By JIM WILLIS
Last Wednesday morning, Defined Logic developer Jason Unterman sat behind the computer in his Red Bank office and thought, “Ok, WTF?”
No, he’s not crude – or not that Piehole knows, anyway. Rather, ‘WTF’ Is Unterman’s acronym for “Where’s the Food?” a loosely organized weekly lunch outing with his coworkers that aims to stay local and – get this – never hit the same lunch spot twice. And they’ve managed to keep their string going for two years.
The answer last week? Gaetano’s, on Wallace Street. So that’s where Piehole met up with Unterman and a few of his coworkers to learn more about the WTF challenge and get some of his favorite lunch picks.
Unterman started working with Defined Logic in 2007, when its offices were in West Long Branch. There, he hit on the idea of trying to never go to the same place for lunch twice.
“I ran out of places to go really fast,” he tells Piehole. But when the company moved to Red Bank, just over two years ago, he immediately revived the idea, and has been doing it since.
Gaetano’s marked Unterman’s 124th unique lunch spot.
Unterman formalized the WTF group with its own email list in the company.
“There are about 40 to 50 workers in the office, but not everyone gets the email,” he says. “People have to sign up for the email list. When people join the company, they get told about it and they can sign up.”
On most WTF Wednesdays, Unterman is joined by five or six coworkers.
“I love food. I like to eat and cook,” he says. “I never knew Gaetano’s had a lunch special. So because I’m now trying to stick with closer places and I don’t want to travel far, it makes me look at restaurants that I never would have looked at for lunch.”
Most of Unterman’s restaurant picks fall squarely in the ‘budget,’ or affordable category. He gives himself a $20 per week lunch allowance. “I go at least one day, on Wednesday, but my budget will sometimes allow me to go out a second time.”
“There are certain places that I really want to do, but they’re going to be more expensive,” he says. “I try to hold those off for special occasions. For the 100th, we went to the Downtown. The burgers start at $11 or $12 and they have a bar, so you’re going to be spending more than $20.”
Unterman tries to stay away from chain restaurants and fast food joints, and will occasionally do a whole month of outings on a certain theme. Last summer, based on the Tour Fair Haven bike race, Unterman did a monthlong tour de Fair Haven of his own, hitting the now-closed Balderose Fine Foods, Tavolo Pronto, Sansu and Kind Burger.
“A couple months ago, we had a dessert month,” he said. “Instead of noon, we’d go at around 3 p.m. and try a different dessert place. We went to the crepe place on Monmouth Street [La Patisweet, now Whipped], and the crepes were awesome.” says Unterman.
After the business changed names and owners, Unterman’s self-authored rules allowed him to lead the WTF crew back to the same location and have it count as two separate destinations.
Another of Unterman’s finds that he now regularly returns to is Linares Grocery on Monmouth Street, a Mexican market across the street from Juanito’s.
“You go in there and you don’t expect too much, because it looks like a little dirty marketplace,” Unterman says. “But you go in the back, and we ended up getting these chicken tacos that were good-sized tacos, and were only $5.”
Unterman also says that for the biggest bang for your lunch money, you can’t beat Jamian’s, also on Monmouth.
“They’re the best for the price,” says Unterman. “Jamian’s used to have a $6 menu that they’ve increased to $7 or $8, but their food is really good and it’s close by, and when it’s nice out they have the windows opened and you feel like you’re sitting outside.”
As for Gaetano’s, Unterman ordered the half sandwich with half salad lunch special for $9 and got the hangar steak sandwich with a Caesar salad. He’ll post his review on his Tumblr site, where you can also read about the other 123 places he’s had lunch.
Unterman doesn’t appear to be too worried about running out of lunch options any time soon.
“I have an Excel sheet with a good amount of places that I can pick from,” he says. “There is a crazy amount of restaurants in this area.”