Night Two: Shorely Didn’t Expect the Long Wait. Period.
~One town north of Spring Lake is the lively town of Belmar. Located in Belmar Plaza off of Main Street in the former Bella Luna, Brandl. opened in 2002 and is aptly named for its personable owner and inventive chef, Chris Brandl. With a period at the end of the title, Chris explains “the period represents people who spell the name wrong, trying to add an additional vowel.”
The restaurant dining room has evolved over the years to showcase works of supposed gallery-caliber art (although not necessarily in my opinion—seriously, look at that cow painting above). Their newest addition is the covered patio offering outdoor dining that can be enjoyed in Spring, Summer, and into Fall. As tempting as it was, battling the fifth heat wave of the summer season with temps in the high 90’s and feeling like 106 degrees, we opted to dine in once again.
Brandl is mostly a convivial crowd-pleaser of a restaurant, with know-your-neighbor tables. Leave your pretensions at the door.
According to some, Brandl. is not pompous or affected; it’s an ambitious restaurant that nonetheless remembers to have fun. Interior walls are painted a lively orange, humongous lights hang overhead, and some “interesting” art pieces all play to that fun factor. But with tin ceilings and very little to absorb sound, the noise level was almost painful at times, especially considering they were at capacity crowd with several large parties.
Arriving exactly at our 8:00 reservation time, we were told that there would be at least a 20 minute wait. Not pleased, we nonetheless decided to wait at the miniscule bar (it was too hot to sit outside) and enjoy our wine while waiting. Easier said than done.
Standing at the bar (stools were nowhere to be seen) we had direct vision into the busy kitchen. The manager, wait staff, and busboys were so busy scurrying in and out of the swinging door, that we couldn’t get anyone’s attention. I cringed every time I saw the potential for the workers to crash into each other as they flew through that door in opposite directions! Then of course, there was the fact that patrons and workers had to squeeze past us between the bar and table service… feeling gnarly, our patience was being tested.
A stock photo obviously taken at Christmastime. The same manager is seen leaning on the bar, with the swinging doors into the kitchen to the left.
Finally after about 15 minutes I was able to flag down the sweat-soaked manager and he told me all wine glasses were in use and we’d have to wait until clean ones were available. (They are a BYO establishment but do carry a very limited selection of wine.) Another 5 minutes went by before we were handed hot glasses, and someone was able to uncork our bottle. Luckily it was only a few minutes more before we were seated in a back corner where the sound level was thankfully somewhat subdued.
Our first time here was about a half dozen years ago to celebrate my birthday and I clearly remember feasting on their infamous Lazy Lobster which is served out of the shell and poached in vanilla bean butter, served over asparagus risotto. Remembering how much I had enjoyed mine, Russ ordered it on our second visit to Brandl. and we both carry fond memories of the dish—plus the pace was a LOT less frenetic during those visits.
Highlighted on the menu are their SOUS–VIDE entrees, which is a special French method of cooking. Meats are sealed in an airtight, temperature-controlled environment with delicious results supposedly yielding perfection with every bite. But we chose otherwise…
Our waitress Erin introduced herself and handed us menus all the while with a very pleasant smile and unruffled demeanor—a portrayal of calm in the center of a storm. Now able to relax, we took our time perusing the menu, weighing the pros and cons of salads versus appetizers versus tapas. The tapas won out!
Russ started with the Crispy Oysters with sweet chili and tartar sauces; while I zeroed in on the Garlic Shrimp with three plump crustaceans, fresh snipped herbs, and a slice of crusty toast to mop up the fragrant sauce. Despite the earlier craziness, we were now in our happy place: good food, good wine, and away from the roar of the crowd—with any pretensions back at the door 😉
I can’t remember the last time I had fresh fluke—it was probably down the shore a few decades ago! So when I saw Local Fluke Stuffed with Crabmeat on the menu, I knew I had to have it. It arrived with sautéed grape tomatoes, the most delicious pickled red onions, a squirt of fresh lemon, and topped with a sprinkle of chives. And the portion was huge, so I had leftovers to take with me.
Russ’s most-liked meal of our vacation was their Duck Breast Special—so much for the “Seafood Theme.” But we all know, duck is a fave of his. The entree arrived cooked to a perfect medium-rare, wonderfully seasoned, in a reduction sauce surrounded by gooseberries and topped with a sprig of rosemary. No leftovers for him!
As a side dish we ordered their roasted mushrooms, which we both adore. But I was disappointed when the uneaten portion did not get added to my doggie bag 😦
While they offer a handful of other desserts, they are known for their Brandl Signature Soufflés which have to be ordered 45 minutes ahead of time. You have two choices: DARK CHOCOLATE with Dark Chocolate Sauce, or WHITE CHOCOLATE with Raspberries and Raspberry White Chocolate Sauce. Too full to even think of more food, we ended our meal after the entrees.
So if you go, be prepared for a wait during weekend summer months—even if you have a reservation!