My friend and psychic, Barbara Mackey, surveyed the interior of Mattison Park, as only she can do, getting a "feel" for the Shore's newest bar/restaurant.
She scares me sometimes with what she tells me. I never "see" what she often "sees" because I don't have those extraordinary powers she possesses.
Once her eyes returned to mine, I held my breath. What had she found? Were there ghosts? A strange history no one (but she) knows about? Are there bodies buried in the basement? I never quite understand that look, even though we're born under the sign of Leo.
"Haunted," she said.
Oh, no, I thought.
"But I got a good feeling from it," she said. "It's a good haunted."
Good or bad, her use of haunted made me cringe. I began to look over my shoulder. I never liked the haunted house on the boardwalk or at the state fair.
Fear not, she said to me. Everything would be just fine.
"I've got good vibes," she said, giving Mattison Park her personal vote of approval. "Real good vibes."
I didn't dare go beyond her unsolicited appraisal. That was good enough for me. "Good" was good enough for me.
Now we were about to find out how good those vibes were by ordering a variety of appetizers, orchestrated by her dear friend (and mine, of course), the world-famous lady known as High Maintenance, who has her own vibes.
If Mattison Place passes High Maintenance's white-glove inspection, and her temperamental taste buds, co-owner Kris Karcich, his co-owner sister Lissa, his mother Anna (who set up the kitchen), his bride-to-be Erica Bernstein, friends and patrons can rejoice at such high praise.
The three of us dined on:
Baked asparagus bundles ($7): wrapped in prosciutto and baked with fresh mozzarella.
Baked brie ($9): in a raspberry Grand Marnier sauce served with French baguette and fruit.
Crab-stuffed mushrooms ($10).
Italian stuffed artichokes ($8).
Hawaiian chicken salad ($12): chicken over greens with pineapple and walnuts in a mango coconut dressing.
I watched High Maintenance, who often eats so little I wonder why she even joins me on these jaunts out, enjoy the selections. Good for her. She needs to eat more.
Barbara loved the choices, as I did.
Excellent, I thought.
I was feeling those good vibes, but right from the kitchen.
That surely was good news to Karcich of Neptune, who spent a year (eight months of construction, four months of obtaining permits) refurbishing the former bank building. Mattison Park is his baby, ignoring everyone who told him to do something else, like "becoming a plumber or an electrician."
But he had become tired of "making everybody else money," and opened this wonderful two-level martini lounge with a gourmet pizza and tapas menu.
Karcich saw the perfect opportunity to become a part of Asbury Park's redevelopment, a wise move on his part.
He's pleased with Mattison Park, which opened Feb. 3, and how well it has been accepted in such a short period of time.
"Actually, better than I expected," said Karcich, who worked as a bartender, then bar manager at the popular Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant Beach.
At Mattison Park, he was hands-on during the construction, which brought together his friends — a carpenter, an artist and a cabinet maker. It also lured neighbor Steve Napoli into the place where the Tony Soprano look-a-like has become one of the bartenders.
"I set the pace," Karcich said of the construction process, keeping all his friends working to meet his self-imposed deadlines for completion.
The end result was exactly what Karcich sought, a social gathering place for drinks and appetizers.
Oh, martini, anyone?
Physic Barbara and I could not pass on dessert, either, ordering the Chocolate Banana Puff ($7) — hazelnut chocolate and fresh bananas baked inside a pastry puff — a culinary delight made by Kris' mother.
A scoop of vanilla ice cream would have made it all the more tasty, Barbara told the boss repeatedly. Better get the ice cream, or the vibes may turn bad fast.
As for me, I couldn't find a thing I didn't like. I got there earlier than my distinguished guests and stayed far later chit-chatting with Kris and that guy who I swear looks like Tony Soprano.
It was a great conversation, typical bar talk, exactly what Kris hopes his place would offer his patrons.
Mattison Park is yet another step forward for a city thirsting to be what it once was: a gem of a Jersey Shore town.
Don Wilno's Watering Hole appears Saturdays in Jersey Life.