Not like any other Italian restaurant I have ever been to.

Let me start by saying how nice it has been to still be able to comfortably dine outside in October!

Not only does First Ave. in Atlantic Highlands have a cool vibe at night, bursting with restaurants and places to have a drink, but you're right near the water in case you also want to head down for an incredible view.

I have not spent much time in this town since I was a kid, and I don't always choose Italian when I go out because so many places just seem to offer the same thing: pasta, tomato sauce, mozarella, bread. (Not that there's anything wrong with that but it doesn't always excite me since I have been eating that for years.)

But Christine's Italian Ristorante (42 First Ave.) was amazing in so many ways. We were seated by a friendly hostess at a nice outdoor table, greeted by a server (Samson, you were exceptional) and, not 5 minutes later, the owner himself (Chef Ron Marino, who you will instantly love for his wonderful personality) came out to welcome us and have a chat as if we had known him forever.

(Me, Chef/Owner Ron Marino, and my friends Lori and Cindy)

The menu selections were fantastic but the specials were spectacular. We had the Artichoke Francaise and Italian Egg Rolls (you can't even imagine how amazing they are), and for my entree I had the Swordfish (on the bone) with a Pesto sauce and  Broccoli Rabe that was divine. (BYOB)

Toward dessert, Ron was able to sit down with us for a few minutes to tell us the story of how his restaurant began. Named for his wife (but with great history behind the name Christine) catering and then this restaurant are his second act, after a 25-year career on Wall Street! But Ron grew up with an Italian grandmother and knows his food.  Ron also has great pride in his children, Danielle and Matthew. The four of them sound like a wonderful family and just another reason why I love supporting local businesses like this one.

(Closed Mondays)

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