Great seafood, a lot of love and cozy atmosphere at The Clam Bar
Can seafood and a waterfront atmosphere really conspire to create romance? Having met while working together at Somers Point's bayside Clam Bar (aka Smitty's) Peter and Patrice Popovic, sure think so.
The story is classic Jersey shore summertime stuff.
Peter -- an original owner along with the late Dennis Dixon -- met his future wife more than three decades ago, during the 1974 season.
Patrice, a native of Pittsburgh, had just completed her freshman year at Penn State University. Like students since time immemorial, she spent her time off living at the shore and waiting tables. She was recommended by her sister to Dixon, himself a former collegiate friend. The restaurant was still very much in its infancy, having opened only two years prior.
Although Patrice did return that autumn to her matriculation at State College, it didn't last. She and Peter, who began dating at the end of the summer, were married by March of the following year.
At the time, the restaurant was a much different, smaller facility, offering only counter service and casual fare.
The rear of the building, today's dining room, was a boat shop and marine engine facility. Owned by Bill Smith, the restaurant has since adopted its moniker of "Smitty's" from his name.
The young owners worked hard, even staying open round the clock on weekends, providing grub to late-night revelers exiting the area's legendary clubs, like the Dunes, Tony Mart's and Bayshores.
As time passed, the eatery "transformed into a dinner restaurant" according to Patrice, and in the early 1980s expanded to occupy the former repair shop.
These days, their menu tilts heaving toward that bounty of sea. What else would you expect from a place that sits so invitingly only a few feet from the azure waters of Great Egg Harbor Bay? Asked about her personal recommendations, Patrice offers both the house's chowders, New England and Manhattan. She also particularly extols the Clam Bar's wasabi sauce. Their unique potpies are so popular that Patrice says, "We have a long list of customers who we call when they are offered."
The recipe, a riff on the traditional French favorite Coquilles Saint Jacques, incorporates scallops and a Dijon mustard sauce within puff pastry.
Demonstrating the kitchen's versatility, the seafood Acapulco draws from a different geographical tangent, combining lobster, shrimp and scallops with salsa over rice. Another popular draw are the shore region's own exquisite little gems, fresh fried soft-shell crabs.
Available only in season, which happens to be right about now, the pure, clean products are intentionally purchased in strictly limited quantities.
To insure their quality and freshness Patrice explains, "We only order enough so that we know we'll run out by the end of that night's service."
We can only hope the lads of Aerosmith will opt to stop in late night after their just-announced Revel gig Friday, Nov. 23 — if only to partake of the “Big Ten Inch” pizza, which shares its name with the title of a snappy little number on the group’s 1975 release Toys in the Attic.
“Bistro” just might be the overused, misunderstood word currently popularized in the gastronomic world. By original definition, the term refers to a French neighborhood place, casually offering hearty portions at modest prices in a comforting, home-like atmosphere.
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