Twenty years ago, while advising me about which Italian restaurant she wanted to go to, my grandmother told me, “You know the restaurant is good when you see other grandma’s eating there – we are a very, very picky bunch.”

And she has always been right.

Most every time I am at Belmonte’s restaurant on Cookman Avenue there is a three-generation family party of eight or more. And I always check to see what the grandmother has ordered.

Belmonte's Restaurant on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park features "half-price pasta night" on Mondays and Thursdays.

Belmonte’s Restaurant on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park features “half-price pasta night” on Mondays and Thursdays.

Featuring an open kitchen, the perfume of garlic sautéing and energetic service, Belmonte’s is on many local’s lists of go-to restaurants. Monday and Thursday’s half-price pasta night fills the house in every season, many eating with the third “utensil” – the restaurant’s yummy warm and crusty bread.

I spoke with the owner of Belmonte’s, Freda Dilione – also owner of an ice cream store in Oakhurst – who helped open the restaurant and then jumped in to take over the restaurant after Bobby “Belmont” Pasquariello fell ill and ultimately passed away in 2011.

TBP: Belmonte’s has been feeding fans for years.

Dilione: When Bobby and I were first married, we bought the Blue Crystal Diner in Long Branch. Then he opened Belmont’s in Long Branch in the 1990’s.

All Bobby wanted for people to do was eat good food and be merry. He wanted to make a place where people were comfortable and then left saying the food was great.

It all clicked here in the mid 2000’s. Bobby saw the possibilities of what was going on here. He put all his time and energy into making this work in Asbury Park.

He wanted Frank Sinatra playing in the background while our guests were eating the great, freshly prepared food. He also wanted the prices to be reasonable for everyone and for guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine to enjoy.

I want you to come in and know you are special to me and that I appreciate your business. A customer said to me, “I gotta tell you. I come back here every week for the food but just as much the service where everybody knows my name. This is a home.” That is the best compliment to me. Sean Hart, John Murchanian and I work hard to make this feel like home. Bobby and my children, Bobby Junior and Jenna work hard here too after school is done.

TBP: My favorites are the pasta rustica, spinach or caesar salad as well as the amazing tartufo imported from Newark. The pasta specials with vodka sauce are a rich treat. How would you describe the menu?

Dilione: Bobby and the wonderful chefs came up with most of the menu – a Mediterranean twist with lots of vegetables and beans. We still have fantastic chefs and I work with them as a team to create the fresh daily specials.

Our most popular pasta dish is linguine marichiara – shrimp and clams and mussels in a light red sauce. The pork chop stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella topped with a mushroom wine sauce is another favorite. My favorite entrée is the chicken boccocine. Bobby came up with this recipe because he wanted a chicken murphy with a little zip. The names for the dishes are mostly inspired by our friends and family.

We also serve a lot of the classics and can accommodate most diet restrictions because everything is custom-made to order. Some people don’t like garlic or want gluten-free or whole wheat pasta and we can do that.

Every night, when I leave here, it’s the reward of people leaving full of food and happy. It’s a really great feeling and what Bobby wanted.

Belmonte’s Restaurant in Asbury Park: 732-776-7500.  “Like” the restaurant on Facebook.

For more about local restaurants and food, select the “food” article category on the right side of this page. For TheBPlot’s area favorites, city-by-city, click here.