Restaurant Review

Escaping Shore Traffic: 72 Degrees

In spring and summer, traffic on Route 72 in Manahawkin backs up with cars approaching the causeway to Long Beach Island. The Italian restaurant 72 Degrees provides a respite.

Photo credit: Jill P. Capuzzo

Bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 72 approaching the causeway to Long Beach Island helped 72 Degrees establish itself last summer.

“People would be stuck in traffic for two hours,” says owner Lance Simone, 35. “So they’d come in and grab something to hold them till they got to the island.”

Many came back for an entire meal. Since then, locals have taken a liking to this contemporary-looking, 50-seat BYO named for Route 72 and what Simone considers the ideal temperature for a day at the Shore.

The menu, under chef Tom Simsen, 39, is primarily Italian, with Asian and American items. Thin-crust penne-vodka pizza, topped with al dente penne in a tangy vodka sauce, were good, if a bit gimmicky. Also enjoyable was seafood pizza, with a white sauce and plenty of shrimp, scallops and calamari. Gimmicky and not good was flavorless spaghetti-and-meatball skewers wrapped in a wonton, dipped in bread crumbs and deep fried.

Simone, a music producer and promoter, says he doesn’t want the restaurant—his first—to be just a pizzeria. Growing up in Ocean County, he worked at a pizzeria and has helped a friend open several Italian restaurants around the state. Given that background, perhaps it’s no surprise that 72 Degrees nails pizza, using flour and buffalo mozzarella from Italy and a spicy marinara he calls “our secret weapon.”

Among appetizers, sautéed sausage and broccoli rabe was excellent in a rich, garlicky broth. The fine crab cake was all lump meat, no filler. Wings, brushed with olive oil, garlic and rosemary and baked, were a crisp and welcome alternative to the usual fried, spicy wings.

Calamari fra diavolo, however, needed more spice. Arancini (the classic rice balls packed with bits of tasty sausage) needed more time in the deep fryer to achieve the proper crunch.

In main dishes, zuppa di mare was outstanding, loaded with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and calamari in the “secret weapon” marinara. Baked shrimp stuffed with spinach, crabmeat and lobster cream sauce landed just short of being outlandishly rich.

Dreamy mashed potatoes, plus a pile of crisp onion rings, came with the thick-cut ribeye rubbed in spices before grilling. Chicken parmigiana was doomed by heavy breading. Stuffed veal had the same problem, entombing not only the veal, but the layer of smoked mozzarella and prosciutto. (The chopped salad on top was nice, though.) Eggplant saltimbocca, a bit too chewy, was drowned in a marsala-and-beef-stock demi-glace.

The same demi glace was put to better use in the veal osso bucco, a generous shank braised to total tenderness.

Desserts are made in house. They include Italian standards, such as tiramisu and gelato, plus a few inventive options. Among the winners was banana crunch, a crisp phyllo-dough bowl filled with vanilla ice cream and bananas sautéed in butter and cinnamon, topped with walnut crackle.

The Crostada 72 made a satisfying signature finale. Its chocolate chip cookie base was coated with Belgian-chocolate ganache and topped with vanilla mascarpone pudding. Chocolate espresso tart, an even deeper dive into chocomania, had an Oreo cookie crust, chocolate ganache, creamy (rather than airy) chocolate mousse and chocolate shavings.

My favorite, though, was old-fashioned crumb cake: moist vanilla cake capped with buttery, crunchy crumble and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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