Server Kate Geiger displays signature dishes offered at Element Restaurant and Bar in Manahawkin, including lobster and avocado shooters, panko-fried tomato and Alaskan beauty sushi.

Ben Fogletto

There are many elements that go into creating a successful restaurant. When Tony and Jane Cheng recognized the need in Manahawkin for something more than a chain restaurant or BYOB, they created Element Restaurant & Bar — an upscale restaurant with polished décor and inventive food.

The Chengs began business with Chinese takeouts and buffets. Element, however, is their only operating restaurant.

Drawing from the Chinese elements of earth, water, air and fire, the Chengs have used their background and knowledge to create a comfortable yet upscale New York-style restaurant. When you walk in you are impressed by everything from the waterfall to the higher end finish of the place.

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Besides doing the books for the restaurant, wife Jane Cheng picked out everything for the décor. She chose chairs, silverware, paint colors, light fixtures and seating arrangements.

Husband Tony Cheng, is more likely to be recognized as an undercover boss, busily doing odd jobs such as sweeping the floors around the dining room.

LBI native and Manahawkin resident Tina Wolfschmidt heard about a general manager position at the restaurant through a friend.

With seven years at the Smithville Inn behind her, she applied for the job.

After working with the Chengs for a few days, she recognized the potential of what the Chengs had created

Element is a flourishing restaurant, bar and sushi bar that uses the same menu for the entire place.

Under “Starters” you find the sampler ($11.99) which includes fried cheese patties that are made in house with American and mozzarella cheeses and are panko-breaded, as are the crab and cheese wontons and the potato pancakes.

The lobster and avocado shooters ($10.99) are among the top sellers on the menu, composed of an unusual combination of sweet lobster meat with watercress, honey, hot sauce and fresh lime juice.

“The presentation is interesting because they are served in shot glasses over ice, and they combine the sweet and hot flavor that people really like,” Wolfschmidt says .

Crunchy chicken skewers ($8.99), seasoned panko crusted chicken tenders on a stick, are served with a spicy Creole mustard.

Hot wings ($8.99), bruschetta ($8.75) and chunky guacamole ($8.99) are also among the wide ranging choices for appetizers.

Under soups, the standouts include a creamy crab bisque ($6.25/cup or $8.25/bowl).

“We do it really, really well with big chunks of crab meat,” Wolfschmidt says.

Another soup, chicken with angel hair pasta ($6.75/bowl) is made with pasta cooked to order in the broth.

“We always tell people, when they order it, that it takes a few extra minutes,” Wolfschmidt says .

It’s worth the wait.

“The prime rib French dip is to die for,” Wolfschmidt says.

At $9.99, a garlic buttered ciabatta roll holds a thinly sliced portion of prime rib, Swiss cheese and au jus.

Also available are a selection of paninis from crab cake ($14.99) to chicken and spinach ($11.99) and classic sandwiches such as the college turkey club ($10.99) or the triple decker grilled cheese ($10.99).

Burgers are prepared from house seasoned and shaped ground meat. The element burger ($11.99) is an 8-ounce burger on a soft roll with melted horseradish cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Lobster mac ’n cheese ($14.99), from the Lite Fare section of the menu, has a crispy panko crust and the unexpected addition of asparagus along with cavatappi pasta, elbow macaroni with a twist.

Prime rib of beef ($20.99/ or $23.99/king) is one of the staples at Element and is seasoned and slow roasted, served with au jus.

Chicken Shannon ($21.99) is named after the chef, Bob Shannon, and is made with a grilled, marinated chicken breast with fresh basil, plum tomatoes, garlic butter and white wine sauce then finished with jumbo lump crab meat and choice of side.

Parmesan-encrusted chicken ($18.99) has twin breasts of chicken with panko cheese coating and risotto rice cake bed, served with wilted spinach, plum tomatoes, roasted garlic and basil oil and is another big seller.

Seafood choices include Mahi Roma ($12.99) a blackened filet of fish sauced and served over lobster mashed potatoes and a crab pot pie ($22.99) made with sautéed jumbo lump crab meat, shiitake mushrooms and spinach in a crab cream sauce and a golden puff pastry crust.

Kids 10 and under eat well at Elements, with choices such as macaroni and cheese, a hamburger served with french fries, grilled cheese with french fries and a penne pasta dish with marinara for just $5.99.

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