Ryan Allenbach, 30, and Brian Schroeder, 28, have done what they have always wanted to do, and have gone out on their own with One Fish, Two Fish, located on the southern end of Wildwood's restaurant row. They say you never forget your first restaurant.
Although both chefs have plenty of experience working and managing other restaurants, this is their first time as chef/owners. "I wake up every morning with a prep list in my head," says Allenbach about the kitchen where everything is made from scratch.
"When it comes down to service, it's like we are cooking for our lives everyday," Allenbach says. Every plate must be just right, and the feedback so far has all been positive."
"When I came down to Wildwood, I didn't look at anyone else's menu because I was only concerned about our food," says Schroeder. "That's the most important part to me."
The Prince Edward Island mussels ($10) are steamed in a tabasco-tequila sauce recipe that begins by reducing a whole bottle of tequila by 75 percent. The addition of pico de gallo adds a mixture of diced tomatoes, onions, roasted garlic and cilantro that makes the dish nothing like the mussels marinara other restaurants serve.
Crispy calamari ($10) is served with a marinara dipping sauce made with smoked tomatoes. The calamari is garnished with cherry peppers for heat.
Charbroiled local oysters ($9) are topped with a crumb mixture made from panko, tarragon and a summer shandy beer butter.
The crab cakes ($26) have a light panko crust and are bound with mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, chives and crabmeat.
"We do a lot of the stuff that people are familiar with, ingredients people can identify," says Allenbach, who also notes they try to put their spin on some things, too.
Allenbach's cocktail sauce is deconstructed, meaning he puts a homemade ketchup on the plate separate from a creamy horseradish puree. The customer combines the two, making the sauce as hot or mild as their individual taste allows.
The menu at One Fish, Two Fish isn't only about food from the sea.
Stout-braised short ribs ($24) are braised all day in Samuel Smith's oatmeal stout with fennel and root vegetables to make them more than fork-tender.
"If you look at them funny, they fall apart," Allenbach says.
One of their homemade desserts is the chocolate chip cookie meltdown ($7) that Schroeder describes as a "medium rare" cookie. Baked in a muffin tin until the center is warm and gooey, it comes served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate-caramel sauce so that everything melts down into one delicious pool of flavor.
Strawberry shortcake ($7), made with rum-infused French toast instead of biscuits, includes strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier and sugar, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. A Jersey blueberry creme brulee is also on the drawing board.
"We have been selling a little bit of everything on the menu," Schroeder says.
Open for three weeks, the structure required only a coat of fresh paint and some new carpeting for the dining room, and a little bit of elbow grease on the kitchen and equipment. Ten days after signing the lease, One Fish, Two Fish opened for its first dinner service.
"Our menu is simple food, but we are trying to do some nice retakes on classic stuff," Schroeder says. "We try to keep everything fresh with as much local stuff as we possibly can."
One Fish, Two Fish is chef-owned and -operated, but the restaurant is ingredient driven. Both chefs have worked to develop relationships with their customers and with their purveyors.
"Certain boats come in and pack out right there," Schroeder says. They call us to let us know what is coming in and we plan our menu around the freshest catch available.
The plan is to stay open year-round and to change the entire menu seasonally.
Although the heirloom tomato stack is one of their most popular dishes, tomatoes will shortly be out of season, and it will be time to create another dish.
The Pacific Avenue summer salad ($8) with local organic field greens and summer vegetables will give way to a heartier fall salad, such as a Caesar salad.
The chefs will say goodbye to the New Jersey fresh clam chowder ($8) and offer a soup of the day in order to give the kitchen more freedom to utilize other ingredients.
Knowing it is not the best of financial times for those going out to eat, both chefs believe they can put out good food and still make it reasonably priced for families.
"We want to get everyone in here," Schroeder says.
The menu is what the two chefs want to cook, but it is still accessible to the customer.
"I think our prices are right there," Allenbach says. "We do not use crabmeat from China, shrimp from Vietnam or farm-raised tilapia on the menu. I don't want to be a food criminal."
The environment is laid-back, casual and just right for a summer evening meal. Allenbach describes the decor as a work in progress.
With the help of a dishwasher they do all of the prep, cooking and turn-out along with all the other jobs associated with running a restaurant, from greeting their guests to taking out the trash at the end of the shift.
"When I go out, I want to see the owner there," Schroeder says.
Expect to see Allenbach and Schroeder working around the restaurant no matter what time you stop by, with no regrets.
A restaurant of their own is what all of the hard work has been about.
"This is what I wanted to do since ... forever," Schroeder says.
An entree of grilled rib-eye steak is a 12-ounce cut of Certified Angus Beef, selected from the top 8 percent of all graded beef, served with a mozzarella-stuffed and charred New Jersey tomato and red wine demi. The heirloom tomato stack appetizer is served with a blue cheese vinaigrette, onion straws and a basil drizzle. Summer squash soup with crabmeat garnish is one of many seasonal soups of the day.
Surf and turf done right
The One Fish, Two Fish version of surf and turf ($26) is composed of seared scallops and pork belly, a no-brainer if you are a fan of scallops wrapped with bacon. Allenbach uses a three-day cure of salt, juniper, fennel and citrus zest on the pork, that is then braised for hours until tender.
Pumping out a new restaurant
Schroeder and Allenbach met in high school when they both worked the pumps at a local gas station. Becoming interested in cooking, Allenbach graduated from the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, while Schroeder attended "the school of hard knocks," working under several chef-mentors. Combined, they are the heart and soul of One Fish, Two Fish.