For many, the hardest part about dining in Atlantic City during the season is deciding where to go among hundreds of great options — special occasion or everyday; a casino restaurant or neighborhood place; a cozy BYOB or a hot spot on the scene; steak, Italian or seafood? For kosher diners, the world of fine-dining options at the shore is much, much smaller. Actually, there’s just one choice: Shari’s Bistro in Somers Point.
World-renowned artist Michael Godard, more commonly known as the “rock star of the art world…
As the only game in town for observant Jews, locals and tourists, Shari’s doesn’t even need to be much to look at in order to survive. But it is. Whether you are Jewish or not, a full bar, a dining room jutting over the marina with views of Ocean City throughout, a spacious deck for outdoor dining, friendly service, and one of the best ribeye steaks at the shore, Shari’s Bistro is a welcome dining option for anyone. For observant Jews, it is something to celebrate.
There are a few kosher options in the Atlantic City area already and of course many more up in Lakewood, Ocean County. Most, however, are everyday casual places like Shalom Pita or Bubbies Bistro in Ventnor City. Some may remember Shari’s Bistro from its previous location at the former Sheraton Hotel Atlantic City West on Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township. While the hotel was sold a few years ago, the restaurant recently reopened with the same name, owner and manager, but now boasting an idyllic location at Tavern on the Bay Resort in Somers Point.
The Shari of Shari’s is Shari Trocki who, with her husband, Dr. Ira Trocki, bought the 1884 Victorian mansion and marina in 2001 with the primary goal of having a marina to serve his Egg Harbor Yacht Group. In addition to the restaurant, the mansion operates as a small inn with six antique-furnished guest rooms and an upstairs banquet room and deck, accommodating parties of up to 50 people.
The restaurant at Tavern on the Bay was run by various operators over the decades and was known variously as The Grand View Hotel, Corleto’s, The Point, Mayers Inn and Marina, Tavern on the Bay, 800 Bay Gourmet Bar and Grill, and Philippe Chin French-Asian Bistro and Deck Bar, among others. When the last of these operators pulled out, the Trockis decided to run it themselves, and Shari’s was revived. Dr. Trocki says, “It was Shari’s idea.” Mrs. Trocki confirms, “I wanted people to have a great kosher restaurant to go to. And it’s such a beautiful place.”
Kosher means that the restaurant conforms to Jewish dietary laws and operates under strict rabbinical supervision. The intricacies of the laws are complex but the summary is simple: pork and shellfish are strictly prohibited; meat and dairy can never be combined. Shari’s Bistro is a “meat kitchen” meaning no dairy is ever allowed, though they do offer fish, poultry and vegetarian menu items in addition to meat. While those restrictions may seem challenging, and those counting on slurping oysters or crunching fried calamari on the bay will best be served down the road on Bay Avenue, the availability of kosher ingredients combined with a little bit of culinary creativity make a variety of unexpected dishes possible. Ira Trocki says, “We can do a chicken parmesan just like anyone else. The only difference is we’re using soy cheese, not dairy.”
Running the day-to-day operations is a dream management team. The food and beverage manager, Caleb Williams, is a familiar face to many in the region, having been with the Trocki family’s hospitality operations since 1992. The chef, Joseph Bradshaw, is new to kosher cooking but not to cooking great food, having been the chef-owner of Welcome to the South BBQ in Pleasantville before taking over the kitchen at Shari’s. Bradshaw says, “It’s a new challenge but I love the clean healthy flavors. And it’s very strict (kosher). I’ve learned a lot.”
In addition to Bradshaw and his kitchen team, the kitchen is under rabbinical supervision by an organization called Yoreh Deah, based in Monsey, New York. The mashgiach, or kosher supervisor at the restaurant locally, is Jacob Ben Shitrit, a talented chef himself, who owned and operated Jerusalem Glatt Kosher Restaurant in Ventor City, before closing it at the end of last season and coming to Shari’s. Whenever the kitchen is open, Ben Shitrit is there, inspecting all of the products that come in to ensure their compliance with kosher law, training staff on the intricacies of the law, and making sure all of the products are prepared to kosher standards.
Kevin James is a bonafide Hollywood star. He checks off all the boxes. He has had a hit prim…
The staff is similarly experienced and it shows via the quick and attentive service, equally welcoming to observant Jews who will not dine elsewhere and general foodies seeking solid food and drink in a historic dining room with a bay view. Stand-out starters from the winter menu were a humble lentil soup with shredded beef (also available vegan) that had an unexpected depth of umami flavor, a sweet caramelized pear salad with candied walnuts, and a Caesar salad attractively presented as whole baby leaves with assorted toppings and a plump anchovy. Entrees were stronger. Salmon fillet on a crispy rice cake with miso glaze, coming to the summer menu, was satisfying, as was the curiously named Chicken Capon (it is chicken, not capon), a moist sliced chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms, peppers and spinach with a creamy sauce. Everything was tasty but the standout was the ribeye — perfectly cooked, with a strong smoky sear from the grill and as good as that of an Atlantic City steakhouse. The desserts are also not to be missed. Made with non-dairy, the crème brulee might disappoint purists, but the peach cobbler with non-dairy ice cream, a nod to Bradshaw’s expertise, and the deconstructed peanut butter apple pie, one of Dr. Trocki’s inventions, are down-the-shore fun. If these menu items don’t seem particularly “Jewish” (your grandmother’s brisket and kugel are nowhere to be found), that is not by accident. “We want to offer great American food and wine that happens to be kosher,” Trocki says.
Kosher food in general is much more expensive than conventional food. There are fewer suppliers, more specialty items, and the extra payroll costs of the mashgiach. But the menu pricing is largely in line with what you might expect at any special occasion restaurant in the region — wine and cocktails in the $10-12 range for a glass; appetizers from $8-$22, and entrees from $22-46. Speaking on this, Dr. Trocki let slip a surprising detail — his goal is not to make a profit, but to offer a restaurant for the community. “All of my profits are going to charity,” rattling off a list of Jewish and secular organizations in the region and beyond.
With the season starting, look for some new menu items including gazpacho and other cold soups, foods from the Jewish diaspora including some Moroccan specialties from Ben Shitrit, and some lighter, more seasonal menu items. As Bradshaw finds his kosher sea-legs and the deck fills with tourists, the energy and buzz will return to this historic property.
Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., is professor in the Center for Food and Hospitality Management at Drexel University and author (with Rachel Saks) of Jewish American Food Culture (U. of Nebraska Press).
The Summer Splash party made waves at The Pool After Dark
The Summer Splash party at The Pool After Dark at Harrah's Resort on Wednesday in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo: Mike Manger /PhotoGraphics.