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Bites Nearby: Porta

New family-friendly gourmet pizzeria and bar in Asbury Park recently reached their 10,000th pizza mark -- a humbling number for a restaurant that's only been open a few months.

Porta opened at the beginning of the summer as a bar that boasts a lot of beers on tap, and a set up outside like "hanging out" in someone's backyard -- offering bocce ball, dominos cards, and jenga to help transform a typical bar experience. 

When they opened, they were busy right away with the promising notion that they would start serving food. Not just any food -- Neopolitan style pizza in a wood burning oven, a type that you need a license to make authentically.  It was started by one of the owners of a popular Asbury Park bar, Brickwall, but soon after took on a personality all its own.

I frequented this bar on the weekends this summer, and as time went by, the menu expanded from a few pizzas to appetizers, desserts, sandwiches between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., and most recently, brunch that is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The pizza is the go-to, of course, as the first thing you should try when considering eating at Porta. Pizza is always a hit, but when it's made gourmet like this, it's definitely special.

I went to Porta during restaurant week and had the pleasure of enjoying the Lars and the Real Girl pie made with fresh mozzarella, pecorino romano, taleggio, extra virgin olive oil and oregano. For those diners that like white pies, this is excellent, and the portions are perfect to split between two people. 

If you cannot eat dairy, you may want to try their simple marinara pie made with just San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and extra virigin olive oil.  The Pizza Insalata, I have heard, is great too, made with argulua, lemon, prosciutto di parma, parmigiano reggiano and olive oil. 

For meat lovers there is the Italion Stallion made with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola, sweet italian sausage and long hots. For veggie lovers, try the Snawzeech made with San Marzano tomatoes, cashew ricotta, broccoli rabe, garlic, vegan sausag, and red pepper, the Arugula with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, garlic, arugula and truffle oil, or the Winter Betty Pie with roasted wild mushroom, grated truffle pecorino, goat cheese, garlic and thyme. The pizza menu alone is still quite extensive, so check out their menu online!

If you would like to split a variety of dishes, Porta's starters to accompany your pizza are perfect for achieving this. If you want a salad, try the Three Trees (radicchio, Belgian endive and arugula with roasted prosciutto, toasted almonds and pears in a rosemary-shallot vinaigrette) or the Bibb (hydroponic Bibb lettuce, apricot vinaigrette, gorgonzola and roasted walnuts). Their Winter Caprazy is a take on the traditonal Caprese salad, prepared with homemade mozzarella, slow roasted tomatoes, fresh oregano and black garlic. 

Seafood lovers should dare to try the Pan-Roasted Day Boat Octopus served with fingerling potatoes, capers, garlic, fennel, chervil, parsley, lemon and olive oil.  Cheese lovers: either try their selection of cheeses, or the same cheese served with a selection of cured Italian meats. Their savory desserts are a delight if you have room -- like the Nutella Pizza, Roasted Pineapple or the Maple Budino with salted rosemary caramel, hazelnuts and whipped creme fraiche.

If you stroll into Porta in time for lunch I would consider trying a sandwich -- perhaps the Baked Pancetta (pear, grana padano, arugula, juniper balsamic reduction and olive oil), Homemade Ricotta (broccoli rabe, Calabrian chili oil, garlic, lemon and olive oil) or Whipped Goat Cheese (kalamata tapenade, spinach and olive oil.)

To view the entire mouth watering menu, visit www.pizzaporta.com. They also have a very extensive beer and wine list to enjoy while noshing down on the delicious gourmet pizza.  Check out their brunch as well -- I will be going there on Saturday afternoon! See you there!

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