It’s a somewhat gray and overcast day in Asbury Park when I find myself rushing out the door with toddler in tow to meet Anna Fasano, one half of the vision and muster behind “The Complex:” Asbury Park’s latest addition to dining and drinking, Capitoline and Loteria. Truth be told, these days leaving the house is an adventure. Diaper bag, sippy cup, teddy bear.. check, check, check. A last glance in the mirror makes me painfully aware that there is a great possibility that I have combed my hair with a brush that landed in baby cereal. All I could think was, “Is this what they mean by ‘adulting?’"
After grabbing a cup of coffee next door (courtesy of Asbury Park’s gentle giant and local realtor, Peter Cunha) at America’s Cup, I peer into the windows of Capitoline to see if anyone is home. Anna greets me with a bright, delighted smile, waving me in and asks me to disregard her morning smoothie. "It's avocado and raspberries,” she states as she gives it a swirl. “That’s why it’s a little gray but it is so delicious.” We take seat at one of the benches in the dining area and I am once again amazed at the décor.
As we get to chatting, I notice everyone going through plans for their day, rolling through finishing touches. Anna’s father Pat is in the corner of my eye, work clothes and winter coat, still perfecting and processing details. There is a small boy, Brayden, all of two years old, mixing with the adults; giving every ounce of his two cents on what needs to be finished. “Isn’t he adorable? Look at his hoodie. It’s a Bond Street jacket… We made it for him with his name on it and all.” Brayden takes off in a bolt of waddler-toddler fury and laughter while a familiar bright and delighted smile runs across Pat’s face.
Previously living in NYC, Anna found herself in the mix of her father’s latest project, not out of obligation but desire to create. As Anna begins to tell the story of how she got involved, her animation becomes more apparent, her words filled with enthusiasm for a whole-hearted vision come to life. “I just knew I had to be involved,” she whispers with distinction as her eyes scan the space’s near complete canvas.
As often as entrepreneurs will tell you, work doesn’t stay in one place. Neither does streaming creativity. Anna explained that it was a unique, creative process that she was able to share with her father. “He’d be watching TV and I’d burst in and say, ‘we have to talk about this.’” “This” being paint color, design, branding, placement of the repurposed materials, menus and promotion. The list of to-dos of not just one but two restaurants opening and joining an existing, well-known third was endless, if not possibly daunting.
As we continued to talk, you couldn’t help but to notice people on street, peeking through Capitoline’s windows. Anna would give them a friendly wave to come on in; some taking her up on her offer while others sheepishly scurried away. “I want people to feel welcomed. You can tell the curiosity is there so I like to invite them in, talk and let them have a look at what’s happening.” Just like anyone who enters through the enormous nine foot and one thousand pound doors, their eyes are immediately drawn to the stained glass fixture on the ceiling that once belonged to Merchants National Bank on Mattison Avenue. One woman’s eyes laid wide, fixated on everything and nothing all at the same time; speechless in her tracks and perfectly applied black eyeliner wings.
A few moments later, Anna’s brother Patrick Jr., joins the growing circle of visitors. Anna’s eyes start to shine as she ribs him about his jacket. “Do you know how many times I’ve asked him to let me go clothes shopping for him? We’ll buy all new clothes and burn the rest.” Patrick’s rebuttal is nothing but that of what you would expect a brother’s to be: laughter. “You don’t even know how old this jacket is,” he fires back. As he searches for some sort of detail to define the age, he shows off the cell phone pocket on the inside. It’s tall and narrow for that of some early 2000s Nokia model. Charlie, general manager and master playlist maker and Dina, head of wait staff who has the perfect mix of sweet and sass, join in with a burst of echoing laughter.
“You don’t understand,” Patrick says through his own laughter, half struggling for a defense. Anna looks down, shaking her head and says, “He looks just like my grandfather, like… exactly. It’s the same face; it creeps my family out.” Patrick smiles and shrugs, taking it as compliment, if not a badge of honor, before asking, "what are you even drinking?" referring to her smoothie.
What’s clear here is the vibe. The vibe of being somewhere comfortable with close friends and family, to the tune of your grandmother’s living room but in a decadent and yet so simplistic setting. “We’ll have tacos, burgers, pizza, meatballs, salads... games in The Basement. The whole point is, you won’t have to leave.”
Before I wander to take some pictures, I have to settle a silly domestic dispute with my husband, inquiring as to what animal is on the Cookman Avenue entrance of The Complex, him guessing a boar and me changing my answer on whim. Anna gets excited to tell the story of M Studio’s mastermind design:
“It’s the Capitoline Wolf.” She gives me the cliff notes version of the story of a she-wolf suckling twin human infants, inspired by the legend of the founding of Rome. According to the legend, when Numitor, grandfather of the twins Romulus and Remus, was overthrown by his brother Amulius, the usurper ordered the twins to be cast into the Tiber River. They were rescued by a she-wolf who cared for them until a herdsman, Faustulus, found and raised them.*
Of course you know that I am going to ask about Loteria's mermaids to which Anna recreates a perfect pose. “She’s in the form of a 6. Loteria is 632 Mattison Avenue, Capitoline is 639 Cookman…” I have a light bulb moment and we both shake our heads in approval.
As I excuse myself to wander The Complex, my husband and daughter make fast friends with Charlie and Brayden. While I look at Anna's living plant wall behind the bar of The Basement, I hear little tiny feet chasing each other with squeals and babble while James Brown bumps through the speakers. When you’re here, it is hard to not feel the sense of family. From one family's vision to another that has formed at Bond Street Bar & Grill, you are welcomed to The Complex, a collaborative effort to not only “eat well and spend little” but to keep those bonds between chosen family and friends stronger than ever. Undoubtedly, you will be welcomed to stay… break bread, break balls and pass the time just as you would with your own family.
Be sure to follow The Complex on social media where they will reveal their grand opening date: