SEA BRIGHT – Where there’s a 3-mile stretch of beach, there’s a way. As the sun goes down on a summer evening over Sea Bright, the beach is packed with people cooking, sharing and enjoying dinner together. This is a typical summer night in Sea Bright.
Members of private beach clubs want to soak up every ounce of the Jersey Shore in the summer and eating dinner at the beach has become a ritual.
“Eating dinner down at the beach is the best part of growing up around here,” said Suzann Cahill, Rumson, a 30-year member of Sands Beach Club. “My kids grew up doing this. It’s just a very welcoming, family thing.”
What started in the 1950s with a few private clubs lining the shore has become the culture of a beach day and the staple of summer in Sea Bright and other shore towns. Most beach club patrons enjoy the social community life centered around their club. The beach clubs provide cabanas and lockers, food services, bathrooms, showers, sitting areas, Olympic-size and baby pools – and of course, the beach. With the cost of membership, most take full advantage of all their club has to offer. Members stay throughout the day and often until closing time at night. Some people bring their food to the beach, some enjoy cooking on the clubs’ open grills with cabana mates taking turns cooking, and others opt for takeout from area restaurants.
Culinary fare may include burgers and hot dogs or lobster or filet mignon, depending on how fancy the setup is that particular evening. Beverages range from lemonades to Coronas to margaritas.
No matter what they’re eating, diners usually set up some form of a tailgate outside their cabanas or on the beach, welcoming anyone to have a drink and share their treats. “We usually just bring our food and a cooler,” said Cahill. “We’re definitely cooler-of-beer people. But some people go all out. Some of my friends have themed dinners on the beach – they’ll do Thanksgiving in July or Shark Week-themed. It’s just so much fun.”
Food is almost always served picnic style. Beach club patrons may prepare shrimp rolls and homemade pasta, but they often eat on plastic and paper plates with disposable cutlery. Others may use melamine plates, silver ware and wine glasses.
With the opportunity to BYOB to cabanas at some of the beach clubs, many members will share bottles of wine with friends, and often stay until past 10 p.m. Over the years, family friendships have been built over these sandy dinner parties and children have grown up together.
Sophia Maita of Fair Haven has been a member of Ship Ahoy beach club since she was a baby.
“The same families are all die-hard beach dinner fans so we’ll always see the same people there at night,” she said. “But within my own beach group that’s usually the time when everyone will get off of work and reunite and it’s always so much fun to share our food we make and the easy beach recipes. It makes the whole beach feel like one big family.”
According to Maita summertime dinner habits at the beach club has redefined the idea of the American barbecue. For members of private clubs, long gone is the stress of inviting people into your home and buying hot dog buns in bulk.
Instead, it’s often a casual thrown-together beach potluck with the people they care about. “The ‘traditional’ American barbecue is a lot about hosting a party and inviting people while dinner on the beach happens more organically,” she said.
“There’s no stress about planning your meal or who is going to be around,” Maita said, “because no matter who is there or what you’re eating, you’re going to have a good time.”
Beach club members wait all year for summer and the chance to perfect the “10 to 10”, a full 12-hour beach day – enjoying the sand, surf and friendship from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. So whether it’s noshing on gourmet cheese and crackers or grilling a burger, they can toast all summer long.
“These are beach people we’re talking about.” Says Cahill, “and we’re always there for the duration.”
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