- 18th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, Ship Bottom, NJ, 08008
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- 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily mid-April to October
For the seafood aficionado, Ship Bottom Shellfish dishes out all the classics in a casual, beach environment.
"We're just a hands-on, mom and pop operation," said Bob Nugent, who owns Ship Bottom Shellfish along with his wife, Gina. "I cut every piece of fish that goes out there, so nothing gets by me if it's not quality."
Nugent started out as a commercial clammer but, after the bay began to run out of clams, he decided to try his hand at the restaurant business. He found an old ice cream shop, between 18th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, and converted it into Ship Bottom Shellfish.
However, this restaurant/market -- which will close for the season on Oct. 5 -- offers more than just shellfish. There's a wide assortment of fresh fish offered on the menu as well as rotated on thespecials menu. With so many seafood classics, such as jumbo lump crab cakes, clams casino, steamed mussels and seafood bisque, it's difficult to pick one over the other.
Fortunately, the atmosphere at Ship Bottom Shellfish is conducive to pigging out. Diners all around us were dressed casually, sporting plastic lobster bibs, and often elbow deep in butter sauce and flecks of tender lobster meat. The walls, floor and table are paneled in blonde wood, so you feel as if you¹re going to cozy up for dinner in the galley of a ship. Bright blue curtains, nautical accents and shells galore add color and flair to the dining room. Adjoining it is the bright glow of the seafood market, with humming display cases and hand-written chalk boards detailing all the fresh fare offered.
Snug but not cramped
The restaurant is snug, with less than 20 tables, and I encountered a 30-minute wait, even on a Monday after 8 p.m. However, it isn¹t by any means cramped -- my guest and I were lead to an incredibly spacious booth with an expansive table ready to be heaped with plates of food.
We went straight for the two-person bucket of steamed mussels with garlic butter sauce and a warm roll. The mussels were piled high in a quaint tin bucket and accompanied by more butter sauce than could feasibly be consumed. I set up an assembly line designed to get the mussels from the shell to my mouth as quickly as possible, making sure each piece received a spritz of fresh lemon and a dunk in the garlic butter sauce. The sauce was surprisingly flavorful, with the garlic and the butter balancing each other out flawlessly.
For my entree, I couldn't resist testing out the jumbo lump crab cakes and ordered a platter that paired a crab cake with a tuna steak. All the platters are served with a choice of two sides: french fries, potato salad, tomato and basil salad, house salad, applesauce, baked potato, homemade onion rings, coleslaw, Jersey corn or garlic green beans. I chose the potato salad, which was red-skinned potatoes with a generous mixing of mayonnaise and spices, and the tomato basil salad, which was similar to a bruschetta topping: cubed tomatoes, onion and slivers of basil in balsamic vinegar. The crab cakes were everything crab cakes should be while the tuna steak was deliciously pink inside.
My guest ordered two soft shell crabs, accompanied by garlic green beans and french fries. Landlubber that he is, he wrestled to extract the crab meat and, for awhile, I was unsure who would emerge the victor. Yet he insisted the labor was worth it, and when I had a taste of the crab meat, I had to agree. It was perfectly cooked and tender meat, almost buttery soft. The french fries were thick cut and lightly seasoned while the green beans were crisp and not overwhelmingly garlicky.
All the seafood dishes are classic and tempting, and the dessert menu follows suit. A Toll House cookie ice cream sandwich or a warm brownie with vanilla ice cream? Both are such all-American crowd-pleasers, but I had to experiment with the fried Oreos and ice cream. I'd heard of fried Oreos as a sort of legendary, down-home delicacy but had never gotten the opportunity to try them. It will be one of the great regrets of my life that I went so long without experiencing the sugary, chocolatey, creamy goodness hidden inside the crisp, slightly salty crust of a fried Oreo. The accompanying vanilla ice cream helped balance the intense sweetness of the Oreos.
As I always like to say: everything is better deep-fried. There are certain simple joys in life and the comfort seafood served at Ship Bottom Shellfish is one of them. The quality of ingredients, carefully selected by owner Bob Nugent, and the consistent excellence of the dishes makes this restaurant and market a sure bet to indulge a seafood craving.
Photo by Shawn Huber