The Jersey Shore has never suffered from a shortage of seafood restaurants; many carrying picturesque names like The Clam Hut, The Lobster Shanty, and Joe’s Crab Shack, meant to evoke an image of a simple chowder house with raw shellfish and fresh-cooked fish served in a rustic setting. Bonney Read, at the junction of Cookman and Bangs avenues, in Asbury Park, is faithful to that menu concept, with a raw bar and abundant locally sourced fish, but has replaced the homespun look with an industrial-chic design. The open kitchen, white tiled walls, high ceilings with exposed mechanicals, and large glass windows looking onto the street create a hip, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, look. This sleek, casual style, while attractive, comes at the cost of having intimate conversation, as the noise level can be very high when the room is filled. The whimsical name derives from the fusion of the names of two fierce, female pirates, Anne Bonney and Mary Read.
Based on the menu, it appeared that the starters would show off the creative side of kitchen with the entrees being more traditional, and this intuition was borne out. Indeed, a bowl of “Jersey Green” Clam Chowder ($7.50), was a tasty riff on the classic Manhattan red, with its vibrant green color: green peppers, fennel, and sausage played off the abundant dice of clams, making for a light, but flavorful chowder.
Smoked Whitefish Dip ($12) was very good, even addictive. Not overly creamy with mayonnaise, but still smooth and subtly smoky, served with cornichons, pickled onions, and thick toasted baguette slices, it’s a great dish to share, washed down with a drink from the bar.
Surprisingly light and crispy, the Clam and Chorizo Fritters ($11) came with a saffron aioli for dipping. These were a standout, and were also ideal as a shared appetizer.
The saffron aioli also accompanied a terrific Spanish Octopus ($20); juicy and perfectly tender tentacles, sat atop a potato and chorizo hash that was well seasoned, elevating the dish; but some diners might prefer a little less oil in that hash.
How could we not try both the Steamed Middleneck Clams ($12) and the Ipswich Steamers ($19), aka “soft-shell clams?” Perfectly grit-free, and tender, with no trace of saltiness, it was impossible to favor one type over the other. They were both excellent. I would happily return for either or both of these tasty bivalves again.
From a section of the menu offering “From the Kettle,” we chose Dungeness Crab ($30 a pound). Meant to be eaten family style, the silver steamer pot contained two good sized hunks of shell-on Dungeness crab bodies and legs, steamed corn and potatoes. Good, but not as exciting as some of the starters that had come before.
Whole Maine Lobster Roll (at market price) was a classic: bound with mayonnaise, lemon, and diced celery on a sweet, soft, lightly toasted Hawaiian Roll, and a side of fries and coleslaw, it was rich and satisfying.
The only letdown was the Fresh Catch of the Day: Grilled Big-Eye Tuna ($27). Cooked a bit past the requested rare, it was an uninspired looking, Spartan presentation, with a modest piece of tuna, a small dish of coleslaw, a baked potato, and crystals of sea salt sprinkled on top, which made for an unpleasant crunchiness.
Understandably, since this is a seafood-dominant menu, the white and rose wine selections outnumbered the reds by three to one. No vintages are listed on the menu. A glass of Pala Vermentino ($10), from Sardinia, was refreshingly acidic and showed some fruit, and a Brancott Sauvignon Blanc ($9) from New Zealand with flavors of lemon and lime and typical grassiness, was actually a good match for many of the dishes. More interesting than the wine list, the beer list had eight beers on tap, including our local Asbury Park XPA, and Carton 007XX, as well as 15 more in bottles and cans. We really enjoyed a bottle of Left Hand Milk Stout ($6) from Colorado. The dark 6 percent ABV, slightly sweet liquid, redolent of roasted malt and coffee, was a great match for the Dungeness crab, octopus, and fritters.
Only two desserts were offered the night of our visit, a chocolate cake a la mode, and a Key Lime Parfait ($9), which sounded more appealing. A kind of deconstructed Key Lime Pie, with an excellent toasted meringue topping covering a Key Lime sorbet, and studded with a graham cracker crumble, it was light and refreshing.
If you can live without a seaside shanty, or red-checked plastic “tablecloth” covered picnic tables, and accept the fact that good seafood can also be had in the center of a bustling town, served in a sleek, modern, utilitarian setting, then The Bonney Read is worth a visit.
The Bonney Read
525 Cookman Ave.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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