Dine Around on LBI

Mustache Bill's Facebook photoI lucked out and had great weather earlier this week when I was on LBI for a few beach-y days.  My friend Carol and I go every year.

We stay at the cute Jolly Roger Motel all the way down on the south end in Holgate where there is fall/winter access to the Forsythe wildlife refuge.  It’s a stunning walk along the curve of the island’s tip.

First night, we hit Boulevard Clams as we did last year, and we weren’t disappointed.  I did a clam double-header: clams on the half shell followed by my favorite whole fried Ipswich belly clams.  Carol enjoyed crab-stuffed mushrooms and broiled shrimp and scallops.  I’d brought along a rose prosecco from CoolVines in Princeton which was the perfect thing to go with, light and slightly bubbly.

The next day, after several hours on the beach (we were lucky that the high seas from Hurricane Bill had mostly diminished by then), we did a little shopping before dinner.   We’d done our dinner “homework” the day before, stopping by several promising spots on the Island to collect menus.  Our favorite place, Blue, had closed since the owners opened a new place in Philly, Noble- an American Cookery.

But we had several promising options for a “special” dinner, which hasn’t always been the case.  I hadn’t eaten at Sweet Vidalia for a while (no website, 609-207-1200), and heard they’d switched to tapas and small plates, so we picked up their menu.  And Bisque had always looked interesting with “continental” fare, including a yummy sounding seafood risotto with lobster etc.  Pinziminio Trattroria’s Italian menu looked good (I loved them when they were a gourmet market, and I still always stop at the Pearl Street Market nearby), and a couple people on Twitter had suggested Plantation on the north end of the island to me.  I gather it’s very popular, but a real “scene” with the bar.  (A tropical/south beach/southwestern menu.)

And then there was the unassuming brand-new Plate in Surf City (no website, 609-361-7800), with a menu that showed the same creative spark that I liked about Blue.  Decor is simple but also creative with some 50s style touches.  How could we resist?  We were glad we didn’t.  Their menu is small, supplanted by a generous list of blackboard specials. 

We dined on two special appetizers, grilled vegetable Napoleon with musky Navat (goat) cheese and tomato coulis, and shrimp/salmon mousse “volcanos.”  Entrées were from the printed menu: red snapper with grilled shrimp & basil crepe, melted leeks, and lemon caper relish with rocket (arugula) pesto; and Viking Village scallops over risotto carbonara with house made bacon, pea puree and braised chives (an appetizer that is also offered as an entrée).  It was all quite good and fortunately the inexpensive Pinot Grigio I’d brought along had enough oomph to manage all the flavors.  Desserts were not as interesting as the rest of the menu, but the molten chocolate cake was fine.

We came back down to earth the next day by hitting Mustache Bill’s for breakfast right before they closed at noon (hours vary, check ahead).  This unassuming diner in Barnegat Light has been pleasing islanders and tourists alike for many years, but I’d never managed to try it, since I was usually on the south end of the island most of the day.  I had a perfect sunny-side-up egg, sausage, and grits.  Carol had a cheese omelet with home fries (all scratch cooking here) and toast.  Our server was friendly and efficient, and when we paid on the way out, we were asked how everything was.  Nice, nice, nice place. 

They received a James Beard Foundation American Classic Award last spring, which is a wonderful thing.  I was at the Awards in 2005, and it was a huge weep-fest as four stunned restaurateurs from small neighborhood spots around the country mounted the stage in front of many hundreds of people and media to be honored for humble, delicious food they’d been serving for decades.  They cried, we cried, it was heartwarming.  So it is quite special to see a place on LBI so honored.  (If you are traveling somewhere, visit that awards website and find out where the locals eat.)

Then it was home again, home again, jiggidy-jig, back to my own kitchen (and some very cool and cloudy weather!).

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