|Image by mcamcamca via Flickr|
A fishing boat.
By VICTOR E. SASSON
The Garden State is also the Fishing State, with several working ports -- from Belford on Raritan Bay all the way down to Barnegat Light on the Atlantic Ocean.
So, on Saturday, we set off in search of fresh local seafood for lunch, but met with only limited success.
Four of us had a big meal at The Fishery in South Amboy -- fried smelts, steamed Littleneck clams in a scrumptious broth, fried whiting, meaty broiled haddock, large crab cakes and even soft-shell crabs.
I'm not sure how much of it was brought in by New Jersey boats (In 2016, The Fishery was closed).
We had hoped to eat at Pirate's Cove, a restaurant operated by the Belford Seafood Co-op on Raritan Bay, but it was closed for the winter, as I learned when I called the attached retail market.
Fishermen who belong to the co-op catch fluke, porgy and many other kinds of fish in the Atlantic Ocean, and sell much of it wholesale to the Fulton Fish Market and elsewhere along the East Coast.
After lunch, we drove down to the Belford Co-op Fish Market, which is in the same long, low shed as the restaurant, but when I walked in, no one was on duty at the counter.
However, I could hear someone working in another part of the building.
I saw whole clams and oysters in the fish case along with three kinds of fish fillets, all unlabeled. Some of the fillets were in a metal tray with water (maybe melted ice), which I thought odd.
There was a fishy smell to the place, though it wasn't strong.
On a board on a wall, more than a dozen kinds of fish were listed at prices you don't see in North Jersey fish markets. Many were listed at $2 a pound. Fluke, a terrific fish often eaten raw as sashimi, was listed at $2 to $4 a pound.
I left without buying anything.
I found the history of fishing in Belford at the following link: History of Belford
Belford was officially established in 1891 when a rail station was built here, separating from Port Monmouth (Township of Middletown).
A menhaden processing plant was built in Belford in the late 1800s, which operated until 1982 (Jones 2004); this was once the town’s largest employer (Township of Middletown).
The presence and stench of the menhaden plant helped maintain Belford as a relatively unchanged fishing port while the rest of the shore around it was subject to intense development and tourism. Belford has notoriously been home to pirates, blockaders, rum runners, and even through the 1980s, fish poachers.
There is a long tradition among some Belford fishermen of not obeying fisheries regulations (Jones 2004). Some consider Belford to be the longest continuously operating fishing village on the East Coast.
Earlier, at The Fishery, we ordered way too much and ran up the bill to $100 for four, not including the tip.
The restaurant is basically a seafood shack on a forlorn stretch of Route 35 littered with shuttered businesses.
There's seating for under 20 people, plus a counter, seafood cases, walls covered with white tiles and a more-or-less open kitchen in back.
We parked behind the small building, near a 5-foot-high bush of rosemary. The energetic young woman behind the counter is the lone server. Basic silverware comes wrapped in small, paper napkins.
For some reason, the friendly Greek owner charges more for broiled or sauteed fish than for fried, so my wife's two large crab cakes were $18.95 with two sides, compared to $15.95 fried. Still, she complained they tasted "greasy" or oily.
My son wanted soft-shell crabs, which I didn't think were in season, and he wanted them fried with french fries ($19.95).
My mother-in-law's fried whiting platter had three fish for $12.95.
I saw haddock fillet on ice, so ordered simply broiled haddock with fresh, sauteed spinach and a naked baked potato, a balanced and filling meal for $15.95.
We loved one of our appetizers: a half-pound of headless, fried ocean smelts, which are smaller than sardines but larger than anchovies. We ate them whole, sprinkled with lemon juice or dipped in a spicy red sauce or tartar sauce.
A smelt dinner was listed on a blackboard for $12.95, but I'm not sure how much we were charged for a half pound.
Our other appetizer: a dozen Littleneck clams ($9.95), which came with garlic toast. I ate the pleasantly salty broth with fresh tomato as a soup course.
Three of us also ordered cups of The Fishery's Manhattan Clam Chowder ($2.50) and Maine Lobster, Clam and Corn Chowder ($3.95).
The Fishery, 1812 Route 35 north, South Amboy;
732-721-9100. BYO. Closed Mondays.
Belford Seafood Co-op, 901 Port Monmouth Road, Middletown; 732-787-6508 (retail market).