Blend, at the Shore, Lives Up to Its Name

Blend on Main blends fancy with beachy. It has the right home for that: Manasquan.

A borough in southern Monmouth County with a serious summer beach scene and a family-centric year-round community, Manasquan can carry a restaurant for either a birthday celebration in March or a supper for sun-stoked day-trippers in August.

Many Shore restaurants short-change both types of diners. Not Blend. Piloted by chef-owner Lou Smith, who set up shop here three years ago, the BYO’s menu is versatile.

Cowboy steak at Blend on Main restaurant in Manasquan, New Jersey

Cowboy steak

Examples: You can order a crab cake starter at $15 and a $45 cowboy steak (you may want to shell out another two bucks for a cabernet glace). Or you can spend $27 on a two-course fixed-price dinner and get a truffled risotto starter and a lumberjack portion of Amish chicken cooked “under a brick”-style. Up that to three courses, at $35, and Blend will throw in a mini sundae, flourless chocolate cake or crème brulee for dessert.

Choice is a good thing, yes?

We decided to support Jersey’s shellfish industry by ordering a half-dozen Cape May Salt oysters. Plump, succulent, clean, yet briny, this oyster’s buttery texture begs it to be eaten straight, no sauces to mask its taste.

Tuna tacos at Blend on Main restaurant in Manasquan, New Jersey

Tuna tacos

Blend’s kitchen ratchets up the accents on the tuna taco starter. It chops tuna belly and plies it with yuzu, toasted sesame seeds and wasabi-infused tobiko roe. Add a crunch of cabbage and a piping of sriracha aioli, and you’re hitting on all cylinders–or at least a majority of taste buds.

The Blend salad takes baby arugula and molds it with a ring into a pert form flecked with shaved fennel, set off by blood-orange segments, tomato and a quarter-size round of goat cheese. Topped with a flourish of toasted almonds, it not only looked pretty, it was pretty darn delish.

I don’t have much interest in really big steaks, but Blend’s dry-aged cowboy steak was so generously marbled and grilled so perfectly medium rare that I was hard-pressed not to eat more than my share of the short-frenched-bone rib-eye. (Do get the cabernet sauce: Its richness and depth of flavor make it a spot-on match for the cowboy.)

The Amish chicken was just as juicy, just as tender–and it, too, found a worthy partner in the skinny-jeans version of truffled French fries.

Sometimes, when you’re on a roll of eating big, a dessert called Ring Ding for Two seems like a fitting finale.

"Ring Ding" dessert at Blend on Main restaurant in Manasquan, New Jersey

Ring Ding dessert

This statuesque send-up on the Drake’s Cakes classic crams devil’s food cake, peanut butter mousse and a cauldron of creamy filling into a cylinder of Belgian chocolate. Topped by shredded crispy phyllo, it sort of looks like a rocket blasting off.

I’m embarrassed to say how much fun I had eating it.

By comparison, the mini sundae, with candied walnuts, slices of a cakey cookie that tasted a bit like a madeleine, whipped cream and a real-deal maraschino cherry, was an also-ran.

Blend, however, is no second banana. It’s a Shore restaurant with style and substance. And when it comes right down to it, a sense of fun.

Blend on Main, 152 Main Street, Manasquan. 732-223-0030. Open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (The morning and midday meals are served in Blend’s annex, called The Peach Pit Cafe.)

Photos: Andrea Clurfeld

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