Restaurant Review

Tim McLoone’s Rebuilt Rum Runner in Sea Bright

After Hurricane Sandy, the restaurateur needed four years to rebuild his Sea Bright restaurant, elevating it a cautionary 14 feet above ground level. Has McLoone elevated the food and service as well as the structure?

Photo courtesy of Rum Runner

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.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American
  • Price Range:
    Moderate
  • 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

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