By SUSAN ERICSON
PieHole dipped a spoon into a bowl of black bean soup at Jamian’s Food and Drink in Red Bank while waiting for a recent weekly trivia game to begin, and swooned. Jalapeno heat and cumin-infused flavor told us that someone new was working in the kitchen.
Owner Jamian LaViola hired 46-year-old chef Andy Doelger to run the three-person kitchen two months ago, and customers are starting to notice the difference. We’ve been asked by more than one satisfied diner if we’ve tasted the braised short rib grilled cheese yet. Yes, we have and it’s seriously good.
“I like spicy foods. I like rich foods,” said Doelger, who started down his career path as a dishwasher at the late, lamented Olde Union House in Red Bank when he was 14 and went on to culinary school and 14 years working in restaurants and country clubs, including Beacon Hill in Middletown. “I want to have fun food: simple — not over the top, but full of flavor.”
If the beer-braised short rib grilled cheese sandwich ($14) with mustard-seed-and-chive-spiced horseradish Havarti is any indication, Doelger is succeeding: it’s fall-off-the-bone tender beef paired perfectly with the savory melted cheese. We’re told this current weekly special will be added to the regular menu.
A mixed green salad ($12) was elevated by matchstick slices of in-season red pears, candied walnuts, crumbled blue cheese and a sweet and tart maple balsamic vinaigrette dressing. With an addition of grilled shrimp or chicken, this becomes a scrumptious and nourishing lunch.
What other changes can we expect to see? Doelger, who describes himself as “non-proficient in vegetarian,” is working on a veggie burger. But “for now, I’ll take what’s here and make it better,” and cater to customer requests, he said.
“When somebody asks for something that’s not on the menu, we’ll do it,” he said. “If you’re above doing what the customer wants, then you shouldn’t be in the business. I can’t stand pretentiousness.”
Jamian’s Food and Drink is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekends.