Like many young Americans, Rob Hammerschlag, 64, began his culinary career while working in a fast food place during college. The difference is, Hammerschlag's career began in his homeland of Zimbabwe, South Africa.
Coming to the United States in 1979, he started his first business in 1982, by buying out a business on the corner of Douglas and Ventnor avenues called Bubba's Bagels and changing the name to Downbeach Deli.
"I've been in Downbeach Deli ever since," says Hammerschlag. "Somehow, I have always been interested in food, for some reason."
Two years ago, Hammerschlag created a secondary, summer-only business named "Fisch Kitchen," with the original idea to help a family member get their feet wet in the restaurant business.
"For some reason business and personal relationships don't seem to work out," says Hammerschlag.
This season, Hammerschlag has taken the restaurant in a new direction, with a new name and a new menu. Patio Kitchen will offer the same casual outdoor seating arrangement, where customers order and pay at the window, with runners who then call your name and deliver the food to your table.
Seating is family-style at heavy wooden picnic tables and benches. Patio curtains protect customers from the elements, while propane heaters stand at the ready to take the edge off the coolest summer evening. Rolled up, diners can enjoy every summer breeze.
The new menu is composed of summer-style, finger food such as burgers, hot dogs and tacos, along with the seafood choices.
"More on seafood and less on fish," says Hammerschlag.
Most all of the sauces are made in their kitchen; french fries are fresh cut. Seafood is breaded on premise, and so are the chicken fingers for the kids menu. At Patio Kitchen, even the mac and cheese is made from scratch.
Spicy Manhattan clam chowder ($5) is one of two soups on the menu each day. Crab bisque ($6.50) is made with coconut milk, not cream. On weekends only, for an additional $2, soups can be served in a San Francisco-style bread bowl.
The shellfish section includes cold peel 'n' eat shrimp (six for $7, 12 for $13) or Jersey clams on the half shell (six for $6, 12 for $11.50). Hot dishes include mussels marinara ($15), steamed Jersey clams ($15) and fried Jersey clams ($8).
Also on the menu: popcorn shrimp with sriracha chili sauce ($9.50); fried crab balls with roasted red pepper sauce ($16); fried calamari with sweet chili sauce ($8); and fish and chips with house cole slaw and fries ($14). With much of the catch coming out of Cape May, Hammerschlag is doing his best to use local seafood first.
Grilled wings are available as classic Buffalo or BBQ (six for $7, 12 for $13), or naked (six for $6, 12 for $12); and BBQ baby back ribs are $12.
Salads include the popular iceberg wedge ($9) with blue cheese crumble, bacon and tomato. Seafood inspired salads include lump crab with fresh avocado ($15); grilled shrimp with quinoa, dried apricot, and walnuts ($14); grilled and chilled salmon with avocado and roasted beets ($14); and a ceviche-style shrimp, bay scallop, lobster and calamari seafood salad ($15).
Patio burgers come in many different forms, all served on a brioche bun or multigrain roll with lettuce, tomato, onion and a side of fries. Diners can choose from beef ($10), chicken ($8), black bean veggie ($8), buffalo ($12) and cod ($8). All sandwiches are served with a side of fries, including the crab cake with Old Bay remoulade ($16), pepper tuna with wasabi cream ($14), seared salmon ($12) in a whole wheat wrap and a seared tuna ($14).
Hard to find in this area is the lobster roll ($21) prepared Maine-style with mayo, celery and red and green peppers on a warm Formica Bros. Bakery bun "with a bit of butter." A Mexi-Cali version has fresh pico de gallo and goat cheese ($21).
"We are getting a lot of compliments on our lobster roll," says Hammerschlag.
Patio Kitchen is also getting a reputation for their soft flour shell tacos and flatbreads, homemade from scratch. Tacos include grilled cod ($12), sauteed shrimp ($15), ground beef ($9) and grilled vegetable ($8).
A portion is three tacos served with a side of fries, fresh salsa, and sour cream.
Very crispy flatbreads are large enough for a meal. Topping combinations include shrimp with warm spinach, chopped tomato, garlic, and feta ($11); crab with Italian cheeses and butter ($13); and lobster with bacon, garlic pesto, tomato, and a drizzle of butter ($15). A white pie ($8); grilled vegetable ($8); fresh Jersey summer tomato pie ($9); and a plain old pizza ($7) round out the selections.