By any account, neither Grace Crossman nor Laura Brahn should have ended up working in restaurants. “I was supposed to stay away from this industry,” Brahn said with a smile after telling me that both she and her business partner have degrees in literature.
Even though cooking wasn’t their first plan, they both found their way into restaurants and haven’t looked back. The two chefs have been working at various restaurants in Asbury Park for five years (including Porta, Pascal and Sabine, and Talula’s). Crossman also spent time working in New York City restaurants as well as on an organic farm in New Jersey.
Now the pair has decided to venture out on their own. They are opening Cardinal Provisions, a restaurant and catering business in Asbury Park, set to open in January 2016.
Cardinal Provisions will serve breakfast and lunch. It will be a full-service daytime food spot, plus they’ll have a carry-out case with grab-and-go options. The food will have an emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients and in general will slant in the healthy direction. They want to put out the kind of ingredient-focused food they like to eat during the week: lighter and fresher than what they might indulge in on the weekends. But their kitchen is also their playground, so they plan to host occasional pop-up dinners that will allow them to flex other culinary muscles that go beyond the offerings on their regular menu. Their vision is strong but still fluid enough to allow room for the pair of creative chefs to experiment.
Event catering will be a major component of their business as well. According to their website, they are interested in catering partly because they “love the temporality and excitement of the short term” and it allows them the opportunity to frequently take on new creative challenges. They enjoy crafting new, customized menus to fit the needs and personalities of their catering clients.
When I visited with Crossman and Brahn in mid November, the restaurant was a construction site. Watching the two talk about their vision was a treat. They are doing a lot of work themselves, so Cardinal Provisions is coming together on a tight budget. This is forcing the duo to get creative with their choices. They have been scouring flea markets and antique shops to source decorative fixtures for the restaurant. Their mothers have been helping hunt for interesting pieces of china. They intend to create a space that works for daytime but will also transform well for evening events. The signs in the windows were done by Steady Hand Lettering and the signage was created by Quiet Points. The exterior trim is painted a shocking bright green, while the space’s interior will be a bit more subtle. They both smiled when they described their plans for the restrooms, which are going to be playful and surprising. An antique taxidermic flamingo that came from the shooting range at Palace Amusements (and has family ties to Brahn) is going to find a home there.
As if they aren’t busy enough, Brahn and Crossman have several other projects going on. They have been recording a podcast about their experience with opening the restaurant, with a focus on the challenges of creating their vision on a budget. They are thinking about publishing a Cardinal Provisions zine in the future. They’re also selling hand-printed t-shirts featuring their logo.
Cardinal Provisions participated in the Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten’s Christmas market in December. Brahn and Crossman sold an assortment of holiday treats including preserved lemons, spiced nuts, Szechuan peppercorn peanut brittle, and German chocolate truffles. Their offerings at the market were an exciting preview of things to come. I had the opportunity to try some of the brittles and spiced nuts and it made me even more excited for the opening of their restaurant. They created something really tasty from simple ingredients and I can’t wait to experience what else they can do. I wasn’t able to try their intriguing bacon jam because when I stopped by they were sold out—for the second day in a row.
Crossman and Brahn may not have intended to become chefs, but luckily for us, they did.
513 Bangs Avenue