When people think of Ocean County, they tend to focus on the beach and the boardwalks of places such as Seaside Heights and Long Beach Island. One thing that you do not hear much about is the area restaurants. Between the endless fast food options and mediocre pizza shops, the phrase ‘food wasteland’ has been used on many an occasion to describe the culinary scene in Ocean County.
But things are starting to change. Down in Barnegat, Shore Fire Grille is creating a little stir, taking casual cuisine staples like burgers, sandwiches and wings and elevating them to intriguing new heights.
“When I moved back here from Florida two and a half years ago, I knew I would someday open my own place,” says Chef Timothy Kohlheim. “I saw a huge void in the food around here, being mainly Italian and Chinese food, plus your normal chain restaurants. I found myself needing to travel 45-60 miles for something different.”
Originally from New Jersey, Kohlheim earned a business degree and attended culinary school in Florida. Upon returning to his home state, he found himself regularly throwing dinner parties and catering events for his friends. This led him to starting Shore Thing Catering, and eventually, to opening the restaurant.
“Modern American” is the way Kohlheim describes his place, as he says of his menu: “There’s nothing on the menu you won’t know what it is, but it’s all done extremely well, with a bit of a tweak on it to make it different.” And it is true: all the offerings on the menu are in the realm of comfort food that tends to click easily with people but with fun little twists. Hush puppies get a makeover with Jersey corn and a BBQ dipping sauce to become Loud Puppies. The BLT sandwich is made with not just bacon, but with pork belly. And why have a meatball sub when you can make it a Buffalo Chicken Meatball Sub?
The focal point of the menu is the Burger Bar, which features a multitude of options for toppings, sauces, cheese, breads and rolls. You can also choose the type of ‘burger’ itself, be it beef, portabella mushroom, tuna, chicken, turkey, black and white bean, or what they call 5-Star. What makes a 5-Star? A mixture of Angus beef, short ribs and brisket, that’s what. Why that combination? “The different meats give the burger a different texture, flavor, richness and fat content entirely,” said Kohlheim. “They are all great cuts on their own, but when put together they support each other so well. It’s like no other.”
Speaking of basic things in the industry, consider the chicken wing. Fried up with a good dousing of butter and hot sauce, wings are as ubiquitous as the ketchup bottle in casual dining. Shore Fire Grille takes the wing concept and smokes it – literally. You can choose from having your wings fried, smoked, or, for a truly scrumptious experience, both smoked and fried. The smoking adds a depth a flavor that you just don’t expect from a pile o’ wings. It gives them nobility.
With his creative touch to food, Kohlheim could have gone for a higher-end type of restaurant. However, he is clear about why a casual eatery is the right place for his talents. As he puts it: “My menu is something people can come and enjoy multiple times in a week and not break the bank; you won’t risk spending a lot and not loving it fully. I think with the economy the way it is, no one wants to take the risk [of] spending [a lot of money] on food, and not be blown away… so they don’t; but people can justify spending $10 and they are always delightfully surprised.” Regardless of the economy, it seems the risk in going to Shore Fire Grille is well worth it.