Jason Unterman keeping the lunch tab low at Jr’s Burgers in Red Bank. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)
By JIM WILLIS
Whether it’s sticking to locally-sourced produce or trying to avoid gluten, it’s not uncommon for people to set food-related goals.
As previously reported by PieHole, Jason Unterman has imposed another kind of limit on himself: eating at a different lunch spot somewhere on the Greater Red Bank Green every week, and trying to keep the tab under $10. But the developer at Red Bank-based Defined Logic has managed to lead his colleagues on more than 200 such outings, and has the blog to prove it.
Now, with some changes to the endeavor he calls WTF? – for Where’s the Food? – Unterman met with PieHole at Jr’s Burgers on West Front Street recently to share some of the wisdom he’s gleaned after all those restaurant meals.
PieHole‘s What’s For Lunch? knows from experience how daunting Unterman’s self-imposed challenge can be. So how does he keep lunch cheap, especially in downtown Red Bank, where out-of-towners looking to have their Roman Chariots valet-parked seem to be the target demographic?
He tells PieHole it’s getting harder.
“Like at [last week’s] Birravino visit – I kept holding off on going to that place, because I knew it was going to be pricey,” he said. “I got the meatball parm, which was $15 bucks right off the bat, and then of course I wanted to have one of their beers, which was another $6. Places like that I’ve tried to hold off on.”
Still, despite the proliferation of high-end restaurants, Unterman tells PieHole it is possible to find good places that are affordable. One of his go-to stops for dependable cheap eats is Monmouth Meats.on Monmouth Street in Red Bank.
“You can get a great combo from them for under $8 bucks,” says Unterman. Owner Stew Goldstein “is awesome, and the lunch combos are great quality and always a good deal,” he says.
But Unterman’s project isn’t solely about price. It’s also about getting out and discovering new gems.
Unterman tells PieHole that Hansel ‘n Griddle is one such discovery. The restaurant opened in January at 38 West Front Street in a space that has been home in recent years to a string of eateries, including 30 Burgers, Muscle Maker Grille and the River’s Edge Café.
“Hansel and Griddle is one of the few places I’ve gone back to multiple times,” he says. “Their wings are awesome” – Unterman notes you should call in your order ahead of time if possible – “and they have Tater Tots, which is great.”
He’s also been pleasantly surprised by the bodegas on the West Side of town, including Linares Grocery on Monmouth Street. He first tried Linares when it had booth at the now-vanished Jazz and Blues Festival and learned that it had a storefront in town.
“I didn’t realize they were so close, so we went there for a WTF? outing, and the food was so good and cheap,” says Unterman. “There are people in our office who have gone back every week since our first visit.”
Now, after visiting hundreds of area restaurants, Unterman felt it was time to do something new with his efforts. His website, Where’s The Food? – an online record of each of his weekly visits – is being retired and replaced with a new site that pits Red Bank restaurants against each other in biweekly matchups.
He calls the site Red Bank’s Restaurant Battle Arena, and the visit to Jr’s was actually for the new site’s kickoff battle: Burger Battle Royale, which will pit burgers from Jr’s against one from Hansel ‘n Griddle.
The competition pairings will be done by food type (think Whole Foods versus HealthFair) or by other characteristics. After the group eats at the paired restaurants or has food from stores, he’ll put up a poll for people to vote their preferences, he says.
Another difference is that whereas previously Unterman cast a wide net around the Green when choosing his weekly outing, the new Where’s The Food? will be Red Bank only.
A different Red Bank restaurant for lunch every week may sound like a greater challenge, but Unterman says he’s already got the match-ups scheduled out for a full year.