Where I Was
Parker House, Sea Girt, NJ
Monday, May 21, 12:42 p.m.
Where I Sat
The last time I scaled the steps of The Parker House, I am confident Prince was blasting from the sound system (like it was 1999), and I am quite confident I was sporting some semblance of big hair with skin screaming pink from too many hours in the sun. The experience, all these years later, as I get ready to “walk this lady into the bar,” was almost surreal. I couldn’t wait to belly up to the bar and let the memories start flooding back. Well. Not. So. Much. As I whisked by the hostess, she asked, “Can I help you?”
I replied, in flight, “No thanks, I’m gonna grab a bite at the bar.”
Her voice followed me. “Sorry, you can’t eat at the bar, but feel free to take one of the tables there.” Whaaa-waaa? Such. A. Bummer. Not to be deterred, I took my seat at the four top in the corner, next to a fairly intensive merchandise selection of T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts in an array of bright pastels. At least I was facing the bar.
Who Served Me
Ali, who’s been at The Parker House for the better part of seven years. She started as a hostess.
Bartender’s Favorite Bite
This time, no bartender bite, but Ali’s response was, “The scallops—they are simply delicious. So much flavor. And everyone else loves them!”
The Vibe & My Vantage Point
Intimate, quaint, and surely a fabulous place to park oneself on a Friday well before 5 p.m. From my table I could look out the windows to the porch, already buzzing with a lunchtime crowd on this pre-Memorial-Day Monday. I faced the bar with a clear view out the front door, over to Steve, at the bar slinging cocktails, and back to the hallway where staff and servers bustled to and fro.
What Quenched My Thirst
Tito’s vodka, mint leaves, sugar, fresh lime juice, club soda
A stripped-down mojito with vodka replacing the rum, this version was served up icy in a pint glass, complete with sugared rim, lime wedge, and a straw. Refreshing and minty, perhaps a touch too heavy on the simple syrup. (I’m guessing they didn’t actually use raw sugar, despite the description).
What Fed My Soul
Seafood Bisque, $7
Served with oyster crackers
The bowl arrived with a lovely sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley resting atop the creamy, pinkish, orange depths. The oyster crackers arrived in their little cellophane bag, precariously teetering on one side of the always-too-small saucer with the teaspoon resting comfortably on the other side. The first mouthful was incredibly decadent, screaming cream and butter as I let the flavor settle in. The bowl was completely lacking in the chunks of fresh fish and fleshy lobster or crab I would expect at a seaside locale. I found nary a chunk of potato in the entire bowl and only once did my teeth have a moment to contemplate some indecipherable flakes of what must have been fish, I hoped.
Asian Lettuce Wraps, $12
Hoisin-and-soy-marinated chicken, water chestnuts, carrots, and cucumber, with crisp wontons
Like a breath of fresh air after the disappointing engagement with my bisque, the wraps arrived in a bevy of color and shapes. Four lovely, light green iceberg lettuce cups were filled with tender morsels of chicken (my guess, thigh meat) and topped with crisp julienne cucumbers and carrots.
In the center sat a lovely pile of crispy wonton noodles to be added as I liked to each cup. Every bite revealed a little more depth, a hint of fresh cilantro (not included in the description), some citrus penetrating the hoisin and soy, with the carrot and cucumber adding the right amount of texture and flavor. A nice, clean choice with the perfect combination of texture and taste.
Iron Skillet Seared Scallops, $15
Roasted corn and bacon relish
Before the plate was set before me, I could see the sear on the scallops was sensational. Tender and well cooked, my fork easily cut into scallop, revealing its translucent and slightly opaque center. I scooped up some of the corn relish making sure I had a piece of bacon to accompany the first bite. Ugh, a bit of sand (not to be helped sometimes with seafood) was the first thing I noticed, followed immediately by a heavy-handedness with the salt, or perhaps the mistake of adding salted butter to the already well-seasoned scallops. Even the sweetness of the corn salad, nicely dotted with small bits of minced red onion and the smoky bacon couldn’t distract from the whack of salt.
As I went back to fact-check my taste buds, I decided to go a bit more “all out” with my lemon wedge, giving it a nice healthy squeeze over my half-eaten scallop and went back in. The best was indeed saved for last as the boost of the acidity in the lemon cut right through the salty angst of the dish bringing forth a much more delicate balance between the scallop and the bed of relish it was served over.
If I were you? I would stick to the basic offerings of burgers and crab cakes and settle into a porch seat one fine summer day and drink in everything that’s good about this tried-and-true local spot. If you’re smart, you may even come back next May, well before Memorial Day to get a glimpse of what it’s like before the madness of summer ensues. God bless those who have served our great country and God bless America (and all the amazing food and drink in it). Cheers!
Beyond the Bar
This historic hotel, restaurant, bar, and all-around Sea Girt fixture was established in 1878. The season kicks off each May with things really heating up Memorial Day weekend. Rooms for the 2018 season are sold out but you can complete the 2019 wait list form here. The Tavern, located downstairs (and the site of many, many of my own late nights during my 20s), is open on weekends only and features live music. (Click here for the live music calendar.) Parker House also serves standard bar food with a twist or two, like steamed clams and peel-and-eat shrimp. It’s truly a must-go for anyone in their mid-20s to 30s. And those of us who are a little bit older than that may find ourselves settling into a spot on the porch early one Friday afternoon and staying planted late into the night!
Fridays 5 to 11:30 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays 3 to 11:30 p.m.
Upstairs Bar: Friday through Sunday (times vary)
Know Before You Go!
Prices, hours, and menus are subject to change. Please check the restaurant’s website for the latest information available.
290 1st Avenue
Sea Girt, NJ 08750
This article was not paid for, nor influenced by, the restaurant/bar featured in this column.