It’s always a pleasant surprise when your experience at a restaurant turns out to be beyond what you expected.
Such was the case recently at Surf BBQ in Rumson. The name suggested mostly ribs and french fries to us, but when we arrived and studied the menu, we discovered they offered far more than just that. There were a number of deftly prepared dishes and a wide variety of offerings which included choices for health-conscious guests as well as vegans. Our first appetizer – which was listed in For the Table – Tin Can Nachos ($22), was nothing short of amazing on all levels. It arrived in a tall, shiny tin can in the center of a plate. When lifted by our server, the can’s contents were released and covered the entire large serving dish. The mix of house-made tortilla chips, shredded Oaxaca chicken, cheddar sauce, black beans, avocado, sour cream, pico de gallo and jalapeno proved to be delicious as well as addictive. Although the four of us made a valiant attempt to finish it, the serving was so generous that we took home almost half uneaten to enjoy for lunch the next day. Highly recommended – the dish of the night!
From the Appetizer section of the menu, Shrimp Ceviche ($18), chunks of Gulf shrimp served in a cocktail glass with a citrus marinade, coconut water, avocado, radish, red onion, jalapeno and tortilla strips, was cool and refreshing, the plentiful shrimp, tender and juicy.
We also selected an order of Street Corn ($16). This deceptively simple-sounding dish consisted of three pieces of freshly grilled corn, liberally coated with spicy mayo, cotija cheese, lime and ancho chile. The result was another highly addictive appetizer that drew much praise from the table. The crunch of the corn blended with the piquancy of the coating and left us wanting more, but there were other dishes to try and we needed to save room.
Large, fried Onion Rings ($15), panko breaded and served with a creamy “Surf Sauce” on the side, also made for a halt in the conversation at the table as our group savored the crunchy, greaseless rings and kept eating “just one more!”
We also liked the Steakhouse Bacon ($15), hand-cut smoked bacon accompanied by a maple glaze, French grain mustard, pickled onions and rye bread. The thick slices of the juicy bacon were richly flavored.
An order of complementary Cornbread was an unexpected, light and tasty treat.
One diner opted for an entrée of Chimichurri Chicken ($27), a brined organic Bell & Evans chicken breast served with the house chimichurri sauce, sticky rice, a unique grilled veggie kebab, pickled onion and frisée salad. A generous portion of moist and tender white meat was perfectly cooked and the grilled kebab of zucchini, red onion, cremini mushrooms and cherry tomatoes was a tasty and unusual accompaniment. For vegans, the kebabs can also be ordered as a free-standing entrée ($20) served with chimichurri sauce and cauliflower rice.
One of my guests really enjoyed her entrée of Tacos served with Crispy Cod ($24). It was also available with optional choices of blackened gulf shrimp, grilled mahi mahi, Oaxaca chicken or charred hangar steak as alternate proteins. Served with a lime slaw, guacamole, pico de gallo, chipotle sauce, radish and black beans, it too, was generous enough to provide take-home leftovers for lunch the next day.
Two guests wanted a modified version of the 16-Hour Brisket Sandwich ($21) and requested no bun, with a side of cornbread instead. A nicely sized portion of Creekstone Farms Brisket, BBQ sauce, Patriot Pickles, white onion and fries completed their platters. One diner enjoyed the dish but was looking for a stronger, smokier flavor to the meat; the other diner was very happy with the brisket’s flavor and enjoyed her dish immensely.
There is a broad selection of beers from which to choose: draft, bottle and cans, many from area producers and small artisanal makers. We enjoyed a Birdsmouth Original Lager ($7), made right in Oceanport. It was an all-malt offering, amber colored, with a low 4.5% ABV. Pipeworks Blood of the Unicorn Lager ($9); a fruity red ale, with 6.5% alcohol was also very enjoyable. Creamy and dark, Carton Milk Draft ($8), a 4% malt-based milk stout with notes of black currant from the nearby Carton Brewery was unique and tasty.
There was a nice variety of wines by the glass listed and we liked the 2021 GLS Frenzy ($14 /glass), a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. The citrusy, lemon-lime palate was a good pairing for most of the dishes we ordered. A 2020 Laroche Chardonnay ($13/glass) from France was a more modest wine, with notes of apple and a bit too much oak for my taste.
We consumed so much savory food that there were no takers at our table for dessert that evening. It is not often that we pass on a sweet finish to the end of a meal, but it would have been overkill in the truest sense, and we decided to exercise a rare bit of self-control. Of course, when we return for another sampling of the menu, we will manage to test-drive the desserts.
Surf BBQ offers far more than basic BBQ, and all the dishes show a high degree of finesse and complexity. It was a very enjoyable experience!
SURF BBQ 132 E. River Road Rumson SURFBBQ.COM
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, writes about food, wine and restaurants in this column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
The article originally appeared in the June 15 – 21, 2023 print edition of The Two River Times.