The toughest part about any Jersey Shore summer? Finding a good restaurant that doesn’t have a crowd of people waiting outside.
I’m going to steer you to lesser-known or out-of-the-way places when possible in this rundown of favorite Shore eateries.
The best subs in or around Atlantic City are at Sack O’ Subs in Ventnor, which makes up in quality bread and meats what it lacks in atmosphere.
Speaking of bread, the best bakery from LBI south is Aversa’s in Brigantine. The torpedo rolls are perfect, and their sticky buns — available by the half-dozen or dozen only — are the state’s best.
Let’s leave the A.C. area behind for now and start at the Shore’s north end, working our way down. The Shore’s best high-end pastry shop is The Flaky Tart, just off Route 36 in Atlantic Highlands. Don’t go expecting endless display cases filled with scores of baked goods; owner Marie Jackson emphasizes quality over quantity. Standout items include the macaroon kiss, old-fashioned chocolate cake and four-layer coconut cake.
Karyn Jarmer’s nickname was “the Witch” when she ran a catering business in the city, so the name of her Monmouth Beach restaurant, My Kitchen Witch, comes as no surprise. It’s a cozy place with an emphasis on healthy choices and first-rate ingredients.
There are dozens of WindMills around Jersey; there’s only one with a windmill and upstairs deck, and it’s in Long Branch’s West End. A few grilled dogs with ocean view — I’ve called it one of 25 Jersey Food Experiences You Must Try Before You Die.
For healthy dining in a slightly trippy atmosphere, head to the vegan Good Karma Cafe in Red Bank. Ten tables, hardwood floors and psychedelic artwork round out the casual, friendly vibe. Try the “live” — as in not cooked — lasagna (thinly-sliced zucchini with creamy basil pesto nut cheese and sundried marinara sauce).
Best pizza in Bradley Beach? Ferraro’s Tomato Pies. The tomato pie, with San Marzano tomatoes, is terrific.
Top soul food/Southern restaurant down the Shore? At the Table in Asbury Park, which serves up fine fried chicken, short ribs, fried whiting, yams, potato salad and other dishes.
For the best breakfast in Asbury Park, head to Sunset Landing. The owners are surfers, which accounts for the surfboards in the rafters. The creative cuisine and tranquil setting, on Deal Lake, will get your day off to a good start.
Eating food from a shipping container sounds like something you’d do at Port Newark, but Mogo Korean Fusion Tacos is inside a converted container on the Asbury Park boardwalk.
The state’s most splendid drive-in restaurant is Circus Drive-In in Wall, where you can eat in your car a la “American Graffiti,” with tray hooked to your window. Love the pink lemonade here; it’s the perfect summer refresher.
The Crab Shack in Brick is off the beaten track, and may not look promising inside, with a handful of tables, but you’ll love the soft shell crabs, red crab soup and seafood shack look.
Best boardwalk pizza down the Shore? That’s Maruca’s Tomato Pies, formerly of Seaside Park, now in Seaside Heights. Nearby is Park Seafood, which offers the best boardwalk seafood, in Seaside or otherwise.
What is a Jersey Shore breakfast without doughnuts? The two best doughnut shops down the Shore are Shore Good Donuts in Ship Bottom and Brown’s in Ocean City. Doughnuts are made to order at the former; who does that anymore? At Brown’s, watch doughnuts tumble, one by one, down the conveyor belt into a hot oil bath.
Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co. is a popular spot. Much lesser-known is Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co. Clam Bar, not in Harvey Cedars at all but Beach Haven. From the outside, it looks like just another house on the block; inside, the wrap-around counter and fluorescent lighting add to the time-warp atmosphere.
We’re not done with LBI just yet. Mustache Bill’s Diner in Barnegat Light is a ’50s classic. Owner Bill Smith — yes, he has a mustache — makes good omelets. Work breakfast off with a climb up Barnegat Lighthouse, several blocks away.
Minutes from LBI and a world away is Skipper’s Seafood Market in Barnegat, a purple-shuttered building with a curvy-lipped mermaid stationed out front. There’s a market where you can buy fresh fish and ready-to-eat seafood, and an outdoor raw bar.
No one does fried fish better than Allen’s Clam Bar in New Gretna. Can’t make up your mind? Try the combination seafood platter.
There is no more fun hot dog joint than Hot Dog Tommy’s in Cape May. Tommy Snyder serves delicious dogs with a side order of humor; look for the guy with the loopy grin and hot dog-shaped hat.
Say “best ice cream down the Shore,” and you’ll get scores of nominations, but my favorite is Vanilla Bean Creamery in Lower Township, a half mile past the end of the Parkway. It’s in a purple-shuttered house just past Cape Liquors. Worth the drive? Absolutely.
WHERE TO GO:
Allen’s Clam Bar
5650 Route 9, New Gretna
At the Table
311 Bond St., Asbury Park
3101 Atlantic-Brigantine Blvd., Brigantine
Also located in Margate.
St. Charles and the Boardwalk
Ocean City: (609) 391-0677
1861 Route 35, Wall
74 Mantoloking Road, Brick
Ferraro’s Famous Tomato Pies
400 Main St., Bradley Beach
The Flaky Tart
145 First Ave.
Good Karma Cafe
17 E. Front St., Red Bank
Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co. Clam Bar
506 Centre St., Beach Haven
Hot Dog Tommy’s
Jackson Street, Cape May
Maruca’s Tomato Pies
21 Boardwalk, Seaside Heights
Mogo Korean Fusion Tacos
Boardwalk and First Avenue
Asbury Park; (732) 894-9188
Mustache Bill’s Diner
Bayview Avenue, Barnegat Light
(609) 494-0155. Facebook page
My Kitchen Witch
29 Beach Road, Monmouth Beach
1808 Boardwalk, Seaside Park
Sack O’ Subs
5217 Ventnor Ave., Ventnor
(609) 823-2552 sackosubs.com
Shore Good Donuts
1211 Long Beach Blvd.
Ship Bottom; (609) 492-0100
Skipper’s Seafood Market
647 Route 72, Barnegat
1215 Sunset Ave., Asbury Park
(732) 776-9732 sunsetlandingap.com
Vanilla Bean Creamery
958 Route 109, Lower Township
586 Ocean Blvd., Long Branch