Andrew Steiner proundly says he's a student of "hard knocks." Even though the Long Island, N.Y., native went to Johnson & Wales University to study restaurant management, he ended up in the kitchen after a serving job in a pizzeria in his college town led to him being in the kitchen.
"I was waiting tables for a place in Providence (R.I) and the lowest job in the kitchen opened up, and I took it. And I just worked my way up."
After working in other restaurants, including the legendary Braca Cafe in Sea Isle City for the last six years as sous chef, Steiner recently opened The Establishment at 100, a farm-to-table restaurant focused on American cuisine that also uses other cultures' culinary influences.
"I always wanted to own a restaurant since I started working in one when I was 13," Steiner says. "And when I started working as a chef, I never wanted to leave the kitchen."
So now Steiner has the best of both worlds as a manager and owner. Located in the former Claude's location, Steiner took over the eatery in the winter after Hurricane Sandy left two feet of water throughout the restaurant.
"I actually wanted to take over JR's Tavern that was in foreclosure in Somers Point, but they unfortunately sold it to (Fitzpatrick's Deli & Steakhouse), so I got in contact with a broker who deals with turn-key restaurants, and after looking around, I felt there was no better spot than this one," Steiner says.
The hurricane "proved to be a silver lining for us," according to Steiner, who says the building's ownership allotted him a budget to renovate the restaurant with some of the insurance money. The layout of the restaurant remained the same with an indoor bar area, two indoor dining rooms, an enclosed patio for dining as well as an outside bar with some table seating.
Out is Claude's colorful decor, black-and-white checkered floor, a large variety of wall hangings from paintings to plates as well as the "zillion pendant lights," Steiner says.
In is a more simplified, elegant look with faux hardwood floors, neutral color scheme and minimal art.
"We just wanted to simplify things, which is a huge contrast to what it was like in here before," Steiner says. "We are focused on the food and beverages and making customers happy instead of filling the walls up with nonsense."
Steiner, who is the executive chef of the restaurant, enjoys his relationship with Chef de Cuisine Matt Pendergrast when it comes to the culinary side.
"I am able to create something out of bare-bone ingredients," Steiner says. "Give me a pile of ingredients and I can make something taste pretty good. And Matt and I both come from the school of hard knocks and we just love to play with ingredients. And say, 'Hey, I like that sauce, but it would go better with that instead.' We love figuring it all out."
The Establishment, which breaks down its menu to three sections labeled "Small," "Medium" and "Large," will feature three seasonal menus. The spring menu will be served until June 23, featuring items such as grilled octopus ($14) with potato and fennel salad, citrus vinaigrette and almond butter; pecorino-crusted chicken ($12) with apple and French bean salad, radish, baby greens, prosciutto and lemon poppy dressing; and Prince Edward Island mussels ($11) with smoked cured pork sausage, cilantro, mustard, and roasted garlic in a lemon and white wine broth.
Those dishes will make room for the new summer menu that will include fish ceviche ($10); roasted corn salad ($9) with black grapes, grape tomato, red onion, feta cheese, baby arugula and cilantro vinaigrette; mussels ($12) made with Yard's Extra Special Ale, andouille sausage, carrots, scallion and grain mustard; steamed clams ($13) with roasted long hot peppers, cilantro, tomato, and roasted garlic in a lemon and white wine broth; pan-blackened tuna ($26) with Asian sprout slaw, golden raisins, sunflower seeds and miso dressing; herb-grilled cobia with sweet potato and sausage hash, asparagus, pine nuts and hibiscus beurre blanc; and pan-seared scallops ($28) with black grapes, gazpacho salad and citrus vinaigrette.
Of course, there are some items that Steiner feels like he can't take off the menu even though the restaurant is only months old (see sidebar).
"The farm-to-table approach is something we are serious about," Steiner says. "So all of the dishes on the summer menu have ingredients I can source locally like corn, tomatoes, jalapenos, long hots, beets, kohlrabi … and all of the herbs will be grown locally. That's on top of us buying local fish and local scallops. I just had a special with golden tilefish, which is not something people see much around here, but I was able to get it locally and it was delicious."
Steiner says he believes his formula will be appreciated on the island.
"I hope so," he says. "We have had a great positive response from everyone who has come in," he says. "We try to keep things relatively affordable, which wasn't the case at Claude's, while still offering top quality food that makes you want to come back. Even people from North Wildwood who never went to Claude's because it was too pricey are finding us and making return visits. So that's a great sign."
There are three dishes that you will always find on The Establishment at 100 menu, no matter the season. Start with "Burnt CardaMoM Carrots" ($6), fried carrots served like a salad with goat cheese, bacon, roasted onion and baby arugula. Then move on to Executive Chef Andrew Steiner's signature stuffed spicy pork meatballs ($10) that are pan fried and stuffed with sharp provolone, topped with a sweet tomato jam and served with homemade herb gnocchi. And for an entree, check out the tender grilled hanger steak ($26) with French beans, smashed red potatoes that are crispy and delicious, chimichurri butter and the house steak sauce.
Stay for dessert
Executive Chef/Owner Andrew Steiner wants to offer made-from-scratch desserts, but he doesn't want to make them. So he asked longtime friend Tara Ludlum, a stay-at-home mom and excellent dessert maker, to test her skills making desserts for the restaurant. She agreed and customers have been raving about them, particularly the key lime tart ($9) with graham cracker crust, whipped cream and raspberry sauce; and the flourless chocolate cake ($10) that is rich, moist and fugy and nicely topped with a decadent chocolate ganache icing. Summer desserts will be unveiled soon, including a fresh berry cobbler.