Drew's). That being said, I can't agree with your assessment of Black Trumpet. I had a HORRIBLE meal there a few weeks back. My detailed review is somewhere around here. Sorry.

                                1. re: tom porc

                                  tom - I've lived in the area for years and have never been. It never seems crowded when I drive by. What's good there? If you say so, I may give it a chance. Thanks.

                                  1. re: bgut1

                                    I havent been there in several years so I'm sorry I dont remember anything specific. But I do recall the soups as being good and homemade. I probably had pasta while Mrs had seafood. I no longer live in Ocean Twp so I havent been there more recently.
                                    I did think the food was an unexpected surprise and better than average. And the prices were reasonable too. Sorry, I cant be much help.

                                    1. re: tom porc

                                      Tom - No problem ... thanks for the reply anyway.

                                      1. re: bgut1

                                        We go there occassionally. First time I went I was very unimpressed but my brother-in-law is a big fan so we have been back for family gatherings and I've been more satisfied. They have a pretty good veal margherita. Its also BYOB which I always like. They also have a great salad (not sure it is the house salad but its very good and served family style).

                                  2. re: tom porc

                                    When I used to run a bar in Oakhurst, the Mike & Nellie's waitresses used to come in for drinks after their shifts. They told me that the food was very good, but I never ate there.

                                    Foy's last place in Pt. Pleasant is now called "Bistro." Has anyone dined there? Also, there is a fish place next door called "Latitude 40." Anybody know about it? We walked in there last night around 9:30, but the kitchen was closed. The menu looked interesting, but the place smelled kind of fishy. We ended up going to Martell's Tiki Bar, where the food is G-d-awful, but it's a nice to sit by the sand and enjoy a warm breezy night on the beach.

                                    1. re: soigne

                                      I would second RGR's - Drew's Bayshore is the best 'underrated' restaurant in the area. By underrated, I don't mean the Zagat score, or the number of reviews on this site - both are somewhat biased by the foodie factor. I mean that I can walk in almost any day, and surprised to see it still in business..

                                      The other place would be Sister Sue's. Tasty tasty food, and so cheap.

                                      1. re: aacharya

                                        Hey, aacharya,

                                        I presume your second refers to Moonstruck?

                                        As regards Drew's, I'm surprised that you're surprised it's still in business. Perhaps, when it first opened, it might have belonged in the underrated category. But, at this point, it's been "discovered," and Drew has confirmed to us that business is excellent. The fact that he's able to sustain the enlarged space also speaks to his well-deserved success. :-)

                                        1. re: RGR

                                          Actually, I meant Drew's. I lived in Keyport, and have seen that storefront go through quite a few names. Maybe it is more popular than I thought, as I may be having the "keyport never has anything good" mentality.

                                          And Drew is definitely not overrated.

                                          Sorry I wasn't clear on the original post, was on a teleconference at the time - that may have been part of the reason.

                                          1. re: aacharya

                                            Now that you've clarified, I have to say that I've never considered Drew's to be underrated. I would place it in what might be called the "Goldilocks category" -- not underrated, nor overrated, but just right! :-)

                                        2. re: Herm

                                          When my wife and I lived in Red Bank back in '96, we used to dine at Picola Italia every other week. We loved it. The chef was Egyptian. Is it the same chef/ownership?

                                          Two if By Sea was in the same shopping center at the time, and that was very good. I had a wonderful birthday party there. I have not dined there since they moved to Red Bank. Is it still good?

                                          1. re: soigne

                                            Soigne - IMHO, Two If By Sea lost something in the move to Red Bank. I've tried it twice in their new digs and didn't like it at all. I can't recommend it. Sorry. In case you wondered, before Piccola expanded into its former space, following Two If By Seas dseparture, the storefront was occupied by a very good bistro called "J" and then a kosher restaurant named Lime.

                                            1. re: soigne

                                              OK here is what I know about Picollo Italia. The owner of the Restaurant is not an Egyptian fellow,his name is Brian. He bought the restaurant a few years ago, so he's not the original owner. To further confuse things, there is an Italian food store with the same name, although I believe it is owned by a third party and has nothing to do with the restaurant. I do definately know that the food is good......

                                              1. re: Herm

                                                Just to be accurate, the correct spelling of the name is *Piccola* Italia.

                                                It's been a few years since we've eaten there -- which was before they got their liquor license -- and I'm pretty sure I read that the chef who was in charge of the kitchen at that time left. One of the dishes I had was a truly memorable veal dish.

                                                bgut1, We never ate at Two If By Sea in its original location, but we did have dinner there a couple of times not long after they moved to Red Bank, which was 7 years ago. The food was decent but certainly not anywhere near deserving the raves it had received previous to moving. And the decor in the dining room was kind of shabby and depressing.

                                                We loved Bistro J! The chef, who owned the place with his mother, was a very nice young guy and extremely talented. His cuisine was creative and really delicious. One dish I had -- I think it was salmon -- included a side of black rice. When I mentioned to him that I'd never had it before, he generously gave me a sizable container of dry black rice, along with instructions how best to prepare it. Truly sad that the dining public didn't appreciate what he was doing and they couldn't make a go of it. :-(

                                                1. re: RGR

                                                  RGR - I agree about Bistro J. I was sad when it closed.

                                                  1. re: bgut1

                                                    With the possible exception of Le Fandy, bgut1, I think you and I are usually pretty much in sync. :-)

                                                    1. re: RGR

                                                      RGR - I guess you're right. Does this mean I have to give Chef Ong another chance? :)

                                                      1. re: bgut1

                                                        bgut1, Since my general mantra is that a restaurant only has one chance to make a first impression, if I had had a disappointing experience, I'm not sure I would be too eager to give Le Fandy another try. But, then, despite your reservations (pun intended), you did go back to Brandl. True, it was your wife's choice for her birthday... But I'm guessing your expectations were not particularly high.

                                                        I think deciding whether to give Chef Ong another chance depends on exactly how bad you felt the meal was. If you think it showed promise, you might want to give it one more try.

                                                        Btw, we have not been back to Le Fandy since our second dinner which, you may recall, I didn't think quite measured up to the spectacular first dinner. But it wouldn't keep me from going again. Checking the menu, I see some new items. I'm intrigued by the foie gras trio, and the rack of lamb sounds very appealing. Hmmm... Maybe next week?


                                      2. The Lobster Shanty in Point Pleasant is incredible - it has been refurbished for over two years now, but SO many people are shocked that it has been completely redone: physically and cuisine-wise. No longer is this your dark, smoky, mediocre food dive...

                                        I had my wedding reception there because the food and view were both breathtaking <and this was during November!> - my guests were shocked. You can sit at their comfortable bar in the winter by the fire and order some snacks or you can go blow a boat load of money for dinner. Either way, it is an excellent place to get seafood <of course>, sushi, or even a steak <had an excellent filet their not too long ago> and needs to be rediscovered!!!!!! Pricey!

                                        Other places I dig:
                                        Shiki House - 35N in Middletown
                                        Squan Tavern - Main Street in Manasquan
                                        Bruno's - Neptune City - for subs ONLY. Pizza is not great...
                                        Circus Drive-In - I think it is WAY better than Max's...you can start insulting me now...but hey, I'm partial to birch beer.

                                        Seriously though...I think it's very important for you to go rediscover the Lobster Shanty <the light colored Jack Baker's, not the big wooden Wharfside>. I almost fell over when I walked in there.