I spent the
last weekend in February cruising around New Jersey with a woman I’ve been
seeing. Saturday we rode down the Turnpike and had dinner with my cousin and
some friends of hers, then we took a room at a cheap motel we favor. Neither
one of us gets cable tv at home, so we watched tv, got drunk and had crazy sex,
just like real Americans. On Sunday she was kind enough to get up and run out
to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, and we shared a cop breakfast as we watched
the History Channel and CNN. I like the History Channel on Sunday mornings,
especially when they run the old black-and-white footage of the Navy battling
it out with the Japanese during WWII. The moral clarity of the situation and
the nobility of purpose reminds me of my Baptist upbringing in the 50s, when
things were still fairly simple.
It was raining,
mostly drizzle punctuated with the occasional real downpour. It was warm enough
to ride with the window down when the rain got light. Neither one of us wanted
to take the Turnpike back, so we drove through the Pine Barrens, sticking to
back roads through Medford and Indian Mills, Chatsworth and Toms River. There
was very little traffic out, and the Pines were enveloped by a thick mist. I
tuned in an oldies station on the radio. We stopped in Medford to get a drink
at an ancient tavern. Three teenage boys were chasing each other around the
parking lot, done up as movie monsters. One was wearing a hockey mask a la Jason
from Friday the 13th, one had on that gruesome blank Michael Myers mask
from the Halloween movies and one was done up in that outfit from Scream.
There were white picket fences and hedges and quaint little gift shops.
As we exited
the tavern, the boy in the Scream mask leaped in front of us, moaning
and swinging his arms like a monkey. My friend smiled at him and said, "You
remind me of my son," whereupon the lad began rolling around on the ground
in front of us groaning "Mommy" over and over again. We got into the
car and drove out of town, into the woods and the mist.
up red meat, and my friend is considering doing so. We discussed this at some
length as we drove through the eerie stunted pines in the fog. All these weird
epidemics: anthrax, BSE, vCJD, foot and mouth disease, not to mention all the
steroids and antibiotics and whatever other horrors the meat industry is hiding,
have finally converged in my thinking to render cultivated animal flesh unpalatable.
It wasn’t that hard to stop, I don’t really get cravings for it very
often, but I’ve developed a voracious appetite for just about anything
else, especially seafood. It’s a little scary, this enhanced appetite,
but I’m indulging it for the time being. It’s not as scary as Mad
It kicked in
with a vengeance just as we sped past a rather promising-looking roadhouse on
Rte. 70, approaching Rte. 9. I cursed myself for missing the place and headed
north on 9. South of Tuckerton, Rte. 9 is fairly quaint: lots of little antique
joints and odd little bars and restaurants. But the northern end of the highway
has turned into an extended strip mall, an endless procession of Jiffy Lube
and CVS, Boston Market and Outback. My stomach was rumbling, and visions of
blackened catfish and lobster bisque were dancing in my head. I was ready to
pig out in a big way, more than ready, but I staunchly refused to cave in and
stop at a chain restaurant. This was Rte. 9, for chrissakes, practically the
Bruce Springsteen Memorial Highway. I knew if I just kept going and resisted
the temptations of the banal I’d eventually find some little mom-and-pop
joint with some character and some real food.
I was beginning
to despair of finding anything better than a local diner when Spike’s Fish
Market appeared on the right. It looked perfect: small and down-home, and there
were beer lights in the windows. We went in and took our seats at the bar. We
both smoke, and we’ve grown accustomed to eating at bars. We ordered a
couple of Molsons and perused the menu.
There was a
lot to choose from. The menu proudly boasts, "None of our food is deep
fried!" The appetizers range from variations on clams, oysters and shrimp
to stuffed tomatoes and salads. Entrees are standard Jersey Shore fare: catch
of the day, crabcakes, lobster, stuffed flounder, that sort of thing. Very basic,
very fresh. I was impressed with the cleanliness of the place and the fact that
our waiter volunteered to let us peruse the fish before preparation. I ordered
a bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp as an appetizer, and decided on linguine with
white clam sauce as an entree. I’d been craving that for days; it’s
one of my favorite meals, and I’m very picky about it. My companion ordered
a tossed salad and a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder.
were fabulous: eight perfectly prepared jumbos served on a bed of mixed greens
accompanied by a tangy and perfectly balanced cocktail sauce. My friend’s
salad was a rich blend of garden vegetables and fresh croutons generously splashed
with a light vinaigrette. The shrimp tasted like it had been caught that morning,
as fresh as any I have ever eaten.
arrived, and my lady friend made little cooing orgasm noises as she slurped
up her chowder. I dug into a perfect portion of linguine smothered in a rich
clam sauce with an exquisite undercurrent of garlic in a delicately balanced
broth of clam juice and a very light olive oil. The sauce was too good to let
go of, and what I didn’t get with the linguine I sopped up with the fresh
bread. They had key lime pie on the dessert menu, but the linguine was precisely
what I’d needed to sate my voracious appetite, and I was stuffed.
I spoke briefly
with one of the owners, Jackie Heron. She and her partner Steve Weinstein operate
three of these places: the one we were at, in Marlboro, had been open just two
years in November. There’s a Spike’s in Belmar, which they are reopening
"for the millennium" this spring. The original Spike’s, in Pt.
Pleasant, has been around since 1926. There’s live entertainment on Thursday
nights at the Spike’s in Marlboro, which is an easy one-hour hop down Rte.
9 from the city.
coming; it’s right around the corner. The Hamptons were over 20 years ago,
so the undiscovered country is to the south, where unassuming roadhouses and
seafood joints abound and true wealth is always understated. I keep a lot of
my summer haunts secret, but Jackie doesn’t mind a few extra visitors and
Spike’s is a great place to stop for a fresh hearty meal on your way to
or from the Jersey Shore at any time of year.
Fish Market & Restaurant, 448 Rte. 9 N., Marlboro, NJ, 732-972-6066.