We had a ball in Asbury Park this past Saturday with friends. The boardwalk’s renaissance seems to be on the upswing in spite of the economy and the damp start to the season. Sandwiched between the reviving the Asbury Park Convention Hall on one end of the board walk and the Asbury Park Casino (where a scene from “The Wrestler” was shot) on the other is lots of upmarket and interesting food places, shops, bars and FUN!!! We almost skipped lunch to jump the fence and play under the giant hose, watering can and more in the Asbury Water Park, but we didn’t have the obligatory child to get us in.
Mother Nature had her own water features going that day, so we found shelter in a margarita glass at Pop’s Taco Garage. The Mexican food was not outstanding, but a huge step up from anything I ever et on Coney Island’s boardwalk. The service was woeful—almost like the waitress was in a trance-like state… The salsa and guacamole were bland, but at least fresh. I had a couple of tacos with rice and beans that were skimpy, but tasty smothered with some house-made hot sauce. The highlight was the calabacita and huitlacoche empanada that we spyed when one of the cooks came out with a piping hot platter. He said they were delicious so we ordered one. Our waitress did twenty other things before bringing it, but it was worth the wait. It was absolutely delicious with chunks of squash and corn fungus with onions, garlic and spices in a crispy shell drizzled with sour cream and queso. Off the hook! My friends and I wolfed it down before any chance of a photo opp, but I took a shot of them in the case. Their variety of empanadas du jour changes daily.
Then we wandered to check out the shops and the scene including a bar that wraps along the outside of the old convention center which looked like a cool spot to while away the afternoon. We opted for happy hour at the Watermark. It’s an uber-hip cocktail bar/ night club with a yummy looking tapas menu and stunning views. Very loungy with mixologists and New York vibe, but lacking stiletto holes and cigarette burns in the furniture for true NYC authenticity. We sat inside as their deck was not quite open for biz, but it will be soon. We popped over to the adorable Victorian town of Ocean Grove to sober up in a dry town and to check out the tent houses set up by the Methodist community. Apparently, the tent houses are passed down through generations with a 20 year waiting list. I don’t quite understand why you would add a tent the front of your house rather than just add a permanent room, but it is charming and you can see into them during the afternoon which is fun for a nosy New Yorker. Some classic bands will be playing at the Great Auditorium this summer including ABBA!
Eventually, we tooled along Cookman Avenue. One thing that strikes you about the shops in Asbury is the friendliness of the shop owners. They are really working together to welcome and encourage shopping in each others stores. Our faves were: Shelter Home, Heaven Art & Antiques on Cookman and Hot Sand and Posh Den on the boardwalk. Before heading back we ate again at The Brickwall Tavern. Seriously LOUD!!! While reading each others lips we ate great onion rings, decent baby back ribs, chicken pot pie and a beautifully grilled pork chop. Asparagus fries were forgettable.
Asbury Park is an easy day trip from NYC. You can pop up on the train. NJ TRANSIT has a Beach Package that includes: your off peak round-trip train ride and one daily beach pass for Asbury Park for $22.00 (save up to $6.50). Everything is easily accessible by foot. If you eat somewhere I should try, let me know as I will definitely be back.
Pop’s Garage Taco Bar
3rd Avenue Pavillion, Asbury Park, NJ 732.455.3275