Spotlight On: The Sea Shell!
Long Beach Island is aptly named.
Like many of the barrier islands, it’s only wide enough to accommodate a few blocks of streets, and its main drag is dotted with the typical beach shops, bars, restaurants, and the original Ron Jon Surf Shop. For eighteen miles.
Yet, the Island’s surf kitsch and tourist haven lay in defense of some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches you’re likely to find on the East Coast.
So, on a day with clouds in the sky that looked as if they had been painted by Bob Ross while in one of his more melancholy moods, we made the trek to the southernmost reaches of the island, in search of the Island’s premier oceanfront resort: The Sea Shell.
“We’re the only full-service resort on Long Beach Island,” says Tom Hughes, owner of the Sea Shell since 1992. “It’s a place where you can come and park your car and not have to get back in it until it’s time to go home.”
Originally built in 1960 by Tom’s parents, the 53-room resort claims three eateries on its two acres: The Palm Tree, The Palm Grill, and 10 South Martini Lounge + Wine Bar, each open to the public with its own menu, clientele, and atmosphere.
We met with Tom at The Palm Grill, a poolside tiki bar with enough shade to give even the most alabaster-skinned patron numerous places to find refuge. With the gulls flying overhead, the bustling bathing suit-clad visitors, and the dunes shielding the resort from the storm of beachgoers and the likes of Sandy, The Palm Grill is a sheltered oasis — the perfect place to crack a can of Always Ready during lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack.
This is the first summer we’ve been available at the Sea Shell, even though our Sales Manager Mike Laferrera has been trying to get us in there since he began.
“Mike wouldn’t leave me alone,” Tom says.
“I’m persistent,” Mike says with a smile.
“But it’s been going very well,” Tom says. “Everyone likes it. It’s a great pale ale, and people are looking for that kind of thing. It’s one of the only craft beers we feature at both the tiki bar and inside.”
Since Tom is, admittedly, “not a beer guy,” he put his daughters in charge of selecting beers for the resort.
“They’re starting to take over things here,” he says. “They’re beer kids. They’re the ones who did the exhaustive search. There’s so much of it anymore.”
And Tom’s guests have been enjoying it — Always Ready is perfect for a tiki bar: ridiculously drinkable, it’s refreshing and crushable, and, with a 4.8% ABV, it won’t kill you in the heat of the summer.
Outside, The Palm Grill has a relaxed, beachy vibe, with a menu skewed toward fresh fish and chowders, a raw bar, and smaller bites — lighter fare that’s perfect for beach dining.
“It’s a casual, beach kind of a menu,” Tom says. “Kind of a sandwich feel out here. This is, you know, you’re wearing your flip flops and you’re on the beach. I live in the Florida Keys in the wintertime, so a lot of our influence is from the Florida Keys.”
The property has a pool, its own private beach, daily entertainment, Adirondack chairs complete with a firepit — and is lined with the only palm trees we’ve ever seen in New Jersey.
Between the three eateries there are some crossovers between the menus, yet the kitchen, open until 10pm, makes everything from scratch.
“Everything we sell here, we make here,” Tom says. “We’re not pulling calamari out of a freezer; we’re not pulling coconut shrimp out of a freezer. We have a guy who, all day long, all he does is make coconut shrimp. They’re skewered on a stick — that’s all he does. It’s very labor-intensive, and it shows.”
Inside, The Palm Tree is more upscale — think china and silverware as opposed to the plastic baskets and plasticware you’ll find at The Palm Grill — and, while all of the menus on the property are chock full of seafood dishes, the menu for The Palm Tree reflects the resort’s classier side.
“It’s both inside and underneath the big tiki on the south side of the property,” Tom explains. “Nighttime, it’s more of American cuisine, sort of Continental. You’ll see prime steaks, pasta dishes, things of that nature.”
At the 10 South Martini Bar, you’ll find signature cocktails, homemade, infused liquors, and a more trendy, “funky” menu, according to Tom.
“You’ll find a super high-end martini with a bartender who actually made the liquor,” he says. “You’re gonna find kiwis and black cherries and all kinds of unusual things.”
In addition, you can get excellent sushi rolls at each of the eateries.
“We also have our Longbar Sushi,” Tom says. “It’s located inside but supports all of the restaurants. You can get sushi anywhere in the resort.”
The resort is also known for beautiful weddings — you can have the ceremony on the beach, the reception inside, a brunch the following day, and rent out as many hotel rooms as you might need to accommodate everyone.
“In September, October, April, May, and early June, pretty much all we’re doing out here are wedding events,” Tom says. “Most weddings, you can spend most of your weekend driving all over the place with a million costume changes. But, you can come here and park your car and never have to go anywhere else. You can have the afterparty here — we’ll keep the bars open, we’ll keep the music going, you can order in late-night food. No one has to get in their car and make a bad decision.”
Tom says that they’ve hosted over 1,200 weddings since 1992. His two daughters — Jaimee Boyle and Brittany Solon — act as the wedding planners while Tom takes care of the food.
“They organize the whole thing,” he says. “When we first started, my wife Sherry was the wedding planner, but as our children grew and our number of grandchildren grew, she’s taken on the responsibility of them. Which is probably a harder job.”
During our conversation, we watched a multitude of dishes coming out of the kitchen and, after the rainy, two-hour drive, were eager to sample much of what we saw going past.
In a word, the food was fantastic. This isn’t your typical tiki bar fare — Tom’s insistence on freshness and quality was evident in every bite.
We needed to try their much-lauded coconut shrimp. Even for a tiki bar, the presentation was striking: five gigantic shrimp, each to its own skewer, protruding from half an orange. Not only was the orange an inventive way to support the skewers, but it also added a bit of color to the dish while also tying into the delicious orange marmalade dipping sauce. The slight bitterness in Always Ready brought out the sweetness of the dipping sauce as well as that of the coconut, pairing beautifully with this must-try dish.
It’s also difficult for us to go anywhere without trying their take on that beach bar mainstay, the fish taco. At many places, you’ll get three soft tortillas with a modest smattering of fish and vegetables. Not at The Palm Grill. These things were overflowing with deliciousness. The mahi-mahi was much more flavorful than the haddock or cod you usually find, with the perfect amount of light sour cream sauce. You may want to tuck an extra napkin into your collar, as the house-made pico de gallo tends to want to get everywhere. Served with a side of Spanish rice, the dish had a mild spiciness. Regardless, a cold can of Always Ready Pale Ale cut through the spiciness, bringing out the medium flavors of the mahi-mahi.
The Palm Grill’s Thai Calamari is impossibly both spicy and delicate. Light and crispy, the calamari is tossed with remoulade, cherry peppers, and a sweet Thai chili sauce. An excellent poolside muncher, the kick of the cherry peppers brought out the spicy side of the chili sauce. Paired with a can of Always Ready, the fruitiness of the hops blend cuts through the spice while the sweetness of the chili sauce accentuates the hops — the flavors simply kept swirling around.
“Oh, hell yes,” said our photographer for the day, Graphic Design and Social Media Alchemist Courtney Rosenberg, upon seeing the Smoked Yellowfin Tuna Spread on the menu.
Served with chopped red onion, pickled jalapeños, and either crackers or corn tortilla chips, the red onions brought an unexpected sweetness to the dish. With our two-hour drive home, we skipped the jalapeños, yet the hoppiness of Always Ready was a perfect pairing with the smokiness of the dip.
And there’s not a chance we’re going to pass up sushi. Sushi can be a gamble — particularly outside of a dedicated sushi restaurant, and even more particularly at a tiki bar on a beach. Those facts notwithstanding, The Sea Shell knocks their sushi out of the park.
We were intrigued by the Duck Key Roll: jumbo lump crabmeat, cucumber, avocado, and topped with strawberry. It was all extraordinarily fresh, with the sweet/bitter combination offered by the strawberry being an unexpected surprise. Always Ready and crabmeat is a fantastic combination, and its fruitiness met the spiciness of the wasabi, helping to cool everything down.
Mike went with the Kamikaze Roll: spicy tuna, cucumber, white tuna, grilled jalapeños, and a spicy wasabi and Sriracha sauce. There was no avoiding the jalapeños in this one, and the kick was sweat-inducing. Regardless, with a cold can of Always Ready, the beer brought out the flavors of the tuna while cutting through the tremendous spice.
Between the food, the beach, the pool, the beer, and everything else the Sea Shell has to offer, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else when you visit Long Beach Island. And, once you arrive, as Tom says:
“There’s no reason to ever leave.”
The Sea Shell is located on the beach at 10 South Atlantic Avenue in Beach Haven. For more information, see their website at www.theseashellresort.com or call them at (609) 492-4611.