SOMERS POINT - Money may not buy you love but a certain amount of it, spent wisely, can certainly lift a perennial also-ran to a place in the winners circle.
Money well spent at Clancy's by the Bay in Somers Point has given a comfortable new look to the entranceway, bar area, banquet room and patio the previous spate of revolving-door owners never seemed to reach. Even the outside has received a much-needed lifestyle lift.
Upon entering, there is so much going on, it is difficult to know what to check out first. Greeted immediately upon entering, we noticed a beautiful temperature-controlled wine room and a well appointed seating area around a fireplace that would smooth out the longest of waits for a table on a busy night. The dining room was busy but not crowded, with families and small groups already paying attention to their plates.
We loved the Panko-breaded oysters ($11.95) made from local pearls-of-the-sea Cape May Salts. Panko are those flaky Japanese bread crumbs that get really crisp when deep-fried, giving another layer of texture that dried bread crumbs simply can't achieve. We also liked the red pepper remoulade served with them, but the bed of wakame seaweed salad just didn't work for us, adding little to the plate except color.
The menu lists appetizers and snacks with a fine line separating the two. All are plated, while the snacks are more like bar or finger foods. We selected hummus ($5.95), a Middle Eastern puree of chick peas, lemon, garlic, parsley, feta cheese and cucumber served with warm grilled pita bread. This dish would be a great lunch choice and could easily stand on its own as a main course.
It must have been the first real cold snap of the season that prompted both of us to settle on braised dishes for our entrees. The pork osso bucco ($17.95), turned out to be one humongous pork shank, slow braised until the meat easily fell off the bone. The term "fork-tender did not really do it justice." Resting on a mushroom and parmesan risotto and a Hunter-style brown sauce, the shank yielded enough meat for a few late night snacks after we carried it home.
The braised beef short rib ($21.95) was a block of boneless beef braised to perfection; meaty, chewy and satisfying. Moist from a natural au jus, the plate was finished with fresh green beans and lobster mashed potatoes. Both plates were simply garnished with a pinch of micro greens.
Desserts, while house made, where a little disappointing. When we saw funnel cake on the menu, it immediately brought back summer memories of a busy boardwalk and the treat that we had missed for a few seasons. But the funnel cake fries ($5.25), served with vanilla ice cream, powdered sugar, and caramel sauce were just a tease, the portion too small to really get serious about. A warm cider doughnut ($5.95) with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce also disappointed, having that tough texture that pastries get when rewarmed.
Our server, dressed in black, provided us with the old-style service, friendly but not intrusive; around when needed and elsewhere the rest of the time. The meal was nicely paced and that meant more time to leisurely sample a mostly wonderful meal in pleasant surroundings.
The dining room itself was pretty much as we remembered it from previous visits, with the addition of holiday garlands and other seasonal touches. The bar area still seemed underutilized, although the redecorated main bar had plenty of happy faces scattered around it.
The two silent flat screen televisions on the dining room wall were distracting at best, each set to a different channel.
The menu offers so many flatbreads and pizza, soups and salads, sandwich specialties and entrees, we couldn't imagine anyone struggling to find one of their favorite dishes listed somewhere. Entree choices included classicssuch as Steak Diane along with comfort foods including chicken pot pie, meatloaf and roast turkey.
Prices are moderate, making dining at Clancy's by the Bay a good value for such carefully crafted food. Money well spent.
C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Taste Editor Felicia Compian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.
Clancy's by the Bay
101 E. Maryland Avenue, Somers Point
Hours: Open daily, 11:30 a.m., kitchen open till 9 p.m. weeknights, about 1 a.m. weekends.
Liquor license: Yes
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $7.95 to $9.95, entrees $12.95 to $21.95
Our bill for two: $83 plus tip