Culinary Ports of Call

Summertime, and the eatin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’, and the sweet corn is high. Join us—lobster bib optional.

Monmouth County

BIG ED’S BBQ (Old Bridge) Union Beach native Ed Stoppiello (Big Ed) has been serving mighty tasty ribs since 1992, even though he doesn’t use a smoker. He boils them first, but then he grills them, swabbing on liquid smoke. Somehow, it works. Ed’s falling-off-the-bone baby backs are the most popular, but his spare ribs and barbecued chicken claim their partisans, too. Diners come hungry, leave stuffed—ribs are always all-you-can-eat during dinner. Rib lunches and dinners ($11.99, $17.99) come with one side. (Our choice: Jersey corn on the cob.) Ed also does barbecued beef and pulled-pork sandwiches, burgers, and grilled steaks. The saloon-style dining room is outfitted with wooden booths, NASCAR and beer paraphernalia, and TV screens. Ed’s only rule: No shirt, no shoes, no service.—Karen Tina Harrison

305 Rt 34, 732-583-2626, bigedsbbq.com.

FINS, A TROPICALI GRILL (Bradley Beach, Brick) Fins defines tropicali as “Southern California cuisine influenced by Latino, tropical island, and Asian flavors.” That means mangos in the burritos, coconut-sesame shrimp in the tacos, and wasabi-passionfruit dressing on the salads. The S-Turn burrito, a popular item added last year, combines coconut-and-sesame-battered tilapia, grilled pineapple, and mixed cheeses. Wash everything down with a  fruit smoothie. “We’re almost like three restaurants in one—smoothie, salad, and burrito,” says Shawn Ryan, who opened the first Fins in Bradley Beach three years ago with childhood friend Pat Cuozzo. Locals love the prices (every item under $10) and the relaxed BYO vibe. If you’d rather munch your guac and chips while watching real waves, have your order delivered to the beach.  The staff will be happy to meet you at the boardwalk. —Jen Brown

120 Main St, Bradley Beach, 732-897-8600; 1930 Rt 88, Brick, 732-458-3200, finsusa.com.

JOYFUL NOISE CAFÉ and R&S CAJUN GRILL (Asbury Park) The city’s revival has taken place almost entirely east of the NJ Transit railroad tracks, while crime has been a factor in the languishing west side. “We didn’t care about the stigma of the west side,” says Alex Louis. “We want to help bring Asbury back.” So last summer, Alex and his brothers Mario and Muler, all in their forties, sold a house they owned on the east side and bought a 7,800-square-foot warehouse, which they divided into five stores, connecting via a back hallway. Mario opened Joyful Noise, Alex opened R&S Grill, Muler opened Heavenly Wash Laundromat, a friend opened Tacha’s Hair and Nail Salon, and C.C.A.M. Clothing and Accessories rented the fifth store.

The brothers, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in Asbury Park, run the businesses with the help of extended family. While your laundry is tumbling, mosey down the hall to R&S for take-out bourbon chicken, fried plantains and Cajun fries, or to the Joyful Noise for an espresso, salad, sandwich, or slice of sweet potato pie. You can surf the Net on your laptop using the building’s free wireless network. The Joyful Noise lives up to its name on Friday nights, when it presents live jazz.—Pearl Gabel

1400 Asbury Ave, Joyful Noise: 732-774-5006; R&S Grill: 732-361-3292.

KAYA’S KITCHEN (Belmar) Touring bands playing Shore gigs know to take Garden State Parkway Exit 98 when they’re hungry. Many musicians are vegan or vegetarian, and a number of them became fans during the eight years this restaurant was Veggie Works. Things looked bleak when it closed in 2004, but then chef Omer Basatemur bought it and reopened in January 2005. He renovated the dining room, improved the notoriously slow service, broadened the menu, and renamed the place for his daughter, born three days before the reopening. The food is  all organic and includes fun nibbles like French fries and onion rings. Vegetarians in the New Brunswick band Thursday love Kaya’s for the Cajun BBQ Tofu, Karma Wings, and “Chicken Fried” Gluten Steak.—Jon Coen

817 Belmar Plaza, 732-280-1141, kayaskitchen.com.

LEGGETTS (Manasquan) If you’re on the beach in Manasquan getting too crispy, duck out of the sun and head to Leggetts for Bud Bingo. Every Saturday at 3 pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Leggetts invites customers to play Bingo while enjoying a few beers. There’s no cost to play, and prizes range from Legett’s T-shirts to baseball tickets. “People really look forward to it,” says Perry Scimeca, a Leggetts bartender, who takes credit for bringing the game to the bar. Scimeca recommends arriving about an hour early to guarantee yourself a spot before the place gets packed. But you might want to take a moment to wash the salt off your face and run a comb through your hair. “A lot of people have met their spouses here,” Scimeca says.  “Guys come in, they don’t know how to play bingo, the girl shows them, he wins a T-shirt, gives it to the girl…. Next thing you know they’re getting married.”—Jen Brown

217 First Ave, 732-223-3951, leggetts.us

MARKET IN THE MIDDLE (Asbury Park) Surveyors might debate whether the market is in the middle, but it is certainly in the thick of things. Up front, with potted palms and big windows facing Cookman Avenue, a busy bar and small tables beckon under soft light. The next room over is the gourmet food market (coffee, tea, olives, jams, cheeses, organic and Asian products), which becomes the dining room on the other side of some food displays. Out back there’s a patio bordered by bamboo. Market in the Middle is the latest venture by Asbury Park restaurateur, surfer, global backpacker, and real estate broker Marilyn Schlossbach, who also owns two places in Normandy Beach—Labrador Lounge (multi-cultural cuisine) and Simple Goodness (a juice bar and “organic convenience store”). Market in the Middle’s eclectic menu—BBQ ribs; green salad with poached pear and blue cheese; carrot ginger curry over Asian ravioli—changes often. Portions are ample, recipes are appealingly simple, but execution is erratic. Among the dishes we tried,  winners were Huge fried olives stuffed with asiago cheese, with lemon basil aioli ($7); lobster mac & cheese ($9); and teriyaki-glazed tuna ($24).—KTH

516 Cookman Ave (732-776-8886) kitschens.com

MISTER C’S BEACH BISTRO (Allenhurst) When Mister C’s moved from its longtime home in Deal to the vacant restaurant space adjoining the Allenhurst Beach Club, the crowd followed—and multiplied. On sun-drenched afternoons, mostly Allenhurst Beach Club members belly up to the outdoor tiki bar, even though it is public. At night, patrons from up and down the Shore dine on Italian classics and creations such as horseradish-crusted Dover sole with shrimp, in white wine sauce. If the weather cooperates, you can dine under the stars in the tiki bar. If not, retreat to the indoor bar, whose panoramic windows, overlooking the ocean, make it one of the best places to enjoy a summer storm. And you can always grab a table in the dining room.—JB

Allen Ave at Ocean Ave, 732-531-3665, mistercsbeachbistro.com

SHIPWRECK GRILL (Brielle) With its gravel parking lot hard under the bridge to Point Pleasant, the beige clapboard exterior of Shipwreck Grill suggests a basic and briny dining experience. Actually, the atmosphere inside is somewhat swank, with museum-like vitrines showcasing owner Bill Cleary’s diving treasures salvaged from Jersey wrecks. Terry Eleftheriou, longtime toque at the late, lamented Jamie’s in Englewood Cliffs, flaunts intriguing flavor combinations that reveal a sense of humor. His big, scrumptious tuna tartare appetizer, for example, separates two layers of rosy tuna chunks with a layer of avocado purée. This burger-sized construction is then topped with caviar and drizzled with lemon oil ($11). Filet mignon with scallops ($32) updates surf-and-turf; another scallop dish comes with homemade round ravioli striped like angel fish. You can order  plain fried seafood and steamed lobster, but if you entrust yourself to the chef’s creativity you will eat well. P.S.: His flourless peanut butter and fudge cake rocks.—KTH

720 Ashley Ave, 732-292-9380, shipwreckgrill.com.

ST. STEPHEN’S GREEN (Spring Lake Heights) Regulars lamented the closing last year of the landmark Eggiman’s Tavern. But not even the most stalwart are crying in their beer since the spot reopened in December as St. Stephen’s Green, establishing an alternative to Rod’s, the upscale anchor of Sea Girt’s main street, just a few miles south along the Irish Riviera.

St. Stephen’s dark woodwork, stone hearths, and simple but delicious Irish fare (not an oxymoron) should become classic.

Bantry Bay Mussels ($8.25) make a great starter, the plump mollusks stewed gently in white wine, garlic, sausage and herbs. Get your feed on with the massive, pan-fried Gaelic Steak ($17.95) in Irish Whiskey sauce with sautéed mushrooms. Fish and chips ($12.95) and shepherd’s pie ($12.95) are hugely satisfying. The house salad topped with grilled chicken, shrimp, salmon, or steak ($10.95 to $13.95) is perhaps a better pick if you’re not looking to stuff yourself.

With 14 beers on tap, St. Stephen’s is ready to quench thirsts. If half a dozen flat screens don’t keep you amused, bantering with the small army of bartenders will.

The few drawbacks—a very long wait, a glass of white wine served warm, harried servers—are the combined result of  instant popularity.—Max Green

2031 Rt 71, 732-449-2626.

TABLE (Little Silver) Chef-owner Martin Bradley’s enchanted domain radiates golden lighting and the hubbub of a BYO crowd having a terrific time. Bradley, who trained  in his native Ireland, cooks New American with flair. Appetizers sound like party hors d’œuvres: artichoke-and-brie dip with roasted garlic croutons; chicken quesadillas with sweet potato chipotle sauce; mushroom spring rolls with coconut peanut sauce. Dig into the Moules à la Martin—mammoth Prince Edward Island mussels in a delicious garlic white wine broth with shallot, pepper, and basil ($10). Filet mignon topped with Gorgonzola walnut compote ($32) is worth the splurge. Bradley has the confidence, and the clientele, to charge $48 for his signature entrée, the “Montauk Martini”—a one-pound steamed lobster, plus little neck clams, calamari, shrimp, and mussels in their own broth with jasmine rice, served in a bird-bath-sized martini glass. Close out with Bradley’s house-made chocolate ice cream, as dense and delicious as a Belgian truffle.—KTH

WEST LAKE (Matawan) Amidst Route 34’s ice creameries and pizzerias, West Lake comes as a surprise: a proudly authentic, modern Chinese restaurant whose personnel and provisions arrive by van daily from the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens. You can satisfy a nostalgic yen for egg foo young here, but you can also experience the best in up-to-date Cantonese cooking. Prawns or squid with chili and salt ($15.95, $11.95) are dipped in pleasantly salty batter, then deep-fried, and served with diced hot green peppers. House special Taipan mai fun ($13.95) is a heap of fresh seafood and meat stir-fried with noodles. You can also get zingy tofu Szechuan style, and excellent Singapore mai fun curried noodles. Sizzling steak with black pepper sauce is a fantastic update of a warhorse—more than a pound of lean, juicy, tender strips of beef smothered with toothsome stir-fried onions ($15.95). West Lake draws weekend crowds for its dim sum served from rolling carts. Dumplings, noodles, sticky rice, square-cut turnip pudding, and potato-like taro puffs are up to native standards. Sweet rice-gluten balls may not sound like an inviting dessert, but the squishy texture is fun and the nutty bean paste filling perfectly complements the mildness of the dough ($2–$3.95). Just remember the golden rule of dim sum: if it looks like chicken feet, it is chicken feet.—KTH

1016 Rt 34, 732-290-2988, westlakeseafood.com.

OCEAN County

HOLIDAY SNACK BAR (Beach Haven) For almost 60 years, tourists and locals alike have taken seats around the circular counter for some of the best light fare on Long Beach Island. On a quiet bayside street, the tiny stucco building would be easy to miss but for the perpetual crowds. Seating-in-the-round is ideal for people- watching until the food arrives to steal the show. A ring of hopefuls hover behind those fortunate enough to occupy a stool.

The Holiday is a bargain, considering that a $4 Garden Burger is the most expensive (and least remarkable) item. Start with pea soup, followed by a Double Holiday Burger—two meat patties grilled with more expertise than you can reasonably expect for $3.75. The grilled cheese sandwich should be dipped repeatedly in the tasty sweet-and-sour sauce. Crispy Dune Fries tossed with Old Bay Seasoning are an essential side. In the center of the circular island, excellent homemade pies and cakes are prominently displayed. Try the decadent Lady Lord Baltimore—alternating chocolate and yellow cake with chocolate and vanilla icing—or any pie à la mode. The vanilla Cokes and root beer floats evoke a 1950s diner, as does the cash-only policy.—Stan Parish

401 Centre St, 609-492-4544, holidaysnackbar.com.

ATLANTIC County

ALLEN’S CLAM BAR (New Gretna) Driving fifteen minutes north of Atlantic City’s bright lights puts you in New Gretna, a small bay town where neighbors chat at the general store and life often revolves around the day’s catch. A visit to New Gretna is a kind of time travel. While you’re soaking up the simpler times, be sure to stop at Allen’s. Above the entrance to this quaint, cedar-shake salt box, you’re greeted by a giant replica shark head. Stay calm. Top choices include fresh shrimp and oysters (broiled or perfectly hand-battered and fried), homemade crabcakes, and crunchy coleslaw. Nothing says summer like a dozen ice cold clams “on the half” at Allen’s. Then it’s back to the future.—JC

5650 Rt 9, 609-296-4106.

CAPE MAY County

BOILER ROOM and BLUE PIG TAVERN (Cape May) The superb renovation of the 1816 Congress Hall Hotel, completed in 2002, has made this grand structure a focal point of style and hospitality here. What was once the actual boiler room is now a suave jazz spot, featuring live music five nights a week all summer. The rough stone walls and basement vibe add to the atmosphere. (If you’d rather relax above ground and can dig zebra-striped carpeting, Congress Hall also offers the Brown Room, which has the same sophisticated cocktails and entertainment.

Looking for a meal? Check out the Blue Pig, also at Congress Hall. It’s named after a famous gambling establishment that, in the 1700s, occupied a cottage on what is now the hotel’s sprawling lawn. The original Blue Pig was the first tavern in Cape May. Today’s version serves gourmet food in laid-back style. Eat indoors or out, but eat: the food is on the mark.—Jen A. Miller

251 Beach Ave, 609-884-6094,congresshall.com.

BOBBY DEE’S ROCK’N CHAIR Avalon It really does rock, serving virtually every age group. Early-birds avail themselves of the good food at great prices; families just off the beach know the waitstaff excels at expediting orders to placate small kids but never rushes the adults; later arrivals get a lighter menu until 11 pm; night owls keep the bar bustling into the wee hours. The extensive menu offers seafood, steaks and chops, and Italian specialties. Wasabi scallops are served on a bed of spicy stir-fried veggies and noodles. Broiled tilapia stuffed with crab imperial and cooked in lemon-butter sauce is never too heavy.  The crab cake sandwich is virtually all crab and comes with a dollop of roasted pepper cream sauce. The spinach salad, almost the size of a chef’s salad, and the Mediterranean salad make perfect summer meals.—David Chmiel

2409 Dune Drive, 609-967-3300, rocknchair.net.

BUSCH’S (Sea Isle City) For 95 years, the Busch family has guarded the recipe for its famed deviled crabs. Only six employees have ever known the secret. (Yes, the crabs are as good as advertised.) Generations of seafood lovers have filled the block-long eatery in the Townsend’s Inlet section. The restaurant, opened 30 years after the Busch family opened its seafood store, is adorned with pictures of all six generations (Al and Kim Schettig are the present owners). She-crab soup has legions of fanatics (it’s served only on Sundays and Tuesdays). Broiled, baked, or stuffed seafood is cooked expertly. Great catches include the Jersey Shore platter—deviled crab, baked deviled clam, fried scallops, fried shrimp, fried flounder ($31.50)—and the Land and Sea—12-ounce New York sirloin, crabmeat au gratin, or King Crab ($31.75). Postprandial entertainment completes the experience—karaoke, DJs, or “Parrot Head” nights, inspired by the music of Jimmy Buffett, with singer Larry McKenna.—DC

8700 Anna Phillips Lane, 609-263-8626, buschsseafood.com.

CARRIAGE HOUSE TEA ROOM AND CAFÉ (Cape May) Part of the grand and beautifully restored Emlen Physick Estate, the café serves classic tea sandwiches as well as wraps. For the complete high-tea experience, don one of the colorful and flowery hats provided by the Carriage House. What lady would dream of taking  tea without one?—JAM

1048 Washington St, 609-884-5404, capemaymac.org.

JACKSON MOUNTAIN CAFÉ (Cape May) Here’s a grown-up restaurant and pub with a respectable kids’ menu. Wear jeans, dress up—it all goes. Outdoor seating and a well-stocked bar make Jackson Mountain a  night-time hot spot, too.—JAM

400 Washington Blvd, 609-884-5648.

KATINA’S (Ocean City) This family-owned nook on a corner has been dishing up gyros and just about anything else you can imagine on a pita for more than 20 years. Food is made to order, so it isn’t eat-and-run. But the atmosphere makes it fun to stay—from the piped-in Greek music to the wall mural that honors both Ocean City and Greece. Falafel, shish-ka-bob, moussaka, and open-faced pita sandwiches make perfect lunches or light evening meals. If you’ve worked up a big appetite riding waves, Katina’s also serves dinner platters such as roasted half chicken.—JAM

Ninth & Central Aves, 609-399-5525.

OCEAN DRIVE (Sea Isle City) Never heard of Ocean Drive? How about “The OD,” as it’s more commonly known? Whatever you call it, it’s the place where the young congregate in Sea Isle City. and has been for the last 20 years. Don’t expect a quiet evening here. The drinks are cold and many are on special; the cover bands are loud and play all the songs you know. It’s not fancy, but no one will blink if you come right off the beach to quench your thirst. —Jen A. Miller

3915 Landis Ave, Sea Isle City (609-263-1000) theod.com

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