anJelica's 101113Workers putting finishing touches on the restaurant’s interior last week. Owner Ray Lena, below. (Click to enlarge)


ray lena 101113Nearly a year after it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, another of Sea Bright’s stalwart businesses is set to reopen Wednesday night.

“Did I think it would be a year?” said Anjelica‘s owner Ray Lena, while overseeing the installation of a rustic shelf and dealing with a stream of contractors and vendors. “Sometimes, I thought it would be never.”

It was a year of waiting, dealing with the bureaucracies of FEMA and insurance, and four or five months of construction, said Lena, a former sportswriter who opened the restaurant, named for his daughter, 17 years ago.

“There’s nothing here from the original restaurant,” said Lena, who owns the building in which Anjelica’s resides, at 1070 Ocean Avenue. The floor joists were removed and replaced with an eight-inch concrete slab over bluestone. Everything in the kitchen is new.

While the layout remains the same, with a broad window showing diners what’s going on in the kitchen, the dining room decor is now Tuscan rustic, with whitewashed wainscoting replacing dark mahogany trim.

The investment, said Lena, was “monstrous.”

And the menu? No changes, other than the kind of tweaking he would give to it at any time.

“We’re Anjelica’s,” he said. “People come here for the Angry Lobster, the two-pound, double-cut veal chop, the zuppa di pesce. People come here for the dishes the way we do them, so we’re not reinventing the wheel here or anything.”

Lena said he’s been getting “20 phone calls a day” from customers asking when he’s reopening. During redbankgreen‘s visit last Friday, one stuck her head inside the door to ask.

“It’s a cliche, but it really is a family atmosphere here,” said Lena. “There are nights when everybody here knows one another. Or they might not know that person sitting in the corner, but the friend they’re sitting next to does.

“People get up and walk from table to table to say hello,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to, that buzz of people walking in the door smiling and happy to see you.”