Cooler temps bring out the improvisation in Garden State kitchen minds

by Marisa Procopio

SIRLOIN SWOON
The magnificently restored Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, situated in the heart of Asbury Park’s boardwalk empire, doesn’t need much to entice visitors. But those folks do need to eat, after all, and during fall, they want less soft-serve and more steak for two. The newly opened AP Chophouse, within the Hotel, fits the bill nicely. Its menu is unfussy and straightforward— gorgeous burgers, heritage pork chops, and more, along with the sizzling beef—leaving patrons free to relax and simply savor. 1401 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park, apchophouse.com

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PROOF POSITIVE
Proving Ground Waterfront Dining has succeeded Windansea at this enviable spot in the Highlands, serving modern American fare in a beautiful waterfront setting. The restaurant offers sandwiches, steaks, a raw bar, craft beer, and cocktails—classic dishes and drinks with fresh twists. 56 Shrewsbury Avenue, Highlands theprovingground.com

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Small plates, big success
Asbury Park’s Barrio Costero exemplifies the double threat of imaginative dishes plus seamless execution, which results in patrons sighing contentedly. A few questions for the man at the helm in the kitchen: Chef Antony Bustamante

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Ray Catena Spread

What’s your favorite menu dish to cook?
Oh…esquites, which is locally-grown baby corn with four-month fermented ramp salsa verde, pickled ramps, and queso panela. Just wonderful.

And your favorite menu dish to eat?
Carnita-style braised short rib. Braised in pork fat, then fried for a tender inside and crispy outside. Then there’s the 18-ingredient mole de sangre (pig’s blood mole), which reminds me of my childhood in Los Angeles.

What’s the best part of what you do?
Teaching and learning about foods, preparation techniques…and especially learning how people see and taste.

And the toughest part?
The ins and outs of 40 to 50 staff personalities. You have to be their mentor, leader, friend, and teammate…every day.

Your indispensable kitchen tool?
Oh…my mind, certainly. You have to be sharp, efficient, and able to execute mentally and physically at the highest level in this profession.
610 Bangs Avenue, Asbury Park, barriocostero.com

Fall for it
Fall and Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck are pretty nearly synonymous, as evidenced by the stacks of pumpkins, scampering kids in jack o’lantern sweaters, and cops directing traffic on Route 34 every weekend in October. So, the legendary family run company decided to make it official with Pumpkin Fest. Held on Columbus Day each year, this is a celebration of everything autumn, so grab a few sleeves of the best apple cider doughnuts you’ll ever taste, pop them in the car, then explore the fun. There’ll be pumpkin decorating, food to taste, games, live music, heaps of colourful mums for purchase, and an antique tractor display. Arrive early for lunch (the store offers a full menu and outdoor seating) and make a day of it. Monday, October 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. deliciousorchardsnj.com

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