Downbeach now has the restaurant that it always needed. What’s crazy is it didn’t happen sooner.
Water Dog Smoke House has been packing them in ever since opening in October, offering a casual breakfast, sandwich and BBQ joint that is wowing people with its varieties of smoked salmon, making deli fanatics shed tears of joy for their pastrami and corned beef, satisfying a need for poke bowls and even showing they can barbecue the hell out of ribs and brisket.
Monday marks the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the life and legacy …
If you like smoked fish and meats and live in the area, then you may already know of Water Dog … or at least its creators. For about nine years, Dan Greenberg has been a mad scientist with the smoker, offering his Atlantic smoked salmon – including one made with his famous pastrami seasoning – and a variety of meats ranging from turkey to ribs that he would offer at farmers’ markets including Steve & Cookie’s.
“It all started as a hobby for me,” says Greenberg, a chiropractor by trade. “I started experimenting with it for a bunch of my Jewish buddies and kept making stuff until the point where they said, ‘Stop experimenting. You have this. We will buy it.’”
About two years ago, Greenberg was approached by Steve Marchel, another entrepreneur and restaurateur who is a partner at Chido Burrito in Northfield.
“He came to me and said, ‘Hey, your stuff is awesome. How about we make it a real business?,’” Greenberg remembers. “I knew his background, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m in!’ And it has been a great partnership. I concentrate on all of the production, and he runs the restaurant and does the business side.”
The duo officially named the business Water Dog and began wholesaling smoked fish and meats, resulting in great reviews, awesome word of mouth and the decision they needed to open a brick-and-mortar location.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em
When you go to Water Dog — and you really should — you won’t see any smokers. That’s because all of the smoking is done offsite in a commissary kitchen where there are dedicated smokers just for fish to satisfy their kosher designation and others for their meats.
“The Jewish population has really embraced us here,” Greenberg says. “I grew up in Margate, and there are two staples in town everyone knows that sells some of this stuff, and it’s been the same for 35 years and it’s always been average,” Greenberg says. “The reaction we’ve had has been great. We had “break the fast” trays for Yom Kippur, and we sold way more than we ever thought we would. That kosher designation is very meaningful to a lot of people, and we take it seriously.”
While Water Dog offers kippered salmon, which is hot smoked, most of their salmon is cold-smoked, which makes up a big percentage of Water Dog’s business.
Though the fish are smoked from one to three hours, the meats take anywhere from three hours for roasted Angus beef to 12 to 14 hours for beef brisket in the smoker.
“We do the fish and meats at lower temps, but some things, like our turkey, need a higher temp for its crispy skin,” Greenberg adds. “Smoking is a process. I have help now, but at one time I was the only one and spending 20 hours a day working. It got to be too much. But it’s a labor of love.”
Start the day right
It all starts with breakfast, where fresh bagels ($1.20) and a variety of gourmet cheese spreads like the Cape May (house-smoked kippered salmon) and Avalon (house-smoked pastrami nova, which is salmon from Nova Scotia that is cured, cold smoked and has a deep pink, almost burnt-orange color with an intense flavor) are as good as a morning bagel gets.
But then you have to consider the bagel sandwiches that include choice of bagel, choice of cream cheese, capers, tomato, onion and cucumber like The Beast ($9.50) with double house-smoked Nova, the Boca ($8.75) with house-smoked whitefish salad, and the Short Hills ($9.50) with house-smoked pastrami-herbed Nova.
Not in the mood for fish? No problem. Organic egg sandwiches range from traditional pork roll, egg and cheese to The O.M.G. ($4.50) with fried egg, caramelized onion spread and a shot of Cholula hot sauce.
It gets even better for lunch or an early dinner, especially if you start off with The Betty ($13.75), an open-faced sandwich with four, giant, beautifully seared Day Boat scalloped dressed with tarragon aioli, or my favorite; Dr. Dan ($11.95), slow-smoked pastrami served warm on rye with house-made remoulade, spicy mustard or horseradish sauce and slaw; and The Loafer ($8.99), a “Life Changer” thanks to house-smoked mini meatloaves caramelized with a crunchy crust and served on a brioche roll with cheddar cheese and house remoulade. Ask for a side of BBQ sauce to dip it in.
But there are many other temptations: The Blado ($9.95) boasts house-smoked or oven-roasted Angus beef piled on brioche or rye with Monterey Jack cheese, house-made slaw and a side of horseradish sauce; the Kahuna Tuna ($13.50) features sushi-grade tuna with a touch of sweet Thai chili sauce on brioche with house-smoked bacon, arugula and tomato; and The Lou’s ($11.95) pays homage to the bygone Ventnor institution with hand-cut corned beef piled high on rye with house-made remoulade and slaw.
There’s too much to conquer here, like some of the best chicken salad I ever tasted thanks to its dried cranberries, walnuts and chives on the Birds of a Feather ($8.35), melt-in-your-mouth slow-smoked or oven-roasted turkey on the Fowl Territory ($9.50) or even house-smoked honey ham and cheddar on The Lunch Pail ($8.50). There’s something for everyone, including vegans, who can choose sandwiches made with hummus, avocado and more.
Yes, there’s more
If that wasn’t enough, Water Dog also offers poke bowls ($12.99 to $15.49) served over brown or white rice or greens with avocado, edamame, corn, cucumber, daikon, seaweed salad, toasted sesame seeds, mango, green onion and crispy onion with a choice of five proteins (sushi-grade tuna, salmon, teriyaki scallop, shrimp and Kona chicken) and five sauces ranging from ginger wasabi to coconut ginger.
There are plenty of salad plates to choose from using everything from salmon to tuna to Hawaiian-kissed grilled chicken, but the BBQ selection may be worth the visit alone.
Expect to find ribs, brisket and occasionally pulled pork, with aspirations to offer beef ribs in the summer.
All of this business means Greenberg doesn’t miss cracking necks and adjusting backs.
“To be quite honest, we knew that we would be popular, but I don’t know if we knew we would be this busy in the offseason,” Greenberg says. “The selection around town is a little boring, and has been for quite some time with a few exceptions. But it has been busier than I dreamed, and it’s only January.”
Changes for the summer include adding more outdoor seating, adjusting procedures to handle more people quickly and even offering more pre-packaged items to grab and go.
“Our menu is probably 95 percent set for the summer, and we will add specials here and there,” Greenberg says. “And as far as the future goes, we have to get through the first summer and then think about the future.”