Restaurant Review #300: Brando’s (Asbury Park, NJ)

I wanted my 300th restaurant review to be of somewhere special. Even with a few reviews waiting in the bank, I chose Brando’s in Asbury Park, where Justin and I went for our anniversary dinner in mid-June. We actually did not know where we were eating until the very end. Justin had suggested Portuguese Manor, but because that was more of my place than his, I said we would wait until my birthday a few weeks later. How funny that situation ended up. Anyway, we drove down to Asbury Park thinking we would figure it out eventually since they have such a vibrant bar and restaurant scene. We parked near this place and looked up the menu. We did not realize that they are actually a sister restaurant of Nonna’s in Englishtown, of which we are both fans of.

The interior of Brando’s is similar to Nonna’s. It has a rustic Italian feel but classy. A beautiful bar runs nearly the length of the first dining area. We were seated at a table with a view of both the bar and also their roaring wood-burning pizza oven. Justin immediately wanted pizza. At first I thought, “Pizza? Really? On a special occasion?” but the aroma of the oven filled the air and I could not really argue, especially after a couple of well-crafted and well-chilled gin martinis. Justin started with a type of blueberry-mint cocktail before switching over to a chocolate martini.

The appetizer list was extensive and had a lot of good choices. Had we been at Nonna’s, we would have likely gone with the zucchini fritte or fried calamari, but we wanted something different. We selected the eggplant tower, which had a little bit of everything: slices of fried eggplant alternated with fresh mozzarella and tomato and were placed atop a bed of arugula and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. It was the perfect amount of food for two hungry guys.

Even though the menu said that pizza was only served until 7 PM and it was now at least 8 at this point, Justin inquired about ordering one and our server Teresa said it would be no problem. He chose the white truffle pizza which came with fresh mozzarella, truffle oil, mushrooms, and a pesto drizzle. He asked if he could add Italian sausage, and they accommodated that request too, checking to see if he wanted it sliced or crumbled. As for me, being so close to the ocean, I wanted seafood and went with the scallop entrée. These were served over something called “Zucchini 3-way risotto” with pistachio brown butter.

Both of us immensely enjoyed what we had. His pizza had a wonderful taste and smell of the wood burning oven, and the combination of truffle, pesto, and his addition of sausage made it incredibly flavorful. He took half of his home, since it was such a large pizza for what we thought would be a “personal” size. My dish was outstanding as well. The scallops were perfectly seared, the risotto had zucchini blended into it (the rice was actually green in color) and had more frizzled zucchini straws on top. The pistachio butter was rich and really brought the dish home. There was a variety of tastes and textures.

At this point, we really could not eat another bite but ordering a cannoli felt obligatory. He had an espresso to go with it, while I finished the last few sips of my martini as the dessert hit the table. We were surprised to see there were actually two cannoli in the order, and so we had to take one home. This was a fantastic meal from start to finish, enhanced by the service. We said we were not in a rush, and Teresa respected that request and we had a lovely evening out at Brando’s.

I also have to mention the fresh-baked bread and accouterments that started off the meal. Similar to Nonna’s, there were slight changes in that the bread came with olive oil, a tapenade, and riccotta.

We both agreed that we liked this place slightly better, even though we still love Nonna’s and always will. They are both similar distances from where we live (about 35-40 minutes). My reviews of late have been a bit out of order since I have been catching up with restaurants on this blog from the last few months, but we really enjoyed the atmosphere here. This is not a knock on Nonna’s at all, but it was just more “adult”, or at least that is how I felt in the moment. The lively and bustling nature was something we appreciated, especially with this being our first real dining experience in a long time as things are now fully open and running. I will give Brando’s 4.5 out of 5 stars. It would have been hard to execute the evening any better.

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