A little over seven years ago, Steven Botta did something he had never done before. He bought Brando’s Citi Cucina, 162 Main St., Asbury Park, thus making him a first-time restaurant owner. With over seven years under his belt, Botta has not looked back once as he brings his mother’s Italian recipes and fine steaks to Brando’s.
BOTTA’S BEGINNING AT BRANDO’S
“I bought Brando’s about eight years ago,” said Botta. “It had been a lot of different restaurants over the years. Just nothing ever made it in that spot.
“So when I switched it over, it was in shambles. It was obviously on the brink of closing.
“We came in there. We changed the menu, just changed things up a little bit and here we are today.” The changes put in place by Botta, made all the difference to Brando’s and are apparent to guests and the community as well. The ownership change was just the start of the work Botta did when taking over Brando’s.
“Well, that’s the thing I did,” said Botta in response to whether or not he had a big part in creating the menu and dishes. “I’d never owned a restaurant before so when I came in I basically took over being executive chef and changing the menu. “The first year I took over I changed about 40 percent of the menu” and the menu changes were warmly welcomed by Brando’s clientele.
While Brando’s Citi Cucina is an Italian restaurant serving Botta’s mother’s authentic Italian fare, adding a steakhouse element was of utmost importance.
“We are an Italian steakhouse,” said Botta. “Now everyone’s on that wagon, everyone’s opening Italian steakhouses. We were the first ones to do it and the way that came about was we just wanted to differentiate ourselves a little bit.
“So most Italian restaurants have two steak items on the menu, we decided to put a lot of dry aged steaks on the menu, so, you know, 35-day aged from Pat LaFrieda and that’s really worked out well for us being an Italian steakhouse as much as a regular old-school Italian restaurant like Jimmy’s.”
In addition to the regular menu, Botta shares there are nightly specials.
“Some become standing specials that just stay on the special menu forever and other ones just change weekly, seasonally,” he added.
The menu starts out with several antipasta options, but the meatballs are without a doubt a can’t miss. “Well, everyone loves the meatballs” he said. “That’s a staple and that’s my mom’s recipe.
“So what we did was stuffed what we ate on Sunday over there, we turned that into the meatball app.”
Pair your meal with one of the menu’s specialty cocktails.
“Again there’s definitely cocktails that come up from time to time from the servers and bartenders,” shared Botta explaining the cocktail menu changes seasonally as well. “But our Blood Orange Martini is probably one of the most popular drinks.”
End your meal with something sweet from the dessert menu. When asked what desserts from the menu were noteworthy Botta responded without hesitation.
“The Fried Tortoni, which is an ice cream ball,” he explained. “We’ll get amaretto cookies, normally a tartoni would have an almond crush, we do it with the amaretto cookies instead of just almonds and then we flash fry that and serve it with a honey amaretto mixture.”
STOP IN THIS SUMMER
Brando’s Citi Cucina is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday hours are 3 to 10 p.m. The bar stays open until midnight on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday and Saturday nights the bar stays open until 2 a.m.
“I mean, summer is always crazy,” said Botta. “Asbury I always say it, I look like a genius now because Asbury took off.
“For a long time Asbury was just stagnant. When I got there, there may have been five or six restaurants in all of Asbury, now there’s 90 so the food scene in Asbury has definitely turned. It’s become the place to be and a lot of people are moving in there. A lot of people just come for the weekend, go down the shore, but even in the winter, it’s still what used to be, a good summer is now the winter there.”