A Personal Tribute to a Great Restaurateur

Jim Filip, who died earlier this month at 75, made Doris & Ed's a Shore institution—and the first Jersey restaurant to win a James Beard Award.

The traditional Jersey Shore seafood platter spanned generations. Over the 20th century, children, their parents and their parents’ parents dug into those platters fried, broiled, boiled or baked.

Though most Shore-goers had a favorite seafood house, the platters served were all so similar they might as well have been prepared in a central commissary.

That is, until 1978, when Jim Filip bought Doris & Ed’s in Highlands, a stone’s throw from one of New Jersey’s most famous beaches, Sandy Hook.

I came late to Doris & Ed’s, a loss of quality time at the table I always will mourn. Much as I today mourn the loss of James Robert Filip, who died March 7 at age 75. All who prized dining on top-quality seafood in a setting that took casual to new heights were better educated and better fed for having eaten at his restaurant.

Doris & Ed’s stood at 348 Shore Drive—an address I repeated hundreds of times in touts to friends and, later, in print in the Asbury Park Press. I didn’t eat there till the summer of 1983 or 1984; I forget the exact year, but I remember being glad I’d been primed on good fish at sushi restaurants in New York City by a college pal from Hawaii who herself became a chef.

The fish at Doris & Ed’s was world-class. Jim, I later learned, was mining the Fulton Fish Market and cultivating relationships with the best seafood vendors.

In the mid-1980s, he started to do the same with wine. By the time I became a restaurant critic at the Press, in 1990, and later was elected to the James Beard Restaurant &  Chef Awards Committee, I was armed and ready to advocate for this guy who was doing everything right at his small-town restaurant.

In 1998, the James Beard Foundation named Doris & Ed’s to its very first class of America’s Classics award winners. It was the first restaurant in New Jersey to be honored by the JBF with any award.

The peerless Phyllis Richman, then restaurant critic of the Washington Post and also a member of the Beard Restaurant Committee, hadn’t dined at Doris & Ed’s. She seemed skeptical that a restaurant from the relative boondocks could be worthy of beating the many famous restaurants of its region, the Mid-Atlantic, which included Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Not long before Jim accepted his Beard Award at a ceremony that spring, Phyllis told me, “I went to Highlands, to Doris & Ed’s.”  She paused. Deliberately.

I waited.

“It wasn’t open that night,” she continued. “But it looks exactly right.”

The loss was Phyllis’s, because though the view of Sandy Hook Bay that greeted Jim’s patrons was special, the food was even better. And that’s why Doris & Ed’s deserved the Beard Award—and the many accolades that followed. By the time it closed in 2011, following severe storm damage suffered in Hurricane Irene that year, Doris & Ed’s had received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year since 1985.

But Jim had to bring his patrons along.

”I had to educate them that pinot noir is better with tuna and salmon than any white wine,” he told veteran wine writer John L. Foy for a New York Times story Foy wrote in 2002. ”I had to get the customers to trust me, and it was a long drawn-out process.”

Jim’s patience won out. One reason is that he had created a two-sided menu. One side presented food he called “Shore Today;” on the flip side were traditional favorites he called “Shore Yesterday.”

He didn’t play favorites. (Much.) On the “Today” side, you could have raw tuna, sliced as thin as a sheath of organza, or fish fillets invigorated by Asian accents. Mediterranean didn’t mean same-old Italian or French, but included Greek and Spanish, always with nuances unexpected and inspiring.

Still, you could always flip to the “Yesterday” side and enjoy that seafood platter of yore, cooked to the “perfection” that old-school menus promised but rarely delivered. Both sides of Jim’s menu were Class A dishes from Class A seafood Jim personally selected.

 

When I heard of Jim’s passing, I had one thought: I wanted to eat fish. I went to Highlands, to Doug Douty’s Lusty Lobster fish market. I bought sea trout and mako. I snapped up a container of Lusty-made ikasansai squid salad. I ordered lobster and scallops (females, please) for the weekend.

I knew of no other way to honor Jim’s legacy than to gorge on seafood. After all, he had taught me, along with thousands of others, to seek pristine seafood, expertly prepared.

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