Jersey Shore Soup Hoppin’ Cruise

 By Sharon Merkel Prudhomme ~                                                                         

And so we move into the darkened early evenings as the winter chill creeps in. Crisp leaves crunching under foot, the last of the late summer flowers dropped their petals as the urge and desire for soups sets in. As a side, lunch, dinner or snack, soup is just the ticket to toast you up for the chilly colder days ahead. Each month we do a little jaunt tasting & highlighting the de jour of several local haunts. No national chains allowed! After all, we support independent businesses and encourage others to do the same.

This month we traveled a tad more inland than usual while on a short business appointment. We were ready for lunch, and not really up on local lunch spots in Toms River. We asked the secretary for her favorite eatery and boy were we glad we did! She suggested a little mom & pop joint just a couple blocks away, A Thyme for All Seasons at 63 Main Street.

We arrived towards the end of a busy lunch crowd. A few tables were open but as we lean more towards counter/bar seats we settled right in. Counter seats offer more interaction with staff, often with a view of the cooking and various kitchen action. Our waitress was so friendly and happy which set the stage for a positive, enjoyable experience. The owners, Mike and Monica were hustling along-Mike cooking, Monica covering counter, tables and cashing out customers. I especially enjoyed seeing and listening to her interact with several crowded tables of high school students. And here’s a plus!

The students obviously were all regulars on lunch break and were so polite and sweet as was Monica’s rapport with all of them. 1st name basis & honest interest in customers is exactly what we look for. That hometown “Cheers” atmosphere makes A Thyme for all Seasons just the right fit, a place you’ll always remember and come back to.

A made from scratch sausage & tomato soup was the de jour. Loaded with nice tender chunks of tomato, celery and carrots with ample bites of sausage. It was outstanding as served, but you know me, a few drops of hot sauce to kick it up a notch brought it to my personal level of heat. Although the menu boasted so many tasty selections (which we look forward to try on our next visit) we opted to split a hand patted burger. It’s so refreshing to order a generous portioned burger and have it arrive done JUST the way we ordered it!

Kudos to Mike for doing it right! He’s king of the kitchen and keeps it all running smoothly & quickly. Hand cut fries are the side with plenty to go around and for those into a good old-fashioned burger with lettuce, tomatoe and onion, you’ll also enjoy the old-fashioned price of 6.95! Monica and Mike have it going on and know how to keep the hungry coming in. One of my all-time favorites is Duck. I found fries served four ways with one sounding really special- Duck Fries! Crispy duck over ff with a ‘secret sauce’, Crispy Duck salad and ‘Quackos’, Duck Tacos served with shredded cabbage & pico sour cream. There are Cubans, pork belly, 4 unique mac ‘n cheese bowls, dinner plates, salads, sandwiches, wraps, breakfasts and fresh daily baked muffins. So many scrumptious delights in this cute little eatery located smack dab on Main Street, Toms River. Stop in for a bite-tell them Sharon sent you! Have a local business or organization in the area? Check out Mike and Monica’s A Thyme For All Seasons for your next event. Whether private or corporate, this friendly cafe has your catering needs!  

A Thyme for All Seasons  732-255-2650 63 Main Street Toms River   Please hit them up with a LIKE on FB and Instagram where you’ll find their daily specials**

Next stop on our ‘soup hop’ finds us back on 71 in Spring Lake at one of my favorite breakfast joints, the Capsized Café. This little gem is one of the best breakfast/lunch stops around, open 7 days a week! With a recent outside ‘tune up’ of deep blue, the Capsized is easily spotted and located right next to the NAPA Parts store. It may look small from outside, but a surprising number of tables as well as bar seats fill this cozy eatery making it popular for groups of all ages. Co-owners Richard Degroote AKA Farcus and Chris Curry-Edwards, despite the name Capsized, are keeping this cool little eatery afloat by serving up some fantastic vittles!

On our last couple visits we’ve sat at the bar (no liquor license) on comfy wooden swivel seats giving us a view of the griddle and cooking. The staff is all young, energetic and quick with service and smiles. Rarely would one ever wait for a coffee refill or their food to arrive at the table! An eclectic array of nautical décor with a couple of quirks thrown in such as an extensive collection of Bart Simpson characters as well as a baby shark preserved in formaldehyde behind the bar sitting next to a wooden carving of an old salt in a sou’wester. A vintage Spring Lake life ring adorns the wall above. I especially loved the ‘Greatful Dead Porthole’ near the entrance.

On this stop, I was happy to find a delicious Shredded Chicken Veggie soup as the de jour. A bowl of sheer goodness loaded with a generous amount of meat delicious vegetables and nice chunks of tomato. The broth wasn’t salted out like so many are. The Capsized uses fresh ingredients and is on spot with just the right marriage of flavors. My bowl of soup was a meal in itself which I should’ve known would fill me up! The turkey and provolone on rye was destined for a to-go box quickly becoming dinner later in the evening!

There’s a constant flow in and out for both sit down and take out service and one can see why. The breakfasts are ample and done to perfection while the swift deli service of sandwiches jam-packed with meats and cheeses are obviously popular as well. The Greatful Dead and similar classic rock can be heard throughout the Capsized, but at a low yet audible level which is perfect background tunes. If you’ve yet to have the pleasure, I highly recommend The Capsized Café which surely will become your favorite place for both breakfast and lunch.    

Capsized Café   111 NJ-71 (732)449-8118 Spring Lake     **check in while dining and give ‘em a LIKE on FB!**

The 3rd stop on the cruise landed us in Sea Girt at another local gem just off the beaten track called Fratello’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge. I have to admit, I’ve actually driven past for more years than I’d like to say without noticing. Fratello’s is located on a side street near the RR tracks just opposite from the ol’ Edgars, now the Reef & Barrel. Here sits an inviting destination with year round beautiful décor both inside and out adorned with a classy green & white striped awning stretching the length of the front offering outdoor seating in warm weather. Adjacent to Fratello’s on the NW side you will find the old Sea Girt Train Station which is now a public library. A parking lot serves local offices, library and restaurant goers, as well as parking along the front of the building.

Our initial intro to Fratello’s was perfect! We were met with the friendly bartender, Joe, who not only is a great conversationalist (as a tender should be) but also knowledgeable of the menu, various activities and music happening on a regular basis. The interior is like stepping back in time with a warm old school feel and look. Polished brass frames and adorns the plush green padded booths running along the one side of the bar. To the other side are spacious padded booths with curved seating which would be great for a mob movie scene. To the far end of the bar there are several high tops against a wall mirror. Punched copper ceiling sections add to the romance & feel of the room. The festive décor is outstanding loaded with poinsettias and lights. The highly polished wood interior and mirrors reflect & bounces the various lights.  Joe was quick and never skipped a beat in service and conversation. He’s the kind of guy that has a smile and good word for all the regulars. Hearing the de jour was one of my favorites, Butternut Squash soup, I decided to give it a whirl. What a treat and done to perfection, this golden cup of goodness was like having dessert…..only better! Kind of a creamy feel with just the right sweetness is how I prefer. I know too many people, husband included, who turn up their noses at anything squash. I truly feel the word….squash…is the turn off. So getting beyond, if more would give a try they’d be pleasantly surprised. Often this delicacy is done more on a savory style along the lines of a Colonial Williamsburg recipe. For my taste, Fratello’s has it going on with their butternut recipe. This decadent soup could also be a tasty drizzle topping a grilled steak or blackened filet of fish as well.

Knowing we wouldn’t have room for a lunch entrée in addition to the soup & Clams Casino, splitting a traditional burger seemed best. Everything was outstanding making for happy taste buds. We can’t wait to come back with friends to enjoy more seafood and of course get into some of the many Classic Italian menu options. Reservations may be in order as this is quite a popular spot with locals and regulars. The back dining areas can accommodate large groups as we saw with the many converging to the rear carrying gift boxes which we assume was the start of an office holiday party.

For those in business looking to network, check out the Fratello’s First Monday Networking held on the 1st Monday of the Month in partnership with the Jersey Shore Chamber 5:30pm – 7:30pm.  Check the website for live music listings Friday nights at 7:45pm. Thursdays you will find Martini and Manhattan deals and a “Reverse Happy Hour” w/ ½ price apps at the bar Mon – Thurs 8-10pm.   

Fratello’s Italian Seafood & Steak Restaurant    810 The Plaza  Sea Girt  (732)974-8833                                                   **check in when you visit and give a like of FB**