Emilio Vicens and brother, Ruperto Vicens
Emilio Vicens and brother, Ruperto Vicens

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ –  You stop in for a hearty breakfast or an outstanding lunch, and you come out filled with all of that and more.

That’s what’s happening on Center Avenue now, near Avenue B, where Zoe’s café used to be. Only now it‘s Zoe’s Emilio’s Kitchen, and added to great food is the charm, ingenuity, and ever smiling owner Emilio Vicens, the restaurant’s new owner.

Maybe one of the reasons the food is so good here is because it’s a family affair. Emilio’s wife, Judith, is a waitress, kitchen helper, cleaner, or anything else that needs to be done. His brother Ruperto is the main chef and creative with both the Mexican and American cuisines that are offered seven days a week. Ruperto’s wife Christy and Emilio’s son, Joseph also pitch in wherever necessary and the result is a full menu for breakfast, an even larger menu for lunch, and happy people both at the tables and serving the tables.  Couple all of that with the fact Emilio’s first lessons in how to be a restaurateur started back in Mexico more than a quarter of a century ago when he was a youngster and ran errands  and helped his mother and grandmother cater for crowds of 50 to 100 guests in village gatherings and celebrations.   

A resident of the United States for more than 25 years, and proudly “almost an American citizen, it takes so long to go through all the steps!” Emilio’s been in the business here for a long time.  He started out in Jackson working at a pizza parlor, also worked at a former pizza restaurant on First Avenue then was in the kitchen at the Copper Canyon restaurant. When he fell in love with the town and its people, he and Judith with their three young children moved here and live in an apartment above the restaurant. When Zoe’s closed, the owner, knowing Emilio’s expertise and personality, suggested he open his own restaurant.

So in January, the Vicens took on the challenge of opening their own business, spent the next month or so in refurbishing the restaurant, hanging great paintings and décor, adding gorgeous healthy plants and opened the doors to a fine eating establishment last month.

As if the friendliness isn’t enough to ensure your day starts happily, the food certainly will do it. Emilio’s offers everything from eggs prepared any way, waffles and pancakes to quesadillas and tacos,  “Tacos” he beams, “there are always tacos.  There are so many different ways you can create them.”  There are plenty of steaks as well, and many dishes featuring avocado in an interesting variety of ways.  “Avocados grow almost wild in Mexico,” he beams, “and they taste so good.”

The same with the waffles. A favorite for breakfast are Valentina’s waffles, the favorite breakfast for his daughter, Valentina.  Her sisters Maria and Isabella appreciate all their dad’s cooking as well, and don’t be surprised to see their favorites listed sometime also.  Valentina’s favoraite are waffles with yogurt and a mixture of berries.  There are burritos, sandwiches, and many dishes named for mountains and favorite spots around Emilo’s home town in Mexico. There are some unusual Mexican cheeses and a variety of other specialties Emilio gets from a wide range of specialty vendors.

The big painting on the front of the cashier’s desk tells it all.  “Food and Friends,” it reads, citing the two reasons why Emilio works so hard. But he politely disagrees with a gentle smile. “This isn’t work for me. It’s like going to the library. It’s where I get my relaxation, my joy, what keeps me happy.”

Emilio also feels he’s filling a personal obligation in owning his own restaurant.

“Cooking is an art,” he says, with that broad smile showing it’s an art he loves. “Mother Nature gives everyone a gift. She puts something special in your hands so then you have to use that special gift. Everyone has something different and mine is serving people and cooking. And I found a town filled with beautiful friendly people to serve, so I am really a very lucky and happy Emilio.”

Zoe’s Emilo’s restaurant is open seven days a week from 7 am, to 4 pm serving breakfast and lunch. Prices range from $3 to $20. Tables are large and well-spaced, décor is simple and attractive, the freshly painted walls and spotless floors show the pride this family has in offering a new eatery in town.

There’s no charge for Emilio’s smiles and welcoming personality.  

For more information: https://www.facebook.com/zoesemilioskitchen


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Muriel J. Smith

Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, www.venividiscripto.com in...