We’re not going to debate who makes the best pork roll, egg, and cheese on a roll in New Jersey. We didn’t grow up cherishing this mystery meat. But we can say that any place that cooks as well as Frank’s Deli in Asbury Park belongs in the running. Frank’s broad menu combines Italian deli, Jewish deli, and Greek diner. This makes it a quintessential American restaurant. Quintessential New Jersey, to be precise.
The hard booths are perpetually busy, but they turn over quickly. Waiting happens on a cramped line not in freeform manner. Some don’t bother waiting. Many of the beloved dishes, such as hoagies and breakfast sandwiches, can easily be taken away.
If you can stay, Frank’s does a superb full-out diner breakfast with ingredients of a high standard. Juices are freshly squeezed, coffee is strong and dark, most of the sandwich meats are roasted and carved in house. Many breads are house baked. A mysterious, unlabeled pepper sauce tempts you from beside the napkin holder.
We started with a Boston cream donut appetizer. It’s better than the donuts at most places that only do donuts. It has a darker fry to it. The custard inside is cold and refreshing, even as the donut is still slightly warm. Corned beef hash is some of the best we’ve had — more a deli hash than a diner hash. That means recognizable chunks of freshly steamed corned beef folded into home fries. This hash was good enough to make this place a destination for hash hunters.
The huge, piping-hot pork roll, egg, and cheese is a true New Jersey experience. The grill-caramelized meat is piled several layers high high but even so, there are enough eggs and cheese to bring balance to the sandwich.
We saw a giant club sandwich and got jealous, so we ordered one. We loved everything here, but this is probably our favorite dish. The bottom layer is like a kruat-less pastrami Reuben, with peppery, freshly steamed, thinly sliced pastrami glued on with melted Swiss and Russian dressing. The top layer is a basic turkey sandwich with lettuce tomato. The combination works well. The quality of ingredients, from the rye bread to the freshly roasted turkey, is top notch. Impressively, this monster sandwich is stacked with such great care that it eats tidily. We hardly lost a crumb to our plate.
Frank’s Deli does so many classic dishes well and with regional flair, it makes a top American culinary destination, pork roll and all.