New Chef and Menu at Shore Cafe in Hazlet

A new menu, and a fresh relaunch for a Route 36 standby in Hazlet.

The Shore Cafe owner Michael Conti
The Shore Cafe owner Michael Conti
It was 3 a.m. at the fish market in the Bronx, The Shore Cafe's new Manager Francesco Ippolito and Chef Mario Esposito found themselves coveting a prize piece of mahi-mahi for that day's dinner special. They felt inspired to create something that would jump off the menus at the longtime Route 36 restaurant in Hazlet, and make people think of the sea. 

Back at the The Shore Cafe, the chef filleted the white sweet fish and coated it with crushed pine nuts for a sandy crunch, and blackened it. The fish was drizzled with orange curacao for zest, but also for impact, because orange curacao is actually blue. It was served with an accompaniment of fresh thyme and sliced scallions.

"Behind the food, there has to be personality," said Ippolito. "This place was a traditional Italian classical menu that you can find almost anywhere. My vision is you have to be different, not just lasagna and chicken parmigiana -- a new view."

In the past few months, the Italian-born Ippolito-Esposito team has tried to bring something new to this overlooked section of the Route 36 corridor, and shake up a local mom-and-pop business with a relaunch, from the inside out.

Michael Conti of Holmdel, who has owned The Shore Cafe with his wife for the past 13 years, says he is thrilled with the innovation and fresh ideas suddenly coming out of the kitchen, like tuna tartare served in a big Martini glass with avocado, cilantro, red onions, tomatoes and radishes, or grilled thin pizza with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, proscuitto and arugula. 

He met the duo as they were leaving L'Acquo in Freehold, and immediately wanted to bring them to Shore Cafe. The partnership clicked. He took the For Sale sign off the restaurant.
"My wife and I started Shore Cafe with my brother about 13 years ago, and after Hurricane Sandy this whole area got decimated. We didn't know if we wanted to stay or go -- until I met Mario and Francesco," he said. 

"God sent these people to me," he said, with a smile. "I see a hum already, for the past month or two they've been here," said Conti, looking around to the dining room at lunchtime, where an older couple enjoyed their weekly meal, a quartet of businessmen chatted animatedly about the market, and a young couple browsed a menu.

Just as customers express surprise at the richly decorated 160 seat-interior, with a party room for 80 and an outdoor patio, they have responded enthusiastically to the new menu, Conti said. 

"Once we got in, we got a customer for life," said Conti. "It's like a hidden gem."

On Tuesdays, the Shore Cafe discounts its entire menu by 50 percent to promote the new offerings. "We want to get the word out," said Conti. "Tell everyone!" 

On Wednesdays, wine bottles are discounted by 50 percent, and Thursdays are Martini night with drink specialist "Martini Mark" Mark Roman. 

There are regular specials on Friday and Saturday nights, when the restaurant opens at 4 p.m.. The restaurant is closed Mondays. 

The Shore Cafe is located at 1104 State Route 36, Hazlet. The phone number is (732) 888-0288. The Facebook page has photos of the new dishes and announcements about specials


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