On Long Beach Island, change is usually limited to vacationers rolling in and out like the tides. When a large, stylish restaurant opens sporting a novel theme for these parts, everyone takes note.
That’s what happened when the Arlington, a cavernous gastropub, opened in June 2013, taking over the centrally located Ship Bottom space long occupied by the Bayberry Inn. At the helm were brothers Paul and Brian Sabarese, Lacey township natives who for years had managed other people’s LBI restaurants.
The brothers renovated in five weeks, creating two high-ceilinged dining rooms and a barroom clad in brick and red barn wood. Wood floors, chairs and tables combine with a rock and jazz soundtrack to make the dining rooms cacophonous when busy. The bar is quieter.
The eclectic menu is bolstered by 23 taps of craft beer, an unprecedented selection on LBI. In fact, craft beer on tap proved so popular that the brothers added four taps of wine and two of cocktails, including a smoky, smooth Manhattan aged in an oak barrel four to six weeks.
The goal, according to Paul, was to “emulate the places we liked in New York and Philly. A farm-to-table, New American menu that’s accessible, with a great bar. Basically, a place we’d like to go to here.”
To name their restaurant, the brothers dipped into local history. Until 1947, Ship Bottom was known as Ship Bottom-Beach Arlington. Paul, 35, runs the front of the 187-seat house, while Brian, 41, is the chef. Brian, who lacks formal training, is assisted by sous chef Allen Walski, a Johnson & Wales graduate.
We ordered appetizers with little direction from our server, who said he hadn’t sampled most of the menu. (On our second visit, the server brought entrées while we were still eating appetizers.) Conch fritters, filled with meaty nuggets, retained a pleasing fluffiness. Plump steamed mussels poked up from a rich thyme, garlic and beer broth.
Shrimp and grits delivered cabins of comfort, with barbecue-sauced grits studded with white cheddar and house-made andouille sausage. The andouille shows up again in a paella and in the sweet-potato hash accompanying a tamarind-glazed pork chop. The scallop entrée comes with chorizo croquettes; potato gnocchi are sauced with lamb pancetta, white wine and cheese curd. All those meats are smoked in house. If you’re a vegetarian, or kosher, your choices are somewhat limited. That wasn’t a concern of mine as I dug into a delectable slab of slow-cooked, house-smoked pork belly.
Swordfish from Viking Village, at the north end of LBI, was pan seared and finished with dashi butter and kelp broth. Moist and meaty, it was well paired with sticky rice and smoked mushrooms. Properly grilled skirt steak came with sumptuous cipollini onions and Yukon Gold potatoes cooked in duck fat.
On the other hand, the pan-seared scallop in a truffled risotto was overcooked, and the risotto was low on truffle flavor and lobster. The entrée of scallops were rubbery as well. Braised short ribs were so dry they were hard to swallow. Paella was marred by a scant assortment of shellfish atop dry, overcooked rice.
Key lime tart was light and creamy; cinnamon-apple tart and chocolate-banana bread pudding were good.
Paul said he’s surprised how busy they’ve been in winter. Location helps. The Arlington is located just four blocks south of the causeway bridge, making it easily accessible for customers coming from the mainland.