Is it possible for one eatery to fully express what it means to be from New Jersey? We come across so many lists that proclaim that certain places serve the best burger, chowder, desserts, etc etc…how about a list that proclaims the eateries that are most Jersey-like? And if such a list was being compiled, there is a place in Toms River that would beg consideration.
You cannot help but smile a bit when you say the name Shut Up and Eat!, and that surely is by design. This luncheonette, tucked away on the side of a small grouping of businesses along Water Street near downtown, does a lot to make you smile. Upon entering, the waitstaff in their comfy pajamas gives you a big “Hello!”, as if they they have known you for years. The chatchkis all over the place, and I do mean all over the place, will give you a bit of a chuckle. The decor can best be described as refrigerator door chic. The mismatched silverware will also most likely elicit a guffaw or two. Now they’ve got you in the right mood.
The person who sets the mood and drives the engine of this little eatery is owner Ann Gauthier, who serves as Mom and/or Grandma to all who come in to eat. Although all the servers at Shut Up and Eat! are friendly by and large, when Ann is patrolling the tables there is a change in the vibe. She is talkative, funny, loves kids, already knows the answer to a question on the menu that you’ve only begun to ask, and does not take any shenanigans. In other words, she’s all Jersey.
While the kitschy decor and jammied waitstaff set a fun tone, the food is still the star. The menu is loaded with many an-option for your breakfast, brunch and lunch needs, and it’s fun to read as well. The kids’ breakfast menu is entitled “Breakfast for Little People with No Job Experience”, and for the adults, Eggs Benedict is called Eggs Benny (for those non-locals). For lunch, feast on a selection from The “Bread Filled with Stuff” Section, like The Day After Thanksgiving (turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing on white bread) or Staten Island Memory (pastrami on rye). And even the late Jack Lord (the real Steve McGarrett) would have liked the Hawaii 5-0, with chicken salad on banana bread with a slice of pineapple. And just like the rest of us, McGarrett would have had a tough time eating it without making a mess.
But to be truly Jersey, there must be Taylor ham on the menu…right? Oh come now, let’s not get fru fru here – it’s pork roll, and yes, it is on the menu. You can even go so far as to get a Joisey Burger and get your pork roll and cheese fix.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, on the menu is something called The Mystery Lunch Box Meal. For this meal, you do not know what you will be getting until it is brought to your table. So if Mom ever packed your lunch as a kid, and opening up your lunch box (or bag) in the lunch room at school was always ‘eventful’, here’s a chance to relive those childhood days.
And thinking childish thoughts…if you happen to show up at Shut Up and Eat! in your own comfy – and matching – jammies, you will get a 13% discount on your meal. But don’t show up at dinner time dressed in your pjs, because you will have a long long wait: the place closes at 2:30PM. On occasion, though, they do have a barbecue dinner that is supposedly excellent. For that, you will need to call to find out when the next one is happening; there is no website, and it will not be tweeted. Just like a mom, making you have to call home.
Shut Up and Eat!
290 West Water Street, Suite C, Toms River, NJ 08753
John and Lisa Howard-Fusco Regional Editors, Ocean County. Although they and their two kids call Ocean County home, their John and Lisa Are Eating in South Jersey food blog has them traveling all over the southern region of New Jersey. They and their blog have been mentioned in articles by the New York Times, Courier-Post, nj.com and njmonthly.com. Lisa has written articles and reviews for South Jersey magazine as well as for Ed Hitzel’s Restaurant Newsletter and Hitzel’s Restaurant Magazine. And John could use a Gaetano’s cheesesteak right about now.