What was once a dormant building on the Monmouth Racetrack complex has quickly turned into one of the area’s most talked about restaurants. Blu Grotto Ristorante in Oceanport made headlines this summer when they opened in what was once used as a snack building and before that, for the Horseman’s Association. Not only is the building stunning (wait till you see the conservatory), but the food is equally as memorable.
“We’re very focused on ‘classic Italian’ cuisine,” said Elvin Kehres, Restaurant Manager of Blue Grotto Ristorante when speaking about the restaurant and his fellow managers, Jennifer Perri, Service Director and Amalio Rodriguez, Bar Manager. “Executive Chef James Corona is focused on taking the best ingredients available and making simple, delicious food.”
Since opening on July 4th weekend in 2016, guests have become regulars who revel in ordering off the seasonal menu. The span is large from appetizers to primis, secondis, and of course desserts and feature items like their “Old School Chopped” salad that has everything from meats to cheeses in it, their Burrata Mozzarella appetizer, and their decadent Veal Porterhouse entrée.
So what makes this Italian restaurant stand out? Besides focusing on classic Italian (don’t mess around with an original, especially when there’s nothing to improve upon), Chef Corona also subscribes to using sustainable ingredients and locally sourced vegetables (like from Beyond Organics in Freehold) as a basis to his cooking mentality. It goes without saying, nothing is frozen that goes into the kitchen and everything is top quality.
“Most of our pastas are made in house, but if they aren’t, it’s pasta imported from Italy,” explained Kehres who notes that the Garganelli pasta dish featuring a classic ragu Bolognese sauce with shaved parmigiana has become a favorite of many.
The building itself is also a showstopper, as anyone can attest who has seen the “conservatory” room for themselves. The room boasts floor to ceiling windows and different projections on the glass ceiling that feature everything from fireworks, to horses, and even Frank Sinatra (during their Sinatra themed dinner party). However, no matter where you sit, you can be guaranteed a very comfortable seat (the seats are extremely comfortable and are often complemented on as much as the food!)
With a menu that’s packed with Italian specialties, choosing just one dish, or two, can be somewhat problematic, which is why Blu Grotto Ristorante has plenty of reasons to keep coming back. From monthly wine dinners that bring in actual winemakers instead of sales people so that diners can get insider information about the winemaking process straight from the source, to holiday specials and a $25 three course price fix lunch menu (Tuesday through Friday), it’s like going to your best friend’s house who has the best taste in food, alcohol, and décor.
Speaking of spirits, the Blu Grotto Ristorante bar features anywhere from 10-15 craft cocktails where everything from the juice (hand squeezed) to the syrup is made in house. Soda gun? Don’t even think about it. Their wine list is of course heavy on the Italian side, but also features a number of wines from all over, all of which are very affordable options so that “everyone can have a good bottle of wine no matter what their price point is.”
As for the beer drinkers, Blu Grotto Ristorante is in the process of finishing up construction on their brand new biergarten expected to be open in April. Once the warmer months start kicking in, the biergarten will be flanked by their two large decks, a raw bar, and live bands every Friday and Saturday.
A day at the races may have you stumbling upon this Monmouth County gem of a restaurant, but you don’t have to place a bet to score a win here. Blu Grotto Ristorante has proven itself to be the trifecta of restaurants – simple, delicious food paired with affordable, tasty cocktails, and unparalleled décor.