Good Food Down the Shore

From A.C. to Cape May, the best beloved fish shacks, no-frills grilles, ethnic gems and salty dives.

By Adam Erace
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 15, 2010

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Photo by Robyn John

Did you know? People actually live down the Shore. Like, all year round and stuff. We admit, we’ve had our differences with these folks (beach tags, ability to parallel park), but the symbiosis of shoobee and local is critical to the balance of not just the summer, but the universe.

So get those olive branches ready, rabid Expressway hounds! This summer, like it or not, we’re all going to get along, just like in Remember the Titans. (And don’t tell them we said this, but the native haunts are way chiller than the weekender magnets.) Though they will probably hate us for it, we’ve put together a guide as to where you can interact with indigenous species along the South Jersey coast. Before you know it, a hunky lifeguard or blue-haired bubbe will be by your Shore Memorial bedside, all misty-eyed for the broken fibula his or her car just gave you.

A. Brigantine

Cargo shorts, cover-ups and Journey’s greatest hits define the freestanding enclosed Deck at Laguna Grill, a few sandy steps off Brigantine’s 14th and 15th Street beaches. Buy some Jersey lass an Oreo Crush martini (one on a list of 25 cringers), tip back a few local oysters on the half and hope for the best.

B. Atlantic City

Follow A.C.’s syndicate of Vietnamese blackjack dealers coming off the graveyard shift over to Little Saigon, located in the city’s historic Chelsea district, where they drain bottomless bowls of bloody pho as effectively as they drained your wallet last night. In the evenings, Polo sweaters of the pastel, slung-around-the-shoulder variety outnumber casino uniforms, but this modest room decorated with Christmas garlands, family photos and 18 years’ worth of awards feels no less authentic or under-the-radar. Make like Jewish attorneys and night-off restaurateurs and ask for the spicy soft-shell crabs, an off-the-menu, cilantro-laden special.

C. Ventnor

All year round, sushi mavens repair to the bar at Yama on dry Ventnor’s stretch of smart BYOBs. Veer off the printed menu to the special sashimi and nigiri—look for them on a marker- board obscured by a potted fern—that might include kanpachi, madai and live scallops so fresh they’re still wiggling. Then, excavate a twisted hamachi kama (a spiced and broiled amberjack collar) for moist, flavorful deposits akin to dark-meat chicken.

D. Margate

Blue Moon is about as micro as the brews get at Robert’s Place, and the whiskered sailors, one-time lifeguards and retired firefighters who line the long bar probably think it’s for pussies, anyway. This narrow, lightless saloon puts on few airs—it’s a surprise that they use real silverware—and serves food to match. Think crazy-hot wings dumped on cafeteria trays, clams casino pizza and mussels, red or white, served with tons of Atlantic City bread for dunking. One pennywise Yelper likes the steak: “Better than a rip off at Bobby Flay any day.”

E. Ocean City

Just a block or so off Ocean City’s thronged Boardwalk, jewel-box creperie Ma France ticks to a slower pace. The juices are fresh-pressed, the caramel swirled through the café liégeois is house-made and the paintings and photography on the gold walls are by artists who live on the island. The wispy crepes lure a Francophile crowd, the buckwheat galettes enveloping soft-shell crabs are a holy union of Jersey and Brittany.

F. Somers Point

The locals’ scene is the only scene in the fishing town of Somers Point. Because it sits at the edge of the mainland, betwixt bay and marsh, it’s mostly shoobee-free with a year-round population that crowds the Anchorage Tavern summer, spring, winter and fall. When a 2006 electrical fire nearly razed the 19th-century landmark, the town rallied around the proprietors, and the Anchorage reopened within six months. Five summers later, the dreamy Dungeness crab dip is as good as ever.

G. Sea Isle

This summer will be the last for venerable fish house Busch’s, a Sea Isle institution for the last 128 years. Join locals and weekenders alike and bid goodbye to their estimable she-crab soup.

H. Avalon

Sticky buns from Kohler’s are de riguer at any proper Avalon breakfast. These yeasty wonders are the same as the ones baked in 1949, when this red-awninged bakery first opened: cinnamon, raisins, brown sugar, nuts or no nuts. Get there at 8 a.m. on June 26, when Kohler’s opens for the season, to mingle with early-rising residents and claim a dozen.

I. Stone Harbor

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