Here are the current spots Ryan Loughlin has tried so far (and what dishes you don't want to miss) on his summer tour of local seafood shacks. Check back all summer for updates!
THE CLAM BAR (SMITTY’S)
910 Bay Ave., Somers Point; Facebook.com
As I traveled the shore hitting shack after shack last summer there was one spot that readers everywhere kept telling me to check out. Regretfully, I never got to it in 2018. That spot is The Clam Bar in Somers Point. Known affectionately to locals (and just about everyone else) as “Smitty’s” this waterside seafood haven is a legend in the area, yet somehow I had never visited. This year that would change.
What to try:
Birch beer ($1.99) Creamy and the perfect shade of red (it adds to the taste, I swear) this hard-to-find soda was so good that I knocked back two of them.
Cod bites ($5.99) The fish itself was mild tasting but perfectly fried and the spicy dipping sauce that came with it made for an excellent pair. A crunchy, tasty treat.
Seafood combination ($21.99) Shrimp, scallops, clams, flounder and a crab cake, each fried to a golden brown and served with cocktail and tartar sauces. A massive pile of food, standouts on the plate were the crab cake which was nicely accented with spices and diced peppers, and the scallops, which despite disliking for most of my life, I have come around on. The small shrimp were the duds of the bunch.
Flounder burger ($7.59) This was actually a fish sandwich. Though the word “burger” in the title left me wondering if ground beef was to make its way into the mix, luckily it did not. What did make it was no fewer than three flounder filets, so large that the bun could barely be seen. At $7.49 this was easily the best deal on the menu.
Crabby Rick’s Shore Shack
3626 Rt. 35, Toms River; Facebook.com/crabbyricks
Crabby Rick’s sits on Route 35 in a section of Toms River known as Normandy Beach. Amidst an endless lineup of summer bungalows and seaside mansions, this blue and red shack is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” type of place. A handful of well-shaded picnic tables flank the outside of the building, while a mix of Bob Marley favorites play in the background, their melodies dancing through the salty ocean air and setting the perfect mood. In fact, the whole vibe at Crabby Rick’s feels more like you are hanging out at a friend’s beach house who happens to be cooking up some delicious seafood.
What to try:
Fried Clams ($9.95) Forget the puny frozen ones you find at most seafood joints (you know the ones I’m talking about — they look and taste like fried rubber bands). Crabby Rick’s fried clams are in a whole other category. Large whole-belly clams, fried to a golden brown and served with house-made tartar sauce. These were a real standout.
Lobster roll ($16.95): Usually you find one of two styles of lobster rolls, either the lobster salad-esque Maine style or the hot buttered Connecticut style. The lobster roll at Crabby Rick’s falls into neither category, instead it is served on a garlic roll with some spices and fresh greens. A simple, unique presentation that lets the lobster meat shine.
Crabby’s Crab Cake Sandwich ($12.50) One of the largest and most impressive looking crabcake sandwiches I have encountered. According to the menu, this monster contains “super lump” crabmeat (a category I was previously unaware of) which is coated in a thick, extra-crunchy breading, and served with lettuce and Crabby’s tartar sauce on a wonderfully squishy bun.
Crab Shack Seafood Market
1112 W. Brigantine Ave. Brigantine; CrabShackBrigantine.com
Part seafood market, part restaurant, the Crab Shack offers just the right rustic beach vibe for a spot located only about a block and a half from the surf. Inside the market is decorated thoroughly with the prerequisite crab nets, buoys, fishing rods and seahorses, all of which do their job setting the tone. Outside a lineup of picnic tables awaits, each with a much needed umbrella, which was a godsend on a hot day like the one in which I visited
What to try:
New England clam chowder ($8.50)– Creamy and flavorful, their take on this classic soup was a win. Hearty and with the right amount of clams to satisfy.
French fries – Crinkle cut fries, perfectly cooked and built for dipping. A lot of places get this wrong, the Crab Shack got it right.
Spadafora’s Seafood Market
932 Haven Ave. Ocean City; SpadaforasSeafood.com
I’ll admit Spadafora’s Fish Market doesn’t earn much in the way of atmosphere, as its main view is a McDonald’s parking lot. But its reputation is outstanding among locals, and the high praise from so many had me curious enough to look beyond the Golden Arches across the street. A simple fish market sits inside with a variety of fresh and delicious seafood on display. But they also offer a full menu of cooked dishes, which is where our feast began.
What to try:
Coconut jumbo shrimp ($18.50): A note-perfect rendition of this popular dish, the coconut shrimp at Spadafora’s came out crispy and sweet with an orange rum sauce for dipping which made for a nice change of pace from the usual tartar or cocktail. The absolute highlight of the meal.
Fisherman’s plate ($27.50): A mixture of fried seafood classics including scallops, flounder and shrimp plus an oyster and deviled clam. While it was neck and neck with the all-but perfect fried oyster, the simple fried shrimp managed to stand out as the superstar on the plate.
Fish and chips ($11.99): Flaky and fresh tasting, the fish and chips were excellent and at just $11.99, were easily the most economic entrée on our table.
Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co.
7904 Long Beach Blvd, Harvey Cedars; HarveyCedarsShellfishCo.com
Harvey Cedars Shellfish has gone out of their way to create an atmosphere that is anything but haughty. In fact the entire interior, with its wood paneled walls and rope-wrapped table legs gives off the vibe that you are having dinner in a small fishing shack, no doubt feasting on the bounty of deep-water treasures you and your cohorts spent all day catching right out of the sea.
New England clam chowder: While some folks sing the praises of thinner chowders, thick and packed with clams is what I grew up on and still love to this day. The version here comes in a large crock and the flavors are spot on.
Buffalo Tuna: Lightly floured and flash fried, these came tossed in buffalo sauce and topped with chunks of crumbled bleu cheese. I have seen a lot of buffalo dishes in my day, but this is a first. A solid app.
Fried Seafood combo: Flounder, scallops, fried shrimp and a crabcake made up the contents of this massive pile of goodies. All were tasty, and feature a breading that landed right in the sweet spot between thick and thin. If I had to pick a standout it would go to the shrimp, which were butterflied, my personal favorite way to prepare them.
Two pound lobster: It’s a two pound lobster served steamed with a lemon wedge and drawn butter. Is it good? Of course it’s good.