Eric Montanari’s parents were seasoned veterans of the restaurant industry well before he was born in central Bucks County, Pa., in the 1980s.
Once he and his sister Nicole were grown and out of college, they too entered the business, taking the reins of two satellite locations that sprang from the original Fishin’ Pier Grille in Avalon 30 summers ago.
Eric primarily operates Fishin’ Pier South in Stone Harbor, which embarked on its fourth year as a seasonal breakfast hot spot in May. Nicole mainly oversees operations at Fishin’ Pier North in Sea Isle City, which recently started its second season. Their parents, Rick and Sue Montanari, established what has become the go-to place for great breakfasts on the Avalon boardwalk in 1989, adjacent to where the boards intersect a private fishing pier from which the flagship site takes its name.
“My parents owned a couple of different places in Pennsylvania including a pizza place in Doylestown called Joe’s Pizza, and also owned a breakfast spot in Avalon called the Island Cafe in the mid ‘80s,” Eric Montanari says. “That property was bought up to make way for condos, so they lost their lease, and that’s when they found the site for what became the original Fishin’ Pier Grille in ‘89. I wasn’t born yet, and my sister was 1-year-old at the time.”
The original Fishin’ Pier Grille has since become famous for its light-and-airy pancakes and French toast ($6.75 to $9.75), and for an array of breakfast sandwiches such as the Egg McPier ($6.25), which consists of two fried eggs, pork roll and cheese on a kaiser roll. Along with an extensive selection of more traditional options — including The Traditional ($8.25), which is two eggs any style with home fries, toast and choice of ham, pork roll, sausage or scrapple — there are ample choices among three-egg omelets that Montanari says are a huge hit.
About a half dozen omelets remain on the menu at all times, including basics such as The Jersey ($8.95), made with fresh tomatoes and cheese, and a revolving slate of blackboard specials such as the veggie and meat lover’s omelets (both $9.95), and the jumbo lump crabmeat omelet made with egg whites, asparagus, tomato, avocado and fresh crab meat ($16.95).
“We do have specialty French toast and all types of pancakes, but I’d say our omelets in all three locations are what we’re best known for,” Montanari says. “We’re probably one of the few breakfast places left in South Jersey that still makes our omelets in a pan, as opposed to the folding-over-on-a-grill style of making them.
“Everything is freshly made and sauteed beforehand, then flipped into the pan and nicely folded. Not many places that I know of are still making omelets that way.”
One of the Fishin’ Pier Grille fan-favorite omelets is called “The Loosh” — three eggs stuffed with lox, cream cheese, capers, tomatoes, red onion and a sprig of fresh parsley sprinkled on top ($16.95).
“That’s actually named after a good friend ours, Sean Loosh, who is a local musician in Avalon,” Montanari says.
Other stars among the omelet alternatives are The Rick’s ($10.95), made with heirloom tomato, sausage and sharp provolone cheese; and the broccoli rabe omelet with sausage, tomato, garlic and provolone ($10.95).
Among the more unsung heroes of the menu is the grilled cinnamon bun ($4), which is found among the side orders in each location. The French toast options vary with whatever fresh fruit the Montanaris acquire on a daily basis, such as strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry or peach (each $9.75), and pancake selections can include banana, chocolate chip, peanut butter or some combination of all three ($9.75).
“We keep the menus pretty similar in all three locations, and try to maintain the same consistency of quality too,” he says. “So far everyone’s seemed very happy. We’re looking forward to another great summer.”