With a trek to the Jersey Shore less than an hours drive from our house, we often book ourselves into a B&B for four or five days during the summer. This year, just as we were returning from our 12-day Michigan vacation the end of June, Russ was already scheming how to finagle a possible shore stay.
Concerned most reputable inns would be booked for the season, we lucked out to find one of our favorite places, The Ocean House, still had rooms available for a long weekend in mid-August. Located one short block in from the beach in Spring Lake—commonly called the “Irish Riviera” because of its large Irish-American population and where $1 million buys you a teardown—the area is a picturesque, friendly place with pristine beaches and a tranquil atmosphere that can calm the nerves of even the testiest of us. Time to unwind…
Here’s a sample of the Spring Lake “cottages”
As you can probably see, it is not for those who want a Jersey Shore honky-tonk nightlife featuring a frenetic scene of arcades and loud overcrowded bars. Instead, imagine your day waking up to a wonderful breakfast prepared by the friendly inn staff, going for a leisurely (or fast) walk along the unobstructed boardwalk, lounging on the beach with a good book, and sipping wine on the veranda as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon and casts a magical glow in the night sky. Need I say more?
The two-mile stretch of expansive beach is always immaculate, making it a preferred destination for those who of us who want serenity without loud radios or tripping over stray beer cans and cigarette butts. The boardwalk, the longest noncommercial one in the state, is a favorite of joggers and leisurely strollers—bikes are no longer allowed except from 5-8:00 a.m.
Even on the busiest summer weekends, there is room to spread out on the beach, although that may be because the cost of daily badges run $10 per, without an option to buy a weekly pass. Although, as part of our B&B package, we could purchase a beach badge for only $10 each to cover the entire stay—saving us a chunk of change to put toward dinner!
What about lunch? Food and drink are not allowed on the beach during the summer months—maybe that’s why it’s always impeccable? Many beachgoers will bring their coolers and lunches, place them along the boardwalk and return there to eat or drink. Or you can purchase any number of burgers, sandwiches, salads and fries at the concession stand and enjoy eating them under either of two semi-covered pavilions while gazing out at the ocean.
So let’s talk dinner. We booked reservations for our three nights a week in advance at some of the area’s finest. And being at the shore, I pretty much knew I’d be making seafood a priority—and not just in “I see food and I eat it.”
Night One: A Shore Bet at The Black Trumpet
Black Trumpet, the in-house restaurant of the Grand Victorian garnered a #1 food ranking in the Jersey Shore Zagat Guide. This renovated Victorian home, built in 1883 is close enough to the Atlantic to hear the rolling surf and inhale the salty air. It offers contemporary American cuisine with an emphasis on seafood harvested from neighboring seaside locales.
In making the reservation, we had requested to dine al fresco on their lovely wrap-around porch where the only thing blocking a panoramic view of the ocean are a few scrub pines on the dunes. Plus they have live music, BUT, it was so friggin’ hot and humid that we asked for an inside table, luckily they had one available.
Unbeknownst to us, the restaurant now has a liquor license and they charge a $25 cork fee if you bring your own! Needless to say, we opted to choose from the wine menu…
A special appetizer of the night featured a signature crab cake, and two large grilled shrimp accompanied by a mound of delicately sautéed mushrooms and microgreens—a tempting starter that we decided to split. It arrived artfully plated with the seafood bathing in three colorful sauces, in harmonious tones of amber and green. A good beginning indeed (except for the BYO misstep.)
A closer look at the jewel-toned couscous.
Keeping with the seafood theme, I chose the Pan-Seared New Jersey Dry Scallops; four ginormous, delicately cooked and seasoned mollusks surrounding a bed of ruby-toned red beet couscous and topped with wilted arugula. The buttery-soft, succulent scallops were lightly tinged with a slight crisp and melted in my mouth. While I was unable to finish the mound of couscous, the portions were otherwise perfect without ending up with leftovers.
Russ’s entree was the Trio of Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes in a red pepper remoulade with tender crisp green beans and Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Mostly made up of jumbo lump crab meat with very little filler, Russ thoroughly enjoyed his cakes, rating them an 8 out of 10. And although the mashed potatoes were good, he didn’t finish them nor did he think they made a very good side choice for a hot summer’s night.
A few years ago we were fortunate to dine on their wonderful porch, so if you get the chance and the weather is cooperative, ask to be seated outside where you can enjoy the melodic crash of the ocean waves. If you are not a seafood connoisseur, they also offer entrees that include chicken, steak, pork and pasta selections, so don’t hesitate to make a res if you’re visiting the “Irish Riviera.”