A little-known bit of info about Seaside Heights: hidden amidst the sea of bars and pizza joints is an incredible dining scene offering everything from sushi to modern Italian. Having been a resident of Seaside for three years, I had the opportunity to explore what some of its enticing eateries had to offer, and get to know the gourmet side of Seaside.
What I discovered after completing my epicurean endeavor is that much like the crowd you can find wandering the boardwalk on a Saturday night, the restaurant scene in Seaside offers unique flavor combinations you won’t find anywhere else, and in the most unexpected places.
Exhibit A: Chop Shop. Located in the Hershey Motel, this poolside eatery is perfect for those with a meat tooth. You can find out-of-the-box barbecue and creative burgers topped with everything from candied bacon to mac and cheese, all served alongside savory seafood dishes like braised octopus over smoked corn risotto.
If you’re in the mood for trendy cocktails and Italian-meets-Asian-fusion then look no further than Savor Lounge. Nestled comfortably next to Club Karma, Savor Lounge offers a seasonal menu items with a side of live music on the weekends. Its specialties include succulent Sunday meatballs, fall-off-the-bone braised short ribs, and a flakey, soy-glazed cobia with tender, steamed bok choy.
The treasure of my culinary tour was—and still is—my favorite destination to dine in Seaside, a no-frills neighborhood spot where you can enjoy gourmet food in your flip flops. PJ’s Place, whose namesake is the owner’s son, is pioneering the casual upscale restaurant movement.
Situated at the corner of Dupont and Boulevard, the unassuming façade, brightly colored awning, and picnic benches give the exterior a relaxed and inviting feel, which is exactly what you will find once you enter the restaurant. If white napkins and fine china are your thing then go somewhere else. In keeping with the “beachy” vibe, they are minimalist all the way.
Boasting a laid-back atmosphere, the simply decorated interior features small wooden tables clad with parchment paper and walls adorned with replicas of local beach badges—the perfect decor for a beachside restaurant.
From the moment you set foot in the door, you feel welcomed and right at home. Being a family-run restaurant, they go out of their way to make you feel like you are sitting at their dinner table. A friendly face, usually that of Patrick Turso himself, is there to greet you at the front door and to show you to your table.
Once you’re seated, the helpful staff is always ready to make a suggestion or answer your questions about the menu, which features exactly you would expect to find at a restaurant at the Jersey Shore: a modern American take on Italian seafood. To be honest, I have pretty much eaten my way through their entire menu several times over. That being said, there are, however, a few dishes that have become my go-to favorites.
A definite must try is their seafood paella. With more seafood than you know what to do with, it’s what lobster lovers’ dreams are made of. The spicy Spanish dish is packed full of fresh seafood and served on with a spicy tomato broth a bed of saffron rice. The overflowing plate comes to your table with scallops, mussels, clams and shrimp. If that isn’t enough seafood for you, it is served with an entire lobster on top.
Other notable seafood selections include the seafood Mediterranean, a luscious blend of shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and a whole lobster served with a delicate white wine butter sauce on a bed of linguine, and PJ’s lobster, a delicious seafood-stuffed lobster with scallops and shrimp.
For the land-lubbing loving patrons, PJ’s offers a variety of delectable homestyle Italian dishes, like crispy chicken parm with a tangy homemade tomato sauce that is piled high with creamy mozzarella served over buttered linguine. They also make a mean ribeye, which is perfectly seared and cooked to perfection then smothered in mushrooms and onions.
On my last trip there, I decided to be different and branched out to sample some of their ever-changing daily specials. Given that I eat there at least three times a month and almost always order the same thing, a change seemed to be in order.
My meal began with crispy coconut shrimp (pictured above) with a sweet and savory mango sauce and a creamy crab dip laced with garlic and old bay. While I was tempted to order my usual, the paella, I ended up ordering a perfectly seared, soy-glazed tuna cooked to a perfect rare that was served with their signature saffron rice. I certainly was not disappointed with my last-minute changeup.
There are a few things you need to know before dining at PJ’s:
First, bring your appetite and wear stretchy pants. I made the mistake of wearing jeans on my first visit. Needless to say they became rather uncomfortable by the end of the meal.
Second, it’s BYO so feel free to bring your favorite bottle to enjoy with your meal. And don’t worry if you don’t have one! There’s a liquor store across the street that will give you 10% off if you mention PJ’s.
Third, don’t be shocked when your check is astonishingly affordable. PJ’s cuts down on the frills to save you on your bill. The most expensive dish on their menu is the ribeye which will run you a cool $26.
Fourth and finally, be prepared to want to go back the next day. From the friendly come as you are atmosphere to the exceptional food PJ’s is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Chop Shop, 1415 Boulevard, Seaside Heights
PJ’s Place, 22 Boulevard, Seaside Heights
Savor Lounge, 411 Boulevard, Seaside Heights