Because I'm nothing more than an over grown child and can't wait till tomorrow here's my list.
La Fontana, New Brunswick NJ. This was the definition of fine dining, from the cherub fountain when you walked in to the thick valour wallpaper the chandeliers and mirrored ceilings the place oozed opulence. 5 servers including the captain per table the service matched the quality of food and surroundings, I've never experienced anything like La Fontana in its prime.
Caruso's, Plainfield NJ. Small Italian restaurant tucked away off of Rt 28/Front St was this gem. It's were I got engaged and where you could find me nearly ever Sat night in the early 90's. Husband and wife team he was the chef she worked the front of the house and they provided and excellent fine dining Italian experience. Then he had to get involved with one of his dishwashers and the whole thing, including their marriage went down the drain.
The Luna Bell Diner Rt 1&9 Woodbridge NJ. When I was a child my father owned and operated The Meadows Diner on Dowd Avenue in Elizabeth. (my father lived in a trailer behind the diner as he and my mother were first married, I was literally conceived and born into the business) He would get up at 4am on Sundays to go to the diner and do his baking for the week, I would join him. On our way we would stop and have breakfast at the Luna Bell diner, I'm almost tearing up typing about this thinking back on the memories of how special it felt going to work with him. Great memories and even better home fries!!
Pumptown Corners, Edison New Jersey. This was my family's restaurant growing up. I learned how to cook, had my first drink and kissed my first girl (a hostess I think that thought I could get her a raise) and learned everything a young man needs to know about the business. If you've never been in the industry it's hard to explain what it's like to grow up in the business, my bus stop was at the restaurant. I would go to school take the bus here, do my homework in the office put on my apron and be to work by 4pm. Washing dishes, then salad and prep to cooking behind the line over the years I learned every aspect of the business here.
2000 Park Ave. South Plainfield NJ. Where I cut my teeth in the business outside my family. I was a manager at 18 years old and my Sr. year of high school drove from school to here and stayed till closing. 18 years old, getting paid $9. Per hour (less than half an adult manager would make) too young to drink on premises and too honest to steal I was every restaurant owners dream come true. While at my family's restaurant I learned the business here I learned about life. I continued to work here even after starting my current business simply because I loved the place, the family that owned it and the business in general.
Local to Monmouth County
American Pizza Kitchen, Tinton Falls NJ. Where the current CJ Mc Loons is currently located this was a small open kitchen family Italian restaurant when I moved to this area 20+ years ago. For $12.95 you couldn't get a better meal anywhere. One of the best fried calamari I've ever had, even my father in law from Brooklyn loved the place!!
Hanna's Rt. 35 Eatontown NJ. This place was never great but for whatever reason we liked it and went frequently.
Ashes, Red Bank NJ. Caveat their 1st year of business only When Ashes first opened as a true cigar club and restaurant it was just cool. It helped usher in the "hip" Red Back scene and for that first year it was a neat concept and experience which was well executed, but short lived.
That's my list for now. My thumb is numb!!