By Aaron Comsti |
RED BANK – Scenic Riverside Gardens Park on West Front Street has been the place for movie nights, yoga sessions, concerts and recently a story walk experience. Now it’s also the address for gourmet fresh food with local flavor.
Park Jam, a restaurant run by Steve Farley of Highlands and Bill Huwyler of Middletown, has opened in the space leased by the borough. Previously the location had been operated by Gracie and the Dudes Organic Ice Cream. On May 9, Farley and Huwyler were awarded a two-year concession license with an optional three-year extension.
They opened Sept. 16 with a dream to be the go-to place for tasty dishes sourced from local farms, with some casual seating outside.
“We’re trying to capitalize on good weather and get people outside,” Huwyler said. “It feels like it (the park) has been so underused for so long.”
The duo has been together for a long time now, cooking in private and occasionally for some catering gigs. Farley was the executive chef for Artisan’s Brewery and Restaurant in Toms River. Huwyler was working as an independent technology consultant for financial institutions while also playing bass in his band Remember Jones.
They wasted no time starting their restaurant by completely renovating the building interior and installing a new kitchen. In the summer, they tested the waters by making peach cucumber gazpacho during a weekly Jazz in the Park. For Movie Night, they offered fresh hummus with pita.
Highlighting local producers in their restaurant is a priority, so their menu is dependent on what local farmers are offering. There are different meals every day, in limited quantity, depending on the best foods available. “We’re adaptable and listening to our customers. We built out our space so that we can be flexible,” said Huwyler. The menu is updated daily on their website.
On Wednesday, they offered French Onion Brisket Sandwich ($14), Butternut Squash Soup ($5 cup/$7.50 bowl), Veggies and Dip ($5), Tres Leches Cake ($5) and beverages from $2 to $3.
As for their style, you can call it improvisational.
Huwyler said, “We kind of do whatever,” explaining they don’t want to be tied to a single style like an Italian restaurant, for example. They just want to cook up what local farmers offer them.
Even though Park Jam is still new, the owners have plans to expand what they can offer in the future. Huwyler said they aim to do seasonal events such as a Christmas-themed event with hot chocolate.
On Sunday, Sept. 30, Park Jam will hold a special event at their site, in cooperation with Oasis Backyard Farm in Colts Neck, which offers a community-supported agriculture program.
Farley and Huwyler were particularly impressed by the vegetables produced by Oasis, so they are choosing to do a vegetarian-themed event to celebrate both their new restaurant and the farm, with outdoor seating so diners can take in the view of the Navesink. Tickets are $55 and are available at riversideparkjam.com.
Park Jam is located at 42 West Front St. and is open Monday through Friday, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This article was first published in the Sept. 27 – Oct. 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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