The food stands out during meal at Neil's in Wildwood
The outside of Neil's Island Pub & Grille is plain, but there’s lots to be happy about when dining inside.

Neil's Island Pub & Grill sits a stone's throw from Morey's Pier, and the hubbub was palpable on a gorgeous summer night.

As we approached the restaurant, we wondered what could possibly make this restaurant and bar stand out from the plethora of other eateries in Wildwood. There is nothing fancy or clever about the d�cor on the exterior, such as the theme-park-inspired restaurant across the street, and the dining areas inside are pretty plain, but we found plenty to be happy about as we made our way through a surprisingly good meal.

The main dining room where we sat was brimming with families and kids at every table, so the noise level was substantial. Carpeted floors helped a bit, but it's almost impossible to avoid noisy environments in the summer, especially near the Boardwalk. After all, that's what makes Wildwood so much fun.

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Although very informal, the service was solid. My dining guest and I loved our waitress, a woman who obviously has had years of experience and still enjoys what she does. I usually find that most servers are nice people, but this lovely lady was extremely kind, which has had a lasting impression.

The meal started with a warm loaf of seeded, onion-flecked Italian bread presented on a small wooden cutting board with a serrated knife. I haven't had bread served this way in a long time, and I enjoyed cutting my own, although I would have preferred a saucer filled with unsalted butter for easy slathering rather than foil-wrapped butter pats. Most importantly, the bread was fresh and flavorsome.

And then Shuman's scallop ceviche ($7.95) arrived. I don't know who Shuman is (the chef maybe?), but this recipe is hands down one of the finest I've had. I liked it so much I was tempted to order a second one.

Delicate scallops each came in a beautiful seashell and were perfectly marinated in citrus juices flecked with teeny bits of red bell and Serrano peppers and a delightful hint of cilantro. From a list of ordinary appetizers including mozzarella sticks, buffalo tenders and clams casino, this little gem shines.

The "award-winning" clam chowder ($3.50) came a close second. Indeed, it is worthy of its title. Packed with lots of tender chopped clams and chunky potatoes, it was nicely seasoned, smooth and lighter than most. Missing was the gloppy consistency that is often mistaken for authenticity. When it comes to chowder, thicker is not always better. This soup proves it.

My guest chose another touted winner, the 10-Ounce Queen cut prime rib ($18.95). The menu says it's the best on the island, but we thought it was merely average. It was cooked just right at medium rare, but it wasn't as buttery tender as we hoped it would be. I was expecting another ah-hah moment, similar to when I bit into the first scallop ceviche, and it didn't happen.

The kosher salt encrusted baked potato that accompanied the meat was the real winner, and the coleslaw was tasty too.

I treated myself to one of the evening's specials, the New England clambake ($28.95), a steaming covered pot overflowing with goodies: lots of large u-peel shrimp and littleneck clams, a whole lobster (about 1 1/2 pounds), red bliss potatoes and an ear of Jersey white corn. When out server brought it to the table, she asked if I wanted her to crack the lobster or if I wanted to do it myself. What the heck, I thought. I'll dig in and get the full experience. Between cracking and peeling shells, I was up to my elbows in broth, but I had a grand time eating sloppily. Fortunately, our server draped a plastic bib around my neck (I dare you to eat this dish without one).

My only quibble was the overcooked corn. It was sweet but mushy. I prefer to hear a crunch when I munch on the cob.

Everything else was yummy (even though the shrimp and clams were slightly overdone), especially the lobster meat dipped in drawn butter and the impeccably cooked red bliss potatoes.

Desserts are not made in-house, but we gobbled up the two we had nonetheless.

First there was Zango ($6.00). Imagine creamy cheesecake rolled in a crepe like a burrito, deep-fried, topped with cinnamon sugar and whipped cream. You can't go wrong with such a terrific combination.

My favorite part of the apple tartlet ($6.50) was the gingery ice cream that had oodles of actual ginger in it, which complimented the bronzy apples nestled in puff pastry. The edges of the pastry browned well, but the bottom was not quite there and consequently on the tough side.

According to our server, the new owners haven't yet decided when they will be closing for the season. With any luck, they will stay open past Labor Day through the fall, so we'll have more opportunity to go there.

Neil's Island

Pub & Grille

222 E. Schellenger Ave.


Phone: 609-522-5226


Hours: Open daily from

3:30 p.m. until close

Liquor license: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Credit cards: All major

Price Range: Appetizers, $3.75 - $8.95

Entrees: $13.95 - $25

Our bill for two: $72 plus tip

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