Launched in August 2015, The Bonney Read enjoys an enviable location at the airy, glass-walled tip of the
landmark Steinbach building in downtown Asbury Park. You can call the restaurant a great new place to eat, meet friends, and relax. But don’t call it trendy.
“The last thing I want to be is the new avant-garde, super restaurant,” says Executive Chef James Avery. “Trendy comes and goes; I want to be here in 50 years, a mainstay in Asbury, an institution.” The approach is contrary to the expectations of some diners who know James as a former tournant for David Burke at Fromagerie in Rumson; a sous chef at Michael Mina’s Sea Blue; and a regular on the FOX TV culinary competition show “Hell’s Kitchen,” to mention a few prominent past posts. “Intricately designed plates, that’s not really the vibe here,” states the Jersey Shore native. What is is simplicity. When done right it can be, as author Clare Boothe Luce once put it, “the ultimate sophistication.”
The restaurant is deep rooted in the classic spirit of the chowder house, the northeast seafood house, James explains, noting the area’s lack of “pure seafood restaurants” like The Bonney Read in a sea of sports bars and pizzerias. While searching for a location several years back, with sous chef and friend Mark Osunero- Lanuza, a mutual acquaintance put them together with the owners of the Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, who made James the executive chef there and asked him to chef and partner next door at what became The Bonney Read. James already was envisioning “exquisite” renderings of traditional offerings like clam chowder, fried flounder sandwiches, lobster rolls.
Take the latter, for example. The rolls at Bonney are Maine lobster—an entire Maine lobster. The humble entrée linguini and clams? It’s already become a signature dish here, made from pasta imported from Abruzzo, Italy, a pricey artisanal cured-pork product, Sandy Hook-fresh clams, and the best imported olive oil. “It’s all those little things I do that really add up,” James says. That dish is a good metaphor for what the restaurant is all about: classic, straight forward, well thought out, well executed, and 100% ingredient driven. The Bonney Read also features an open kitchen, raw bar (shucked-to-serve), and a full bar with fine rums and wine varietals.
About the name. A lot of old-time seafood houses are, like boats, named after women. So when James and partners began
searching, they started with anything that was female, nautical, and, hopefully, edgy. They stumbled upon tales of Anne Bonney and Mary Read, who in the 1700s captained the sloop Revenge down in the Caribbean, where James once cooked. “Why not name the restaurant after two of the most infamous female pirates in history,” he reasoned. “That’s definitely edgy.”