Last Thursday, I eavesdropped on the closed-door planning meeting for the biggest and most exciting benefit our area sees all season.  I am talking about the Center a la Carte Gala – signature benefit for The Center in Asbury Park.  From what heard, this year’s will be the best one yet.

The room was filled with the area’s iconic restaurant owners, chefs and event organizers – all cooking up (I couldn’t resist) great plans for your fun.

The Captains of Cuisine revealed that this, the 15th Anniversary of the event, will feature three big “firsts:” a record number of participating restaurants serving signature dishes and drinks, a never-before number of Asbury Park restaurants involved and a move to a great new location (reported first in The Coaster five weeks ago) – the Convention Center on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park.

This event is an Asbury Park Classic, last year raising more than $70,000.  It’s an elegant, energetic, fresh tulip-filled, casual night of familiar, smiling faces thanks to many volunteers, including five-time co-chairs of the evening Amy Grandinetti and Sam Nativo, owner, Mix Lounge & Food Bar.

“It’s a magical night,” stated Amy.  “Guests will enjoy a spectacular new venue at the ocean and Asbury Park boardwalk, partnered with the same tradition of a joyous event organized by genuine people who care about an organization and the community it serves.”

Tons of your friends and neighbors – decked out in perky pastels, debuting newly liposuctioned bodies – burst out of hibernation to play, eat and drink.  It’s the unofficial kick-off of the summer entertaining season and the perfect way to preview every hot restaurant’s fare before the crowd descends on the area.

“Center a la Carte is quintessentially Asbury Park,” stated Jeffrey Haveson of Plan B, a new participating restaurant.  “All the restaurants involved are committed to the community.”

Additional new participating restaurants, as of press time: Asbury Park Roastery, Baker Boys, Carmine’s, D&L BBQ, Harrison, Isabella’s, Market in the Middle, Mattison Park, Munch, Saltwater Beach Café, Synaxis, Taka and many more to be confirmed.

Returning restaurants:  Cask 591, Ducky Life Tea, Kessler’s Caters, Freddy, Jesse’s Café, Lusty Lobster, Mix Lounge & Food Bar, Moonstruck, Mumford’s Culinary Center, The Perfect Perk, Silk Caterers, Starbuck Coffee, Tasty Pantry, Windmill Restaurants and more.

“Moonstruck founders Luke and Howard are local heroes,” stated Clark Shannon, The Center.  “They continue to pay-it-forward and are a huge reason for the success of this event and the City.”

Center a la Carte, Friday, May 16, 7 p.m.  Call 732.774.3416, ext. 14.  Tickets $100.  Reserved table for 10, $1,000.  Valet parking courtesy of Madison Marquette.

BRIEFLY:  See you at the New Jersey Film Festival, kicking off tonight.  Howard Stern’s fiancée Beth Ostrosky stars in “Saturday Morning.”  I hear she and he or more probably, simply, she may appear in our great City.  I also hear most of the films around town on Sunday have a ‘queer’ slant – some more defined than others.  Looking forward to another amazing year of beyond amazing creativity.  How lucky are we to have this in our backyard?  All the scoop is at  More next week.

…and huge congratulations to Ken and his Munch Restaurant on Cookman Avenue.  He celebrates Munch’s first anniversary this Saturday, during First Night, with merriment and a special menu.  Maybe cake – I love cake.  Reservations: 732.775.0444.