THE VILLA PENSA
While Jack and Mariella are main characters of my book GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, the Villa Pensa is a strong secondary one. My grandparents opened it in 1924 on the second floor of a building on main street. There was a trolley stop close by and the dining room had five large windows overlooking a busy intersection. After seven years, they moved to a larger building on the advice of a customer who liked their food so much that he helped them find a better location. They resettled a block from the beach on the corner of Cookman avenue and St James Place. It had a main dining room, a marina room, a bar and a package store. My father, the real Jack in the story, worked as host and accountant, his two brothers were cooks and his sister was a waitress. The highlight of the restaurant was an oversized lobster tank displayed in the front window. Customers could pick out a lobster and my uncles would make them a killer Fra Diavolo. During its heyday, the restuarant would feed the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Diane Keaton, Tony Galento and Frank Sinatra, along with many musicians in town to play at Convention hall.
Sadly, the demise of this wonderful landmark was due riots that occured during the 1970s. Afterwards, Asbury Park became a ghost town for over thirty years. Before my father passed, I was able to take him on a drive through his beloved hometown. He hasn’t seen it since its rennaisance and was stunned that Asbury Park was so alive. I’ll always cherish the memories of the wonderfully lopsided smile that lit up his face that night.