Two years ago we, the staff of At The Shore, went down to Menz Restaurant & Bar in Rio Grande during the Halloween season to check out their food and festive holiday décor, which is something of legend in these parts. To say we were blown away would be an understatement. This wasn’t a few fake spider webs and a couple of pumpkins. No, sir. The length the folks at Menz go to in order to transform their restaurant into a spooky haunted paradise is unmatched in the area.

“They didn’t spare any expense,” said Dan Mountz of Reading, Pa., who, along with his wife Kim, was down for The Race of the Gentlemen in Wildwood earlier this month. “You got to go in and see it.”

“We were stalking Facebook to make sure we came on the first night,” Heather Hunter of the Villas said. She was there celebrating her wedding anniversary with her husband Myron and 5-year-old son Deuce. Instead of getting a babysitter for little Deuce, the Hunters make this an annual family tradition. “It’s good for kids. It keeps them engaged. And it’s good for adults, too,” she said, adding that Menz’s Halloween-themed caramel apple sangria is, “hands down the best.”

On top of the incredible decorations comes some seriously tasty food and those themed cocktails. So this year when we were kicking around ideas for our Halloween issue we agreed it was time to go back and see what new tricks (and treats) the Menz family had up their sleeves. Again we were overwhelmed with the creativity that went into it, as well as with the warm hospitality of the staff. Simply put, a trip to Menz Restaurant & Bar for Halloween should be on your calendar yearly.

Potions and bites

With the Halloween décor at Menz being so over the top and attention-grabbing, this is a restaurant that could easily get away with serving sub-par food and drink. But they don’t. The menu offers up everything from wild caught swordfish (that was the hit of the night) to Italian dishes and more. Families that choose Menz based on the Halloween decorating will be relieved to know that the menu is large enough to easily please the tastes of both adults and kids.

We kicked things off in a festive mood with a round of their Halloween- and fall-themed drinks.

The Boo-tini fit perfectly with the macabre vibe, with a marshmallow Peep ghost dangling on the rim. The cocktail itself paired vodka with a sweet shot of white chocolate liqueur for a fun and infinitely sippable start. Other drinks included a threesome of flavored sangrias — the harvest apple, the caramel apple and the witch’s brew. While the recipes for these are closely guarded secrets that are only known by Manager Megan Menz and the staff, each feature fruity fall flavors that pack a boozy punch.

For our dinner we started out with a few apps, including well-seasoned clams casino, jumbo fried ravioli that really lived up to its name and — the crowd favorite — the sassy shrimp, which came flash fried and coated in a delicious sweet chili sauce.

Next came the New England clam chowder. Menz version of this classic soup was flavorful and neither too thin nor too pasty.

Owner Jay Menz tried to convince our party of five to go for his freshly caught swordfish. Most in our group heeded his advice and were happy they did. One opted for coconut shrimp, which came highly recommended. It did not disappoint. These were some of the largest shrimp we have come across. Each hand-breaded with a plum sauce that made for a sweet and satisfying bite.

Those not looking for seafood will be pleased to find many land-based options on the menu including chicken, both parm and francaise, prime rib, steaks and chops.

The dessert plate is a tempting list of sweet treats with everything from peanut butter pies and cheesecake to a salted caramel pound cake that far surpasses anything you might find in a trick or treat bag.

— Ryan Loughlin

Scary clowns all around

When we went as a group two years ago, the theme was “FrankMENZstein,” and monsters and creatures and bats were screeching all over the restaurant. This year’s theme is a spooky carnival with the slogan: “Trick or Freak, you will shriek.” It’s a poetic warning of the scary clowns to come.

Personally, I never got the whole “scary clown” thing. I grew up only seeing cheerful, friendly clowns like those at a circus or Ronald McDonald, who were not the least bit frightening, so I’m actually really surprised that this scary clown thing became “a thing.” But a thing it is, especially at Menz Restaurant.

You enter the haunted “carn-evil” through the giant mouth of a horrid clown and, once inside, pass a demonic ticket taker before fully accessing the rest of the freaks that lie ahead, like possessed clowns tearing apart or tormenting small (fake) children, demented jacks-in-the-box, saber-toothed clowns with eerie, glowing eyes and, for fans of Stephen King’s “It,” there’s even an homage to Pennywise, complete with little Georgie in a yellow rain slicker holding a red balloon.

“’It (Chapter) Two came out this summer so there was clown stuff everywhere,” said manager Megan Menz, who added that summer is right about when the family and employees start planning for Halloween each year. The process takes the team a good 5 or 6 months to plan and one solid week to build and complete. Two large trailers house the hundreds of items, both small and large. Some items they purchase, others they make themselves. The result is that not one square inch of the main dining rooms is left unadorned — even the bathrooms get a spooky twist.

The best part of Menz at Halloween is that the entire waitstaff gets in on the fun in some way, like taking the time to don full clown make-up each night.

— Pamela Dollak

Menz’ Restaurant & Bar is located at 985 NJ-47 in Rio Grande. For more info, go to MenzRestaurant.com.

Other macabre munchies

Of course as great as Menz is, it’s certainly not the only game in town when it comes to Halloween dining. Here are a few other spots looking to scare you at suppertime.

Sugar Factory

No matter what time of year you go, Sugar Factory is always ground zero for sweet treats. Everything from candy necklaces to gummy spiders are part of the day-to-day scene here. But come Halloween things always get kicked up a notch and this year is no exception. This spot is known for their incredible over-the-top drinks, served in eye catching fashion. Here’s what they’ve got for this season.

The Toxic Zombie Goblet: a perfect blend of sour and sweet, made with Voli Vodka, Strawberry Pucker, pineapple juice, sweet and sour mix, Sprite, pineapple and strawberry syrups and strawberry puree. This fun-filled concoction comes topped with gummy body parts and red licorice laces.

Looking for something creamy and delicious? The Monster Mash Insane Milkshake is a beast of its own. It’s a vanilla milkshake base topped with whipped cream, orange-chocolate drizzle, sour gummy worms, gummy centipedes, Oreo crumbs, a Sugar Daddy an half of a Hershey’s Chocolate bar. It’s like someone dumped your entire bag of Halloween candy into a glass.

Hard Rock Cafe

Backstage Cafe inside Hard Rock Cafe will host a Halloween Trick-or-Treat Pastry Class 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26. The class will begin with a chef instructor demonstrating and teaching guests how to create three fun and delicious Halloween treats, including Mummy Cake Pops, Broken Glass Cupcakes, and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Tickets are $35; register at HardRockHotelAtlanticCity.com.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is located at 1000 Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Go to HardRckHotelAtlanticCity.com for more info.

The Palm at Tropicana Atlantic City

If you love a good whodunit, The Palm continues their murder-mystery dining series with a spooky vampire-y version just in time for the holiday. At 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, guests will be treated to the most thrilling Halloween retreat of a lifetime. Your retreat director, George, will keep the excitement flowing, but can he keep the blood from doing the same? Fangs will flash in the dark of night as vacationing vampire couples Edwardo and Ella and Dracula and Lucy fight for what they desire.

Guests will solve the mystery while enjoying a three-course prix-fixe menu from The Palm. Reservations are required; cost per person is $85. Contact Barbara Bermel at 609-344-0483 or bbermel@thepalm.com to reserve your seats.

Tropicana Atlantic City is located at 2831 Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Go to Tropicana.net

Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall

A frighteningly fantastic time awaits at Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall this Halloween, as Chef Charles Soreth put together flavors so good you’ll scream with joy. On Saturday, Oct. 26, guests and ghouls can gorge themselves on a special Halloween menu that includes “Green Goblins” (crispy Brussels sprouts with soy and pomegranate), “Hummus Bloody Hummus” (a roasted beet-infused hummus with veggies), “Diablo Tacos” (made with Pastore-style pork, pineapple habanero salsa) and for dessert, pumpkin-cider donuts with powdered sugar.

Located at 133 S. Tennessee Ave. in A.C. Go to TennesseeAvenueBeerHall.com.

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Associate Editor, At The Shore/ACWeekly

Freelance reporter for At The Shore/Atlantic City Insiders from 2011-2015; Editor in Chief, MainStreetMarlboro.com,2014-2015; Writer for Zagat, 2013

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