Johnny Liccio saw two voids in the dining scene in Margate. So he basically bought the whole block to remedy that problem.
Liccio and his wife Joanne, who own the popular Johnny’s Cafe & Bar, started to fill the Margate restaurant gaps last summer when they opened John’s Steaks, a Philly-style takeout sandwich shop that specializes in cheesesteaks, chicken cutlets, pork and the usual Philadelphia fare.
Their triumvirate was completed in November when the restaurateurs opened Shucker’s Bar & Grille, a 70-seat casual seafood house that is already so popular there is a waiting line on weekends. Imagine what it will be like in the summer, which will add 64 more seats for outside seating on the deck, street and alley.
In other words, diners looking for a fresh seafood option they can enjoy while in their shorts, T-shirts and sandals no longer have to drive over the Longport Bridge to get their fix.
“When I bought (the former Fedeli’s Restaurant) building, I knew the right concept was a real shore seafood place,” Johnny Liccio says. “I came up with having a concept like this there or four years ago. Another place tried it in Margate, but it just wasn’t successful. But we are doing it right. I think it’s about quality food, affordable prices and the bar. The bar is essential. It’s a big draw.”
Liccio is thrilled with the early response to Shucker’s, but he can’t wait until the snow melts and longer, warmer days mean people will be sitting on his outdoor patio drinking ice-cold beer — there are 10 on tap — and cracking crabs.
“I am going to tell people to bring sand from the beach,” Liccio says with a laugh. “Wear your flip-flops and baseball caps, order some oysters and crabs and a pitcher of beer and just sit and enjoy.”
The seafood shack is probably the nicest seafood shack you can encounter. A giant centerpiece bar topped with white granite glows in blue lights around the perimeter. It’s where the center of the action is as bartenders mix specialty cocktails and frozen drinks while employees stock the iced raw bar with clams on the half shell ($6.95), oysters (market price), shrimp cocktail ($11.95), jumbo lump crab cocktail ($12.95) and snow crab claws ($11.95) or build seafood towers ($48.95) that include all of the above along with a whole lobster.
“People just love sitting at the bar because it’s a fun place to be,” Liccio says. “We have some great drinks. And we never have happy hour because our drink prices are always affordable. And the raw bar has been just incredible. We are going through 500 to 600 oysters a week in the offseason.”
The bar is surrounded with comfortable booths, tiled floors and a nautical theme that is more classy than gaudy. An open kitchen reveals cooks pumping out a wide variety of seafood classics, shore favorites and even some items for landlubbers.
“We had a lot of fun putting the menu together,” Liccio says. “It’s always fun when you start something new. But we opened early in November so I can fix any problems, adjust some recipes, make sure it’s perfect before the summer.”
Aside from the raw bar, popular appetizers “for the table” include steamers ($9.95); mini crab balls ($9.95) served with spicy mayo: clams BLT ($13.95), little neck clams with diced bacon, tomato and lettuce; stuffed seafood clams ($8.95), chopped clams with seafood topped with smoked gouda cheese; mussels ($10.95) served red, white or Diablo; fried calamari ($8.95) and an assortment of shrimp ($11.95), including buffalo, lemon, coconut and “drunken,” served with Jack Daniel’s BBQ sauce.
Open for lunch and dinner, Shucker’s menu is extremely approachable, as evidenced by its variety of soups, chowders, gumbos and bisques that start at $3.95, and salads starting at just 6 bucks. You can even get a soup and salad combo for $7.95, including a choice of Manhattan or New England clam chowders and a classic Caesar salad.
And there’s even a sandwich menu, including the signature French dip ($13.95) with roasted prime rib that is thinly sliced on a toasted buttered roll; the Shucker burger ($9.95), a prime beef burger with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese; crab cake ($10.95), lobster roll ($11.95); fish tacos ($10.95) with a spicy salsa; and the fried grouper sandwich for just $7.95 – all served with homemade potato chips.
“We sell so many French dip sandwiches, it’s crazy,” Liccio says. “We are about more than just seafood. We don’t want to intimidate anyone. If you want a salad for dinner, come in and have a salad for dinner. If you want a fried grouper sandwiches for $7.95 and a beer, you are out the door for 12 bucks.”
The “Shore Favorites” section of the menu offers more than a dozen options including the Shucker’s Combo ($25.95) with flounder, crab cake, scallops and shrimp broiled with Old Bay, lemon butter or fried and served with cole slaw; fried lobster tails ($23.95) with tangy mustard sauce and herb butter; steamed lobster (market price) with lemon herbed butter; stuffed shrimp ($18.95) with crab; and the clam bake ($36.95), one of the most popular menu items.
“It’s really doing well because it’s a Jersey shore seafood feast with steamed seafood including lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, corn on the cob and red bliss potatoes all steamed and served in a big bowl,” Liccio says. “And for $2 more, you can take it to go in a special container we have. We put everything raw in there with the seasonings and you just have to take it home, add a bottle of beer and put it on the stove. And you get to keep the container.”
Liccio says he wants to be the place for everyone, that’s why his “land-lover’s” section includes the house specialty prime rib ($19.95 queen cut, $24.95 king cut); fried chicken ($14.95) with a buttermilk batter made with cayenne pepper spices; and BBQ pork ribs ($14.95 half rack, $27.95 full).
“We accommodate,” Liccio says. “There is something on that menu for everyone. Whether you want a burger or seafood or fish tacos or baby back ribs, we have it all. Our menu right now is the tip of the iceberg. We want to keep expanding and changing and giving people what they want. Shucker’s is a place where you can bring a date, a buddy and your kids.”
Desserts ($6 to $7) include coconut layer cake, warm brownie ice cream sundae, key lime pie and other “simple” desserts.
Now that Liccio has his trio of restaurants right next to each other, he thinks his vision is complete — for now.
“I think I am done for a while,” Liccio says. “Now it’s about perfecting everything. We have a lot to accomplish this year. But we’ll see what happens next year.”
Beach Bar in Margate
Owner Johnny Liccio says he knows part of Shucker’s success is its bar. When summer comes, it will be even more successful.
“It’s a block from the beach,” he says. “We are basically a beach bar that people can flock to and relax and enjoy.”
With 10 beers on tap including Coors, Miller, Budweiser, Yuengling, Michelob Ultra and Sam Adams, Shucker’s features bottles and even buckets of ponies.
Shucker’s features a nice wine- selection, including Francis Ford Coppola and Argentina’s Alta Vista, but the summer will certainly see bartenders concocting Shucker’s “Brain Freezers,” frozen drinks including Nina’s Wake Up Call with Kahlua, Bailey’s, espresso vodka, vanilla ice and a shot of espresso; frozen hot chocolate with vodka, Bailey’s and cream; e root beer float with root beer vodka, ginger ale and vanilla ice; the Cream Sickle with vodka, amoretto and vanilla ice and John’s Lemon Ice with citrus vodka and fresh lemon zest.
There are also mojitos, margaritas and daiquiris, served frozen or on the rocks.
“It’s a first-class bar,” Liccio says. “It’s a fun place for people to come with a bunch of people. Try anything and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.”