The word 'anniversary' just didn't seem appropriate.
After all, this was a vision. This town, this location, this style, this conflux of personal food and life experiences, all of it helped create this. So, when partners Claudette Herring and Lauren Phillips reached three years with , they didn't celebrate an anniversary, they celebrated a birthday.
It wasn't easy then, three years ago, welcoming Via 45 into the worst economy in a generation, and it still isn't. But for Herring and Phillips, the triumph is in the struggle. They've managed to make it thus far on their original promise, adhering to what Herring calls part of the 'slow cooking movement,' by producing a facsimile of Grandma's table where family comes together and food is sustenance for more than just the body.
"I think we've kind of made a community within the community of Red Bank," Phillips said during a recent interview, taking a moment between checking the cake in the oven and measuring ingredients for another. "It's almost like the people who dine here are our neighbors. They come in and this feels more familiar. It's not coming to a restaurant. It's like coming home."
The rustic Italian eatery is situated just so on Broad Street - 45 Broad Street, of course - that the last rays of the day's westerly sagging sun highlight the storefront. Inside the restaurant is a mismatch of colors, square and round tables, plastic baubles and fine artwork. Even the pepper mills are different sizes and colors.
Not much of it falls under the pastiche of modern restaurant design with color-coordinated walls, napkins, place settings. At Via 45 it's decidedly random, but only seemingly. What it looks like, more than a restaurant, is home.
The food that comes out of the kitchen matches the decor - more accurately it's the other way around, most likely. Together, Herring and Phillips, both trained chefs - though Phillips prefers to call herself a "cooker" - create the kind of dishes they say represent what they like to eat. The ingredients are simple and fresh, and often product purchased on trips to area farmers markets find its way onto customer plates.
After a moment of consideration, as homemade vegetable and chicken stock simmer on the stove top and a delivery man drops off fresh red snapper and waits for inspection, Herring said it's likely that Via 45 is Red Bank's freshest restaurant.
"I grew up in Italy and went to the market with my mother every day," Herring said. "We'd go to the bakery, the fish market. She saw what was fresh, that day, and she cooked that. It was very 'in the moment' cooking."
That in the moment cooking is what guides Via 45's menu.
The handwritten menu in the front window - the day's offerings scrawled on a lined piece of paper followed, always, by a sketch of a heart along with Lauren and Claudette's names - plays well with the rustic, personable nature put forth by the restaurant's owners, though it's far from a gimmick. Ask either of them what's for dinner and depending on the day, the week, the month, the answer is bound to be something different. Sure, there are favorites that creep back on the menu every once in a while, depending on what's available at the market or fresh from suppliers - and sometimes depending on a customer request - but a regular menu isn't what this place is about.
"It produces less waste. It helps keep the creative process going," Herring said of the ever-changing menu. "That's the way we work. On the edge. Any other way would be boring."
Via 45 serves dinner six nights a week, Tuesday through Sunday. Consider making reservations on Friday and Saturday nights as waits can sometimes exceed two hours.