MODERN ITALIAN FARE AND ARTISANAL COCKTAILS COME TO MONMOUTH COUNTY
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
In the eye catching and glass walled conservatory dining room that is the centerpiece at Blu Grotto, patrons dine on modern adaptations of regional Italian favorites and sip extravagant artisanal cocktails. And on three spacious outdoor decks and in its open air beer garden, there is hand stretched mozzarella and Neapolitan pizza topped with fontina cheese and truffle oil.
“I think the best way to define Blu Grotto is through our high end seasonal Italian fare,” noted Tom Barone, vice president of food and beverage at Monmouth Park and an integral member of the restaurant’s management team. “In that we take classic Italian dishes and give them a modern twist. All of our pasta is made in house, and we serve incredible dry aged Pat La Frieda meats and lots of fresh, locally caught fish. We start with the freshest ingredients and turn them into something modern and unique.” Launched in the summer of 2016, the business, located in Oceanport overlooking the final turn and stretch of Monmouth Park (a thoroughbred race track), was designed and built from the ground up. “This is all brand new space, so the owners were able to conceptualize everything from start to finish,” Barone said. “They created a beautiful atmosphere with plenty of outdoor seating and lots of lush and ornate landscaping.”
Blu Grotto’s kitchen, which is open year round, is run by Executive Chef James Corona.
“James is a Mario Batali and David Bouley alum who has been lauded for tapping into modern Italian cuisine with a soulful yet minimalist approach,” Barone said. “He showcases high quality ingredients on each plate, without complicated additions. He has a very authentic Italian style and makes wonderful use of what’s growing locally so that each and every dish is extraordinarily fresh.”
Menu standouts include a brick pressed organic chicken breast served with broccoli rabe, rosemary fingerling potatoes, and roast lemon; short rib pizzaiola served with wild mushroom farrotto and shaved parmigiana; a coffee rubbed rib eye for two; and a Scottish salmon with whipped parsnip and pancetta brussel sprouts. Short rib meatballs with creamy polenta and whipped ricotta, General Tao’s calamari, baked oysters Alfredo, and Posillipo clam toast highlight the appetizer selections.
“We serve simpler, outdoor fare in our beer garden,” noted Barone. “There we have a brick oven and a full grill, so there’s plenty of pizza and small bites. We also make all of our own mozzarella and serve chicken wings right off the grill.”
Blu Grotto also features 40 varieties of beer, and presents live music Thursday through Sunday nights.
We have a deep and extensive wine list, with varieties from Spain, France, California, and Italy,” Barone said. “Our beverage director, Amalio Rodriguez, creates these ridiculous artisanal cocktails that include hand chipped ice and other unique details.”
The drink menu, which is separated into “Something Old” and “Something New” categories, ranges from traditional libations like Moscow mules and whiskey sours to more modern concoctions, with names like Return of the Lavender (gin, orange, lime, lavender black pepper syrup, chili liquor, and egg white) and That’s Figged Up (fig infused rye, clove infused port, lemon, and grenadine).
“Everything is made in house, from the focaccia that starts the meal to the desserts that finish it,” noted Barone. “We make everything from scratch, so it is all prepared daily.”
Blu Grotto also features gathering spaces both small and large to accommodate a variety of private events.
“In addition to our interior dining options, we have three decks and the beer garden, which could accommodate a wedding for 500 guests,” Barone said. “It really is a beautiful setting for any type of occasion.”
According to Barone, area residents are appreciative of this new space. “This is really a hidden gem,” he noted, describing the restaurant’s somewhat secluded setting. “We are set back from the main road, but when guests and passersby spot this building, they are truly intrigued.”
This summer, staff will focus on pumping up the restaurant’s nightlife, transforming the eatery into an afterhours destination. “We’ve already established ourselves as a great food venue; now we want to establish ourselves as a great nightlife venue, too,” Barone said. “We want our guests to come and have a great meal and then stay for a cocktail and some great entertainment. There will be DJs and Happy Hour specials. We’re planning on hosting some great events here on the Jersey Shore…making this a true destination.”
200 Port au Peck Avenue, Oceanport
732.571.7900 / blugrottonj.com