Road Trip: LBI Like a Local
New life mingles with seaside traditions on Long Beach Island
The story of Long Beach Island, better known among NJ local as LBI, is a story of the water. As you cross the Route 72 Causeway, the view opens up in stages. There are the salt-marsh homes of Beach Haven West, some still bearing Sandy’s scars. There is the strange absence of the bayman’s shack that used to hold court in the reeds. Finally, the vista opens onto a union of water, land and sky.
Even for locals, the landscape strikes a chord. Water is in the island’s spirit. Karter Larson, a fisherman based in historic Viking Village, captures it perfectly: “My dad was on the ocean all of the time,” Larson says. “If you wanted to see him, you got on the boat.” Like others who were raised on the water, he was hooked for life.
The same goes for the surfers, many of whom are known for their hustle, working to make ends meet so they can pursue their passion for the crashing blue. A lifelong surfer and writer, Jon Coen of Surf City is so inspired by LBI that he launched a documentary series called “Just Beneath the Surface.” A visual love letter, it reveals LBI’s hidden artisans, fishermen, and culinary minds.
“I’m out there surfing and fishing and diving,” Coen says. “I have a garden. I see friends doing yoga. There’s so much going on just beneath the surface of what people see.” May into early June, he’ll tell you, is an LBI sweet spot. Tourist season is just around the corner, but for a few golden weeks, it’s a local’s playground.
“That’s when the island comes alive,” says Danielle Corso, who splits her time between LBI and Philly. Owner of Volatile Media Management, she’s helping local businesses mix things up with art, funky storytelling, and a new approach to community.
Corso and Coen both see new energy taking hold, especially in the wake of Sandy. It started with Jetty Foundation, which branded the LBI lifestyle through surf contests, events, and a beloved Jetty Hop Rock IPA, on tap at The Old Causeway on the mainland. “It brought people together,” Coen says. “Then when Sandy hit, those people were already in place to start the recovery.” The result is a perfect mix of salty dives thriving alongside creative upstarts.
By locals, for locals
It used to be that if you needed an onion in Surf City in February, you had a 13-mile round-trip drive ahead of you. Coen remembers well. He’d knock on the kitchen door of the Greenhouse Cafe. “Don Brown, the owner, would laugh and sell me an onion,” Coen recalls.
Then something amazing happened.
In May 2016, Ray and Lisa Hughes opened The Local Market and Kitchen. It changed the game for anyone in search of a small- but-smart food market, killer green-tomato BLTs and nitro cold brew on tap. “There was definitely a need,” says Lisa. Indeed, the Local is LBI’s new living room. And befitting its name, regional sourcing is key. Hughes swears by Sweet Melissa’s baked goods. (Try her yogi bars for virtue or Pop Tarts for vice.) She relies on Sassafras Hill Farm just over the bridge.
It’s a locavore mindset that’s shaking things up in an amazing way.
From wave to plate
Up the road in Harvey Cedars at Black Eyed Susans Cafe, everything revolves around the water and the season. Owners Christopher Sanchez and Ashley Pellagrino are committed to their relationships with local fisherman and farmers. That explains why it’s the first place locals tell you to eat. (Mod taqueria El Swell in Long Beach Township and Pearl Street Market in Beach Haven are up there on the list as well.)
“These may be our neighbors whose families have run boats for decades,” Sanchez says. “Or new friends who share the same beliefs.” Every spring when they reopen, the pair can’t wait to craft dishes using the first fresh seafood from the docks.
Brothers Brian and Paul Sabarese draw similar inspiration. They ushered in the island’s gastropub wave at Ship Bottom’s The Arlington, where a deep craft-beer list meets bottled Negronis. (The amazing bottle tags were drawn by two regulars.) Now, at Daymark in Barnegat Light, they’re bringing their magic formula to the north side with barrel-aged Manhattans, pimiento mac and cheese and a killer raw bar.
Snag a seat at the bar, feast and enjoy the ocean vibes.
Need a breather from food? Hike the Holgate neighborhood or Barnegat Light, braving the 217 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Or revel in LBI’s artsy side. In addition to work with Volatile, Danielle Corso is a founding member of The MakeShift Union, which is spreading the makers’ gospel here. You can meet them in person during monthly Third Thursdays.
Jeannine Errico, one of Corso’s partners, also serves as director of programs and administration at the Long Beach Island Foundation for Arts and Sciences. There, a deep roster of classes features diverse pursuits including yoga, felting and ceramics. With an airy gallery, nature trails and the Lighthouse International Film Festival slated for June 9 through 12, it’s also a prime location to rub elbows with LBI’s movers and shakers.
“Our property includes over 40 acres of gorgeous marshlands, which makes for very scenic views,” Errico says. “Think cocktail hour at sunset followed by dinner and dancing in the gallery.”
Plan properly, and your visit will also align with the Hop Sauce Festival on June 3. (See page 12.) Festivalgoers will find brews, bay views, tongue-scorching sauces and live acts like Lee Fields and the Expressions.
Sip of sunshine
To see the spirit of LBI in liquid form, a visit to Ship Bottom Brewery is mandatory. A prime example of the creative wave that followed Sandy, the brewery has roots in a one-barrel system in PA. When the Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company reached out to brewer Rob Zarko for support during a recovery fundraiser—drawn by the name—he was all in. “Their firehouse got hit really hard,” Zarko recalls. “I brewed for a couple of months straight just to stock up enough kegs.”
The firehouse converted a fire truck into a tap truck; the event was a hit and Zarko never looked back. “People were crying, they were hugging us,” Zarko recalls. He went on to Hop Sauce, finally opening shop in Beach Haven in August 2016. At 4.4 percent ABV, his Stupid Paddle Boat IPA is easy drinking. To turn up the volume, go for The Shack IPA.
Nod to the classics
Though storms and time have ushered in changes, there’s plenty of room for culinary tradition. Everyone loves The Chicken or The Egg (a.k.a. “Chegg”), and Saturday breakfast at Scojo’s is a classic.
LBI also remains a great place for a dive of the alcoholic variety, with locals pledging allegiance to spots like The Hudson House in Beach Haven, where the lighting is dim and the dress code is come as you are. Or head to Baker’s Porthole Cafe in Ship Bottom for “Leo’s world-famous steamed roast beef sandwich.” Tidily presented on a kaiser roll, it is as old-school as the bar.
Whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. Asked what ice-cream flavor would capture LBI’s vibe, Dave Powitz, second-generation owner of The Skipper Dipper, says it’s soft vanilla with rainbow sprinkles. “It’s solid and delicious, with a little something extra on top.” It’s a perfect metaphor: The new LBI is creative, unpretentious and forever classic. “You really can roll into anywhere in flip-flops and shorts and be totally fine—in the nicest place or the Hudson House,” he says.
Just be sure to pack sunscreen.
HOW LOCALS DO IT
Danielle Corso: “Sea-glass hunting is huge all year long, especially after storms.”
Jon Coen: “I have a five-year-old and it’s all about getting him crabbing, clamming and fishing.”
Christopher Sanchez: “We love bicycle rides, choosing fish at the docks and leaving your flip-flops at the top of the dune as you walk to the beach.”
Dave Powitz: “Call in an order to the Chicken or the Egg, pick it up, and enjoy it by the water.”
FOOD & DRINK
1801 Bayview Avenue, Barnegat Light
1201 East Bay Avenue, Manahawkin
Corner of 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, Ship Bottom
THE LOCAL MARKET & KITCHEN
604 Central Ave., Ship Bottom
BLACK EYED SUSANS CAFE
7801 Long Beach Blvd., Harvey Cedars
13504 Long Beach Blvd., Beach Haven Gardens
PEARL STREET MARKET
229 Pearl St., Beach Haven
1302 Long Beach Blvd., Ship Bottom
DAYMARK BAR & RESTAURANT
404 Broadway, Barnegat Light
SHIP BOTTOM BREWERY
830 North Bay Avenue, Store 23, Beach Haven
THE HUDSON HOUSE
19 E 13th St, Beach Haven
BAKER’S PORTHOLE CAFE
1620 Long Beach Blvd, Ship Bottom
9305 Long Beach Blvd., Beach Haven
ARTS & EVENTS
JUST BENEATH THE SURFACE
HOP SAUCE FESTIVAL (June 3)
Frank Panzone Memorial Park 350 Taylor Ave., Beach Haven
LIGHTHOUSE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (June 8–11)
LONG BEACH ISLAND FOUNDATION FOR ARTS AND SCIENCES
120 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach Township