Jersey Shore Food History HOF

vics night

To gain a spot on this page an establishment must meet several criteria. They need to have been serving the same type of food for over forty years. They must have a local following as well as a tourist following and they must be located within close proximity to the shore. They are not limited to restaurants, they can be a bakery, fudge shop, deli or any other place that sells ready to eat food.

If an eating establishment has become Jersey Shore food history for doing the same thing successfully for over forty years, they did something right and continued. Strictly critiquing one of these establishments is like telling Roto Rooter they don’t root right. So what? Everyone still calls them so they must. If I say the raviolis at a restaurant that sells over a thousand pizzas in a week are not worth ordering, they probably know they are and do not care. They are only there to take up space on the menu and feed the one person who hates pizza that was dragged in against his will.

We encourage our guests to nominate their favorite classic culinary destinations to our list. Simply send an email with the name, location and a brief description to HOF@Eatalongtheshore.com. Also tell us why you think your choice is a good fit. If you have a pic that is cool too. This list is guaranteed to grow every week.

Bahr’s Landing – Highlands, NJ

It was the 1950’s and there I sat with my feet dangling off the end of the pier between the Highlands bridge and Bahr’s Landing. My thoughts bounced between the next snapper blue on my cane pole and the king crab legs my father bought me for dinner in Bahr’s the night before. I still remember it was $3.00 on the menu. That day on the pier, catching food was one thought, eating it the other, and that is how a foodie begins his long slow evolution.

My father told me that he and the younger John Bahr, known as Bud, were acquainted when he was roughly my age. That would have been around 1917 when Jack and Florence Bahr first opened the restaurant to sell eels and eggs and stewed meat to the fisherman who lodged there.

Bahr's Landing 1955 photo courtesy of Navesink Maritime Heritage Assosiation

Bahr’s Landing 1955
photo courtesy of Navesink Maritime Heritage Association

Since that time the restaurant has survived the building of the current bridge which took the traffic away from the small riverside fishing and clamming hamlet. It survived the depression and several hurricanes including Sandy. Today it is run by the third generation and is a true piece of history that defines the Highlands.

Bahr’s Landing offers an eclectic mix both seafood and German cuisine as it has since the early years. It has undergone several physical transformations but the restaurant is still the iconic and venerable establishment that I remember as a kid. While staying at my grandmothers a few blocks away on Second St., we would walk there for dinner.

No restaurant is more worthy for a spot in the Jersey Shore Restaurant Hall of Fame than Bahr’s Landing.

Barnacle Bill’s – Rumson NJ

Barnacle Bills has been serving big burgers and fresh seafood in a raucous, nautical settingA grill behind the busy bar at Barnacle Bills turn out perfect burgers for the entire along the Navesink for forty years. Local loyal patrons, as well as visitors to the area, flock to this time tested eatery all year round. A grill master behind the bar turns out countless burgers served with onions and mushrooms, a special cheddar cheese sauce or many other toppings. Daily specials of fresh seafood and meats, fill an entire page of the menu. The drinks are very reasonably priced as in the food.

Circus Drive In – Wall

Driving on Rt. 35 in Wall you can’t miss this piece of Jersey Shore food history. Circus Drive-in has been circusserving good food to people in their cars since 1954. The restaurant with its iconic lighted clown face looks the same today as it did 60 years ago.

Circus is only opened during the spring, summer and fall and employs a lot of the local young people for the season.  It is not a hot dog and hamburger place. They offer fried seafood including their special soft shelled crab sandwich, steak sandwiches and club sandwiches including their well known cheeseburger club. It is a must for anyone who loves the nostalgia of the shore.  I hope this place lasts forever.

Sadly, Circus  closed for good in 2016. It is unlikely that it will avoid demolition. I hope someone saves it. Miracles can happen.

The Crabs Claw Inn – Lavalette, NJ

The Crabs Claw Inn has been satisfying both seafood lovers and landlubbers since 1979. The establishment has withstood the test of time including the ravages of Super Storm Sandy. The restaurant features a menu with a wide selection of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. It icrabs claws the only restaurant I know of that has fried smelts as one of its offerings. Other favorites include stuffed clams, crab cakes, crab chowder and fresh “catches.” There is a full bar and limited outside seating.

Europa South – Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

Europa South Restaurant and Tapas Bar has been serving great Spanish and Portuguese Food since 1979. There is nowhere south of Down Neck (Iron Bound – Ferry Street, Newark )to get traditional Spanish/Portuguese cuisine like this. The bar is a lively place attracting both locals and visitors alike. Try the Arroz de Marisco, a  seafood rice dish off of their traditional menu. Saturdays they feature roast suckling pig. There are many meat and seafood dishes to choose from. Drop into the bar at night for a Spanish coffee.  The decor is 1970’s Spanish dark wood and leather which may look a bit dated but I would not want to see it ever change. It is classic and could probably tell many stories. Europa South is a must for anyone visiting the area. Expect to leave full.

Graziano’s Italian Restaurant – Point Pleasant Boro, NJ

If you graduated from high school in Point Pleasant anytime from 1966 on,  you probably went to Graziano’s with your parents to celebrate. That is how long this iconic establishment has been serving Italian food at the same location. They are still packing them in for thin crust pizza, homemade ravioli and their famous red sauce. They are also one of the few places that has tripe on the menu. Their following is local and loyal in the off season and the numbers swell in the summer. Reservations are recommended.

Jimmy’s Restaurant – Asbury Park

Jimmy’s is an old school traditional Italian Restaurant located on Asbury Ave. It is far removed from the trendy downtown district in both distance and atmosphere. Opened in 1982 it has received high acclaim for its well prepared, large portioned, familiar Italian cuisine. It was also noted for its “squeaky clean” kitchen four years running. Local politicians and professionals have made this a regular meeting place for decades. They offer valet parking in a fenced in lot, handing out a playing card as your parking check check. Jimmy’s is simply a great, no nonsense Italian Restaurant well deserving a spot in the HOF. You got a problem with that?

Kelly’s Tavern – Neptune

The present location of Kelly’s opened in 1959 after the family operated business outgrew the location across the street that was opened ten years earlier. As time went by the local population expanded and Kellys grew with it. The tourist trade from Belmar, Bradley Beach and the other beach towns added to the volume during the summer months. Kelly’s added a full menu, a Tiffany room for catering, a lobster shanty and a patio over the years. With all the changes the two things remain the same today – the atmosphere and the value. ‘

Back in the early 80’s I went to Kelly’s for the first time with a friend. I ordered the Reuben and a beer. In a short while I was faced with a big bubble of melted cheese theKellys size of a half of a soccer ball. I was curious to know if it was full of corned beef under there. It was and it as the best corned beef ever. I worked very hard to eat this enormous mega melt. When I was done I was ready to stretch out on the Serengeti until I had digested my kill. Today I know that they make a smaller version for sane people.

Another thing about Kelly’s is that they open the place at 7 AM for breakfast and booze. I saw a former coworker at the bar one morning with a white Russian which was the size of a McD’s shake. I guess he was still out from the night before. I had a great Bloody Mary and an omelet. My wife had the corned beef hash and eggs. Good choice.

If you live in the area and have never been to Kelly’s, you are probably vegan. If you are visiting the area it is a must to come here, sit at the bar, with a pint and a corned beef on rye. Is the place kind of run down and old looking? It earned that. So did I. I hope someone calls me a Shore Classic one day.

Kelly’s Tavern at the Jersey Shore, on Rt 35 South, Neptune, features great sandwiches, fresh seafood, and even activities like sports event drink specials and even Bingo.

Klein’s Fish Market, Waterside Cafe, Grill Room and Sushi Bar – Belmar NJ

Ollie Klein sold fish from a truck in the Neptune area back in the 1920’s. He rented a small location in Belmar for a year in 1928 until purchasing a building on River Rd.  The Klein family has operated on River Rd since then. Today Ollie Klein III uses his experience and knowledge of the seafood industry to run one of the most iconic restaurants at the Jersey Shore along with a fresh fish market featuring local and worldwide seafood. Diner can enjoy lunch and dinner over looking the Shark River or relaxing in the grill room when the weather is not as inviting. Anyone who has visited the area in the past 50 years knows Klein’s as the place for great seafood.

The Macaroon Shop – Avon by the Sea, NJ 

For 75 years this place has been specializing in macaroons of all types. Now under the watchful eye of the former team from the Ritz Bakery that shut their doors in Manasquan a decade ago. Nothing has really changed except possibly for the better. This is a place that everyone should pay a visit to.

Squan Tavern – Manasquan, NJ

squan tavern sign

A iconic piece of Jersey Shore Food History

In 1964 Squan Tavern was a bar with Dominic and Marguerite creating pizza and other Italian family favorites in the back room kitchen. As the food grabbed a large following they expanded in 1969. From the Grandmother who worked the kitchen to the grand children who all worked in the business, the iconic restaurant exemplifies the term family run restaurant and the American dream come true. In 1973 they purchased the business and the family is still operating it today.

Squan Tavern has attracted local residents and vacationers. They were the first place I know of that served a pizza on a pedestal, a common sense practice that is used widely today. Dominic junior learned from his grandmother who worked in the kitchen well into her 80s. He turns out some of the family recipes and also some with his own spin. Contemporary fare has also been added to the traditional Italian. Expect a long wait on summer weekends, but it is well worth it just to be part of this Jersey Shore Classic.

Vic’s Italian Restaurant – Bradley Beach

Vic’s has been a landmark in Bradley Beach since 1948. The Mid Century Shore Architecture is only made more eye grabbing by the original neon signs, including my favorite that says “Tomato Pies.” Why not Pizza? Because back in the middle of the last century there must have been a a movement to Americanize the dish. Tomato Pie was what a pizza was called at many places at the Jersey Shore as well as Trenton and Philadelphia. Some claim it is a pizza made cheese first and tomato second but who really knows. I do know that whatever you want to call it, this place makes one with a thin crust that will have you returning every time you get the craving. In the summer you won’t mind the wait. Is this a tomato piesplace where you expect a delicately prepared spiedini or a classic Saltimbocca? No. It is where you order the spaghetti if you are not in the mood for pizza and do not complain about the “newly remodeled” 70s décor and the tiny drinks. If it were any different it would not be Vics. A place that has been successful for more than most people’s lifetime can’t be criticized. It would be like scolding your grandmother for not having an  iPad.  They are not packed in the waiting room because of the ambiance or the Martini menu. They crave a Vic’s tomato pie and will wait up to an hour in the summer to get it.

Whitehouse Submarines – Atlantic City, NJ

The Whitehouse has been serving two foot long subs at the same Arctic Ave. location since 1946. They have everything from the Whitehouse special which is has layer upon layer of meats and cheeses with oil and vinegar and shredded lettuce to a tuna and cheese and a belt stretching cheese steak. It is cash only and you must expect to wait on line. The line will often be the length of the building. Although the place is relatively small with only a whitehouse subssingle row of booths, the takeout trade seems to be non-stop. On one visit there were at least a dozen people working behind the counter.  We have stopped here many times after leaving the casinos for something to eat in the car on the way up the parkway. We will split a cheese steak and save the special for later. This is a must visit attraction as well as an eatery with pictures of celebrities, sports figures and politicians covering every square inch of available space. Legend has it the name submarine sandwich was coined here.

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