The writer was invited to visit FINS and the meal was complimentary.
Dream a Little Dream
Back in 1982, then-teenaged friends Pat Cuozzo and Shawn Ryan decided to pursue culinary careers. They ended up working together at the same restaurant in the 1990s, at which time the dream of one day owning a restaurant together became clear.
The two left the kitchen to work in food service sales for a while. They both say that this helped them learn the business side of running a restaurant and that food sales gave them a great appreciation of high quality versus price driven ingredients.
In 2003, the beach-loving surfers landed on their fast-casual, TropiCali themed FINS restaurant. At the flagship location, in Bradley Beach, I met with the coowners, Cuozzo and Ryan, to sit down, sample some of their food, and learn more about the story and values behind the brand.
The FINS slogan, “It’s always summer on the inside” is demonstrated by the surfboards hanging from the ceiling, bright primary colors on the walls along with surfing photographs and tropical murals.
As I sat and waited for the food and my hosts to arrive, I watched as customers came in to pick up takeout orders or to place their orders at the counter and take a seat to wait. The smallest of the three FINS locations, the Bradley Beach spot was specifically designed to be takeout driven.
My first bite was of the crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-crab-goodness-on-the-inside Caribbean crab fritters. (I highly recommend that you dunk them in the roasted red pepper dipping sauce for a little kick that breaks through the richness of the crab.) The fritters are served alongside Island Spiced tostones (twice-fried green plantains) which serve as another great vessel for the dipping sauce.
Next up was the tuna poke wrap. In this selection, the ahi poke is nestled into a black bean tortilla with coconut-crusted plantains, sliced avocado, grilled pineapple, and crunchy power greens. What a healthy, tropical treat on a dreary winter day!
FINS is also well known for its smoothies. All of the restaurant’s smoothies are made with YoCream nonfat yogurt (unless otherwise noted) and real fruit with no added sugar. Now, I’m not usually much of a smoothie fan but when you’re at FINS, you can’t pass them up.
I was very impressed by the thought put into all the ingredients and the listing of allergens for each recipe. The website includes a list of the signature smoothies and, of course, you can always order your own concoction.
The owners were proud to point out that “every ingredient has a story” even down to their offering “real sugar” Pepsi, Hershey’s Simply 5 syrup (with no corn syrup), and all-natural peanut butter.
Ingredients, With Care
Cuozzo and Ryan’s dedication to quality ingredients has been at the forefront of the restaurant’s mission since the beginning. According to Cuozzo, they “never let cost dictate ingredients.” They use non-GMO fryer oil. They hand-bread their crispy chicken and make their own chicken fingers.
FINS uses grass-fed flank steak and smaller, leaner chickens to ensure great texture and taste. Parents who worry about what their kids are putting in their bodies do not have to worry at FINS.
Next up on the tasting menu was the vegetarian quesadilla. Big chunks of veggies are enveloped in the restaurant’s proprietary cheese blend and sandwiched in between small-batch tortillas. The tortillas are another example of their dedication to quality ingredients.The tortillas come in smaller-than-usual batches (25% smaller, to be exact), which ensures freshness.
FINS also makes all of its salsa and sauces in-house. You can find all of the nutritional facts about their dressings and sauces on the website, which I thought was such a rare and commendable extra on their part.
Another “extra” that probably goes unnoticed by most customers is the restaurant’s dedication to planet-friendly tableware, bags, and more. “We were 15 years ahead of the biodegradable movement,” Ryan proudly told me. “Our takeout orders are packed in boxes. Our bags are 100% compostable and our plates are made from sugar cane fiber.”
As we closed out our time together (and I boxed every leftover I could), I admitted to Cuozzo and Ryan how pleasantly surprised I was by all that I had learned about FINS. Quite frankly, I’d always driven past their restaurants thinking it was just another fad concept. I was completely wrong in that assumption.
Their combination of two classically trained chef / owners, really great ingredients, inventive dishes, passion for the planet, and attention to every detail, surely makes FINS a fantastic choice for lunch, dinner and even catering. In fact, I learned during my visit that FINS just recently catered a wedding. Who knew?
120 Main St.
Bradley Beach, NJ
Point Pleasant, NJ
Sea Girt Square
Sea Girt, NJ