Asbury Park is home to a number of beautiful, historic buildings. attany of these house restaurants serving up dishes known to bring those with even the most discerning palates to their knees. So even though news of a restaurant opening up in the Historic Post Building at 601 Mattison Avenue (formerly occupied by Fish and before that, a bank) may not be a big surprise, it’s what’s on the inside that’s holding our attention.
Inside the Historic Post Building
Modine, Asbury Park’s newest restaurant, pulls together a unique combination of talent from Asbury Park and New York. The dedicated team of founders includes partners Shanti and Steve Mignogna (of the pizza house Talula’s, also in Asbury Park), Chris Davin and Jill Meerpohl (also partners—both personally and professionally), who will spearhead the menu direction, and Andrew Rasizer, who will oversee the front of house and bar program as general manager. Rounding out the bunch is sous chef, Matt Carmona.
The restaurant is named after Meerpohl’s grandmother, Helen Modine Meerpohl. The members of Modine’s group bring their love of low-country fare to the project as well as their ability to deliver dishes that feature heirloom ingredients like classic Sea Island red peas—a staple in the South—to your dinner plate in the North.
I’ve been following their progress on Instagram, so when I read about the opening date, it was pretty much a guarantee I would be there. I had high expectations, I’ll admit it, and those expectations were not only met, but they were exceeded. Many times over.
Welcome to Modine
To start, what they’ve done to the interior of the building is worth noting. For a space that could come off as a cold one, they were able to create warmth. Teaming up with architectural firm Space Exploration, of Brooklyn, NY, the restaurant now features warm brass accents, luxe green leather, marble pillars and tables, lots of greenery, and wooden benches, all welcoming guests into a comfortable, yet luxurious space.
We had the pleasure of sitting at one of the best tables in the house, right in the main window, a few stairs up, overlooking the restaurant. From here, we could feel the grandeur of the high ceilings that are juxtaposed with the low rumble of laughter from other tables throughout the restaurant. It’s a night out, and a truly relaxed one.
On the Menu
After we were seated, we perused the cocktail menu, which features an impressive collection of southern-inspired cocktails, bourbons, craft mocktails, canned craft beer selections, and natural wines. Ultimately, we decided on the Bourbon Crosta (an intoxicating mix of Russell’s Reserve Bourbon, maraschino, Grand Marnier, and lemon) and La Rosita (tequila, Cinzano 1757, dry vermouth, Campari, and Angostura bitters). Two words describe both drinks: strong and tasty.
Finally, let me tell you about the menu, easily the most interesting part of the equation. When you think of Southern, low country fare, dishes like fried chicken, shrimp and grits, collards, and hoppin’ john come to mind—all featuring ingredients that lean heavily on butter, animal fats, and, well, you get the idea. Yes, these dishes are on the menu, but right alongside them are a number of vegetarian and vegan options. And I don’t just mean appetizers, but also main dishes, like the roots and greens.
A Fine Meal
We began our low country feast with an order of hush puppies, complete with a side of vinegary Comeback Sauce—a fixture of southern dinner tables. They reminded my dinner date of “airy clouds that you could actually eat without clogging your pores.” I concurred, happy to eat a fried dish without feeling weighed down. A bowl of a vegan Not Quite Crabby soup followed, leaving us absolutely dumbfounded when we found out that the topping, which we could have sworn were actual pieces of crab, was actually made with sherried palm hearts.
Next up was the Carolina BBQ shrimp and grits, complete with head-on shrimp and 50/50 grits. The heavily blackened pieces of shrimp were flavorful and not a second overcooked, piled high on a hot bed of creamy and textural grits. (You could actually chew them instead of slurping them down.) My date chose the vegan fried chicken… yes, you read that correctly. (It’ll fool anyone for a minute. When I brought it home to my husband, he devoured a piece before realizing that it wasn’t actually chicken.)
Complete with a crunchy coating, an agave drizzle, a biscuit, and a side of curried collard greens, this dish was every bit as southern as the classic buttermilk-and-pickle-juice brined fried chicken that took six months to perfect. Crunchy, hearty, and soul-satisfyingly good, vegans who may miss those dishes (come on, you know who you are) should rejoice in a very big way.
Other menu items worth noting include broiled BBQ bourbon chipotle oysters, Monticello salad with smoked trout and candied pecans, and the NJ Berkshire pork chop that went southern and sits on Antebellum grits and collards. There’s also “for the table” options of a half- or whole-smoke fried chicken, bone-in, dry-aged ribeye, and Frogmore stew—a low country boil with Old Bay shrimp, crab, house sausage, fresh shucked corn, and red potatoes.
Finally, be sure to leave some room for dessert because with options like sweet potato doughnuts, Boozy Ambrosia pudding, and key lime pie with maple marshmallow meringue, it’s impossible to say no.
Asbury Park may have its fair share of restaurants, but Modine shows me that we needed another one. You won’t find this type of food just anywhere and honestly, after a recent visit to the South, you’d be hard-pressed to find food prepared at this level (along with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options) down there either.
Modine is open for dinner and weekend brunch (beginning in February). The team has plans for opening a lunch counter and takeout section in the back, called Mo, and featuring artisan burgers, sandwiches, salads, and sides. Stay tuned!
601 Mattison Avenue
Top image courtesy of Modine.