Asbury Kitchen by David Burke Oysters

David Burke knew he was coming to Asbury Park. He just didn’t think it would happen like this.

The celebrity chef and Hazlet native owns 18 restaurants around the country and five in New Jersey, namely The Drifthouse in Sea Bright. One of his next ventures was to be a high-end steakhouse in what’s become the shore’s culinary capital.

Coronavirus put that downtown project on hold, but an opportunity to get cooking in Asbury Park soon presented itself: The popular southern restaurant Modine closed its doors for good due to the pandemic. One of the building’s landlords asked if Burke would consider a pop-up restaurant in the same space.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to get our feet wet in Asbury,’ and the response has been tremendous,” Burke said. “We turned it around in about eight days. We got the logo down, we got the kitchen together, we got the front of the house together, we put it up, we put it together. And here we are. I’ve got to tell you, the town is embracing us, we’ve got 200 reservations tonight.”

Asbury Kitchen by David Burke opened Wednesday as an outdoor-only new American eatery, with seating splayed along the Mattison Avenue and Emory Street sidewalks, smack in the middle of the city’s downtown bustle.

As with all pop-ups, the venture’s finite nature adds appeal.

“You’ve got to come and get it,” Burke said. “It’s like limited edition!”

Burke isn’t sure how long the restaurant will be open. It’s currently taking reservations until the middle of September.

“You don’t do long-term decisions. Our awning is not an awning that’ll last three months,” Burke said. “We put a small wine list together, we don’t buy a ton of stuff like that, we don’t promise people jobs for six months.”

The menu may be truncated but is intriguing nonetheless, with enough fish to satisfy any seafood lover (salmon crudo, lobster rolls and pasta with shrimp and garlic) along with the requisite steaks, burgers and chicken dishes.

It’s also ever-evolving. During my Thursday night visit, I tried a chilled watermelon “pizza,” which was sliced like a tomato pie and topped with arugula, feta and tomatoes. By Friday, Burke had added a layer of gazpacho to the dish.

One thing Burke won’t be fiddling with? His signature “When Pigs Fly” appetizer, featuring thick cuts of sweet and smokey bacon presented on a clothesline, along with scissors to cut yourself pieces. It’s maple-sweet but not cloying, crispy yet chewy, with just the right amount of fat. The wildly Instagram-able dish is also a staple at The Drifthouse, which my colleague reviewed in June.

The oysters and snow crab with peach and cucumber mignonette (pictured above) were another star, with the brininess of the shellfish contrasting with the sweetness of the fruit.

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