Each time I head to Long Beach Island, I feel as though I'm going on a vacation to someplace new. That's the fun and convenience of traveling to the "island" for a quick getaway.
So, there I was again with my guest, driving slowly along the boulevard, searching for a random address to give us a clue as to how much farther we had to go, hoping that the building would pop out so we wouldn't pass it by. The Beach House Restaurant did, in fact, grab our attention. It's easy to spot near the corner of 131st Street.
Although a Jersey shore native, I'm not drawn to "beachy" decor. It's often too cute for my taste. But I like how the crisp and clean interior of this place is done in warm earth-tone colors accented with stylish bric-a-brac from the sea.
Someone paid attention to soundproofing when designing the space. My dining partner and I never struggled to hear each other over the clamor of a busy dining room, which can easily happen when tables are tightly knit and everyone talks at once.
I've mentioned before that the quality of bread is often a sign of what's to come in a meal. Crusty, rustic Italian bread with butter was delicious, the kind you can't stop eating, but, in this case, not indicative of what would follow.
Seafood is the main draw on the menu, and clearly there is a competition going on between local restaurants with items such as the "best" crab cakes and the "best" New England style clam chowder. The Beach House claims their chowder ($8) is the "best you'll ever have." Yes, it was thick, creamy and seasoned nicely with a peppery finish, but I'd say it's one of the Top 10 I've had. To be No. 1, it's got to knock my socks off, and it didn't.
Moon-shaped, deep-fried pierogies ($9) stuffed with a soft mixture of potatoes and cheese had potential, but fell short. They needed to stay a minute or two longer in the fryer. Some of the dough was underdone, especially on the bottoms. I would have liked them better had they been fried to a golden brown instead of a pale shade of yellow. The filling needed more pizazz, too. It was as though we had to work at tasting what was inside these pretty little packages.
Dinners came with a family-style salad bowl of cold, crisp romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots and purple cabbage - not terribly fancy, but fresh and satisfying. We chose house-made balsamic vinaigrette and honey mustard dressing that arrived in bottles for pouring instead of those tacky plastic portion cups. Both dressings were tasty, but the presentation struck me most.
For traditionalists, Corey's combo ($33) was a platter of fried or broiled (I picked broiled) flounder, shrimp, sea scallops and a jumbo lump crab cake. It is what Jersey shore seafood is all about. Unfortunately, my overcooked shrimp and too much paprika over the food knocked it down a notch or two. I appreciate a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt and pepper on a piece of fish, but there was no seasoning other than paprika on anything. I suppose the "signature" shrimp sauce on the side was meant to add needed flavor. What really shone were the sweet, perfectly cooked scallops and the crab cake, which was packed with chunky crabmeat and a modest amount of filler.
When was the last time you saw chopped steak ($20) on a menu other than at a diner? My guest and I were surprised and delighted to find it on this one, but once we tasted it, we were disappointed.
When you ask a chef to cook meat to the temperature he or she feels is best, typically they prefer medium rare. My guest said to our server, "However the chef wants to cook it is fine with me." We expected at least some pink inside, but this glorified hamburger was well done and fairly tough. Sauteed mushrooms and onions covered with pallid, salty brown gravy couldn't save it.
Entrees came with a baked potato, french fries, rice pilaf or vegetable of the day. The baked potato was just right, but the julienned medley of carrots, yellow squash and zucchini was borderline. The carrots were OK, but the rest was missing the snap we like in vegetables.
Out of many, two desserts are baked in-house. With a factory made crust and corn starchy filling, the peach crumb pie ($8.50) was far less than stellar, but the tiramisu ($8.50) won us over with its layer of moist cake topped with velvety cream and chocolate sauce.
What we'll remember above all about our evening was the pleasant ambiance and the casual yet excellent service. The staff, dressed in basic summertime black, worked quickly and quietly. Our server, in particular, was competent and friendly with impeccable timing.
The winter hours are in effect at The Beach House Restaurant, but the clam chowder and other items are available for take-out or mail order, putting a taste of the Jersey shore on tap anytime, anyplace.
The Beach House Restaurant
13015 Long Beach Blvd.
Beach Haven Terrace, Long Beach Township
Hours: Breakfast from 8 a.m. Sundays, dinners from 5 p.m. Fridays to Sundays
Liquor license: BYOB
Wheelchair accessible: Dining room, yes; restrooms, no
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers $8 to $15, entrees $20 to $33
Our bill for two: $86.50 plus tip