Dear Slice: Porta National Park
Digging through the Slice mailbag we have a report on Porta National Park in Asbury Park from amusebouche1. As you may recall, this week's My Pie Monday included a Porta-inspired pie from tommyeats. Since this first report, amusebouche1 has made return visits with more intel here. For more pictures check out his blog.
Porta has a lot going for it. First a great personable staff, two wood-fired Neapolitan ovens, they use Italian "00" flour and trained/visited with Roberto Caporuscio at Keste' on Bleecker Street in NYC. Keste' is the official location in the USA for APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani) whose mission is to protect and preserve the Neapolitan pizza tradition and promote the art of pizza making. The organization also certifies professional pizza makers in the tradition of Neapolitan Pizza. Roberto is President. I do not know if the staff is certified or just went for pizza and chatted.
As you can see from the picture, Porta is in an odd location and not welcoming from the outside. But it is one block from the boardwalk/beach and directly behind Asbury Park's legendary Stone Pony, once home to Bruce Springsteen. At one end of the space are three large garage doors that lead to an outside gravel patio with a bocce ball court. I imagine in the summer Porta will be packed.
The inside is also as industrial as the exterior. The walls are unpainted cinderblock, the floor is cement. The beams and duct work are exposed and even the bar feels handmade but not by a carpenter. The tables are picnic tables. It is cavernous and loud. The two ovens are located at the back as is the prep/serving area.
I have been there twice and both times I ordered a carbonara. It is topped with guanciale (cured pig jowl), Parmigiano Reggiano, roasted egg, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, black pepper $13. I had the Parmigiano replaced with fresh mozzarella. The pies could not have been more different. Pie one was mostly crust with little mozzarella but nicely cooked. Pie two pictured below, was nicely cooked but suffered from too much cheese. But I liked both for different reasons.
My wife ordered a Margherita with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, basil $12. She felt the crust was under done. It was also a different diameter from mine. We noticed this was a trend at other tables. As for the crust, it contains no sugar or EVOO. It will char but not caramelize.
On my second visit a friend of mine ordered the Italian stallion, pictured below. It is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola, sweet Italian sausage, hot Italian roasters/peppers $16. It was good, but not great.
I will go back in a few weeks to see what has changed and order the arugula. It is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, garlic, arugula, truffle oil $14 and a Verdi imperial stout (11.2 oz) $12. But I do think Porta National Park has all the correct pieces of the puzzle, the menu for me is happily edgy (guanciale where else?), but some pieces need a better fit.