It is one of those rare contrary days; dull, damp, cold, bone-chilling, your much anticipated plans for the day, cancelled at the last moment, you are grizzled and grouchy and all you can find is rainbows. I am here to tell you about the best one today; my lunch at 217 East Main St., Tuckerton NJ. (609-296-3343).
I was supposed to go into NYC for the weekend, but the day broke ugly in its weather and my friend woke up ill. So my plans of bagels, Chinatown dim sum, Korean BBQ and Nidra’s coffee evaporated. Yeah, I was grouchy and disappointed; pretty much gunning for bear. So I decided to kidnap my Mom from the Animal Rescue Yard Sale she was helping out at and headed off to find where the Chef and food of The Hurricane House, formally of Barnegat, NJ had moved. I was very sad THH had closed; it was one of our favorite places. I had heard the new place was in Tuckerton and in a “shared space”, neither of I felt boded good news.
Finding 217 East Main St. was not easy, even knowing Tuckerton. Yes, it is right on Route 9 (Main Street) but the signage is highly missable. I drove past it and had to do a turn around; not easy to do in that area, traffic wise and it isn’t even summer. Yeah! They have off the street parking in the back!. The place looked beautiful from the outside, ah but the Grinch in me today, said looks can be deceiving. A handsome huge wooden door, midway around the building, announced this Main entrance. This is a Victorian building, looking very newly renovated and nicely so. The door opens into a small waiting area by a staircase, with the dining area, in the “study/den” space off to the back. We were warmly greeting by a young woman who also turned out to be our server. It was perhaps 1:25pm.
The woman scooped up two sets of menus, just like at THH, the set menu and the one of the daily specials and led us to a table, smack dab in the entrance of the room. Given, we were a party of 2, looking to be seated in a small space; I did say that the offered seats were not to our liking, hoping for better, and the grouch expecting the worst. Without a bat of an eye, the server went to the back of the room and inquired about a table that was set there. And to which we were escorted. It had been set and held as reserved for a “Tea Party” that did not show. I was glad we were offered the seats so quickly; smart room management . It is a beautiful room, blend of the English parlor, where you are served tea and the Hunt room den, with the dark wood paneling and faux stained glass.
Mom and I quickly scanned the menus, we were THH junkies and had been jonesing bad. Alas we did not find the homey burgers and eclectic sandwiches we missed so much; 217 EMS has moved it up a notch. Instead there are Tea menu items, salads, quiches and entrees. Mom quickly zeroed in on the special of seared scallops and pointed out the quiche of the day, Wild mushroom with goat cheese to me. We always coordinate our choices as we share and sample twice as much this way. I also opted for the set starter of warm cheddar & chive scone, with wild mushroom gravy and a cup of the soup du jour; Crab and asparagus. Both entrees would be served with a side of house salad. To my delight, our server asked me the order I wished to have the starter and soup served.
As we sat back and waited, we looked around, all the other patrons were groups of women, some having Tea and some doing lunch. The room and setting seemed perfect for that. But it was also easy to see men enjoying the space as well. I could feel the Grinch in me beginning to fade. He vanished completely when the starter arrived. With perfect instinct, our server placed it between Mom and me. Beautifully plated with abundant use of fresh herbs (something I consider a signature of the chef), the scone was served split, with sautéed mushroom quarters (no thin, miserly sliced stuff here) and bathed in a fresh mushroom cream gravy. It was magnificent. The cheddar in the scone was nicely sharp, pulling away in those cheese strings only good cheese can do.
Next was the house salad, baby field greens tossed in a strawberry vinaigrette, accented with cucumber, a fresh strawberry and toasted almond slices. It was clear the salad had been tossed to order, not sitting pre-made in some cold box waiting to be served. I drooped a bit when I saw the dressing, these fruit things tend to be icky sweet. Not the case here, the vinaigrette was nicely tangy with just a hint of the berry sweetness. Mom pronounced the salad “pleasant”, in the honest sense of the word; it was just right.
There was a slightly longer than I would have expected wait between salad and entrée. I knew no new orders had gone into the kitchen since we had arrived. The Grinch was thinking maybe he wasn’t banished after all. But he was forever gone when the server brought out our plates. Mom’s seared scallops arrived in fully glory, you could still see the sizzle in the sear. They (4 large) were plated with a pan sauté of summer squash and white rice with coriander. Mom tasted her rice first (both she and I start tasting our food with the item we think we expect the least of and working toward the best) and quickly said, “taste this rice!” It was good.
Meanwhile I perused my plate, a good size piece of quiche, a cup of soup and hum…another serving of the house salad with a small bunch of purple grapes. I stirred my soup and saw wonderful chunks of real crab and asparagus, a perfect bisque in both senses. I do love my soup and brought the first spoonful to my mouth and wow, I was not disappointed. Piping hot (I so hate when soup is not served piping hot) and intensely flavorful. Personally I think that crab and asparagus are fantastic Spring flavors that pair extremely well. And also don’t hold their freshness well when held in a dish. This soup was a meld of all the right things of these two. I quickly offered a taste to Mom.
Mom agreed the soup was great but she was closing in on her first taste of her scallops. Normally, I do not take pictures of my food when I eat out but next time I dine at 217 EMS I will; those seared scallops were looking like perfection. I watched as Mom broke into her first scallop, taking her first bite; and saw that deep sigh of “OMG that is good” look on her face. Mom, the woman who owned a restaurant for years and dined around the world, announced them the best scallops she ever had. Mom likes scallops, she has eaten a lot of them, trust her on this, they are amazing. Can’t get much closer to out of the water, out of the shell, into a searing pan onto your plate, into your mouth better than this. With a longing sigh, after my shared taste of her scallops I turned back to take my first taste of my Wild mushroom and Goat cheese quiche.
OK, I love mushrooms, I have even grown my own shitakes and oyster mushrooms, so if I am happy with how nicely shroomed a dish is, I think anyone should be. And they will adore the Wild Mushroom and Goat cheese quiche I had today. It was chunks of various mushrooms, cubes of goat cheese in a custard that all melted in your mouth, literally. Albeit, the crust was store bought, it was good to the last crumb. The pairing of the quiche and the soup was so good, Chef Chris should consider this as a set menu item. Sadly, my side was another serving of the house salad and went untouched.
One of the things that Mom and I loved about THH was the coffee. They served Gevalia and they served it well. Happy to say, 217 EMS does as well. Kudos to our server who when she came back to see if we needed a refill, left us the carafe (it is stated on the menu as “bottomless” an outstanding bargain). The others around us seemed deep into the tea realm. From what I could observe, tea is served by the cup, with a tea chest of various bags/flavors brought to you for your choice.
Mom (she who loves dessert and especially misses THH Ice Cream) and I passed on dessert, which was the “assorted sweet tray”. We passed because we were nicely full and totally sated. It would be nice to see the house do a fruit and cheese course, only because the chef does fresh and local so well.
To me, even tho I am a local, this is a destination place, worth the drive., for anyone. The set menu (I asked and was given a copy of both lunch and dinner) holds the promise of more goodness to try and I know from the THH, that is only if the Specials menu doesn’t strike my fancy. Chef Chris does do local, fresh and seasonal so well tho, that it could be a long time before I get to them.
And if the chef reads this: *hint hint* your truffled egg salad sandwich was my lifetime best ever…maybe put it into your menus somehow…as devilled eggs, tea sandwiches , somehow.
And so the Grinch was conquered; by great food and wonderful service.