There aren’t too many kitchens left that know what to do with an order for “blistered” clams – littlenecks steamed just wide enough to reveal a pillow of briny nice that’s yet to burst.
But after more than 30 years in business since brothers Michael and John Garofalo founded it on Long Beach Island, the Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co. has mastered the subtle art of straight-ahead seashore cooking as well as, if not better than, any place on the coast.
The old beach house-turned-seafood market is tidy enough, with a quaint little inside dining room and a screened porch where diners eat at picnic benches on paper plates. But it’s the spot-on renditions of the standards that have customers waiting an hour or more to get in. No wonder half do take-out.
Pop by the excellent Neptune wine shop next door for a fine white Burgundy while you wait, because this BYOB merits a good bottle. I can still savor the succulent two-pound lobster that came perfectly steamed alongside sweet white corn and mussels. In hindsight, I would have subbed steamers for the mussels (a little chewy), because the Tuckerton clams we ate to start the meal were among the most delicate I’ve had.
But there were other winners. Tender u-peel shrimp were cloaked in fragrant Old Bay. Bigger wild shrimp tangled with linguine in garlicky scampi sauce thickened with parmigiana.
The homemade clam chowders were also stellar. The New England-style was rich with fresh cream and salt pork. But I found the Manhattan chowder to be profound, its carefully steeped red broth rounded with bell peppers and fresh basil, then guarded overnight to marry.
Like virtually everything else at this still-vibrant classic, it’s worth the wait.