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Archive for the ‘Region – Jersey Shore’ Category

Grilled Cheese & Crab Cake Company

I have driven past the Grilled Cheese & Crab cake Company in Somers Point, NJ a hundred times over the last half dozen years with every intent of stopping in some time.  Because it is along the route into or out of my destination Ocean City, NJ I am usually not in search of a meal when I pass and think of it.

On Good Friday, the last non-meat Friday in Lent this year, the restaurant came to mind when I was thinking about dinner.  So, I took the trip over the bridge out of Ocean City to Somers Point.  I arrived at 7:30 p.m., with dinner service running until 8 p.m.  Two other tables of diners were seated and ordering.

I was quickly greeted and a drink order taken and menus left for me to peruse.  As you would expect the menu had many choices involving crab cakes or various takes on a grilled cheese.  A full slate of seafood and non-seafood appetizers was available as well as Chili, Cream of Crab Soup and Cream of Tomato soup offered daily, along with specials including Chicken Orzo.  Any soup can be made “angry” by adding jalapeno and chinese spicy oil.

I ordered the Cream of Tomato soup and a dinner basket combination of Fried Shrimp and Crab Balls, fried miniature crab cakes.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Cream of Tomato Soup

The soup arrived about 10 minutes later.  It was very good, but it was either a dressed up Campbell’s canned tomato soup or it was a remarkably successful attempt to recreate the Campbell’s recipe at home.  I enjoy Cambpell’s tomato soup, but I was expecting something a little creamier.  Next time I would try their “famous” Cream of Crab soup as several other tables ordered it and it looked very good.

Fried Shrimp and Crab Balls Basket

Fried Shrimp and Crab Balls Basket

The entree arrived shortly after I finished my soup.  The shrimp and crab cakes rested on a large bed of french fries, which I picked at but barely ate, along with two containers of cocktail sauce (both it and tarter were offered) and a very creamy side of cole slaw, which I also enjoyed.

Crab Balls (Miniature Fried Crab Cakes)

Crab Balls (Miniature Fried Crab Cakes)

The crab balls and shrimp were boiling hot and it took a long time for them to cool on top of hot french fries.  The miniature crab cake balls were a healthy mix of crab and filler.  A little more filler than I would normally enjoy, but I found these to be a nice balance.  They were not too firm, but not runny either.  A nice crispy fried coating helped hold it all together.

The fried shrimp were fresh and large with a double fried coating on the outside.  The shrimp inside were fully clean (sometimes you get surprised by shrimp that haven’t been deveined) and tasty.

I burned my mouth a number of time because I was too impatient to wait for it all to cool.

Dinner was $22.00 and the menu included a wide range of sandwiches, platters and appetizers.  Homemade desserts in a cold case display looked good and included a vanilla buttercream Easter cake, apple pie, regular and chocolate cheesecake and an offering that looked like coffee cake but lacked a label.  I wish I had room to try dessert, but I did not.

Service was friendly and attentive.  My only gripe was they offered only Pepsi products, no Coke.

I will try this place again some time.  I waited too long.  Their website does not appear to be functioning at this time

55 W Laurel Dr
Somers Point, NJ 08244
(609) 601-7533

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Underwhelimingways’s @ the Grand.

It has potential, but boy did it disappoint.

We really wanted to like the place.  I saw them advertise in Wildwood Catholic’s playbill for “The Little Shop of Horrors” and thought I should patronize them because of that.   “Add it to our list,” I said.

We went on a friday night in January.  Good crowd inside, the bar was full and the restaurant area was perhaps half full.

Three cokes and a cocktail took ages to get.  At first we werent’ sure if it was the bartender or the waitress.  In retrospect, it was the waitress.

Appetizers:  Again, took ages, despite the waitress repeating it would be out shortly.
Sunset Salad – “one of the best things I ever had”
Wedge salad –  Best part about my wife’s meal.
Shrimp Cocktail – This must have been just prepared (and iced) because part of the shrimp was warm, while other parts of the shrimp were ice cold.

Main courses: Took too long.
Kid’s filet mignon tips – too rare for “medium rare”, had to ask for ketchup (which took forever)
5oz Petit Filet – maybe it’s hard to cook a small steak medium rare, but it was mostly well done and dried out.  The garlic mashed potatoes were good.
8oz sirloin – “dry and tough”
Veal Maryland – veal was tougher that it should have been (at a restaurant like that), but the sauce and crabmeat were good.

Our drinks were emptying by this point and the waitress brought refills without our asking.  Which was a pleasant surprise.

Dessert:
Looked like everything was some variation of chocolate – very attractive.  But we had enough of the slow service and went to a diner for pie.

Sorry guys, I don’t think I’ll be going back.

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The Varsity Inn appears in all the old postcard and photo books of Ocean City, NJ in days of yore…it has operated under different names but has been the Varsity Inn since 1969.  I had never been inside until this past summer when my brother and I had breakfast there on his recommendation.  The breakfast was delicious, with omelettes freshly prepared and the crowded but fast moving dining room waited on with adequate attention.

Signs outside, inside and on the menu all boast of the Varsity Inn’s Baked Jersey Tomato Soup.  So famous they advertise quarts and pints of it on the menu.  Not really being a breakfast item, I resolved to return some time for lunch to try to the soup.

A crisp and overcast autumn Sunday saw me in Ocean City and looking for a place to have lunch with my mom and my brother.  I suggested the Varsity Inn and was not disappointed.  The restaurant was every bit as crowded in October as it is in July and it’s open year round for breakfast and lunch.

The soup did not disappoint.  It was creamy, freshly made, topped with a light cheese and crouton crust and my mom and I both savored each bite.  My brother ordered the chili which he reported was a little spicy (the way he likes it) and it was also topped with cheese and fresh chopped onions.

I ordered the turkey special (cole slaw and russian dressing on rye).  The Varsity roasts its own turkey breast which always scores high marks with me.   Nothing is worse than lunchmeat turkey.  The sandwich was very good, served with a small bag of chips and two pickle slices.

My brother ordered the chicken salad wrap and the freshly made chicken salad looked very good.  My mother ordered a roast beef club which was perfectly prepared – not too large but with moist roast beef and fresh lettuce and tomato.

All told I will make it a point to visit the Varsity on my next trip to the shore and I recommend it for both breakfast and lunch.  Or go for breakfast and get some take out soup for later.  It’s worth it.  The menu is extensive for both breakfast and lunch with daily specials.  The usual breakfast offerings along with a menu heavy on sandwiches and salads for lunch.

The varsity theme is carried throughout the decor with college pennants hung around the pressed metal roof.

Varsity Inn

605 E 8th St
Ocean City, NJ 08226
(609) 399-1500

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The view from the Route 52 Causeway (aka 9th Street Bridge)

This restaurant has had many incarnations over the last decade.  For a while it was The Waterfront, then it tried to go upscale chic and was Sails.  They changed their name to The Inlet last year but the menu stayed upscale chic and not very good.  A new menu drew a return visit and I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

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I thought I had reviewed Dock’s Oyster House in Atlantic City before, but evidently I have not.

Simply put:  It is my favorite restaurant that does not specialize in steak.  (Peter Luger’s in New York (Brooklyn) and The Chophouse in Gibbsboro, NJ top the steak list.)

The short history:  Dock’s has been around 1897 serving classic seafood (fried and broiled shellfish and mild whitefish and, of course, oysters).  But this is not just your typical broiled and fried fish ship.  This is very, very nice restaurant with both modern food and the classics offered.

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We’ve resolved this year to eat out more and try new restaurants this summer at the Jersey shore.  Our first experience, at the new Ocean City Seafood Co. in Ocean City, NJ is an experience I hope we don’t duplicate or we’ll be back to cooking and ordering in.

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It’s tough to screw up a burger, but the Princeton in Avalon, NJ even managed to do that.

My Thanksgiving weekend visit to this summertime mecca in Avalon was a disappointment in just about every respect.  We know the bar there is pretty kickass.  That’s a good thing, because nobody is going for the food if my visit was any indication.

There were six of us in our group and we were famished when we reached the Princeton following Stone Harbor’s annual Christmas Parade, always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We got seated right away and the pleasant parts of the evening ended there.

They were out of oysters.  In fact, they were out of all raw bar items.

The she crab soup I started with was lukewarm and didn’t have much flavor.  I asked for some Tabasco sauce.  It never arrived so I just ate it as is.  French Onion soup at the table was reported to be ok.

A Crab Cake sandwich was unimpressive, the ribs were spicier then advertised (and not very good) and my burger was…well…as I said I didn’t think it was possible to screw up a burger, but they succeeded.

I might drop by the princeton some time to grab a drink, but I’d never eat there again.

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In olden times, seashore restaurants were pretty standard.  Fried and broiled flounder and shellfish, Manhattan and New England clam chowder, an hour or more wait for a table in the summer and on weekends, and a kids menu.  In the 70’s cometh salmon and it pretty much stayed like that until the 2000’s when they added freaky new fishes and tried to update their menus.

This was largely a response to places like Tomatoes and Steve and Cookie’s in Margate popping up in shore towns bringing a more elevated level of cuisine from the traditional seafood shanty.

The old restaurants that have survived have managed to blend the two.  They keep a “traditional menu” and have a bunch of newfangled options as well.  Something for everybody!

The Crab Trap is just such a restaurant.  Next to the traditional fried shrimp, scallops and crab cakes, they’ve got wonderful dishes and at least a half dozen fresh fish selections. (more…)

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The Ocean City location of Uncle Bill’s Pancake House is the only one open year round.  This might have something to do with the fact that Ocean City (along with Cape May) have become more of a “year round” town, eschewing the old practice of boarding up everything in town from October to April.

The good:  Uncle Bill’s has a great breakfast.  It’s the only thing they do (except daily lunch specials) and they do it very well.  Eggs, pancakes, waffles, creamed chipped beef.  You name it, if it’s breakfast food, it’s on the menu.  

They have eight locations across the southern New Jersey shore open during the summer. (more…)

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You’ve seen it as you drive over the bridge just past the Great Egg Harbor tolls on the Garden State Parkway on your way to the shore.  It’s worth getting off at the next exit, making two right hand turns and driving about a mile until you dead end at the Tuckahoe Inn.  The Tuckahoe used to be a restaurant at the base of the Beesly’s Point Bridge.  The bridge is still there, but cars haven’t traveled over it in years.

Still, the people keep filling the Tuckahoe even if it’s not on the way to anywhere.  The food, the atmosphere and the view are three reasons.  First, there’s the summertime Beach Bar.  On a Friday evening the live music blends with a marvelous water view where you can take in the tunes, some good drinks and watch the traffic as people (like me) flock to the shore.

Tuckahoe is reasonably priced and the food is good.  The Onion soup is always a crowd pleaser as is the Clam Chowder.  But the thing I like most about the Tuckahoe is the menu is new each week.  They have a list of standards, but one entire side of the menu is new each week.

From that side I selected an Eggplant Stacker.  It was, in essence, Eggplant Parm but insert fresh spinach where cheese would normally go.  The tomato sauce was fresh and made with ripe Jersey tomatoes, a real treat.  I was treating my mom to dinner who had a Ribeye sandwich and some cream of broccoli soup.  The big onion rings that came with her sandwich really made the meal.

Tuckahoe has an old seashore feel with nautical touches and the view of the Great Egg Harbor bay is a delight year round.  A visit to the Tuckahoe the day after Thanksgiving is a recent, but consistent family tradition.

Make the detour to the Tuckahoe.  You won’t be disappointed.

Tuckahoe Inn

1 Harbour Road & Route 9

Beeslys Point, NJ 

You can also get there by boat:

Navstar: Lat. N39* 17.257′

Long: W74*37.703

Alt. 7ft.

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Charlie’s Bar is one of Somers Point’s famous saloon and restaurants.  Along with the Anchorage, Mac’s, the Dunes, Tony Mart’s….some still around, some gone, it was the bar crawl of the south Jersey shore set.

Surprisingly, I’d not been there before my visit last night.  The bar is a nice size (and oh do I ever appreciate New Jersey’s anti-smoking ban in places like Charlie’s) and the restaurant is cramped but not uncomfortably so.  However, this is not a place to have an intimate or serious conversation unless you’d like Flo from Margate dining with her son and grandchildren at the table next to you to know your business.

My bloody mary was nice and spicy, the beers they served were ice cold and plentiful, the waitress made sure our drinks were always full and the menu is large offering excellent wings, many appetizers, sandwiches, salads and entrees.

One sour note and just one sour note:  The She-Crab soup might be about the worst thing i’ve ever had.  More like porridge, my cousin said he felt like Oliver Twist trying to eat the thick and floury bowl of crab crap.  Don’t ever order it.

Everything else – the wings with three different kinds of sauce (mild, hot and BBQ) and my most excellent Tuna Melt were delicious.  At $5.95 I felt like I should have offered them more money.

They offered entrees and I really wanted to try the black and bleu crab topped prime rib, but didn’t feel like a whole entree.

I recommend Charlie’s highly.

800 Shore Road in Somers Point, N.J.
Phone: (609) 927-3663

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I’ve read about the Hula Grill on Ocean City’s boardwalk for a few years now and always intended to try it.  The write ups make the place sound perfect:  a chef who spent time in Hawaii, brings his Hawaiian influenced cooking back to the OC and serves up fresh fish dinners.

That’s the spin.  The reality was different.

I visited the Hula Grill on the first Saturday in August.  On a Saturday in August, I expect any restaurant at the shore to be crowded.  The Hula Grill had tables open, but was busy.

First things first, you order at the cash register and pay up front.  Then sit and wait for your meal.  The Hula Grill aspires to be a “sit down” restaurant, but is run more like a pizza shop.  The staff, I felt, treated us as almost an annoyance and when the food finally came, there was no 2-minute followup “is everything ok, can we get you anything”.

As for the dinner:  I tried a mixed grill which had a crab cake (which I did not care for), some coconut shrimp (which were tasty) and a piece of fish.  The fish, a piece of Ahi tuna, was so dry and overcooked, it looked and tasted like chicken breast. 

I will give the salad that accompanied dinner high marks, but overall my experience (and the experience of my dining companions) was such that we’ll skip this place from now on.

I’m much more interested in trying Opa, the crepe and gyro place run by a nice Greek family next door.  More on that after I give it a try…

Hula Grill

960 Boardwalk

Ocean City, NJ

www.hulagrilloc.com

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My brother has raved about La Fontana Del Mare for quite a few years telling me how much I’d like it.  Normally I rush out to track down a rumored good meal, I’m always skeptical about recommended italian food.  As I said in my Villa di Roma post, I prefer kitschy Italian – red checked tablecloths, cheesy italian flavored music playing and a sprinkling of mobster wannabes enjoying a meal at a nearby table.

La Fontana Del Mare had two of the three – the tablecloths are creme linen here. (more…)

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Let’s start off by making sure we’re all talking about the same place.

The Clam Bar, Smith’s Clam Bar, Smitty’s or “That clam place in Somers Point”.

Yep, they’re all the same place.  For our purposes, the Clam Bar.

My brother, a local, preached the gospel of the Clam Bar for some time, prompting me a few years back to finally say “sure, let’s try it”.  He wasn’t wrong. (more…)

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When I finally bit into my first “Italian Hot Dog“, I suddenly remembered seeing one on the Food Network a while back and saying “I want to try one of those some time”.

My desire was fulfilled at the Hot Dog Hut, a new take out join at 33rd & Asbury in Ocean City, NJ.  It’s the kind of place you see open each summer and half don’t expect to see it there the next year.  God bless those entrepreneurs who take the chance on these kinds of businesses. (more…)

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