20 Top Spots for Delicious Outdoor Dining

As Jerseyans cautiously emerge from the clutches of Covid-19, restaurants greet them with a generous helping of sun, moon, stars and fresh air.

outdoor dining

The Atlantic beckons beyond the tables of the Asbury Festhalle, with its menu featuring bests from the land of wursts. Photo by Laura Moss

Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten

Asbury Park

Asbury Park’s liveliest scene west of the boardwalk can be found here, on the rooftop overlooking Wesley Lake. Lush green plantings enhance the garten part of the biergarten. The outdoor dining area is actually larger than the indoor space on the ground floor of this former furniture factory and warehouse. Revelers raise hefty mugs to the polka bands and other musicians who entertain from the stage at one end of the 9,000-square-foot rooftop. Although standards like kielbasa and bratwurst remain on the menu, general manager Nick Falco says they are adding smoked meats, barbecue “and more items that people know.”—Eric Levin

527 Lake Avenue, 732-997-8767

outdoor dining

Avenue guests enjoy an elevated perch as well as cuisine with a Southern French accent. Photo by Paul S. Bartholomew

Avenue

Long Branch

Sandwiched between the boardwalk and the beach, Avenue’s outdoor deck affords an unobstructed view of the ocean. Given the brasserie menu, the French music on the outdoor speakers and sel guerande (French grey sea salt) on each table, it’s easy to imagine yourself on the French Riviera. “Pretty much everyone’s preference is to sit outside,” says manager Amanda Anton, who describes the food as “French casual, with some American twists.” Solid choices include steak frites and yellowfin tuna Niçoise. There’s also a raw bar, burgers and even chicken and dumplings.—Beth Weinhouse

23 Ocean Avenue, 732-759-2900

outdoor dining

The towers of Lower Manhattan shimmer in the setting sun as diners at Battello in Jersey City settle in with cocktails and a menu ranging from pastas to lobster roll, burgers and steak. Photo by Laura Moss

Battello

Jersey City

Under a permanent roof speckled with a celestial array of tiny lights, Battello’s deck offers a perch just a few feet above the Hudson River, facing the towers of lower Manhattan. Chef Ryan DePersio’s menu features raw bar items and a seafood tower, plus a range of dishes from signature pastas to cooked seafood, steak, and large-format entrées to share.—Eric Levin

502 Washington Boulevard, 201-798-1798

Boardwalk Bar & Grill

Point Pleasant Beach

The rooftop dining area at this longtime favorite perches you above the crowds strolling along Jenkinson’s Boardwalk. It makes for great people watching. Someone will be watching you as well. Look north, and you’ll be eye to eye with the huge clown face on Jenkinson’s fun-house wall. If that’s disconcerting, turn east for a view of the calming ocean waves. Boardwalk, which turned 20 last year, has a liquor license, but features a family-friendly menu including pastas, ribs, salads and seafood. Don’t miss the fresh-made crab cakes.—Emily Drew

401 Boardwalk, 732-714-2241

outdoor dining

The plantings are lush in the back patio of Cafe Matisse. Photo by Laura Moss

Café Matisse

Rutherford

There’s an Alice in Wonderland quality to Café Matisse. Leaving the busy, semi-urban Rutherford street, you enter a scarlet corridor sporting Matisse-like designs. It leads to the dramatic Matisse-to-the-max dining room. But there’s more. Beyond picture windows and a gold-trimmed glass door, a richly planted garden beckons. Replete with trees, flowering bushes and ivied walls, “it takes you away from Rutherford and has a Provençal feel,” says chef/owner Peter Loria. The garden was there when Loria created Café Matisse in 1994, but he expanded and transformed it. Today, he and maitre d’ Larry Falcone tend it themselves, sometimes planting herbs “and aloe—I used some on a kitchen burn I got today,” Loria says. The restaurant’s name and Provençal feeling “make everyone want to tag me as French,” Loria adds. “But I’d say the food is American eclectic, with a lot of influences.” Call ahead to reserve a spot in the garden. BYO.—Beth Weinhouse

167 Park Avenue, 201-935-2995

Drifthouse

Sea Bright

Chef David Burke’s food and drink are served at tables under broad umbrellas on a deck overlooking the Driftwood Cabana Club swimming pool. Beyond are the sea wall and the ocean. Burke’s style of cooking might be called two-fisted with a wink, as in his signature pretzel-crusted crab cakes with chipotle aioli, clothesline bacon, lobster cavatelli and, for the two-fisted part, dry-aged steaks.—Eric Levin

1485 Ocean Ave, 732-530-9760

Eventide Grille 

Sea Bright

On the deck overlooking a marina bobbing with boats, sip a drink as the sun slips below the horizon across the Shrewsbury River. “We’re probably best known for sunsets,” says general manager Gene McDonnell. “If you look at our website, you’ll see lots of beautiful sunset photos.” There are several outdoor spaces, including one with glass garage doors that can be closed when the weather turns wet or chilly. The outside bar is bigger than the inside one. The food is casual, the vibe lively—often accompanied by live music. On a summer weekend, you can expect to wait for a table, but nobody’s frowning.—Beth Weinhouse

1400 Ocean Avenue, 732-530-1414

outdoor dining

At Faubourg, an alley was reinvented as an urbane set of elevations. Photo by Laura Baer

Faubourg

Montclair

Locals who remember the weed-infested alley that used to separate the bank that is now Faubourg from its neighboring building will never cease to marvel at its transformation. But you don’t need a sense of history to appreciate Faubourg’s multilevel patio with outdoor bar. It feels both urbane and relaxed, reflecting Montclair’s self-image. Chef Olivier Muller’s menu, as much modern American as French, strikes the same chord.—Eric Levin

544 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-542-7700

Harry’s Ocean Bar & Grille

Cape May

Run by Jonathan Hirsch, a third-generation member of the Hirsch family, Harry’s has a rooftop overlooking the ocean and will set out tables in the parking lot. Flip-flops and swimsuit, bike helmet and spandex—come as you are. The best-selling drink is the Orange Crush, made with orange vodka, a juiced whole orange and Sprite or club soda. Fans’ top food picks include the clam chowder, the spicy chicken sandwich and the lobster fries—hand-cut fries piled with lobster meat, cheddar sauce and scallions. With live music daily, Harry’s comes as close to Margaritaville as anything in this resort town.—Lynn Martenstein 

1025 Beach Avenue, 609-884-2779

Ice House

Wildwood 

At its peak a century ago, the fishing industry at Otten’s Harbor on the bay side of Wildwood shipped 100,000 barrels of fish to New York and Philadelphia in one six-month period. Having an icehouse on site kept those deliveries fresh. Today, the Ice House restaurant builds on that legacy, though you can also score a cheeseburger or blackened pork tenderloin. The rooftop deck is the place to be for sweeping views of the harbor, especially at sunset. Frozen drinks are popular, but local brews, upscale wines by the glass and specialty cocktails are available as well.—Lynn Martenstein

4415 Park Boulevard, 609-522-0033

Inn of the Hawke

Lambertville

While the indoor vibe evokes the early 1900s, the atmosphere out back just might be timeless. Tables and chairs with green-and-white print cushions stand on a flagstone patio with green latticework. “It’s a beautiful garden anchored by four 150-year-old sycamores,” says Doreen Masset, one of the owners. “When the weather is nice,” she adds, “everyone likes to sit outside.” One patron likened it to “having a classy picnic.” Masset describes the menu as “upscale pub food,” ranging from fish and chips to tuna-poke nachos and sweet potato-and-black bean quesadillas.—Beth Weinhouse

74 South Union Street, 609-397-9555

Klein’s Fish Market

Belmar

What started as a family-run fish market 90 years ago is still owned by that family, but now comprises the Waterside Café and the Riverfront Bar and Grille, with dockside seating on the Shark River. Dine as boats pass on the river, vehicles cross the bridges on either side and the occasional train rumbles through. “Everything in the market is available in the restaurant,” says Tod Vitalis, general manager and nephew of owner Ollie Klein. Adds Klein, “Our seafood is the freshest, and we get it from everywhere.” Peruse the offerings on ice before deciding what to order—grilled, fried, on a platter or in a sandwich or wrap.—Eric Levin

708 River Road, 732-681-1177

outdoor dining

You can pull up to the Marina Grille in your own boat or simply cast your gaze across the varied watercraft as they bob in the sunset. Photo by Michael Persico

Marina Grille

Belmar

As you sit on the deck overlooking the Shark River, the setting sun backlights an armada of gleaming motor yachts you can admire without worrying about their upkeep—unless, that is, you have chosen to arrive by boat, as many do. With a big umbrella sheltering your table, nurse one of the signature Rum Bucket cocktails, polish off clams and oysters and move up the food chain to pizza, burgers, seared scallops or a rib eye.—Eric Levin

905 River Road, 732-894-3211

McLoone’s Boathouse

West Orange

Overlooking the reservoir in the South Mountain Recreation Complex, McLoone’s feels more like a rustic lodge than a restaurant next to a skating arena and a zoo (the Turtle Back Zoo, to be precise). Most of the tables, with big umbrellas, enjoy clear views of the reservoir and the forested area beyond. There’s a lighted path perfect for a stroll before or after a meal of steak, chicken, seafood or pasta. One problem: the wind. “We probably go through 100 umbrellas in the summer,” says general manager Robert Giarrusso. Then again, on sultry summer nights, diners find the breeze rather welcome.—Beth Weinhouse

9 Cherry Lane, 862-252-7108

Pier 115 Bar & Grill

Edgewater

Half sports bar, half gastropub, with everything from pizza to sushi, Pier 115 extends so far out over the Hudson River that eating there can make you feel halfway to Upper Manhattan. The 60-seat outdoor deck features aluminum tables with cushioned benches under striped canopies. At lunch, sun and river traffic give the space a breezy, sporty feel; at night, the city lights turn the vibe dramatic. “When you’re dining with us outside,” says director of operations Gregory Kane, “you almost feel you’re at a destination or daycation.”—Beth Weinhouse

115 River Road, 201-313-2155

outdoor dining

Sculptural works in different styles add to the atmosphere at Rat’s, where nature sprawls in seductive profusion. Photo by Frank Veronsky

Rat’s Restaurant

Hamilton

You will be very well fed on excellent French fare at Rat’s. But step over to the pond at the edge of the enchanting outdoor dining area, and peek down between the lily pads. Now these creatures—big, bright orange koi—seem to be eating better than anybody. Grounds For Sculpture, in which Rat’s is set, is a lush wonderland of nature and art, from a replica of Monet’s bridge at Giverny (visible from the patio) to the life-size, strikingly lifelike and humorous sculptures of people being people by the late Seward Johnson.—Eric Levin

16 Fairgrounds Road, 609-584-7800

Sirena

Long Branch

Located on the boardwalk, Sirena offers a panoramic ocean view—with an Italian gastronomic accent. There are steaks, seafood, and lots of pasta and wine. The latter includes a large selection of premium Italian labels. Indulge in enough food and wine, and you just might gaze out beyond the surf and see a sirena—the restaurant’s namesake, Italian for “mermaid.”—Beth Weinhouse

27 Ocean Avenue 732-222-1119

outdoor dining

Being connected to a luxury hotel, the Water Star serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cocktails at sundown are practically de rigueur. Courtesy of the Water Star Grille

Water Star Grille

Stone Harbor

Opened in 2013 in the upscale Reeds at Shelter Haven resort hotel, Water Star Grille embodies casual elegance, extending the theme to its chic deck and terrace. Visiting boats tie up below at 11 slips. Thanks to a clear view across the neighboring bay, the restaurant swells with summertime patrons eager for the sunset spectacle. The menu encourages shared plates served continuously throughout the meal. The Asian chicken bowl and flatbreads are standouts. The Water Star, named for a flowering plant native to South Jersey marshlands, has put down roots in this discerning neighborhood, and deservedly so.—Lynn Martenstein

9601 3rd Avenue, 609-368-0100

The Windlass

Lake Hopatcong

Whether you arrive by boat or car, you are virtually on the water as you dine. The Windlass is known for its canopied picnic-table rockers, which might sound unsettling, but are popular. Additional seating includes tables protected from rain on the pavilion. The menu ranges from pizza to paella, with burgers, sandwiches and seafood along the way.—Eric Levin

45 Nolans Point Park Road, 973-663-3190

Yard House

Moorestown

The restaurant at the Moorestown Mall rolls up its retractable front walls for open-air dining under a roof, but also sets out tables on its extensive patio. The menu varies widely, from Nashville-style hot chicken to jambalaya pizza, steak, and mac and cheese. At Yard House, the space behind the bar allotted to draft taps itself is measured in yards.—Eric Levin

400 Route 38, 856-722-5620

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