For this week’s review, Elana and I decided to expand the geographic horizons a bit and feature a Long Beach Island staple – The Clam Bar of Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co., located on center street in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island. The Clam Bar is pretty much exactly how it sounds: a horseshoe shaped bar with about 25 wooden stools surrounding it. A surly woman (“Nel” is her name) shuffles clockwise around the interior of the bar, serving her patrons. The Clam Bar is perfect for us right now. It is The Jersey Shore’s style of comfort food – lots of simple, yet tasty, seafood offerings – many of which come fried. And comfort is needed on this Sunday. Despite the marvelous weather, Elana is somehow battling a cold, and I am still considerably hungover from an unnecessarily late Saturday night. It is equally comforting to know that the Clam Bar will accept my excessively casual appearance – a not-totally-dry bathing suit, wrinkled tee, and flops – I blend right in. We bring our parents along because, well, parents get hungry too I suppose.
Upon sitting down at the bar we are immediately greeted with both good and bad news. The good – a woman next to us discovers an actual pearl in one of her oysters. Really, she showed us. The bad – Nel’s assistant politely advises us that Nel is not a fan of Elana’s iPhone and to “put it away before she gets angry.” Elana (wisely) refrains from explaining to the assistant that we are merely using her camera function on the iPhone. Thus, pictures of the food could unfortunately not be captured for this review. Myself and my family spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out if Nel actually saw the iPhone or if the assistant was acting rogue on this one. In retrospect, it is a comical scene – yet at the time, we feel like we may be in Nel’s penalty box for the techy infraction – she has already served two other groups with food that have come in after us. “I think we are ready to order now” – Mom says, and Nel finally takes our requests. Nonetheless, big time service demerit here.
For appetizers, we order a dozen raw clams on the half shell as well as clams marinara, which, as the menu claims, are hot and spicy. The raw clams were extremely fresh – which is part of their whole act. Upon ordering the claims, Nel heads over to a shucking station – a center island inside the bar where tons of clams are kept on ice, shucked, rinsed and served within nanoseconds. With some horseradish, cocktail sauce, and lemons – they are delicious. Dad agreed – opting to couple his clams with a mere dash of Frank’s red hot. The clams marina are good – little neck clams sitting in a pool of hot marinara – however they were not “hot and spicy” as advertised. This appetizer comes with bread for mopping up the sauce – a nice bonus for a hungry Italian family. The marinara sauce is solid, but nothing to write home about.
The dinners are also strong – Elana ordered shrimp cocktail – the ones that require the customer to do the peeling him/herself. Yet she did not love the Dijon mustard sauce, which she found to be bland, but really liked the consistency and taste of the shrimp. Myself and Mom went with some fried heavy hitters – Mom ordered the shrimp, and I got the scallops. They each come in a plastic basket, served over a couple thousand fries. Both are extremely tasty – a perfect brown cornmealish crust surrounds these treats and lends itself to good consistency. The scallops have a snap to them, yet are still juicy and filling. Dad goes for the Soft shell crab sandwich. The crab meat was small in its portion at times and tough, yet had excellent sauce & tomatoes. Lastly, the french fries were quite satisfying – not too greasy or soft, nor charred or overcooked. I, myself, could have used a little more natural salt flavor with the fries, but everyone else disagreed with me.
We did, however sneak the iPhone into the bathroom for a couple of pictures. Nel had no idea.
Ultimately, The Clam Bar is a worthwhile experience. It’s unique, down and dirty, local atmosphere combined with fresh, above average food, make it a fun, casual place to go should you find yourself at LBI during the summer. The food is affordable and it is BYO, as well. Just don’t piss off Nel!
Overall Experience – The Big Lebowksi