OCEAN VIEW - We have been fans of tavern food since we were kids. Summer trips to the New Jersey shore always included lunch at some imagined halfway point out on a wooded back road. A tavern conjures up so much more than just a place to have a cold beer.
We remember them as smoke-filled rooms that always had a big wooden shuffleboard table and the aroma of beer on tap. Friendly places. The Seaville Tavern is a bar, restaurant and packaged-goods store all rolled up into one memory.
The Seaville Tavern was in business long before the term "sports bar" was ever heard of. We lost track after counting to 12 flat-screen televisions scattered around the room. The annoying part is that your dining companion is probably watching soccer while you're watching a college-football game, making it hard to keep a coherent conversation going. Throw in a ticker along the bottom of the screen with the latest news updates and no wonder the bar was so quiet. Everyone was busy reading.
Jalapeno poppers ($6.99) were so hot they caught us off guard. Crispy from the deep fryer and served on a slight bed of mixed greens, we almost burned our tongues. Fortunately, the dipping sauce served with it was a refreshing, thinned-out pepper jelly - sweet and sour at the same time and studded with spicy diced things.
Fried mac & cheese wedges ($6.99) were touted on the menu as being crispy and crumb-coated. In fact, they seemed more like they were batter dipped then deep fried and served with a cup of something tasting like a ranch dressing. No claims of low fat or low cholesterol here, but they were different enough to be good. We ate both appetizers with a knife and fork although they were probably intended to be eaten out-of-hand, tavern style. Order a beer to wash them down and score one for being politically correct.
The fried-shrimp platter ($11.99) was composed of eight lightly breaded shrimp, basic good bar food served with our choice of crisp french fries and a cup of cole slaw that was more acidic than the balanced sweet and sour we prefer. Blackened salmon ($13.99) was a good-sized piece of fresh-tasting Norwegian salmon lightly blackened and slightly overcooked and dry inside. A good baked potato served with sour cream and a vegetable medley of thin green beans, carrot slices and mushrooms loaded with garlic served as the sides. The vegetable combination seemed to be the chefs' idea of catch-as-catch-can.
Desserts were outrageous - so big that our server should have given us a heads up. Caramel nut crunch ($3.99) turned out to be a vanilla ice-cream cake on a chocolate-cookie crust. The portion was big enough for two, served in a large bowl and drizzled with extra caramel and chocolate sauces. The chocolate-brownie explosion ($2.99) was big enough for four, with two large wedges of chocolatey brownies and a scoop each of vanilla and chocolate ice cream covered with more of the caramel and chocolate sauces.
The dining room is sectioned off from the bar by a wall of wooden louvers and glass panels. Booths have milky-white pendant lights hanging overhead. Dining-room tables are tall with wooden bar stools for seating and one round, woven bistro table and chair set center stage, mismatched from the rest of the furniture.
Our server was on target through most of the meal. Dinner service at the Seaville is expectedly quick and moves at an even pace. Getting the check took longer than we would have liked.
Stick with the good basic bar food, as that's what the Seaville Tavern does best.
You've got to like a restaurant that lists the desserts on a plastic, stand-up menu at each table, giving you the chance to order your other food around the final course.
(C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Food Editor James Clark at email@example.com. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
29 New Bridge Road
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Liquor license: Yes
Credit cards: Visa/MasterCard
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $4.99 to $10.99, entrees $11.99 to $13.99
Our bill for two: $58 plus tip
Web site: www.seavilletavern.com