Dining in Monmouth County can be tricky. Through sad experience we’ve learned that the restaurants that promise the most tend to disappoint. (See the recent Avenues thread for a prime example.) On the other hand the basic pub places like Barnacle Bill’s and Hook Line and Sinker tend to come through nicely. We’ve also had great Mexican meals at Acapulquenos in Long Branch, another place that flies below the radar.
Midtown Restaurant in Middletown near Red Bank was therefore something of a pleasant surprise – a mid range place that provided good food at fair prices in a nice ambiance.
I was a little dubious at first - Midtown is in a strip mall. I’ve never been able to get over my prejudice against these type of locations but I need to work on it more. My second twinge was their theme – the place is loaded with pictures of Manhattan. I’m a lifetime New Yorker and the theme seemed a little hokey to me but I soon got over it. Middletown – Midtown. Get it? You’ve to cut them some slack. They deserve it.
We had drinks at the bar first. Generous well made martinis in a well kept room that features a granite bar with oak accents. It was late afternoon. The Yankee game was on but the volume was very low; there was no blaring music. I’m grateful when things like that are missing.
The bar is fully separated from the restaurant. Since there are a number of TVs out there it looks like they sometimes cater to a sporting crowd. The floor to ceiling walls should help to keep the noise spillover to a minimum. It looks like it would be a great place to watch a football game in the fall.
We were sussing the place out and on the basis of a successful start decided to move on to the dining room. It was another pleasant surprise, nicely laid out with well spaced tables and the overall feeling of a much more expensive place. Somebody knew what they were doing. The windows face out to a leafy side view, a welcome departure from the parking lot out in front.
The menu isn’t overly complex or ambitious but what they do, they do well. We split an order of chicken wings to start. Unlike most versions, these were actually pretty good and not overly sauced. (I live in Park Slope where Bonnie’s serves the best wings I’ve ever had. I’m spoiled rotten.)
Mains were the Cuban sandwich and the chicken picatta. Again, both renditions were very well done and all the flavors were balanced. It’s food you’ve had before but if it’s executed with skill you’re glad to have it again. The portions were generous without being excessive. (Buona Sera – are you listening?)
There’s also a nice wine list with a full range of well priced choices. We picked something in the $25 - $30 range which we liked very much. (Sorry – I didn’t take notes.) The service was both warm and professional.
With wine and the tip the check was just under $65. Based on the ambiance and quality of the food it feels like a more expensive place.
We’ll be back.
Union Square Mall
582 Route 35 South
* A warning. They have live music in the bar on Friday nights. I'm not sure when it starts but that might affect the atmosphere.