Spring is synonymous with change, but not all change is very palatable at first.
For example, longtime guests of Library III on Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township were none too pleased to hear that local institution was moving, no matter how close down the road the new location is. But owner Mike Castello says the new digs, at McCullough's Emerald Golf Links on Ocean Heights Avenue, is the only thing that will be different.
"It's all coming with us," he says, from the restaurant's famous book shelves (although the new location also will have bookshelf wallpaper, besides the real thing) to the Bruce-arita cocktail, to the faithful diners themselves. "I'll bet you out of 300 people, 290 are coming with us. It's not the building that makes this place, it's the food and the clientele and the service."
Castello says a lease dispute prompted the move after about 40 years. But he'd already been planning to expand the Library Pub at McCullough's beyond the simple breakfast sandwiches and hot dogs he'd been feeding to hungry golfers since he took over the space overlooking the green there about 18 months ago.
"They begged us to come in," he said. "They wanted a real restaurant where golfers could come in a get a good meal. And it's a great, central location near Somers Point, there are so many houses and developments around the new place and in the summer there are 30,000 golfers coming through."
Still, Castello knows his diners have certain expectations, such as ordering their cut of steak or prime rib directly from the chef through a window into the kitchen before loading up a plate from the award-winning salad bar. And when they sit down to eat, they expect the same high-quality, simply prepared steaks and seafood that have kept them coming back for years.
"We've been here so long people got engaged here, and now their kids are grown and coming in here," Castello says. "It's simple: put out the best beef, seafood and poultry you can buy and people will follow you. We don't cut corners.
"It used to be beef, now the king crabs are our best sellers. I've run out before and I'll go get some from the supermarket, just for the night, and I'll hear (complaints) about it. Now if I'm out, I just tell them, 'So you know I'm only putting out the best.'"
The aujus sauce for the steak sandwich, for example, "costs a ton to make" but skimping on something diners look forward to never even crosses Castello's mind. Nor does over-seasoning the prime rib, "I know some places do, but I don't like it," he says.
Having worked his way up over 34 years from bus boy, to bartender, line cook, general manager and then owner, Castello knows the business from the inside out. If a chef is sick, he can get right into the kitchen and make shrimp scampi or a hot steak au jus sandwich right alongside chef John Murphy, who's been there almost as long as Castello, at 30 years.
Many of Castellos regular guests are like family, only the nice type, who send Christmas cards and remember your kids' hobbies, Castello says.
Even the staff has been there so long server Lauren Schlam - the fourth-newest employee with "only" 10 years experience - jokes "Someone has to pass away or retire for you to get a job here." She says staff and guests have been discussing the move with excitement, hoping for a fun new adventure they can share as a family, "but it's still kind of sad to see it go."
Contact Felicia Compian:
•6 U-15 shrimp, butterflied and deveined
•1/4 teaspoon fresh ground garlic
•12 pats butter
•Sprinkle of fresh parsely
•1 cup rice pilaf
•2 cups water, for rice
•Diced bell peppers and onion
•1/2 kitchen spoon chicken stock
Preheat broiler to 350 degrees
Place 6 pats of butter in bottom of an oven-safe casserole dish. top with shrimp, then garlic and parsley, with remaining butter on top. Broil about 12 minutes at 350 degrees.
Prepare rice pilaf according to package directions. Add vegetables and stock for color. Serve shrimp over rice pilaf.