RED BANK: FROM ROOF TO ROOF-OF-MOUTH

Jamian LaViola grabs some herbs from the rooftop garden over the restaurant’s kitchen. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

At Jamian LaViola’s eponymous Red Bank bar and restaurant, Jamian’s, patrons are apt to arrive on beach cruisers or skateboards, and if they come by car, there’s a good chance there’ll be a surfboard or two strapped to the roof.

That neighborhood vibe now extends to Jamian’s menu, with some produce coming from as nearby as a small garden atop the Monmouth Street restaurant and LaViola’s backyard garden in Navesink.

This summer LaViola is harvesting greens like romaine and frisee from the home garden and using them in the kitchen.

“We just brought in some lobster, and we’re making a fresh lobster salad tonight,” he told redbankgreen last Friday. “Will I use some of my fresh greens for that? Yeah, absolutely because it will make it just that much better.”

LaViola’s daughters Malia and Kai in their backyard garden in Navesink.

The turning point occurred last year, with the realization that the homegrown stuff was better than what was available elsewhere. LaViola says he made a margarita pizza with some of his own tomatoes, “and we were like, this is great f’ing pizza. So those margarita pizzas I did last year for like a month or two were all tomatoes and basil that came out of my home garden.”

LaViola says he’s expanding the role that his garden plays, but it’s still a small-scale operation.

“I can’t produce enough to use my produce [exclusively], but I can supplement my produce orders. Say I have a blowout on salads and it’s Sunday afternoon and my produce guy won’t be here until late Monday. I can bring in enough from home to [get us through].”

Jamian’s also makes use of a small garden on the roof of the restaurant, which recently won approval for an expansion.

“Up on the roof I’ve got mint, rosemary, hot peppers… The mint the bartenders use for mojitos comes off the roof. It’s better than the stuff I can buy,” he says. “There’s no comparison. I don’t use any sprays or pesticides. If I see a plant [with damage] I pull it. I just stay on top of it and don’t spray with anything.”

Not everything from the home garden is destined for the restaurant.

“For me,” says LaViola, “there’s nothing better that walking out to the garden in the morning with my kids at this time of year and seeing what popped up today. If I’ve got a couple of zucchinis that just popped up, I’ll grill them at home and we’ll eat them for dinner. It’s not always a product for the restaurant. I just like to incorporate it into the menu when I can.”