Fish Tales from Our Editors

Laurilee: It’s true, good things come in small packages. Living in Bergen County you have a lot of franchise and fancy restaurant choices but sometimes you’re just in the mood for a casual meal at a reasonable price. If you love seafood shacks but can’t make it to the shore anytime soon , look no further then the town of Maywood. Smack in the middle of town you will see a storefront for Seafood Gourmet, which was originally a fish store but has expanded to a restaurant. The seafood is always fresh and wonderful. You can get it grilled, fried, steamed, broiled , anyway you like. The Italian specialty dishes such as seafood pasta, linguini with clam sauce, shrimp marinara or fra diavalo, are bigger and better then any of the best Italian restaurants in NJ and NYC. They have the best calamari ever, anyway you like it. Their chef is excellent and is capable of much more then simple preparations like this. The service is friendly and accomodating. The prices are higher at dinner time, same menu for lunch , more reasonable. They take reservations for dinner, BYOB. All in all, don’t expect a fancy atmosphere but expect a really great meal.

No trip for us here in Bergen County to our favorite beach, Spring Lake, is complete without cocktails and dinner at Kleins Fish Market and Waterside Cafe in Belmar.  This restaurant has been in existence for over 30 years by one family.  They have a fish shop you walk through on the way to the outdoor seating area and Tiki bar which features live music on certain nites of the week.  I am always amazed by the quality of their locally caught fish and love to watch it being carefully cleaned and/or shucked right there in the market by their lively young staff.  They have the cafe where we always eat, with a view of the water and the boats passing by on the famous Shark River.  This is very casual and they do have a ‘better’ restaurant on the other side of the Tiki bar where the atmosphere is a bit more upscale.  We love the casual dining experience , sitting outside having a cocktail and listening to the music after a day at the beach.  About the food, we love whatever they have caught locally.  You see what you like or what looks good in the market and then order it at the cafe however you like it.  Grilled, steamed, broiled, many ways.  I find simple is best.  The daily specials have fancy sauces and names but do not live up to the menu descriptions. Just get a simple piece of fish, some great sushi, or a nice fresh lobster as big as you want it.  I had a two pounder, perfectly steamed for my birthday and it was amazing quality.  The sides are simple, but so what, we still continue to go for the seafood.  A whole baked potato on the plate with some green and yellow slivers of squash and some carrots.  They also have waffle fries, cole slaw and sometimes if you’re lucky local corn on the cob.  Save dessert for Strollo’s right across the street for the best Italian ices or ice cream. There can be wait to get into Klein’s, especially to sit on the water, but it’s worth it.  Just go have a drink at the Tiki Bar, take in the view and the music and wait for them to call your name.   708 River Road at Main St  Belmar, NJ.

John Howard FuscoMud City Crab House in Manahawkin is pretty much a given on anyone’s To Do List when they plan to spend any time in or around Long Beach Island during the summer. Don’t believe me? Fine – just try and get table. You’re going to have a bit of a wait. Is it worth it? Once you’ve tasted their baked garlic clams or their award-winning jumbo crab cakes, you’d be thrilled with a wait as long as it was that time you camped out for Genesis tickets in the bitter cold back in 1987. Well, OK – maybe not all of you would have done that back in ’87, but trust me on this one: the food will more than make up for the time it takes to get a seat. And if you can’t hold out, you can always order some crab claws along with some wonderfully pristine scallops while you sit outside and admire the view.”

Lauren, There are 3 outstanding fish dishes I’m loving right now at Acquaviva Delle Fonti in Westfield, NJ. In addition to having the best patio dining in town, they introduced a new chef and a new menu at the start of summer. Chef Tom Pollio updated the menu, taking a nice Italian restaurant to the next level with a subtle French touch. There aren’t too many pasta dishes on the menu, but I love two of them. The first is an appetizer that combines carmelized scallops, potato gnocchi and roasted cauliflower. It might sound monochromatic and an oddly-paired mixture but it is actually a perfect blend of the three, which are all hard to cook well in their own right. Earlier in the spring I enjoyed a spaghetti with seared scallops and wild mushoom sauce. A reduced mushroom mixture blended with a touch of cream coated each spaghetti strand to delicious perfection. It’s out of this world – and off the menu – so call ahead. For something lighter top a Caesar Salad with a crab cake.  I also have a fishmonger to recommend. If you can find Shore Catch at your local farmers market stop by and ask for Jimmy. He got me hooked on raw scallops from Barnegat Light. They also have monkfish, tuna and all sorts of Jersey fresh fish.

Sheila Hill, I can easily recall my first visit to the Clam Hut in Highlands. I was immediately blown away by the atmosphere. Situated directly on the water, the Clam Hut offers unbeatable views of the New York City skyline. I was skeptical that the food would compare to the unbelievable atmosphere. My skepticism was short-lived. Although the Clam Hut has an extensive seafood menu, two of my favorite dishes are the Crab Cakes, pan-fried and served with a chipotle cream sauce, and the Potato Crusted Scallops, served in a lemon saffron sauce. It’s not called the Clam Hut for nothing! You can’t go without trying the house specialties, Drunken Clams, Clam Strips, or the perennial favorite, Clams on the Half-Shell. Mr. Shrimp 1600 Highway 71, Belmar 07719  732-681-7755 Don’t be fooled by Mr. Shrimp’s unassuming location in a strip mall. The premiere seafood restaurant delivers big flavor whether you’re eating in the full-service restaurant or grabbing fresh seafood from the market. If chowder is your thing, Mr. Shrimp’s Manhattan and New England chowders are some of the best. Pair the chowder with one of Mr. Shrimp’s signature salads. Two of my faves are the Shrimp and Plum Tomato Salad and the Pepper Tuna Salad. If you prefer a sandwich, Mr. Shrimp offers an array of wraps and fried fish and seafood sandwiches. Mr. Shrimp also cooks up seafood by the pound, prepared either fried or broiled, or if you’ve got your heart set on a larger meal, try a Seafood Specialty such as the King Crab Leg Dinner.

Deborah Smith, It’s hard to walk a block in Point Pleasant Beach without tripping over a Seafood restaurant or fish monger, especially on Broadway the road leading from Route 35 to the Boardwalk. In this one area, you will find Spikes Fish Market and Clam Bar, a favorite among out-of-towners. Open all year long, this is one of the more casual joints in the area that offers that “crab shack” feel for the vacationers. You can enjoy indoor seating as well as take out of cooked and raw seafood.

A little further down the road you will bump into Daniel’s Bistro. We reviewed Daniel’s awhile back, so I am not going to go into a lengthy description here.  Daniel’s is a bit pricey, but has a very loyal following of regulars, which tells you the food is excellent. It’s upscale fish, no fried clams on the menu and many nights, no reservations to be had, so plan ahead.

Just around the corner from Daniel’s on Channel Drive, is what is known as the Fisherman’s Coop. You don’t get any fresher than this folks.  The Coop backs up to the fishing boats (shown above) and patrons can walk up to purchase whole fish from the day’s catch. For fresh fish that has already been filleted as well as your typical clams, crab cakes and more, the The Shore Fresh Seafood Market & Restaurant shares the building and parking lot. They do soups, salads, sandwiches and a whole dinner menu with everything from Fish and Chips to Mussels Marinara, and yes, even non-fish items for the picky eaters in your party.

The same waterfront is shared by Red’s Lobster Pot.  Red’s is a cozy spot with indoor and outdoor seating.  Back when I started going to Red’s they only had indoor seating.  If you can get a feel for how tiny that little bungalo is from the picture, you can imagine how good the food must have been to draw patrons from all over willing to squeeze into that tiny little space for a taste of Red’s seafood creations.  Since their expansion to the great outdoors they have added tables under awnings and open air seating along the water. It’s a BYOB as you can see by the sign nailed to the telephone pole. (gotta love the beach.)

From Red’s you loop back around to Channel Drive and visit Jack Baker’s Wharfside Restaurant or the very casual Patio Bar next door.  The restaurant is not a place many of the locals will go to stand in line, but for that big vacation night out, its probably one of the most popular destinations. Next door at the Patio Bar, you’ll find many a local sipping on cocktails (or chugging them) and listening to live music while the boats go by. I personally prefer a quieter setting. One of my favorite places to enjoy excellent fish is at The Shipwreck Grill right across the bridge in Brielle. The Shipwreck was the very first review we did here on Jersey Bites and even though the menu may have change a bit,  the quality hasn’t wavered.  Another place to check out on the Brielle side of the Manasquan River is the Brielle River House. Order the fried calimari with Jalapeño Aoli and enjoy the gorgeous breeze and views.

September is a fabulous time to enjoy your favorite Seafood destination in New Jersey. Act like a local, and treat September like your month at the Jersey Shore. We’d love to hear about your favorite seafood spots. Obviously, we’ve only touched on a few. Please share yours in a comment below.