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Dining with Draz: Al Ponte

By Lori Draz

A month or so ago, I started getting text messages from Al Ponte. First, I thought it must have been from a guy I went to school with. Then, I learned it was a brand-new Italian Restaurant and that Al Ponte translates to “at the bridge,” and that’s just where they are. Al Ponte is right on Route 35 in the former Simko’s, crooked between Kelly’s and the Headliner, just before the bridge into Neptune. The interior has been completely refreshed. Al Ponte now has a hip but not too cool feel, thanks to the new shiny white tile walls, an ash-colored floor and upgraded tableware. The focal point is the roaring wood fire oven. They are doing a great job of bringing tasty Italian to the party stretch of Route 35, and they are putting some clever spins on traditional favorites. 

We started with the bar menu, which has a lot to offer. Wine lovers will enjoy trying some of the more unusual vintages – and FYI, they’re well-priced by the glass. The cocktails are really tasty too. I had the Summer in Italy, a combination of reposado tequila, amaretto, agave, and orange and lemon juices, and it really lived up to its name. Try one!

We began our meal nibbling on the Salumi and Formaggi Plate. Al Ponte has made some great choices of the imported and artisanal Italian meats and cheeses to create this tasty cocktail companion.  

Hypnotized by the glowing wood fire pizza oven, we just had to put it to the test. We ordered a Margherita Pie Tomato. The 800-degree inferno turned out a magnificent pizza in just about four minutes. It’s a thin-crusted, crispy, rustic winner with a soft center and a touch of char on the edges. You really should try one.   

Now for the entrées. Al Ponte offers a nice selection of sandwiches, including an enticing Prosciutto and Fig Panini which we didn’t try it, but it will be on the agenda on our next visit. Diner one chose the burger and was quite impressed at how tasty they made this classic. She remarked that the mixture of grass-fed short rib, brisket and chuck was super juicy with a deep flavor. The meat was not overworked which added to the taste, and the American cheese top completed the classic. Served on a brioche bun, the burger comes with shoestring fries. 

Diner two went with a traditional Chicken Parmigiano, which comes with a side of house made rigatoni. Now here’s where that little twist comes in: Al Ponte opted out of the traditional marinara for spicy vodka sauce and topped the two pieces of chicken with creamy burrata. He really enjoyed this spin, saying that the hint of heat gave it just the right touch. The pasta was a little al dente, so ask for it softer if you like it that way. 

I chose the Pork Chop. It’s a big, thick, 14-ounce super juicy, bone-in chop enrobed in an Angel’s Envy bourbon glaze. Now here’s the twist again: It sits on a bed of celery root puree instead of the traditional mashed potatoes. The unusual vegetable offering is dotted with tender fava beans, and the whole dish pulls together with an authentic, rustic feel. I really enjoyed it.  

We ordered three desserts. I think I would skip the Cheesecake, but the Lemon Sorbet with fresh berries was a crisp, light, cool choice for a summer night. The standout of the three desserts was the Affagato. This tasty treat is not ideal for sharing, so you should each get one to enjoy. There’s a little drama in the presentation, as the server pours the piping hot espresso over a half inch top of solid chocolate that melts in the heat to reveal the vanilla gelato below. Yummy and fun! We also ordered a regular coffee that tasted like a freshly made, high-end blend and was two cups worthy.  

It’s nice to see a tasty Italian spot in this area. They have a Monday through Friday Happy Hour from 3 to 6 and an outdoor dining deck. There’s plenty of parking, and it’s handicap accessible. The bathroom was clean, and the laid back wait staff is sweet and friendly. 

Cost – Reasonably moderate

What we liked- The big bar, wide and well-priced selection of wines, the well-made and flavorful cocktails, the crispy wood-fired pizzas, the quality ingredients, the gentle twists on classic dishes and the excellent coffee

What could be better – A kids menu and a little accent artwork

We give it 4 and three quarter Js. 

Al Ponte is located at 1311 Route 35 South in Neptune. 732-807-3900. They’re open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 am to 10 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 am to 11 pm.

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