“The merry band of chefs are the equivalent of jazz musicians… constantly improvising, cooking with spontaneity, reacting to an ingredient in the moment.”
By Andy Clurfeld
It’s lunchtime on a Tuesday, and Kyle Hopfensperger and Dan Pollard are talking dinner.
Speciﬁcally, what’s going to be on the menu for dinner at 2nd Jetty Seafood in Sea Bright, where ﬁshes are the star, Kyle is the chef-owner and Dan is the forager of the ﬁnest specimens that come from our waters.
“We talk every day,” Kyle says.
“Sometimes four times a day,” Dan notes.
“If he’s closing at 5:00, I’ll call Dan at 4:50 to get in more for that night, if I think we need it,” adds Kyle.
“And if he doesn’t call then, I’ll call him,” Dan says, as they both laugh.
Dan manages Lusty Lobster, a wholesale-retail seafood enterprise based in Highlands, right over the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge from 2nd Jetty. He’s as critical to the operation of the restaurant—which sits across a narrow stretch of Ocean Avenue from the Atlantic Ocean and catty-corner from the entrance to Sandy Hook—as Kyle’s cohorts in his kitchen, chefs Daniel Ciambrone and Bruce Buzzelli.
On this day, Dan Pollard is prepped and ready: “On Tuesdays, I go through all my sheets—my ﬁsh sources, locals like Viking Village, Bivalve Packing, Barnegat Oyster Collective—and ﬁgure out what I need and what I can get for my store and my special people.”
His “special people” are his chefs. He gets in touch with some of the very best chefs in New Jersey, those in particular who specialize in seafood, and lets them know what’s coming out of the water that week. Kyle listens as Dan recites and jumps, immediately, on the kampachi.
“Kampachi! Yes!” he says, scoring the buttery, sushi- grade ﬁsh that’s a kind of extra-exquisite yellowtail.
“I can get you sushi ﬂuke – that’s local, out of Viking Village,” Dan says. He gets another nod from the chef, who’s already talking about doing a raw-ﬁshes special on one of the “surfboard” platters made from the wood of fallen trees especially for 2nd Jetty by Doug Rella, of Brick. After all, his personal ﬁsh forager has Bambalam oysters, among others, on the bill of available local fare.
“Dayboat mahi, really good tuna, domestic sword—” “Yup, yup, yup.”
“Black sea bass?”
“For sure! We like to do a whole roasted ﬁsh.” “East Coast halibut? Scallops?”
“Do it, do it; I’ll ﬁgure it out.”
Dan smiles. Once upon a time, much of Lusty Lobster’s wholesale business came from high-volume shore restaurants. “But the business has changed,” he says. “The new chefs, and their creativity, mean eating out is not about prime rib anymore. I’m not buying the frozen stuff; I’m buying all fresh.”
He’s selective, too, sourcing, for one example, tuna from “ten different sources so I get the best. I won’t buy garbage.”
They’re rifﬁng now, fast and furious, as Kyle talks about making jalapeno jam and dragon sauce and Dan muses about uni and how the political unrest in Venezuela is affecting the supply of primo jumbo lump crab.
Now it’s my turn to think about dinner. For in a couple of days, I will be popping into 2nd Jetty to see what this collaboration between chef and ﬁsh forager brings to the table…
We’ve ordered so many appetizers that we consider annexing another table on which to place them. That would be unfair to everyone else in the main dining room of 2nd Jetty Seafood, a space that’s equal parts retro, nautical and scrubbed-clean galley. Unfair, clearly, though it might reference the casual-cool attitude found at, say, a neighborhood joint on the outskirts of Belfast, Maine, which would well-serve the mission of the crew that makes 2nd Jetty the best seafood restaurant in New Jersey.
The kitchen has a plan to avoid space-encroachment: one of those custom-made surfboard platters. On it, we ﬁnd a tower of tuna, ﬂuke sashimi, a sweep of oysters, scallops topped with uni, a circle of salmon, and a tian of sliced avocado stuffed with pickled onion and radish. It’s gorgeous. It’s quickly decimated.
First, the Bambalam oysters, their slurpy salinity ﬁnishing cunningly with a ﬂash of sweetness, come dotted with green roe and rosy-orange tobiko and turn an oyster-avoider at my table into an oyster-eater. Those Barnegat scallops may be rich and dense, yet they rival the uni for meltability. Credit a spare sprinkle of black lava salt, micro-chop of cucumber and a spray of lemon juice for reining in the richness. Fluke, so ethereal it looks shaved rather than sliced, is the sandwich meat between a rasher of cucumber matchsticks and a schmear of the jalapeno jam that had me curious. More of a chunky, mouth-warming preserve, it stunned me with its compatibility to the bristling ﬁsh. Maybe it was the base of frothy aioli, glowing with the color and ﬂavor of turmeric and citrus, that brought it all balance. It contrasted quite nicely with the poke-esque cubes of tuna tossed in soy and yuzu and threaded with verdant green seaweed and a chop of ﬁery chilies. Speaking of seaweed, the chef team leaned slices of salmon that would make a sushi master proud against a haystack of lighter lime ‘weed, and ﬁnished the plate with cucumber in another form: a pert, tart-spiced relish. P.S.: The avocado package was a terriﬁc palate cleanser.
Kyle Hopfensperger, Dan Ciambrone, Bruce Buzzelli and their chef-colleague Francisco Lopez have, by all accounts, fun blowing out the insides of raw coconut to make coconut shells for poke. I can’t spoil their fun by telling you the how-to story before they can. But the results are the kind I most appreciate: With blueﬁn tuna (on this night) cubes rolled in a sprightly ginger-citrus sauce and micro-cilantro leaves sprawled on top, the poke needs only the speckle of black sesame seeds to taste ﬁnished. You can, if you’d like, play around with the accompanying fried wontons and slivers of avocado, or go daring and dip the tuna into bubbles of sambal- laced dragon sauce, hot wasabi aioli or sweet-tart hoison.
Once you’re a regular at 2nd Jetty, you’ll do the ﬁsh tacos every other time you visit. Mahi-mahi? Sold… just like Kyle said to Dan Pollard. Juicy chunks of the meaty ﬁsh rest on shredded cabbage tossed with marinated tomatoes and cilantro, a twirl of pickled red onion on top. I try to roll this all up in the soft taco, but I’m not always successful in sopping up the juices from the lemon and lime the ﬁsh is seared with, nor the sunset- color aioli striping the ensemble. I’ll keep trying.
I do ask for a spoon to help me with the lobster sauce keeping company with the crab-stuffed salmon—crab, mind you, that’s been chunked up with cornichons, parsley, and dill in a mustard-mayo mix. I keep that spoon handy to scoop up the Caribbean rice, made with basmati and zapped with pico de gallo and shards of spinach. That’s doing right by a couple of seafood staples, ol’ salmon and crab. So is making a mini-mountain out of grilled blueﬁn as it buttresses a pineapple-seaweed salad. Dab the tuna in the avocado mousse, for good measure.
I may have fallen hardest for 2nd Jetty’s cooked version of the scallops, given their even, caramel-color sear and pitch-perfect plate partners of red quinoa and wild mushroom mix. And I did take advantage of a spot of jalapeno jam, which didn’t play favorites among its mates. Lots of love in that dish.
2nd Jetty typically has homey desserts—crumbles and cobblers, pies and puddings. Try the Key lime pie, silky and tart and maybe not Marie Jackson-at-Flaky-Tart sublime, but nothing ever will be that divine, or a cinnamon-scented bread pudding, which usually comes with berries.
Do know that nothing at 2nd Jetty is ever exactly the same twice. That’s because Kyle and his merry band of chefs not only cook seasonally, they are the equivalent of jazz musicians: constantly improvising, cooking with spontaneity, reacting to an ingredient in the moment.
No wonder their collaborator, Dan Pollard, works so hard to get them the best: Fishes, once out of water, need true friends at the end of the line.
Need To Know
2nd Jetty Seafood isn’t your typical summer-at-the-shore spot. It’s just as popular with locals as it is with seasonal residents and daytrippers. It’s a BYOB. It also—and this is new-news, as 2nd Jetty starts its third season— takes reservations for inside seating.
Manager Jack Murphy, who runs front-of-the-house operations, often books musicians who perform live outside in summertime. He also books the “kitchen table,” which is a terriﬁc place to have a small party. The “table” is—what else? I mean, these guys are all surfers!—an old surfboard set up in a small room that looks into the kitchen. You can watch the jazz-chefs perform as you dine.
The space, once upon a time, held a bar, and the back room of the lanky restaurant still sports a bar-counter. If you’d like to BYOB and pour yourself a glass back there, maybe grab an app or three, just tell the folks at check-in. Whether it’s during so-called slow times in November or March, or in peak-summer months when the world rolls off Sandy Hook into 2nd Jetty, the crew is friendly, welcoming and helpful.
2ND JETTY SEAFOOD
140 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright
Phone: (732) 224.8700 • 2ndjetty.com
Major credit cards and reservations accepted. For information about hours and menu prices (which reﬂect current market prices) please call, visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Lusty Lobster is located at 88 Bay Avenue, Highlands. 732-291-1548; www.bestlobster.com.