“I’m not an easy person to work for,” Ann Gauthier deadpans as we sit at the counter of Shut Up and EAT!, the Toms River restaurant she has owned for the last eight years. She’s not kidding either. If the name didn’t give it away, Gauthier runs her restaurant like a strict mother would run her household — she’s the boss and if you don’t like it, well, that’s just tough.
She barks out a comand to a waitress to pack up an order to go. She gets no response. This does not sit well with Gauthier.
“By the way, not one single person who works here listens to me,” she says with a tone that tightropes between witty Jersey-style sarcasm and utter disgust.
But don’t let Gauthier’s rough-around-the-edges persona scare you away. The entire staff (Gauthier included) is actually really friendly. All patrons are greeted with a loud “Hi!” upon entering and an equally loud “Bye!” from all when leaving. Shut up and EAT! is a restaurant like no other in the area, one that goes out of its way to make you feel like a guest in someone’s blue collar, cluttered home. The staff dresses in head-to-toe pajamas, and if you show up dressed in pajamas as well, you get 13 percent off your check. “Nothing beats comfort,” Gauthier assures us.
The space is like a museum of blue collar nostalgia, dripping with yard sale knick-knacks, cereal box give-aways, bowling pins, street signs, taxidermy, license plates and old toys from years gone by. There is a fridge behind the counter that looks like it would be more suited for a house than a restaurant and that table for four you sit at will likely have four completely different chairs at it. All of this adds to the charm.
“Everything in this restaurant is mismatched for a reason, because this is like home — it’s what you have, so it’s what you use,” Gauthier explains. “A lot of stuff was donated. If you bring me a dinner dish you get a free pancake. If you bring me a cup you get a free cup of coffee. So people bring stuff in all the time, but a lot of the stuff came from my house, which is even scarier!”
A visit to Shut up and EAT! is like going back to the ’80s and visiting the home of that one friend from third grade whose house was messy and chaotic, but whose mom could make a mean grilled cheese sandwich — and 82 different types of waffles.
Breakfast and lunch are all they do here, and they cover as much ground with the menu as possible. Omelets, breakfast bowls, breakfast sandwiches, eggs Benny, burgers, dogs, grilled sandwiches, soups, fries, tater tots — it could take you a lifetime to try everything. Heck, even picking out a few items for sampling purposes took me nearly 20 minutes. Every time you think you know what you want, you see something else that sounds even better. Sure, the s’mores waffles sound great, but then again so do the chocolate chip mint variety and the fluffernutter stuffed French toast. And what’s that — a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with Taylor ham AND mac and cheese?!? Good lord.
If you can’t tell by now, Shut Up and EAT! is not a spot for those looking to watch their waistline. Sure, there are a variety of salads on the menu, but more common are overindulgent and delicious-sounding options like the creamy swine burger, which consists of a half-pound burger patty stuffed with cream cheese and bacon or the “Peggy Sue Got Hungry” — a foot-long hot dog piled with bacon, Canadian bacon, Swiss cheese and tomato.
After what seemed like hours deciding then second guessing what I would sample, eventually I just bit the bullet and started ordering. I began with the Philly Dog — a foot-long dog smothered in grilled onions and American cheese. The flavors were spot on and the combo of grilled onions and cheese were a winner. The dog itself was tasty, but had it been a natural casing version it would have been even better.
Next up was the aforementioned grilled cheese with mac and cheese and Taylor ham. This was the best item of the day by far, which is saying something, as often these gimmicky dishes fall flat. Not this time. This sandwich hit it out of the park. Gooey cheese blended seamlessly with a perfectly al dente mac and cheese and balanced by the salty meatiness of the Taylor ham managed to create a bite that was near perfect. And somehow the whole thing was not nearly as sloppy as you would expect. Order this.
I then decided to go for the peanut butter and chocolate waffles topped with powdered sugar for dessert. These were awesome on their own, with the peanut butter and chocolate being mixed directly into the batter itself, but I mistakingly forgot to ask for Hershey’s syrup, which would have taken it to the next level. I’ll know better next time.
If the food isn’t enough to get you in the door, perhaps the drinks will. You can find everything from Boylan’s birch beer and blueberry juice to ice-cold Yoo-hoo in stock. A variety of shakes and smoothies are available as well. And yes, even the water comes with Gauthier’s signature snark.
“We have a company that bottles our own water. It’s called ‘Shut up and DRINK!’”