BRIGANTINE - It must be obvious from the sign outside that St. George's Pub & Package Goods & Bar is more than just a typical bar/restaurant. With one wall displaying all of your favorite bar brands to go and one wall offering sports memorabilia and black-and-white photos of Atlantic City's heyday, St. George's manages to squeeze a large, busy bar and a bustling restaurant section into the space between.
We liked the set-up, with something always going on besides the sports action on the flat-screen televisions. There was even a tiny deli counter worked into an area just behind the bar. The menu at this little sports bar covered all of the bases, offering everything from pizza, wings and wraps to full-course dinners.
A small bowl of red- and green-pepper strips arrived as a starter from the kitchen. Barely bound with a tomato-sauce base, the red peppers seemed slightly hotter than the green but definitely not long-hot hot. Our meal was priced with a choice of soup or salad, so we sampled one of each. The New England clam chowder was a rich and creamy version of the classic soup, with specks of thyme, good texture and plenty of flavor. The salad was more pedestrian- iceberg lettuce and chopped tomato, with a blue-cheese dressing served in a plastic takeout cup.
We were surprised at first that the menu offered a choice of only five different appetizers, two using clams and two using mussels. The chef worked around the limitations by approaching the ingredients from several different culinary points of view: Italian, Thai, Caribbean and American.
Caribbean bruschetta ($4.95) was an interesting take on an Italian standard. Thinly sliced grilled plantains replaced the bread base normally associated with a bruschetta, while the topping consisted of finely diced mango, papaya and red onion, bound with lime juice and chopped cilantro. Of course, some could make the argument that the Italian version with tomato, onion, and basil is the first cousin to a typical red salsa, so the fusion did make some sense after all. This version was sprightly and spicy and we ate them until they were all gone, even though we swore we couldn't eat another bite.
Mussels in Thai curry ($7.95) was an oversized pasta bowl filled with plump, tender and fresh-tasting mussels seasoned with lemon grass, ginger, curry, Thai chili and scallions floating in a coconut-milk broth. A couple of garlic crostini were stationed on top of the mussels, just in case you felt the need to sop up all of the flavorful cooking liquid. We did.
The entree list offered around 15 options, touching on classic South Jersey favorites and several dishes that screamed "comfort food." From a list that included crab cakes, meatloaf, roast turkey, and linguine and meatballs, we started with a basic fried-seafood combo ($19.95). A packed plate of deep-fried items listed all of our favorites.
Three shrimp, three scallops, clam strips, a large fillet of flounder and a stack of French fries was accompanied by tartar and a good, spicy cocktail sauce. The portion size was outrageous, and we got an extra shrimp on board if we went by the count given on the menu. The best part was the crust, which had chopped herbs in the mix that helped to give everything a fresh taste, especially after a squeeze or two of the lemon wedges provided.
Our second entree, pork mignon ($12.95), was a pan-seared cut from the pork loin with a Marsala demi-glaze served with skin-on mashed potatoes and a medley of fresh zucchini and red pimento. With the designation "mignon" we were expecting a cut from the tenderloin, but had little to complain about since our pork was perfectly cooked and juicy inside and served with a flavorful brown sauce.
Servers knew their stuff and carried the meal along in a fast-paced, course-after-course way so that we never got a chance to catch our breath. But then we suppose most pub customers are not looking for a two-hour dining experience. Our server was friendly and accommodating, but wasn't as effective at clearing as serving quickly. It was our job to make a space on the table as our server arrived with both hands full and we alternated with plastic and metal forks, since missing table ware was not replaced.
Our booth was close enough to the bar that we were subjected to the foul language of a couple of guys having a beer - something to consider if you are taking your family out for a meal together. Sit closer to the window and you can expect to have a reliably good family meal at St. George's Pub.
(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.)
St. George's Pub
Brigantine Towne Center
4282 Harbor Beach Blvd.
Hours: Open 24 hours daily
Liquor license: Yes
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $4.95 to $7.95, entrees $10.95 to $21.95
Our bill for two: $53 plus tip