Reality check - shellfish near Red Bank and Toms River, NJ
Hi all. San Francisco 'hound who will be in central NJ this weekend, mainly in Red Bank but also visiting relatives in Toms River. I've searched the board and narrowed down my choices, and wanted to see if you could help make some final decisions about casual, no-frills but good quality shellfish within 1/2 hr drive or so from each. Also, it would be great if they were open throughout the afternoon (not just for fixed lunch and dinner hours) since we don't know when we'll actually hit the restaurants.
Lobster (boiled) and raw littlenecks - Inlet Cafe in Highlands? Or Spike's or Red's in Point Pleasant? Or does it matter given it's just lobster and clams?
Hard-shell crabs (as close to Maryland style as I can get without a huge trek) - Mud City Crab House in Manahawkin? Bum Rogers in Seaside Park? Crab Shack in Brick?
If you have suggestions I haven't identified as well I'd love to hear about them. Thanks so much!
I wanted to thank everyone for their ideas and I'm sorry I missed some of the new ideas before we left on our trip.
We grabbed an impromptu breakfast at a small Mexican restaurant in Long Branch. I can't remember it's name, but it was on a corner on Broadway up from Cask 591, and had lots of soccer star pictures on the walls. Chips were warm and served promptly, orange juice was fresh squeezed, and portions were ample. We ordered tongue tacos which were good, though I think there could have been more meat. DH had Huevos Rancheros 9which came with a nice helping of plaintains) and I had had huevos with yucca and chicharron (the pork belly kind not the pork rind kind). Mine was pretty good, though I wish the skin on the chicharron had been crisp, so the meat was a bit chewier than I prefer. Alll in all, not a bad start to the day.
After visiting our relative in Tom's River, we then decided we really wanted MD-style blue crab. Sooooo, even though we knew it would be a trek, we drove down to Mud City Crab House in Manahawkin around 3pm-ish. We ended up with a dozen raw clams, 4 jumbos and 8 #1s (plus an ear of corn each)---which ended up being way too much food for two people. The clams were topnecks and not as expertly shucked as I would like. Barely any liquor was left, for one. The crab was steamed nicely and not too long, with a thick dusting of seasoning on the tops. We managed to finish it all, but we weren't picking over every bit of meat by the end!
Then we thought, since we were so close, we'd go to LBI for a bit. The clouds started moving in so we just had enough time for ices at Skipper Dipper. They were good, but I always wish lemon ices were a bit more tart.
Next day, Inlet Cafe in Highlands. Two dozen raw clams this time, littlenecks that were brimming with liquor. We also both had the "Lobstermania" which were steamed lobster (though you can elect to have them broiled) with choice of Manhattan or New England clam chowder, fries, and a side of steamed veggies (the squash and broccoli type of mix). There was a lot of food, and we were also quite impressed with the service--which was warm and attentive.
In the evening we ended up in Red Bank at Teak--an Asian fusion (more Asian than fusion) restaurant. DH had an assortment of sushi and I had soft shell crab and the "Latin Mango salad." I have to say I found everything too sweet. The sauce that the crab rested upon was spicy but one-dimensional. The salad dressing was just totally sweet, the mango wasn't ripe, and it came with fried tofu that wasn't thin enough to be crispy or thick enough to be creamy. Instead, the tofu was just sort of chewy. DH reported that the sushi was fine, but nothing to write home about.
Lastly, thanks to Chowhound, we ended up at Ralph's Famous Italian Ices in Lincroft--twice. The water ice was nice, but but I really loved were the cream ices. The marriage of water ice and ice cream is just perfect for hot day. I really wish I could get either kind on the West Coast.
So, that's it. Again, just wanted to thank everyone for allowing us to cram so much good eating into a short trip!
If you're going to make a day of it, take the extra time and drive down to Oyster Creek Inn in Leeds Point - exit 48 off the GSP. Yes, it's further south, but worth the drive, as you'll be sitting right on the bay, watching the boats come in, and the crabs and lobster are fresh and, in my opinion, better than Bum Rogers (not a fan). Sit back in the screened in porch (aka Bill's Crab Room), have some cold beers, and a cafeteria tray piled high with blue claws, while watching the egrets flying over the marshes.... Heaven!
Peg - Mud City is a bit of a haul from where you will be staying so unless you want to travel, I would throw it out of the equation. As far as seafood is concerned, I think the local offerings are quite weak, but you will do just fine at Spikes. For hard shells I can't give you any direction as I've never been to either Bum Rogers or the Crab Shack. Maybe another local CH can help. Good Luck and enjoy your trip.
Going to Mud City from Toms River will easily be a good 30-45 minutes away, trust me, I ride that parkway each day from Manahawkin to exit 109/ or exit 98 and back. (Triva note, my family built the building that is Mud City today, it started as a Stewart's Root Beer Drive-in)
Add to the fact that at any time the place is open on the weekend, it is mobbed. So all in all Bum Rogers is closer for the same rank of food, same crowded condition.