Hurricane Sandy dealt Tim McLoone an opportunity wrapped in a disaster. The storm shut down three of his 10 restaurants. He was able to reopen the ones in Asbury Park and Long Branch in a few weeks. But Rum Runner in Sea Bright— where the part-time pianist got his start in 1987, where he met his wife, Beth, and where he jammed with Bruce Springsteen—was a total loss.
“Financially and emotionally, it was a very difficult time for us,” McLoone, 69, admits. It took $9 million and nearly four years, but in May 2016, McLoone debuted an all-new Rum Runner—not just from the ground up, but from 35 feet below ground, where the new pilings were driven, to 14 feet above ground, the structure’s flood-aware elevation.
In excavating, they discovered hundreds of Prohibition-era rum bottles, serendipity for a place called Rum Runner. The bottles will eventually be put on display. More significant was the opportunity to orient the long side of the new, 295-seat building parallel, rather than perpendicular, to the Shrewsbury River, vastly improving the views.
The sleek, new main dining room has rows of floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides that make you feel you’re on a cruise ship. The staff is friendly and perhaps a little too efficient. On both my visits, our entrées arrived while we were still finishing our appetizers.
Aware of Rum Runner’s rep as a special-occasion restaurant, McLoone and executive chef Michael Dolan reworked the menu to make it, in Dolan’s words, “more of an everyday place.”
The expanded small-plate list had several winners: clams burrachos, a pot of littlenecks, chopped tomatoes and chorizo in a piquant white wine and garlic sauce; chicken-pesto flatbread with spinach, asparagus, mozzarella and sun-dried tomato oil; a special of New England clam chowder rich with clams, potatoes, vegetables and herbs; and coconut shrimp with pineapple salsa and rum-raspberry dipping sauce (one of about five dishes to incorporate the namesake liquor).
A bowl of steamer clams, however, was overcooked, overly salty and, at $22.95, no bargain. Buffalo-chicken wontons—poached, shredded breast meat mixed with Buffalo sauce, wrapped in wonton skins and fried, served with blue-cheese sauce—were tasty, but no better than chain-restaurant fare. The ginger crust in Thai calamari turned out to be made from crumbled ginger snaps, which did more to disguise than enhance the calamari rings.
Among entrées, pan-seared rainbow trout was pleasing, the firm-fleshed fillets stuffed with chopped shitake mushrooms and cashews and finished with a subtle lime brown-butter glaze. Salmon in lemon-dill sauce was equally good, the fish moist and the sauce sprightly. Excellent ravioli stuffed with sausage and broccolini luxuriated in a velvety tomato-cream sauce. A creole-spiced demiglace brought out the best in a tender, flavorful flat-iron steak.
But execution proved inconsistent. Bronzed swordfish, named for its dusting with Cajun spices before a pan sear, was so overcooked it was a chore to chew. Fried soft-shell crabs were buried under much too heavy breading.
Several desserts are made at another McLoone’s restaurant and should be avoided, especially the gummy cheesecake and a chocolate lava cake with none of the lava-like ooze that makes this dessert fun.
Stick with the house-made rice pudding—creamy, not too sweet, with nicely textured rice—or the Toll House cookie pie, a gooey decadence for those who crave cookie dough.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $9.95-$22.95; entrées, $15.95-$36.95; desserts, $7-$9
Ambience:Elegant cruise ship
Service:Friendly, but pace of meal feels rushed
Wine list:Specialty cocktails, extensive wine list