I recently had the opportunity to have dinner at The Serenity Café in Toms River, and was smitten the moment I walked in the door. This warm and inviting nook of a restaurant is tucked away in a strip mall on Rt. 37. It’s unassuming from the outside, but the cozy lighting, leather chairs and savory aromas that greet you upon arrival let you know you’re in for a great evening.
Serenity serves American gourmet fare. You’ll find many familiar dishes on the menu, but most are elevated with a unique twist or the use of incredibly fresh and seasonal ingredients.
After nibbling on crusty hot rolls dipped in olive oil, our group ordered a few starters to share, including Buffalo Calamari with Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce, “Nachos” served with hot, hand cut potato chips with blue cheese and bacon, and Lobster Sliders. All were good, but the entrees were the favorites of the night.
Serenity’s menu is seasonal and changes often based on the produce, seafood and meats available. Several of us ordered Halibut Wellington, which was stuffed with a spinach goat cheese puree, cooked inside puff pastry and then topped with garlic sautéed spinach and a sweet corn beurre blanc. The sauce made the dish – it was light and flavorful with a hint of sweet Jersey corn.
While the fish dishes were good, the meat dishes were the real stars at our table. Several diners ordered filet mignon and pork chops, which all agreed were cooked to perfection. The Braised Short Rib Pot pie, a special of the night, was a show stopper presented in a giant cast iron skillet and overflowing with flaky crust. This was easily a meal for three.
The dessert menu doesn’t include traditional favorites, but features unique shareable dishes like Chocolate and Pistachio Crepes, Chocolate Fried Raviolis and Poached Plum Cobbler. The fried raviolis were piping hot, crunchy, and filled with gooey dark chocolate and melting vanilla ice cream – they were perfection.
The Serenity Café is a gem in the Toms River area; it offers elegant yet comfortable dining with unique dishes and friendly service. Our group stayed for nearly three hours chatting, and the servers were attentive and warm the entire time. It’s BYOB, and the restaurant provides nice stemware, which clinched it for us wine drinking guests! The café is great for intimate dinners, but also accommodates larger parties for birthdays and other events. We’ll definitely be back!
Melissa Baratta: Melissa has been cooking and exploring the restaurant scene since the age of 12 when she first discovered the Food Network. Originally from Vermont, she is passionate about healthy and sustainable living, and loves to experience new flavors from around the world. She is a pescatarian with a love of fresh seafood, but is married to a full blown omnivore, so her recipes range from unique salads, homemade pastas and grain dishes to grilled fish and curried chicken. She lives in Ocean County with her husband and young son, and when she’s not working at her Manhattan-based PR agency, she can be found cooking, gardening, and checking out local eateries. Melissa blogs about food and healthy living at www.SomeSugarAdded.com.