Let’s face it—Red Bank is not exactly a hub of culinary delights. A tour of Dayton Boulevard is an increasingly depressing ride through a community that couldn’t support a Krystal and a Subway at the same time yet desperately wants to hold onto its identity as a once-thriving suburban community full of optimism, church suppers and Little League.
Currently, there is less a food scene than a survivalist pantry full of MREs and generic canned vegetables vibe. Sure, there are a few little Mom and Padre places sprinkled among the meat-and-threes that have managed to survive. There’s also the ubiquitous Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Wendy’s trifecta of triglycerides, doing their duty in the circle jerk of obesity, poor nutrition and poverty that plagues burgs like Red Bank across the U.S. When faced with choices like these it’s hard not to get discouraged if you find yourself a bit peckish on this boulevard of broken dreams.
Then there’s Jordan Miller. In almost any struggling community you can find at least one individual who looks past the decline and sees the vibrant, hungry people of that community who deserve better meals than the defrosted, over-processed food product that is now the norm for cost-conscious residents. In October 2011, Miller purchased the beloved Red Bank institution known as Dub’s Place with the intention of combining his years of culinary experience as a Johnson and Wales-trained, CFA-certified chef with his ebullient love for people to revitalize this once iconic ice cream shop.
Located at 4408 Dayton Blvd., this small, classic joint has been a part of the landscape of Red Bank since the early 1950s, when they offered the “coldest water in town.” This cold water was thanks to a repurposed still coil in their cooler that fed ice-cold water to a white porcelain fountain attached to the outside of the building. Anyone riding their Red Ryder or walking down the boulevard could stop, get a drink and hopefully grab a scoop of ice cream or a Crumble Burger on their way to the Red Bank Drive-In or a Little League game.
Rather than use his culinary background to reimagine the classics, Miller dedicated his skills to refining and restoring the menu to its previous glory, with a few of his own personal touches thrown in for fun. The famous Crumble Burger is still being offered, but only after Miller put hours of work into reviving the original recipe and the original taste. If you’re unfamiliar with the Crumble Burger, it’s very similar to the “Maid-Rite” burger that’s popular in the Midwest; kind of a sloppy joe without the sauce.
Even in a place like Dub’s, I am always on the lookout for something different, something you can’t get anywhere else, and if it involves charred animal flesh then I am immediately onboard. One of Miller’s unique additions to the menu is the misleadingly named “Jerky Burger.” At first, I thought this might be some Jamaican-inspired disaster with pineapple, plantains and jerk seasoning. But this version is a juicy grilled burger with paper-thin strips of locally made beef jerky generously piled on top, similar to strips of bacon. You get a smoky and extra-beefy kick that layers nicely on top of the flavors of the burger along with the brightness of the fresh tomato, onion and lettuce.
Be sure to try their hand-cut, twice-fried French fries with your burger. Blanching first, then cooking to order is an old but infrequently used technique that ensures crispiness on the outside and softness on the inside. For a serious fry lover it’s the only way to go.
If you have a nostalgic place in your heart for Dub’s or diners of old, you will not be disappointed. If you’ve never heard of the place, pull your Red Ryder in under the flashing yellow arrow and sample one of Red Bank’s longest-running and tastiest institutions. But above all, keep eating local!
Mike McJunkin cooks better than you and eats quite a lot of very strange food. Visit his Facebook page (Sushi and Biscuits) for updates and recipes.