At The Shore's Ryan Loughlin has spent the last two summers traveling to a different “shack” to seek out the best seafood in South Jersey.
Shackin' up for the Summer: Week 9, Oar House Pub
(Sigh) Summer is deep in the process of winding down, and with Labor Day upon us, another season of Shackin’ Up for the Summer comes to a close. While that in itself may be sad, I can’t help but look back and smile with satisfaction, knowing how much great seafood we’ve uncovered at the small beachside shacks of the Jersey Shore. To the readers, I thank you for joining me on this ride once again and for all of your emails and suggestions of shacks to try. I know I didn’t get to all of them, but that’s what next year is for.
Oar House Pub, 318 42nd Place, Sea Isle City; Go to OarHouseSeaisle.com
For our final Shackin’ Up of 2019, I headed back down to Fish Alley in Sea Isle City, to the recently re-monikered Oar House Pub. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because you may remember when it was Lobster Loft, the famous rustic powder blue building sitting on the water with the giant red lobster out front. (Fact: Anytime I see a giant red lobster it makes the shackin’ at least 10-15% better). It’s been givin a bit of a polish since the old days, which I must admit does take down the interior shack vibe just a bit, but the saltwater air, fresh seafood and laid-back atmosphere do a nice job making up for that.
It’s nice to see a spot try something a little different with calamari, and this version which was fried and then finished with a kick of sriracha made for a pleasant start to the meal.
Applewood Bacon-Wrapped scallops
The general rule of thumb that bacon makes everything better held true here, as these freshly caught scallops were certainly boosted by the salty crunch of the crispy bacon. A sun dried tomato pesto sauce helped make this a memorable app.
Fried Jumbo Gulf Shrimp
Serving fried shrimp butterflied should be standard practice at every restaurant. Oar House Pub did just that and coated the crustaceans in a crunchy breading that added both flavor and texture.
Snow Crab Clusters
Simple, yet almost always perfect, these steamed treats came with the standard butter and lemon wedges and were a crowd pleaser. But the $32 price tag seemed outrageously high for snow crab.
Throw it back:
Don’t assume that everyone wants a side of steamed broccoli with their fried shrimp. It’s an odd pairing to begin with.
Flounder Po Boy
Anyone who has been to New Orleans knows what a po boy is. And this ain’t it. Flounder with lettuce, tomato and onion inexplicably served on a sesame seed hamburger-style bun, nothing about this sandwich reminded me or anyone else of the Big Easy. Just call it what it is — a flounder sandwich.
Applewood bacon-wrapped scallops
Shackin’ Up for the Summer: Week 8 – Seawasp
1960 Rt. 35 Ortley Beach; go to SeawaspNJ.com.
Throughout my seafood snacking adventures over the last two summers, one particular item has been somewhat elusive at the Jersey Shore — the Connecticut style lobster roll.
For those of you used to the mayo-based Maine style roll, let me let you in on a little secret: Connecticut’s warm, butter-soaked version beats the pants off its more common Northern cousin, which is basically a glorified lobster salad sandwich. My search for this regional treat had yielded one or two along the way, but none that really knocked my socks off. Until I stopped in at Seawasp — a roadside seafood shack located in a section of Toms River known as Ortley Beach, which offers a note perfect version. Finally, I can sleep at night.
Seawasp (named for the particularly lethal box jellyfish) offers up fresh seafood (along with burgers, sandwiches, fries and more) on the site of a former gas station on Route 35. Inside, a laid-back fast-casual vibe awaits — order at the counter from a chalkboard menu, grab a drink from the cooler and take a seat.
Outside a lineup of colorful picnic tables stand, all studiously patrolled by a squad of hungry seagulls, each of which do enough squawking, staring and divebombing to intimidate you into keeping your guard up throughout the meal. Get distracted for a second and you can be sure that plate of clams you were enjoying will be swarmed and ransacked like a broken piñata at a 6 year old’s birthday party.
The Connecticut style lobster roll: In case you missed it in the first paragraph, this was the big winner of the day. A buttered and grilled hot dog bun piled with fresh lobster meat and doused in butter and lemon. Incredibly delicious, even if it was a bit on the small side.
Fried whole belly clams: While everywhere from Friendly’s to your local diner serves clam strips, this whole belly version can be much tougher to come by. Seawasp has them brought in from Maine every morning. The extra crunchy breading serves as a wonderful balance to the softness of the clam. The briny flavor is just about perfect when paired with a dunk of their homemade taratar sauce.
The cod sandwich: Perfectly battered and fried cod on a brioche bun with tartar sauce, tomato and greens. It’s been done before and for good reason. It’s delicious.
Throw it back:
Fried seafood combo I love a good seafood combo, and this version, while not bad, didn’t stand out in any way. And the scallops were a bit chewey for my taste. I wouldn’t come running back for this combo anytime soon. Save your money and splurge on a second lobster roll. You will be so happy you did.
Connecticut style lobster roll
Shackin' Up for Summer - Week 7: Clam Shack
392 S. New Road, Pleasantville; Go to Facebook.com for more info.
I must admit, something about a seafood shack being located in Pleasantville made me a bit skeptical. After all, part of the charm of most of these places is that they are located a stone’s throw from the water, offering patrons the opportunity to head there straight from the beach to dine among the divebombing seagulls. At Clam Shack in Pleasantville you are unlikely to run into any sandy-footed sunbathers or stealthy waterfowl, but what you will run into is a simple fish market willing to steam or fry up some seriously delicious seafood. The seating is minimal, with just a pair of high top tables outside, so if you are traveling with a big group you may want to grab your food to go. And whether you stay or take out, you won’t be disappointed in your meal. Consider this another lesson in not judging a book by its cover.
Fried colossal shrimp: I hit paydirt right out of the gate with these. A golden batter clung to some of the largest and most flavorful shrimp I have ever had. Not even a hint of that fishy taste that occasionally seems to sometimes lurk in the background of the flavor profile of this dish, I could have just eaten these and nothing else and the day would have been a raving success. You can get these shrimp in smaller sizes such as jumbo, but after tasting these, I can’t imagine ordering anything other than the colossals.
Shrimp macaroni salad: An interesting twist on a side dish, this cross between shrimp salad and macaroni salad seems so obvious, it’s a surprise that it is not offered on more menus.
Fried oysters: Large locally caught oysters are the pride of the Jersey Shore seafood scene and the ones at the Clam Shack do not disappoint. Sweet, mild (and not chewy) they checked all the boxes and came out on top.
Fried lobster tail: A giant cold water lobster tail battered and deep fried and served with a side of butter spiked with hot sauce, this was truly an indulgent treat. Be forewarned though, the butter is pretty spicy, so if that bothers you, feel free to be a wimp and order the regular butter for dipping.
Throw it back:
Tuna macaroni salad: While the shrimp version earned high praise, its tuna-themed sibling scored much lower due to the unwelcome addition of olives and what appeared to be some type of pickle relish mixed in. Hard pass.
Fried Colossal Shrimp
Shackin’ Up For the Summer- Week 6: FishCakes
959 Ocean Drive, Cape May; Facebook.com/FishCakesCapeMay
On the Fourth of July, in the blasting heat of the midday sun I set out with a group of friends on another Shackin’ Up adventure. This time we ventured south to Cape May, to a spot called Fish Cakes that a reader had suggested I try. From a visual standpoint FishCakes ticks all the boxes for a proper shack — rustic vibe, waterfront views of the marina, breezes shooting through the open-air structure, simple presentation and not a cloth linen in sight. Of course the seafood was on point too, but this may be the only time that I can honestly say it was bested by an order of donuts.
Blueberry lemonade: I’m a sucker for a homemade lemonade, and while they offer more exotic options here such as the blood orange creamsicle version, my pick is the simple blueberry lemonade. Nearly impossible to not enjoy a beverage like this on a sweltering day.
Ahi BLT: Served on toast this made for a nice change of pace from all the more traditional fried seafood dishes I normally order when Shackin.’ The ahi served to lighten up the heaviness of the blt as did the wasabi aioli which took the place of the mayo one might expect to find on a sandwich like this.
Fish ’n’ chips sandwich: Corona battered cod topped with pickles, housemade chips and a malt vinegar aioli all on a toasted brioche bun made for an impressive lunchtime treat. The malt vinegar aioli made it a standout among more common shack style fish sandwiches.
Hot cinnamon sugar donuts: Easily the best thing we ate all day. A donut fresh out of the fryer is delicious in general, but these were really something special. Yes I would come here for donuts even if I was planning on ordering no seafood at all. They are that good. You can get them with dipping sauces, but they are not needed.
Throw it back:
Crab and corn dip: The menu clearly states that this combo of lump crab meat and corn was to be in a creamy sauce but what we were served was literally just crab and corn. Dry. Nothing against crab or corn, but this is not really a dip. And I wouldn’t call it a salsa either. I don’t know what to make of it frankly, but don’t order it.
Lobster roll: Eh.
Hot cinnamon sugar donuts
Shackin' Up for the Summer - Week 5: Harvey Cedars Shellfish Company
Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co.
7904 Long Beach Blvd, Harvey Cedars; HarveyCedarsShellfishCo.com
Although I love the simplicity of dining outdoors on a picnic table while taking in the smell of the salt air and sounds of the squawking seagulls, when Shackin’ Up on a rainy night, indoor seating is a godsend. On a particularly soggy evening I headed out to meet some friends at Harvey Cedars Shellfish Company, a small, yet vastly charming seafood shack where luckily all of the seating is indoors. While some might assume that the absence of picnic tables takes away from the rustic charm, fear not, as 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.
Throw it back
Scallop melt: Let me start by saying that everyone at the table other than me LOVED this dish. Let me also add that I am not a huge fan of either swiss cheese or mushrooms (both of which were major elements in this dish). I found the amount of cheese to be off putting for a seafood dish and was just not a fan. But that’s what I get for ordering something knowing I probably won’t like it.
New England Clam Chowder
Shackin’ Up for the Summer – Week 4: Spadafora’s Seafood Market
Spadafora’s Seafood Market
932 Haven Ave. Ocean City; SpadaforasSeafood.com
Spadafora’s in Ocean City has more than one location. I learned this the hard way on my latest Shackin’ Up adventure as I waited for 15 minutes outside the Haven Avenue location for my dining companions to show up. Of course they were waiting for me at the Atlantic Avenue location, which in fairness is more of an actual restaurant, but for Shackin Up purposes I wanted the “fish market with picnic tables” experience and on Haven. That’s exactly what I got.
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.
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.
Throw it back:
Lobster bisque ($7.95): One of the few letdowns of the meal was the lobster bisque which fell short in just about every way. Not much lobster meat was to be found and the overall taste was exceedingly bland.
Tartar/cocktail sauces: If I wanted packets of condiments I would have gone to that McDonald’s across the street.
Coconut shrimp, Fried shrimp
Shackin’ Up for the Summer — Week 3: Crab Shack Seafood Market
Crab Shack Seafood Market
1112 W. Brigantine Ave. Brigantine; CrabShackBrigantine.com
For its size, Brigantine has relatively few dining options. Perhaps it’s due to being Atlantic City’s next door neighbor, but often when I visit, I find myself scratching my head as to where to grab a quick bite. Though I had never heard of Crab Shack Seafood Market, its very existence on Brigantine was enough to get me excited. 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.
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.
Throw it back:
Broiled captain’s combo ($25.99)– This mix of shrimp, scallops flounder and a crabcake was not bad, but it was bland. While the seafood itself was fresh, from a flavor standpoint it was uninspiring. On the plus side, the shrimp were very large, which is a nice bonus not often seen in a combo like this.
Lobster roll ($23.99)– Starting to see a pattern here … the lobster roll was impressive to look at, as it was packed with big chunks of lobster meat and not much else, but the lack of any topping besides a dusting of spices really hurt this dish. Butter and a squeeze of lemon would be the obvious go-to in this situation, as it was a hot lobster roll, but neither were offered. Add to that a bun that was completely soaked through with water thanks to an unwanted leaf of iceberg lettuce, plus a ridiculously high pricetag and I ended up pretty unhappy.
Hush puppies ($6.99)– a seafood shack classic, this app was unfortunately overcooked and thus, very dry.
Tartar/Cocktail Sauce – Packets of sauce are never OK at a place that charges this much for an entrée. It’s lazy. This isn’t McDonald’s. A homemade tartar or cocktail sauce can and should elevate a great seafood dish. It could have been a lifesaver here. Another miss.
Trophy winner: Clam Chowder
Shackin’ Up for the Summer returns for a whole new season of seafood
I began my Shackin’ Up column last summer, during which I traveled weekly to a different “shack” to seek out the best seafood I could find in simple, rustic locations throughout the southern portion of the Jersey Shore. I went everywhere from tiny marshside markets to down-home, crab crackin’ pubs where the waitresses were as salty as Old Bay. It was a grand adventure.
This summer, I’m doing it all over again, with a whole new list of shacks — 15 in total. I’ll chow down at a new spot each week and let you know what’s good, what’s not-so good and what is worth making a grand pilgrimage for. So grab your fork and a jar of tartar sauce, ‘cause it’s time to start Shackin’ Up.
Week 1 —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.
From what everyone has told me, a trip to Smitty’s that doesn’t involve waiting in a huge line is a rarity, but I managed to avoid the crowds by selecting a rainy day in which to visit. Did it ruin the waterfront vibe? Absolutely. But it also meant my companions and I could be seated right away. The outdoor section has barstools and a window for placing an order, kind of like an ice cream stand. Seems like the most fun place to enjoy a meal here, but the rain put a literal damper on any such ideas. So inside we went. The building is deceptively long and we walked through multiple rooms to finally arrive at our table. I sat and found a birch beer on the menu. Things were off to a strong start.
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.
Throw it back
New England clam chowder ($3.59 a cup) I know I am going to catch a lot of flack for this because everyone seems to hold it in such high regard, but I found this chowder to be fairly bland. Bits of corn added a bit of taste, but in a cup of New England clam chowder, corn should never be the standout ingredient.
Shrimp Parm ($11.99) Don’t order Italian food at a seafood shack. I should know this.
Fried flounder, below
Shackin’ up for summer - Week 13: A new discovery
956A Ocean Drive, Cape May
One of the joys of this summer-long seafood safari has been discovering spots that were not previously on my radar. A reader wrote in to suggest H&H Seafood in Cape May — a spot I had never heard of. Now I have and I am happier for it, as they put out some truly great seafood in the most no-frills atmosphere possible — we’re talking picnic table seating and piles of crabs actually being served in those large plastic basins that most restaurants reserve for dirty dishes. Yeah, it’s brilliant.
H&H sits waterfront on a small stretch of land connecting Wildwood Crest to Cape May. The staff is friendly, not to mention quite helpful — we weren’t sure the proper technique for opening our steamed oysters, so the kid who brought them out to us first showed us how to do it, then proceeded to open them for us as a courtesy. Stop in and have a taste before the crisp claws of autumn turns this place back into a pumpkin.
She crab bisque ($5): Absolutely outstanding. One of the best, if not the best, I have had all summer. A twist on the classic she crab soup — this time cream-based with a subtle kick of spice. Get it, then head over to the fish market, where they sell it by the quart, and take some home.
Steamed oysters ($7.95): Locally caught and simply prepared, these wonderfully briney steamed oysters made for a perfect app. A bit tricky to open until you get the hang of it. A touch of cocktail sauce added the perfect zip.
Steamed snow crab clusters ($28): I know they are not even remotely local, but I love snow crab and these were just about perfect. Not rubbery, not overly stringy and downright heavenly when dunked in a bit of drawn butter. They came served with corn on the cob, adding a nice touch of Jersey freshness to a not-so-Jersey crab species.
Lobster mac and cheese ($10): Heavily spiced and very different from most versions of this dish that you will find. I tasted old bay in it, which is unusual for a lobster-based dish. A nice portion for the price.
Throw it back:
Crabby guacamole with chips ($10): Not terrible, but ultimately a somewhat forgettable version of the Mexican classic. While visible, the crab flavor was lost in the mix.
She crab bisque
Shackin' Up For Summer: Week 12 — A wild ride
Hooked Up Seafood
1044 W. Rio Grande Ave, Wildwood
Every time I think I have found the most shacky of seafood shacks, I stumble upon another that seems to top the last one. On a recent trip to Wildwood, some friends and I stopped in at Hooked Up Seafood, a picturesque spot right on the water off Route 47. And I’ve gotta give them credit, as this spot has locked down all the visual requirements needed to make you want to jam on your breaks and immediately rush in for a taste of whatever fish they might be cooking up. You know the cues — a decaying reddish-colored building, signage involving an image of a giant crab, a beat-up-yet-still-active fishing boat docked right out back and — most importantly — hoards of frenzied, hungry customers joyously piling in like ants on a wad of Bubble Yum.
We pulled off the road quickly and somehow — through a combination of cat-like reflexes and dumb luck — managed to not run over a large and seemingly fearless Vietnamese family that insisted on cracking their crabs in the midst of one of the most dangerous and overcrowded parking lots I have seen outside of an Eagles tailgate. With that tragedy averted, my companions and I employed a divide-and-conquer strategy in which I went up and ordered from the window while the rest of our party laid claim to one of the highly coveted picnic tables that overlook the marsh. What arrived a few minutes later was arguably the best collection of seafood dishes I have had so far on my journey.
Seared swordfish sandwich ($15.95): In a group of superb seafood dishes, this managed to be the standout. A massive swordfish steak served on a simple bun (to which I added tartar sauce) with lettuce and a fresh Jersey tomato, this sandwich defined what makes seafood great — simple preparation and fresh ingredients that combine to create amazing flavors. This sandwich would be reason enough for me to make a return trip.
Fried seafood combo ($24): A good mix, the batter worked best on the shrimp which were golden and utterly delicious. The fried fish (the menu doesn’t say what type of fish it is, but tasted like cod to me) was also good, but the batter got a bit soggy, causing it to fall off. The crab cake was good, and loaded with fresh crab right from the Delaware Bay. French fries were superb and perfect for dunking in tartar sauce.
Fish tacos ($14.95): These fish tacos were closer to the size of a burrito, and you get two per order, so it’s a lot of food. A soft tortilla filled with batter-fried fish and a knock-your-socks-off pineapple-mango slaw.
Onion rings ($5.95): Homemade, dunked in batter. A perfect side dish.
Throw it back:
The parking lot: In addition to the aforementioned incident with the Vietnamese family, it really is a dangerous and overcrowded situation. The lot is tiny and even the counter where you order the food is not safe, as the girl behind it instructed me to “watch out!” as a Trump-stickered pickup truck nearly ran me over as I attempted to order my swordfish sandwich.
Swordfish sandwich, fried shrimp
Shackin' up for summer — Week 11: Motts Creek Inn
Mott’s Creek Inn
200 E. Motts Creek Road, Galloway Township
Seafood shacks can be found in all kinds of spots. From the busiest streets of a bustling vacation town like Ocean City to the quietest of off-the-beaten-path locations. Mott’s Creek Inn definitely falls into the latter category. You kinda have to know about this place to even find it. It lives at the end of a long, foreboding road deep in the marshlands of Leeds Point. While they do a great business, one must imagine it doesn’t do a lot of walk-in traffic.
Nevertheless, the building sits waterfront — you can even come here by boat — and offers indoor and outdoor seating on their expansive deck, live music and some really terrific seafood dishes. It’s got a bit of a reputation as a biker bar, but don’t let that stop you from coming in. The crowd is friendly, the views are awesome and the whole place is a lot of fun.
Drunken Clams ($12): When the restaurant sits right on the water that the clams come out of, you know you are dealing with fresh fish. This version came swimming in a nice, garlicky broth of white wine and butter. A simple yet delicious way to begin a meal.
Fish and Chips ($11): Yeah, I know it’s called “Fish and Chips” but pretty much every time you see this dish on any menu you can expect to be served a battered piece of either cod or haddock alongside a pile of French fries and some tartar sauce for dipping. The fish and chips here come served with Captain’s Chips, which are potato chips, not fries. If you want the real thing, it will cost you two bucks extra. I know they have the right to do it, but they probably shouldn’t. That aside, the cod was crunchy and delicious and at $11 the price was more than fair.
Dynamite Shrimp ($8): A slight a kick of spice balanced out by a creamy aioli that coated the shrimp perfectly. One of the best versions of this dish I have had all summer.
New England Clam Chowder ($6): I love when a clam chowder actually has a lot of clams in it, and such was the case with this. It could be thicker, but that’s a personal preference. A tasty, well-made soup.
Throw it back:
The “chips” (free as a side dish, $5 otherwise): You are better off paying the extra $2 add-on for a side dish actual French fries. The Captain’s Chips here were OK, but nothing the captain should be particularly proud of.
Shackin’ up for summer Week 10: Lobster by the beach
Essex Seafood Co.
8 S. Essex Ave., Margate
One of the great joys of any vacation at the shore is to roll off the beach — still not fully dry and riding a mental high from the last set of waves you caught — and head out for a simple yet delicious dinner for which showing up in a semi-wet bathing suit is not only tolerated, it’s practically expected. Such is the case at Essex Seafood Co., a seafood shack two blocks from the beaches of Margate. Essex Seafood consists of a walk-up window and a set of picnic tables. The seated section is outdoors, but it’s covered should weather choose not to cooperate.
The 37th annual Tuckahoe River Canoe, Kayak Race and Poker Run will take place from 8 a.m. t…
New England clam chowder ($3.99 for a cup): One thing that has surprised me this summer on my quest to find great seafood is how many spots serve so-so clam chowder. This one stands out from the pack with its well balanced salt levels and abundance of clams. The only points I will take off is for not serving it with a soup spoon. A teaspoon and a hearty soup are a poor combo.
Hot & honey shrimp ($9.99 for a small order): Nice-sized shrimp coated in a thick breading and doused in what amounts to a slightly sweet, pleasantly tangy version of a buffalo sauce. These were quite tasty and a very good deal at $9.99 for six big shrimp. The breading held up against the sauce and never got mushy which was a plus. They could use a dipping sauce though — blue cheese or something along those lines would bring this app to the next level.
Lobster roll ($18.99): I have mixed feelings on this lobster roll, but ultimately I put it on the keep-it list because it is one of the only spots serving Connecticut-style lobster rolls. For those who may not know, Connecticut-style lobster rolls consist of fresh lobster meat on a bun topped with clarified butter and usually a lemon wedge. That’s it. No mayo, no celery, just glorious lobster and butter. Mmmmm. My issues with the version here were that the hot dog bun that it came on should have been a buttered and griddled split top and that the meat-to-bun ratio was a bit off. And at $18.99, it ain’t cheap. But the lobster meat was delicious and the butter complemented it perfectly. Being that these are not easy to find, I give it a thumbs up.
Beware the hidden gem. Ballamor Golf Club, like the middle child of a large family, occasion…
Throw it back
French fries: These came with the lobster roll and while it may seem insignificant, a great French fry can really elevate a seafood dish. These were bland, undersalted shoestring fries that I can’t imagine anyone being impressed with. They would be smart to boot these from their menu and add a nice steak fry, preferably something fresh cut.
Trophy winner: Lobster roll
Shackin’ up for summer - Week 9: Good things come to those who wait (for over an hour)
SHIP BOTTOM SHELLFISH 1721 Long Beach Blvd, Ship Bottom ShipBottomShellfish.com
People often say that if you want to eat good, try someplace that has a big line. It is usually there for a reason. Such is the case at LBI’s own Ship Bottom Shellfish. Ship Bottom Shellfish is a small spot, the inside consists of a fish market and a small but invitingly cozy dining room sporting walls sided in wood and the usual seafood restaurant décor consisting of pictures of waves and fish of all varieties. Outside is a series of benches and stools where one can get food to go and eat right there. Since those stools were full and it was a bit breezy anyway, we opted to sit inside. The hostess informed us it would be at least an hour wait. She was not exaggerating. After a 75-minute wait, which included enduring the endless chatter of an odd combination of seafood enthusiasts/political experts, we were shown to our table. As I went to order my drink I noticed they had birch beer on the menu. It was going to be a good night.
New England Clam Chowder ($5): A medium thick cream based chowder, this soup included a decent amount of chopped clams and was heavily spiced, with rosemary being the prominent flavor. A unique take on a classic.
Seafood bisque ($5): This creamy, pale orange-colored bisque was a real standout as it featured huge chunks of shrimp. One of the members of my party actually went to the fish market afterward to bring home a quart of the stuff. Don’t skip it.
Baked Seafood Combo ($28): Combining shrimp, scallops, a jumbo lump crab cake and a choice of the fish of the day (we went with swordfish), this platter was prepared with lemon and butter and got rave reviews from all who tried it. The swordfish was a real treat, as you rarely find such a fish included in a combo.
Fried Seafood combo ($25): Also delicious, but a slight step down from the baked combo, this one featured shrimp, scallops, flounder and their original crab cake, which is made from backfin meat instead of the jumbo lump version you get on the baked combo.
Throw it back:
Thai Calamari ($12): A bit chewy for my taste, this dish was not terrible, but ultimately I found it rather underwhelming. The calamari came served with a sriracha aioli that was more or less just mayo with the ever so subtle touch of spice. I wouldn’t order this again.
Swordfish Seafood bisque
Shackin’ up for summer, Week 8: A few hits and a few strikes at Mike’s
208 E. 55th St., Ocean City // MikesSeafood.com/OceanCity // 4222 Park Rd., Sea Isle City
Ocean City thrives as a picture-perfect family resort with its pristine beaches and boardwalk, streets lined with casual shops and beautiful vacation homes. If you know where to look, you can find a few fun, quirky spots to grab some seafood during these months where the days remain long and the sidewalks are dusted with sand transported by the throngs of tourists who make their way here each year between May and September.
One such spot is Mike’s Seafood. With a menu that boasts “over a 100 year family tradition at the Jersey Shore,” Mike’s is a simple stand offering walk-up service through a tiny window, not unlike a custard stand (coincidentally they also own a walk-up custard stand next door).
The process is simple at Mike’s — order your food at the window, grab a seat at one of their picnic tables and wait for your feast to arrive. The menu covers all the seafood classics you might expect, along with a few you might not.
Fresh fried Cape May clam strips ($10.99):
Large and quite tasty, these were the latest in a string of great clam strips I have been surprised by since I began this column. I honestly expected to run into more frozen versions of this dish than I have. Kudos to Mike’s and every other spot that opts for a better product instead.
Fried flounder sandwich ($7.99):
A simple fried fish sandwich can be a thing of beauty, and the fried flounder sandwich at Mike’s did not disappoint. Served on a squishy hamburger-style bun, topped with lettuce, tomato and a side of tartar sauce, this sandwich was simple yet perfect.
French fries and cole slaw ($2.50 add-on for any sandwich):
Honorable mention has to go to the fries and cole slaw, both of which were very good and made perfect accompaniments to the seafood. The fries were crispy without being overdone and were heavenly when dipped in a bit of tartar sauce. The cole slaw had just the right blend of vinegar and mayo to get a big thumbs-up from me.
Throw it Back:
Lobster mac & cheese balls ($13.99):
Lobster mac and cheese is a tricky dish to get right. All too often the delicate flavor of the lobster meat is lost among the heaviness of the cheese, and this particular version was rolled into balls, breaded heavily and deep fried. Ultimately, it had little flavor overall and made for a disappointing and rather overpriced app.
Lobster BLT ($15.99):
While I hoped this would be the dish to redeem the lobster reputation at Mike’s, sadly it was not to be. The meat was stringy and cold and came on a Kaiser bun with lettuce and tomato. The big issue here was that they decided to top it with no condiment (drawn butter or even plain ol’ mayo would have worked). Even the bacon was on the soggy side. A dull, forgettable sandwich.
Shackin' Up For Summer Week 7: Pinky Shrimp’s gets what summer is all about
83rd Street and Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach Township // Lobzilla.com
The entirety of the Jersey Shore is obviously a great place to vacation, but certain areas seem like they only exist for that purpose. Take LBI for example — visit this 18-mile barrier island in the winter and you will feel like you’re at a real-life ghost town. Empty streets void of human life, closed down businesses, and traffic lights that endlessly blink amber, as the number of cars passing are so few they no longer require any type of overtly definitive traffic regulation.
But in summer, this spot bursts with life — families taking their annual beach vacations, surfing, swimming, laying out until they are viciously sunburned and, at the end of the day, heading down to Pinky Shrimp’s in Long Beach Township for a big seafood dinner.
As far as its setup goes, Pinky Shrimp’s is as simple as it gets — a lone beige building with a scattering of picnic tables out front, and inside, a combination fish market/take out restaurant where you can get some really terrific seafood. That’s it. And that’s all it needs to be.
Crispy Cape Codwich ($11): One of the best fish sandwiches I have ever eaten. Coated in an extra-crunchy, Corn Flake- based breading and served on a bakery-style bun with lettuce, a giant Jersey tomato and a truly unique tartar sauce, this sandwich was utterly superb. They don’t skimp on the cod either — in fact I took one piece off and ate it on its own and put the other on the bun just for a bit of variety. And at $11, you simply cannot beat the price.
Mongo combo ($29): Ordering a seafood combo is a great way to get a taste of everything, and this broiled version was just about perfect. Coated with a simple lemon-butter sauce, this mix of shrimp, scallops, flounder and a crabcake hit all the marks. If I had to pick a standout in the bunch it would be the crab cake, which was prepared perfectly and packed with fresh crabmeat. Broiled is absolutely the way to go over fried with this dish.
Throw it back:
New England clam chowder ($5): The description on the menu claimed it to be loaded with clams, but I didn’t find many in this somewhat underwhelming version of a favorite soup. Next time I’ll try something else.
Crispy Cape Codwich
Shackin’ up for the summer — Week 6: Carmen has crabs
Carmen’s Seafood Restaurant
343 43rd Place, Sea Isle City // CarmenHasCrabs.com
While new spots are nice, there is something special about a seafood shack that has some history behind it. Carmen’s Seafood Restaurant in Sea Isle City sits waterside in a section of town known as “Fish Alley.”
Among the recreational mini yachts and speedboats are actual fishing vessels, one of which is captained by Carmen Conti himself, who has owned Carmen’s Seafood for the last 38 years. Though he is approaching 90, Conti can still be found on his boat catching fresh flounder and in the kitchen of his restaurant preparing any number of delicious seafood dishes.
The restaurant itself looks the part, too. A cedar shake exterior sets the tone, while inside nautical themed netting and oversized fish are suspended above wooden picnic tables that overlook the canal. The staff is loaded with folks who truly seem to love the place, such as my super-friendly server that day Mary Holroyd (known to staff and customers as “Matches,” due to a former tendency to set fires), who has been working at Carmen’s for 35 years.
“When I was 15 I was working as a beach badge checker, but whenever it was cloudy they would send us home. So, my girlfriend had heard that Carmen’s was hiring, so we came here. It’s a really fun place to work, that’s why we get so many of the same girls back year after year,” Holroyd says.
The house specialty a la Carmen: littleneck clams, shrimp, mussels, Alaskan king crab, lobster tail and scallops served over pasta in a white sauce ($35.95)
This dish is the official pride and joy of Carmen’s and it is impressive to say the least. Served in a giant bowl, the sheer amount of shellfish and crustaceans is stunning and the sauce (which Conti was apparently offered $10,000 for its recipe many years ago) is excellent.
Broiled scallops ($29.95)
An absolutely incredible portion of large, fresh caught scallops, perfectly cooked and served with a bit of butter and lemon. I counted 16 scallops in total. You will not leave hungry.
Fried clams ($10.95)
Big and meaty (as opposed to the shriveled and chewy variety you often find at seafood restaurants), the fried clams were quite good. They did lose points, though, for serving them with store-bought packets of Kelchner tartar sauce instead of going with the homemade stuff.
Throw it back:
Deviled crab cakes ($29.95)
I was in the mood for a broiled dish, so the fact that these came out heavily breaded, somewhat burnt and seemingly deep fried was a disappointment (I had ordered them broiled). The taste was decent. They were served swimming in butter, which did add some flavor, but was a bit out of the ordinary, as well. They were loaded with crab meat and not a ton of filler though, so that was a definite plus, but not enough to make me order them again.
Shackin’ Up For The Summer — Week 5: Mud City pitches a perfect game
Mud City Crab House
1185 E. Bay Ave., Manahawkin
I must confess — I really don’t hate writing this column. Scratch that — I love it. And honestly, who wouldn’t? Each week I head out to a local seafood shack in search of a variety of classic treasures from the sea. So far, each spot has had some real winners (and a few losers) on their menus. But hey, that’s the nature of any trip to a restaurant. Rarely does a spot hit every dish out of the park.
But it can happen. And it did — at Mud City Crab House in Manahawkin.
Mud City is a funky little spot set right across from the marsh in Manahawkin that combines both indoor and al fresco dining options in a simple, downhome setting. Outside the patio boasts a handful of tables along with a repurposed Airstream trailer that functions as a bar, serving a specific list of beers, wines and cocktails, all of which are beautifully refreshing on a warm summer evening. Should your night become not-so-warm, there are fire pits to warm you up.
The outside menu has a list of under-the-sea favorites on it, and each one was better than the next. The only negatives of the night were that initially getting our server’s attention was rather difficult (although once we ordered, the food came out very quickly), and that I ended up too full to try any of the crab dishes. Oh well, I have a feeling I will be returning before long.
La Paloma ($9): A great alternative to a margarita, this tequila-based cocktail uses grapefruit soda to add a mild sweetness and a bit of fizz for a lovely summer sipper.
Basket of Clam Strips ($10): Freshly shucked, locally caught clams coated in a light, yet flavorful breading, Mud City’s take on this simple dish was one of the best I have had yet on my journey. Perhaps THE best.
Fried Shrimp ($11): At $11 for 20 medium sized shrimps, this is one of the better deals you will find anywhere, and they were actually very good. A simple dunk in their first rate tartar sauce and perhaps a squeeze of lemon to add a bit of bite and this dish is a hit.
Chowder ($5): When it’s made right, New England Clam Chowder can be one of the most delicious soups of all time. And this one was made perfectly. Hefty bits of clam and potato made this creamy chowder a winner.
Flounder Sandwich ($13): Hand-breaded local flounder fried to a golden brown and served on a soft bun with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce, this simple, yet tasty sandwich was perfect in every way.
Fried oysters ($12): Once again, the price is right here at Mud City, as the full plate of large, fresh, fried oysters was only a meager $12. And it was probably worth double that.
Throw it back:
Shackin' Up for the Summer Week 4: Oyster Creek Inn
Week 4: Oyster Creek Inn
41 Oyster Creek Road, Leeds Point
Standing at the end of a long, two-lane road that cuts through one of the spookiest edges of the Pine Barrens, Oyster Creek Inn is pretty much exactly what you picture when somebody mentions the words “seafood shack.”
Accessible by both land and sea the building has a palpable, aged wisdom to it. It sits almost defiantly at water’s edge, as if daring the next well-hyped hurricane to try and knock it down. Meanwhile, its neighbors consist of a small row of barely standing fishing huts that look like they may be swept out to sea at any moment.
The smell of the salty marsh air adds to the vibe as do the seating options, which include a screened-in crab room, some outdoor picnic tables and, inside, a boat-shaped bar that serves as a perfect place to grab a beer and some treats from the sea.
Clams Casino ($6): A simple yet effective appetizer, the clams casino made use of a superb blend of red and green peppers with red onion and mozzarella cheese. Despite the boldly flavored ingredients they were up against, the clams themselves still held their own and didn’t get lost in the mix.
Jersey Devil shrimp ($10): Basically a version of buffalo shrimp with cole slaw subbing in for blue cheese. No matter what they call it, it is delicious, as the shrimp are massive and perfectly breaded, the sauce is spicy without killing you and the cole slaw provides the perfect crunch and cool down.
East Coast oyster stew ($4): A thin, yet buttery orange broth containing some nicely sized oysters, this soup stands out among the usual offerings you might expect to find at a spot like this. A touch of cream along with celery, onions and Old Bay seasoning rounded things out nicely.
Fried flounder sandwich ($12): Simple, yet well executed, Oyster Creek’s flounder sandwich was flaky and delicious, served on a soft bun with tartar sauce and some tasty French fries.
New Jersey crab bisque ($6): Thick and creamy in an almost New England clam chowder-type way, the crab bisque had plenty of chunks of crab meat in it and was hearty and satisfying. I might not come rushing back for it specifically, but wouldn’t turn down another spoonful if someone offered it to me.
Throw it back:
Fried jumbo shrimp ($18): While the shrimp were fine, the breading was overly heavy and definitely not to my liking.
Jersey Devil Shrimp
East Coast oyster stew
Week 3: Crabby’s Suds and Seafood
Week 3: Crabby’s Suds and Seafood
1415 Route 50, Mays Landing
Bandanas Mexican Grille is a bit of an anomaly. Part Tex-Mex restaurant, part ice cream parlor, with a commitment to ocean sustainability, Ban…
If you’ve never been to Crabby’s Suds and Seafood you may be unsure about walking in the door. Let’s just say it’s rustic — very rustic.
Inside sits a round bar accented with glass block — surely a relic of many decades ago — and a series of well-seasoned tables (some picnic style, some not) that appear to have seen it all. The bar adds a nice touch, allowing you to pair your suds and seafood (as the name flagrantly suggests).
The walls and ceiling are a hodgepodge of randomly thumb-tacked dollar bills, some signed and decorated by the folks that donated them. Pretty much everything looks tattered … in the best possible sense of the word. The rough-around-the-edges look, salty but sweet waitress and massive sheets of brown paper on the tables all do their part to enhance the glorious experience of getting messy while cracking into a big pile of crabs.
Frankly, the whole scene was awesome, and if you are wondering if you should check this place out, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”
Crab Sampler (Alaskan King crab, snow crab, dungeness and blue claw crabs; market price):
A simply incredible platter of crabs of all varieties, steamed to perfection and served with drawn butter for dipping and an assortment of tools for cracking and slicing. It’s messy, it’s a lot of work and it’s 100 percent worth it.
Crabby’s fried sampler (flounder, shrimp, scallops crab cakes and fries; $29.99):
The standout of the bunch was the crab cake, which was well spiced with hints of fresh peppers and lots of lump crab meat. The flounder scored big points for being a really tasty version of a sometimes ho-hum fish thanks to a light breading and some excellent tartar sauce. Shrimp and scallops were great too. No loser in the bunch.
He-crab soup ($6.99 for a cup):
Creamy, flavorful, decadent and packed with crab meat, Crabby’s signature he (not she) crab soup can give even the best New England clam chowder a run for its money.
Throw it back:
Lobster bisque ($5.99):
Not awful, but a rather bland, forgettable version of one of the classic seafood soups. Extra points taken off for having almost no lobster meat in it.
Crabby dip ($13.99):
A good crab dip should really wow you. This one wasn’t gross, but felt on par with something you might get at Applebee’s. That’s never a compliment.
Shackin' Up for the Summer Week 2: Crab Daddy's
WEEK 2: Crab Daddy’s
581 W. Ocean Heights Ave., Somers Point
Crab Daddy’s is a relatively new arrival to the Somers Point seafood scene, opening the doors of its modest space in 2017. Run by the husband-and-wife duo of Jon and Patty Ernst, the building is part fish market, part restaurant. The large, airy room that houses both feels larger than it is thanks to some high ceilings, and the whole space is lightly accented with an assortment of harpoons, buoys and oversized fishing bobbers, all helping to produce just the right visuals to pair with the menu, which features an abundance of classic seafood dishes.
New items get added constantly, and due to the fact that they receive deliveries of fresh fish daily, they can accommodate special orders of just about any type of fish with only a day’s notice.
Prior to opening up Crab Daddy’s, Jon Ernst used to sell live blue claws out of his van. Nowadays he can be found manning the grill, fryers and steamer pots at Crab Daddy’s. Constantly surrounded by seafood, one would imagine Jon to be a huge fan of the stuff.
“I’m allergic to it!” he says with a chuckle. “I can’t eat any of the stuff I cook really; maybe a bit of flounder, but most of it is off limits.” And that is where Patty comes in, serving as the official taster of all of Jon’s recipes and offering honest opinions on each of them.
Not wanting to leave poor Patty with the burden of tasting everything, I decided to step in and help her out, so I grabbed a seat and a soda and ordered up a seafood feast.
App: Hush puppies ($3.99)
I’m not sure exactly how these deep-fried, corn-based fritters became the go-to side dish for seafood, but whoever came up with the idea was a genius and a personal hero of mine. The ones at Crab Daddy’s came served in a simple cardboard boat and were quite good — crunchy but not greasy with a soft interior, I found them to be both a great way to start the meal (they beat plain ol’ bread and butter any day) as well as a perfect complement to the main course.
Main dishes: Fried flounder, fried scallops, fried shrimp, fried crab cake
The easiest way to sample a variety of seafood is with some kind of combo platter. This one featured four selections, each coated in their extra-crunchy, homemade breading which brought a welcome bit of golden brown texture to each item. The flounder was massive — one of the largest filets I have ever been served, it easily could have been sliced in half and used to make two fried fish sandwiches. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and flavorful and not hard or rubbery. Each paired well with a dunk of tartar sauce, which I have to recommend over the cocktail sauce, which was partially frozen in the middle (likely just the result of a fridge being turned up too high, but still, it made for a less than appealing presentation).
But the real star of the show was the crab cake. Made from a recipe their daughter came up with on the spot one day, it was loaded with real crabmeat (no filler), and the balance of spices is spot on. Crab cakes can often be ruined by a chef that goes too heavy on the spice, as crab meat has such a mild flavor it is easy to overpower it, but the version here was just right. They also serve a broiled version that doesn’t feature the heavy breading.
I didn’t love the scallops, but in fairness, I have never been a huge fan of that particular shellfish. Rarely does a scallop win me over and, in this case, I wasn’t wowed, but a true fan might enjoy them.
Overall, Crab Daddy’s was a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, and their addition to the already excellent dining options in Somers Point is a welcome one. If they were to throw a few picnic tables outside it would really complete the experience, but even as is, it’s worth the trip. With fresh seafood, friendly owners and one of the best crab cakes at the Jersey Shore, Crab Daddy’s has a lot to offer.
Keep it: Fried flounder, fried shrimp, fried crab cake, hush puppies
Throw it back: Fried scallops, cocktail sauce
Trophy winners: Fried crab cake, fried flounder
Shackin’ up for the summer: A visit to Allen's Clam Bar
Welcome to my new column, Shackin’ Up For the Summer.
With the dawn of the unofficial start to summer upon us, the appetites of both locals and tourists here at the Jersey Shore turn toward fresh seafood. While there are many posh high-end seafood spots around, this summer I am on a quest to find the best of those downhome, rustic, come-as-you-are seafood shacks that dot our coastline. And though I admit they have their place, I’m not looking for fancy-pants fish dishes. No pan-seared swordfish with fennel and capers. No potato-crusted flounder in a beurre blanc sauce. Instead, each week I’m hitting up the spots that specialize in classic seafood with no fuss — things like crabs, clams, mussels, fried shimp, oysters, chowders and bisques. Mostly stuff that can be dipped in butter or dunked in tartar sauce. I want to find out who makes the best lobster roll, whose crabcake is to die for and where to find the shore’s greatest hush puppies. And I want to be able to walk in to each place rocking flip flops, shorts and a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt and not get a second look. Sound good? Good. Let’s go.
Week 1: Allen’s Clam Bar
5650 Route 9, New Gretna
The first thing you’ll notice at Allen’s is the giant shark bursting through its roof. An intimidating yet appropriate sight for a seafood joint, the shark, along with an old ship wheel, perfectly set the tone for what was to come. While the ocean may be miles away and the din of cars on Route 9 makes for a rather poor substitute, the spot nails the casual, rustic look of a downhome clam shack.
Inside is a sparsely decorated dining room with just enough theming to let you know you are in a seafood restaurant without beating you over the head with cornball kitsch. Extra points go to the subtle touches, such as the weathered roping and porthole shaped windows on the front doors and to the giant squeeze bottles of tartar and cocktail sauce on each table, which means you don’t have to bug the wait staff for extra. Outside, wooden picnic tables provide the perfect spot to dine casually. No bar is on site, so cocktails were not an option, although you can bring your own beer and wine if you choose.
Crab au gratin ($9): creamy and cheesy with bread for dunking
Clams casino ($8): smoky and flavorful, finished with a crumbly piece of bacon
Crabby mac ‘n cheese ($15): Perfect al dente pasta spirals and big chunks of crabmeat swimming in a moat of cheese. A decadent, beutifully balanced dish
Fried seafood combo ($18): a nice mix of classic fried seafood, with the standout being the amazing whole belly fried clams
Throw it back:
Lobster bisque ($6): OK at best. Major points lost for having virtually zero pieces of lobster in the entire cup.
Deviled clam ($14): A disappointing version of the dish. Mostly breading and spices, hard to find any clam.
Crabby mac and cheese