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Dining in the Pine Barrens of NJ

Restaurants in Ocean County (Waretown, Barnegat, Forked River - Lacey Twp, Manahawkin and more), Burlington County (Lower Bank, Shamong, Medford, and others), and Atlantic County

Are you looking for a new eating experience?  Maybe you don't quite know what you're in the mood for or perhaps you're visiting and want to try some local restaurants.  Fresh seafood is a specialty in the area; Ocean and Atlantic County both have some wonderful seafood restaurants! Take a look at PineyPower's comments on recent visits and make your choice - but it won't be easy! If you're a restaurant owner and wish to see your restaurant listed here, please e-mail me! We're looking for more restaurants to review in Burlington, Atlantic, Ocean, Cape May and Camden Counties, so drop us a line.

Diners, if you visit any restaurants found here, be sure to tell the owner you saw it on PineyPower - thanks!

A delicious House Special from Luigi's! Pizza in the Pines? Yes, good pizza can be found, if you know where to go! If you have a favorite, email PineyPower with your reasons why you think it's the best around! Read what PineyPower readers have to say.

Restaurants in Burlington County

1509 Route 542 Lower Bank, NJ 08215
609-965-6936
Directions and Map

LOWER BANK TAVERN
"Have You Been to Lower Bank Lately?"

Sit down and enjoy a drink and a meal in a place from the days before chain restaurants overpopulated our state.

CLICK TO READ MORE

12 miles from Tuckerton; 12 miles from Egg Harbor City.
10 minutes from Batso.


For the best "award-winning" wings, great sandwiches, and a fun & friendly staff, be sure to visit

PIC-A-LILLI INN!

Same family owned and operated since the 1920's!

866 U.S. Route 206, Shamong, NJ 08088
609-847-1187

Menu


The Home of Great Food, Great Service and Great Smiles!

Open 7 Days a week - 6:00AM -8:30PM
7 Willow Grove Rd. (on Route 206)
Shamong, NJ

609-268-1182

Visit our website to see our huge menu!
Try our delicious frozen custard - 26 flavors!

We cater any event!

Shamong Diner

Allen's Clam Bar , Route 9, New Gretna

Pic-a-lilli Inn, Shamong, NJ

P.J. Whelihan's
, Medford Lakes NJ

Shamong Diner, Shamong NJ

Restaurants in Atlantic County


Sweetwater Casino
, Sweetwater, NJ

Oyster Creek Inn, Leeds Point NJ

Restaurants in Ocean County (alphabetically)

Caffrey's Steakhouse , Route 9, Forked River

The Gateway Restaurant , 227 W. 8th Street, Ship Bottom

L.A.'s Restaurant & Bar, Route 72, Manahawkin

Lighthouse Tavern , Route 9, Waretown

Lucille's Country Cooking  , Route 539, Warren Grove

Mangone's Ristorante & Pizza, 399 N Main St. (Route 9), Manahawkin

Mario's  , Route 9, Forked River

Mud City Crab House , E. Bay Ave, Manahwkin 

Shark Fin Inn, Route 9, Forked River

Ship Bottom Shellfish, Long Beach Blvd. Ship Bottom

Serpico's (formerly Spiaggia E Luna), East Bay Ave., Barnegat

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Restaurant owners, if you'd like to see your establishment here, email PineyPower !

(The following commentaries are the opinion of the author; readers are encouraged to visit all locations and submit their own review)


 
EMAIL YOUR COMMENTS or REVIEWS to PINEYPOWER!

 
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LIGHTHOUSE TAVERN, Route  9, Waretown, NJ- A warm and inviting pub atmosphere with good service and excellent food.  Casual attire is fine here.  The menu is extensive, from snacks to full-course dinners to late nite offerings.  The daily blackboard specials should be taken seriously; these special offerings by the chef are absolutely delicious and plated beautifully.  A recent special of filet mignon was pinwheeled by sweet green asparagus tips and garnished with a velvety smooth creole hollandaise sauce. My personal favorite is on the regular menu, "The Inkeeper's Special", a 6 oz. filet mignon on toast points topped with a rich madiera and mushroom gravy.

For lunch or an easy dinner, there is nothing like a Tavern Burger!  Thick and juicy, they are offered in several ways; "El Paso" (muenster, jalepenos and chili) "Alpine" (Swiss cheese, mushrooms and onions), among several variations, and served on a hard roll with  cole slaw and regular or cajun fries, or onion rings.  An especially good seafood option is "Jaws", a cajun-grilled tuna sandwich served with mango salsa on a kaiser roll.

Weekends at the Lighthouse will often find a short wait for a table.  But the bar area is a congenial place, offering NTN (an interactive trivia game) and lots of TV's tuned to sports.  You'll have so much fun, you may decide to eat your dinner there! Don't miss the weekend Raw Bar, where clams, oysters, shrimp and Dungeness crab claws are offiered at reasonable prices. Sundays and Monday nights during football season provide lively fun and complimentary half-time buffets on Mondays.

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THE GATEWAY, Eighth St., Ship Bottom...A Spring Sunday afternoon visit to the Gateway provided an amazingly delicious late lunch at affordable prices.  The chowder here is literally award-winning, and for very good reason!  The New England sampled on this day was out-of-this-world delicious.  As an appetizer, though, don't buy a bowl or you won't have room your meal!  The luncheon menu was a basic one, with a few "blackboard specials" for some pasta dishes, but when the mussels marinara arrived, it was clear that the food served is NOT basic.  These mussels were fresh, plump, juicy and large; did not taste previously frozen, and obviously cooked-to-order.  The marinara sauce had to be home-made - it was delicious!  it was sweet, though, so about a 1/4 jar of hot pepper flakes made it just about right!  Another diner had a crab cake sandwich.  This was also delicious; not the breadcrumb-garnished with crab-cakes so many places serve.  Service here was prompt and friendly as well.

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CAFFREY'S STEAKHOUSE, Route 9, Forked River, NJ - Caffrey's has a warm, family atmosphere even though one of the dining rooms has a large and popular bar in its center.  The food here is good, with hefty portions, especially in the pasta department.  Nightly specials are available, but the standard menu offers a dozens of good possibilities, including their specialty, prime ribs.  Caff's is also known for their pizza, and their "bar pie" is an excellent value.  They don't skimp on toppings, either!  An especially good variety is the Mexican pie - loaded with jalepenos, olives, and jack cheese.  Baby back ribs are another excellent choice.  They are "fall off the bone tender", and the barbeque sauce is great.

Soups at Caffrey's are excellent, and two specials are offered daily.  The seafood bisque is delicious, especially with a splash of sherry thrown in (you have to ask for it)  Don't ignore the steaks here, either; they are large and tender, cooked exactly to order.

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LUCILLE'S, Route 539, Warren Grove - For real down-home, country cooking, stop into Lucille's for breakfast or lunch one day soon.  Located a few miles West of Garden State Parkway Southbound Exit 58, this is the locals' secret for no-frills, delicious cooking!  The diner isn't fancy, in fact a flannel shirt, work boots and Carharts are more common here than any other garb.  And if it's a cold Winter's day, be sure to order up a big bowl of Lucille's famous home-made chile and a buttered roll!  There's always bound to be a barbecue special, as well.  On this day, the barbecue pork was on the specials list, and a huge portion was presented, almost enough for two!  Lucilles may be most noted for out-of-this world homemade pies - if you have room, be sure to order a slice! Of course, there are dozens of other items on the menu, but no matter what the choice, it's sure to be delicious, because it's made with love! 609-698-4474.

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MARIO'S, Route 9, Forked River (Lacey Township).  Mario's is a small Italian restaurant adjacent to a takeout pizza and submarine spot.  The ambiance of the restaurant section, however, is very pleasant; Lighting is indirect and soft music plays in the background of this small but roomy dining area.  Aside from the regular menu, specials are offered nightly, which are creative renditions of Italian fare, and usually include a seafood choice.  (On this night it was fresh tuna.)  However, our choice this evening was from the menu.  Our meal started with a very fresh salad of spring greens.  The house vinaigrette was excellent.  Warm bread was served with the salad - a nice touch was the focaccia, topped with a touch of marinara.   Our dinner choices were Eggplant Rollatini (eggplant stuffed with ricotta and covered with mozzarella and marinara sauce) and Seafood Fra Diavalo, which included shrimp, clams and mussels on a bed of pasta - the variety of which is up to the diner - with a choice of hot or sweet sauce.  Both entrees were fresh and quite tasty.  The marinara is light and refreshing, and not overburdened by unnecessary seasonings.  A side of broccoli with oil and garlic was excellent.  Both the broccoli and sliced garlic were cooked to crisp perfection.  (a "special" appetizer offering this night was broccoli rabe, as well.)

Prices are very reasonable; Mario's has no liquor license, but if you choose to bring your own wine, the wait staff will happily uncork your bottle and supply glasses.

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MUD CITY CRAB HOUSE, Manahawkin...This seafood restaurant and market is not to be missed!  There are surprisingly few GOOD seafood restaurants in the area.  This place is one of the most popular dining spots of the sumer and beyond!  On a sunny June Sunday afternoon, we decided to visit the seafood spot named for the low-lying area of Stafford Township on the Barnegat Bay in which it's located.  We walked into the immaculate seafood market section, and within moments were seated in a freshly painted, clean restaurant area in a comfortable booth.  A waitress came by immediately with a smile and a big bucket of ice for our "BYOB", and a second smiling staffer handed us the menu.  This was to be no easy choice...just the appetizers consisted of baked garlic clams, garlic mussels and oysters on the 1/2 shell, to name a few.  Then the "soup" decision:  Clam chowder?  Crab Chowder?  We settled on the garlic mussels - an excellent choice!  About 30 PEI mussels steamed in white wine and garlic butter came in a shiny galvanized bucket and were served with ample melted butter and semolina Italian bread for dipping that delicious juice!  Then, we decided to split the seafood bisque, which was great, and loaded with crab, shrimp and scallops.

The main entree was the tough choice.  The specials of the day included fresh fish such as swordfish, tuna, salmon and others, cooked in a variety of ways (blackened, grilled, etc), and served with a number of sauces, including a tropical salsa that sounded delicious!  However, I decided on shrimp stuffed with crab imperial and my companion opted for the fried combo.  Both meals couldn't have been better...I couldn't finish the third shrimp, and barely touched the homemade coleslaw and corn on the cob that I chose as my sides!  The fried platter included a large flounder filet, a delicious crab cake (hardly any bread crumbs) shrimp and scallops, all cooked to perfection.  All seafood served here is "fresh, never frozen", and of course they feature crabs in the rough, served either Maryland style or Garlic style. They also have Dungeness crabs and lobster at market price.  I also happened to notice another diner's cioppino, and that looked absolutely scrumptious, too!  There is a junior menu, and family takeout dinners are available, besides the fresh seafood market.

Mud City Crab House is a happy restaurant with top-quality food served by an excellent wait staff.  Two words of warning:  First, be prepared for a wait (consider tail-gaiting while you're waiting!).  By the time we left at about 6:00 p.m., couples and families were waiting in the parking lot for a table - but it is well worth the wait!  Second, GO THERE HUNGRY!!

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ALLEN'S CLAM BAR, Route 9, New Gretna. If you're looking for fantastic seafood with no frills and great prices, a visit to Allen's will fill the bill. This small restaurant has a one-of-a-kind nautical decor, beginning with the huge shark's head at the entrance. The interior is rustic but charming. The floors are concrete, the chairs are utilitarian and the plates are plastic, but once the food starts arriving, you'll barely notice! For starters, their Manhattan Clam Chowder is outstanding, but clams (half-shell, steamed or Casino) and shrimp cocktail are also offered. On this night, I chose the Broiled Combination for my entree. I received three large shrimp, five or six scallops and 2 filets of flounder; a side of home made potato salad and cole slaw and a roll. The scallops were the star of this meal, but all was delicious! Also on the menu (the placemat is the menu!) are such scrumptious seafood selections as Fried Combo Seafood (flounder, shrimp scallop, deviled clams and fried clams), fried oysters, fried softshell crab, crab cake, cold seafod platter, the wonderful French Fried Lobster Tail and more. Don't overlook the oyster stew! It is a meal in itself. It's a huge bowl of succulent oysters in a perfectly seasoned milk broth that you will long remember. Many customers come back again and again just for this specialty! Sandwiches are also available, ranging from an oyster sandwich to the soft crab sandwich. Platters are also available for 65 and over and 12 and under, in the $5.00 price range.

Service was very prompt and friendly. We were greeted with a smile, and our server was attentive without rushing us. The only downfall I found is that Allen's doesn't take credit cards, but with prices so reasonable for the quality and quantity of food, it certainly doesn't hurt their business! Allen's is a favorite of the locals, but come summertime, there can be a a bit of a wait. If you go, get there early! (2001 review)

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SHIP BOTTOM SHELLFISH, Long Beach Boulevard, Ship Bottom. If seafood is your passion, this is the place to visit! Located right on Long Beach Boulevard, it's a busy spot (with limited parking), but on this thundery Saturday night in summer, the 45-minute wait to dine was well worth it!

We were all starving once we were seated, and ordered a 1/2 gallon of mussels in wine and garlic butter, soft shell clams, and the soup of the day, seafood bisque. I'm not sure which I liked best, although the bisque was probably the best I've ever tasted! loaded with crab, lobster, scallops and shrimp, it was simply sublime - in fact, when I let my two friends sample it, they had to order a cup of their own!

I chose grilled Mahi-mahi with a creamy roasted chipotle sauce that was just out of this world! It came with a choice of two side dishes; I chose potato salad and cole slaw, and both were excellent. Another diner selected tuna, grilled rare, with a teriyake-ginger sauce, and a third selected a broiled platter, consisting of shrimp, scallops, crab imperial and "fish of the day". We were all thrilled with our respective selections!

Just about any type of seafood is available here - flounder, crab, scallops, crabs, lobster, swordfish, salmon, king crab legs, oysters...the list goes on and on. A seafood market offers a huge selection of fresh and prepared seafood, and all food is available for take-out. Dress is casual, and it's BYOB. And yes, there are chicken and burgers available for landlubbers!
 
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SWEETWATER CASINO*, Sweetwater NJ. There's something special about Sweetwater Casino - maybe it's the rustic character of the place, maybe it's the gorgeous location on the Mullica River, or maybe it's just the casual ambience of it all. Table setups for lunch had crisp linen tablecloths, making our visit a bit more special.

My visit was in late October was for a late lunch. I ordered a "Jack's Pumpkin Pie Spice Ale", which was delicious, and enjoyed it with the complimentary tray of Casino Cheese and assorted crackers. I then enjoyed a cup of thick snapper soup served with sherry, and "Chicken Salad & Fried Oysters", a traditional pairing originating in the Philly area. My salad and oysters were nicely plated - adorned with quartered hard-boiled eggs, grape tomatoes and cucumber slices. After enjoying a well-poured Bourbon and soda, my dining companion opted for a choice from the senior menu. She raved about the crisp salad and fresh blue cheese dressing! Her dessert choice was an ice cream log topped with whipped cream.

The holidays are extra special at Sweetwater Casino. The restaurant is beautifully decorated throughout. If you haven't caught the spirit of the season, you will catch it at Sweetwater! And don't forget to pick up a tub of the delicious Casino Cheese at the adjacent gift shop!
(October 2006 review)

*Ed. note: On June 30, 2008, Sweetwater casino was destroyed by fire. This historic landmark deep in the Pine Barrens will be missed by many, many people. Over the many years, it has been part of so many lives, from the great staff members to all those who attended the hundreds of weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and non-profit events. It's hard to believe that it's gone.

See photos of Sweetwater Casino.

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SHARK FIN INN, Route 9, Forked River NJ. This tropically-inspired restaurant gives diners a refreshing change from the norm, both in food choice and in decor. With jewel-bright colors of tropical blue, red, orange and green, tile floors and lots of glass with huge doors that promise to let the outside in when the weather permits, this place to give the ultimate island fantasy.

We visited the Shark Fin for a late lunch. We were seated in a booth and attended to promptly by our attentive and pleasant server. The menu offers a variety of tropical dishes; some familiar such as the Cuban sandwich, and some not so familiar, such as the Jamaican salad. Our appetizer this day was "Coco-mac Shrimp", a fun twist on the norm with crushed macadamia nuts added to the coconut before frying golden crisp. The four large shrimp were served with a raspberry-mango dipping sauce, served separately in one bowl so the distinct flavors of each could be enjoyed. We decided to divide our lunch of the Jamaican Cobb and an open Ahi Tuna sandwich. The salad was a wonderful combo of sliced jerk chicken (which was very mild), avocado, pignola nuts, grape tomatoes, and gorganzola, on a bed of greens. (The menu also called for mango, which we didn't notice was missing until after we left, probably because the salad was so delicious.) Dressing the salad was a light key lime blend that complemented perfectly. The Open Ahi was served on rye toast and topped with roasted peppers and goat cheese, and was partnered with a ginger-garlic-sesame dipping sauce. The tuna was deliciously pink, although I prefer tuna barely warmed in the middle. Our server didn't ask, and I didn't think to specify.

There were many more tempting offerings, including their soups - the d'jour was conch chowder, a favorite of mine, and lobster bisque is on the regular menu. The Shark Fin Inn is definately on my "A" list! A return trip for dinner and mojitos looms in the near future! Nightime entertainment is also definately worth looking into as well - the lounge area contains a large bar, also with a huge slider to the rear patio, promising a wonderful summertime atmosphere!

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P.J. WHELIHAN'S, Medford Lakes NJ.This restaurant was built on the site of "Settler's Inn", which was destroyed by fire in 1998. The Settler's Inn was a huge log cabin, said to be the largest such structure in existence, and the current P.J.'s has tried to maintain that look and ambience in the new building. They've done a great job. The restaurant is large and beamed, yet has a warm and welcome atmosphere - especially near the two-sided fieldstone fireplace burning warm and toasty on the day of my visit. Several TV's and a big EAGLES sign led me to believe this is a great spot to watch football, especially if you're an Eagle fan!

The menu for this restaurant (there are five other locations in NJ & PA) offered many of the standards: Buffalo wings and shrimp, rangin from "mild" to "suicide", and a variety of appetizers and salads, along with classic sandwiches and entrees. However, items like Hummus with pita bread and Asian style shrimp salad showed interesting creativity in the menu. I finally decided on the Flat Iron Steak, at $13.99. It came exactly as requested - medium rare - with smashed red bliss potatoes and a deliciously crisp medly of steamed veggies. The steak was served over an applewood smoked bacon red wine sauce and dusted with rosemary, and a knife was barely needed to cut this melt-in-your mouth beef! My dining companion chose the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese at $12.99. Normally a light eater, she scarfed up every last morsel of the baked orecchiette (little ears) pasta and lobster pieces blended with fontina and cheddar, and topped with toasted parmesan bread crumbs. It was a perfect meal for a winter day!

Service at P.J.'s is quick, friendly and efficient. I only wish P.J.'s was closer, because it would become a regular for me! I can't wait to return to try their Roadhouse Rack of Ribs, or maybe the Ahi Tuna, or maybe the Crab Cakes....

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L.A.'s, Route 72, Manahawkin, is located where the previous "Fabian's" was located. While the decor has remained the same (with the exception of several large screen flat TV's perfect for watching sports or playing NTN),a few things have seemed to improve quite a bit. Immediately, I noticed that the staff seemed genuinely happy to be there, which made us feel very welcome. Both the bartenders and wait staff were attentive.

The "Happy Hour" here runs Monday thru Thursday from 4p.m. to midnight! Domestic pints are $2, and Heinekens are $2 for a 10 oz. pilsner. Appetizer specials are also in effect. A Thursday night bonus is a free "Texas Hold 'em" Poker Tournament starting a 7 p.m., with top winners receiving prizes.

We opted to order dinner at the bar while playing NTN, a popular trivia game available at many restaurants and bars across the U.S. and Canada. I decided on a special, broiled flounder stuffed with crabmeat. The salad arrived promptly, and was fresh and crisp. Happily, L.A.'s offers a honey-lime dressing, my favorite! The aromatic bread was served fresh and warm. When my meal arrived, I noted immediately that the flounder was NOT overcooked, and that the crabmeat was the MAJORITY of the stuffing! Rice pilaf was served molded into a pyramid, and the veggies of the day were thinly sliced summer squash, zuchinni and red peppers, sauteed in a garlic butter. The portion was huge, and I happily took home an entire stuffed filet, some rice and vegetables as well!

My companion ordered a NY strip steak, which arrived looking "too good to eat" delicious. He chose garlic mashed potatoes, and they too looked awesome! Usually a light eater, he finished every bit of the steak. Normally a man of few words when it comes to food, he raved about the tenderness and flavor, so it had to be good!

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Pic-a-Lilli Inn, Shamong (Indian Mills), NJ: There's a warm and friendly feeling as you walk through the door at Pic's. Returning from a visit to Batsto, a friend and I decided to stop in one cold Sunday afternoon. Thinking it would be a slow Sunday since it was the week before the Super Bowl, we were surprised to find the bar and many adjacent tables full. We sat at a table across from the bar, where we could still watch TV and play NTN Trivia (an interactive game found in many restaurants and pubs).

We were greeted immediately by a very friendly server, and got our beers, menus and game boxes right away. Of course, we ultimately decided on wings, "spicy" style (there's mild, spicy, hot and smokers) and the "extra" bleu cheese and celery. The latter came first, and as celery goes, it was icy-cold and crisp; the bleu cheese was creamy and mild. Then came the wings! It must be noted that these wings are whole wings, not split in half the way most places serve them, so six wings would be twelve at most other places!

Yes, it goes without saying that their famous wings are delicious! The "spicy" sauce was hot enough to be noticable (though I would have liked to try the "hot") and had a very, very pleasant and subtle sweet back flavor. The wings were freshly cooked; with steamy, moist and tender meat, and a crisp skin. Finger-licking is a must with these red gems! About halfway through, I realized that I was enjoying the flavor so much that I hadn't even bothered to use the bleu cheese!

Overall, Pic's is a comfortable place with the best in comfort food. People of all ages and walks of life stop in here, from "down for the day" tourists to die-hard locals. It's not fancy, but who needs - or wants - fancy when you're enjoying the hospitality - and the best wings - of the Pinelands? My only disappointment was myself! Each time I stop in, I get the wings. One of these days, I am going to try one of the many other offerings on the menu, like the "Creamy Crab Soup", "Broiled Seafood Combination", or "Buffalo Chicken Salad!"

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MANGONE'S, Manahawkin NJ. I had been here years before, and remembered the food as very good, but service less than adequate. When we walked in on a Saturday night, we were greeted by the hostess, who imformed us it would be only a five minute wait. Once seated in the small, bustling but intimate dining room, we were approached almost immediately by a young lady who opened our wine for us. The table was set with a mini-loaf of delicious Italian bread, parmesan cheese and rosemary-infused olive oil. Since it was 9:30PM by then, we immediately went for the warm, aromatic bread, drizzled it with the oil, a touch of salt and parmesan - delicious! We were also presented with two bruschetta-topped pieces of crisp bread. In just a few minutes, we were greeted by our server, one of the nicest - and sincere - people I've ever encountered in a restaurant! The restaurant was full, but she still took time to read the specials, and never once rushed us. My date surprisingly chose one of the specials: Pork Osso Bucco with root vegetables over risotto. For a change, I was the traditionalist and ordered eggplant parmigiana, and he was about to taste risotto for the first time!

Before our meal, we were given a large bowl of salad to share. It had been lightly dressed with gently seasoned oil and vinegar. Our server told us we were welcome to more if we so wished, and if I didn't have dinner coming, I would have! Dinners arrived hot and nicely presented, especially the Osso Bucco - the shank was upright, surrounded by mounds of veggies over the creamy risotto. My date is not one to rave, but he thoroughly enjoyed as much as he could of this meal! My eggplant parmigiana was superb as well. I was afraid it might be over-breaded or greasy, but this large portion was done perfectly and not over-breaded or fried ; I could taste the distinct flavor of the soft, sweet eggplant. It was covered with a flavorful, fresh marinara and topped with - what else - creamy mozzerella. The side of linguini was perfectly cooked; and yes, the portions of both meals were large enough that we each had a meal for the next day!

Aside from the wonderful food, what I like most about MANGONE'S is the warm, friendly atmosphere. Although they do offer pizza, this is NOT a traditional "pizza parlor." The lights are dimmed, soft Italian music plays in the background and everyone seemed, well, happy. Several times during the evening, what I presumed to be the owners of MANGONE'S walked about and chatted quietly with their guests, asking if all was ok. It's little things like this that will keep me and plenty of others coming back to MANGONE'S, especially in this economic climate where a night out is more special than it used to be.

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Serpico's (formerly Spiaggia E Luna), Barnegat. I live in Barnegat and have seen this great location in the historic distric of town have several owners throughout the years. Spiaggia E Luna has been open almost a year, so when Valentine's Day 2010 arrived, and my date asked me where I wanted to eat, I chose this spot. It was the right choice! We brought our own wine, since they are awaiting a license. A very nice bar is located in a corner of the restaurant, separated from the diners with frosted glass dividers.

The staff was wonderful right from the start! Our waiter Joe came over as soon as we were seated and immediately opened our bottle and poured. He returned with hot, crusty Italian bread with infused oil for dipping. After perusing the menu, we decided to share the baked clams for starters. I'm not a big fan of breadcrumbs, but this was fantastic! No shortcuts here - the buttery taste was delicious and the parmesan cheese gave them a special touch. Next came the salad, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially the light lemon vinigrette with which it was dressed.

For our main course, my date chose the 14 ounce strip steak, accompanied with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and gravy. Athough I did not taste it it looked beautifully done, juicy and tasteful, with a minimum of fat. He thoroughly enjoyed it, and in fact couldn't even finish it!

Sea Bass with raspberry coulee, from Spiaggia E Luna I ordered one of the Valentine's Day specials, the Chilean Sea Bass - one of my favorites! I've ordered it at many restaurants, but I think Spiaggia E Luna's has surpassed them all! The perfectly-cooked fish was served on a bed of flavorful risotto and asparagus, and topped with a raspberry coulee and whole raspberries which, when eaten with the Sea Bass, was a most magnificent concoction!

Do I recommend this place? Oh yes! I hope to eat here often! I look forward to returning, and wonder why I waited so long to go in the first place!

 

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Seared ScallopsOYSTER CREEK INN, Leeds Point NJ: My first visit to Oyster Creek Inn was on a sunny but cold and windy afternoon after a morning at Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, which is just a few minutes away. We were hungry, so didn't want to wait for the free buffet being offered halfway through the Daytona 500 NASCAR race (more about that later). We started with six Clams Casino, offered at $1.00 each. Plump clams were topped with diced peppers, tomatoes, bacon and onion and topped with a touch of mozzarella, then gently broiled. They were delicious! Just their aroma made others at the "boat-bar" order them as well! The Seared Scallops ($11), topped with with gorganzola and carmalized onions, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and served on bruschetta couldn't have been cooked more perfectly. The scallops were big and sweet and the flavors were perfect together! The Crispy Bourbon Shrimp ($9) held its own - and then some! The thick bourbon sauce was lip-smacking good and the shrimp, although not breaded and fried, had a wonderful crispy snap to them!

THEN there was the halftime buffet served at the bar! First came the broccoli-and-cheese and pepperoni-and-cheese breads, followed by crispy-hot battered onion rings, jalepeno poppers, and breaded chicken tenders (all white meat) with a mustard dipping sauce. All this was all compliments of Oyster Creek Inn! I wanted to save room for the appetizer "Parmesan Encrusted Crabcake" ($10) and was glad I did...this beautifully-plated bit of heaven was loaded with lump crab, and though I suppose there had to be "something" to hold it together, I didn't notice it as I savored the sweet crabmeat adorned with julienne strips of sweet red pepper and capers, all over a light butter sauce. Heavenly.

View from the outdoor deck of Oyster Creek InnEveryone at the bar was friendly and sociable. The very nice lady sitting next to me recommended the crabcake and I'm glad she did! She also said that this place is real busy during the summer months, and I can understand why; even on this cold February afternoon, the dining room was full! The scenery alone is worth the visit to this very unpretentious restaurant. It's located at the edge of the beautiful coastal wetlands on the Oyster Creek. It's not fancy, and that makes it all the more alluring. The food makes it one of, if not the best seafood restaurant at which I've eaten. Period.

I also must add that Jason, the Manager and bartender this Sunday afternoon, couldn't have been nicer or more attentive. He did tell me that Oyster Creek Inn is family-owned and run, and the love and pride in this restaurant is quite apparent. If you enjoy seafood as much as I do, make it a point to visit Oyster Creek Inn soon - preferably before the summer throngs arrive. Off-season, they're open Thursday through Sunday.

PineyPower's Dining Time

Shamong Diner, 7 Willow Grove Road (on Route 206), Shamong, NJ: I had driven past this small diner many, many times but always en route to somewhere else. One evening, a friend who lives in the area invited me to dine with her, so I got my chance! As soon as we walked in and sat down, a friendly server came over and greeted us with a broad smile. Ahh, life is wonderful out here! We got our big glass of ice water with lemon immediately, and we perused the extensive menu. When our waitress (also very friendly with a big smile - that's soo important!) arrived for our order, my friend decided on the "Pine Barrens Salad," a bed of mixed greens topped with a very generous portion of dried cranberries, dried cherries, and walnuts, accompanied by the house balsamic dressing. It was huge enough for a "take home" box, and my friend raved about the freshness and good taste. (I would have liked to see goat cheese or feta as an option, but that's just me!) My choice was a beef and lamb gyro with a side of cole slaw. It arrived fresh and hot, with loads of Tzatziki and Feta, lettuce, onion and tomatos. A few seconds later, owner Manny came out of the kitchen to see how we liked our meal - a very nice touch! He was as pleasant as could be and made me feel like I was a guest at his home.

Once dinner was done, my friend couldn't wait for the softserve custard! She and the waitress both convinced me to try a small dish, and I'm glad I did...from the twenty-six exciting flavors, such as German Chocolate, Black Raspberry and Amaretto, I chose "expresso." It was creamy and flavorful, and I somehow ate the entire bowlful!

So, the next time you're on Route 206, about 6 miles south of Route 70 and 11 miles north of Route 30 in Hammonton, and you're hankerin' for good eats, whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, stop at the Shamong Diner! Oh, and be sure to say hello to Manny from Cathy at PineyPower!

MISCELLANEOUS READER COMMENTS ON AREA RESTAURANTS

Pinelands Eateries: Good food at the Lower Bank Inn. Hedger House Pub has a magnificent bar with music, and horseshoes. Two top chefs at Half Way House (Mayo's) in Chatsworth are drawing a lot of folks.Matt's on the Mullica (seasonal) in Green Bank has top hoagies and river deck . . . Joe Shay

"I am very pleased to say that Spiaggia E Luna in Barnegat is fantastic!  Finally . . . a great restaurant has moved into that location which has changed ownership many times in the last 10 years.  Every meal I’ve had at Spiagggia is excellent. In my opinion, a friendly staff and ones who are attentive to their customers is just as important as good food and Spiaggia’s staff exceeds those standards.  I highly recommend that you visit this restaurant."... Lorraine (Barnegat)

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