A tiny spot in Asbury Park thrives on wood fire…and local inspiration

by Marisa Procopio

We’re not re-inventing the wheel; we’re just kind of stepping back and doing something that people have been doing for thousands of years.” Aimee McElroy said of cooking in her wood-fired oven. But, turns out, it’s actually quite a bit more than that.

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McElroy is chef/owner (with Lauren Castellini as co-chef/owner, along with two other owners) of Medusa Stone Fired Kitchen, a 20-seat spot opened last August in Asbury Park’s developing North End. The area is home to several new artisanal venues, along with a busy farmers’ market from spring to fall.

When it’s warm, Medusa celebrates its outdoor seating. “We open up the garage doors,” said McElroy, but New Jersey locals know “warm” doesn’t always mean waiting for summer: Over the unusually balmy Presidents’ Weekend, customers basked outside with meals and drinks “and we were jamming,” she said.

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Inside, McElroy and Castellini turn out simple, earthy dishes made entirely from scratch—their oven at the center of it all. “It’s enormous,” said McElroy. “All the parts were shipped over from Italy….We’re a 100% wood-fired kitchen.”

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Pretty much everything sees the inside of that oven, from the seasonal vegetables in Medusa’ popular charred kale salad, to desserts, to McElroy’s beautiful breads (some made with spent grain, such as barley wheat, from Dark City Brewing in Asbury Park).

“I get in at 8 [a.m.],” said McElroy. “I now have a brisket in the oven; it’s slow roasting. Then we start roasting off our veggies. We even roast fruit.”

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Along with pizzas, salads, and hearty sandwiches, Medusa offers specialty breads on weekends (they sell out quickly, so McElroy recommends calling to reserve).

Cozying up around that incredible oven is what she called “a really good, local, neighborhood clientele.”

“It’s an open kitchen,” she explained. “You can hear everyone’s conversations, and they’re not afraid to share constructive criticism. We’re a new business, a new venture, every day figuring it out, really listening to people’s input. We really love what we do.”

Asbury Park, home to a diverse and skyrocketing demographic of makers—artists, chefs, and musicians—is also fertile ground for opportunities. An intimate place like Medusa facilitates rapport, and supports local vendors like Smiling Earth Mushrooms in Long Branch, which provides shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane mushrooms.

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“We are a communal place,” said McElroy. “We have a family table and it fits 18 people. Conversations and friendships have developed in this space. It’s local. This is Asbury Park.”

Here, the oven and its caretakers lay the groundwork for community, then they let it, hungry for collaboration and good food, take over. “The creative component is the people,” McElroy said.

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Medusa Stone Fired Kitchen
711 4th Avenue, Asbury Park / 732.361.3061
medusaap.com