Aug 13, 2020

Highlands, Waterfront Eatery Proved to be the Perfect Spot for a Summer Night

By Lori Draz

We just had to have the summer at the shore experience, so off we went for a meal with a view at Proving Ground Waterfront Dining in Highlands. Everything was just right. The weather was great, so clear that we could easily see the Verrazano Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. The cheerful staff smoothly handled all the tables, and the big bar crowd added some extra energy.

The interesting name of the restaurant is linked to the Sandy Hook proving grounds. This US Army site was established in 1874 and became the first proving ground to test artillery and other materials. That mission mirrors the restaurant’s philosophy of “testing new menu items and specializing in the newest craft beer and cocktails along with mixing things ups with events, music and keeping things fresh and fun.”

There’s no denying the restaurant is living up to that mission. This place has a great old school kind of vibe with a touch of class. People mill about the bar area with outdoor diners seated in comfortable chairs at their side. There is an open, casual energy and a tremendous view.

We went on a Monday and there wasn’t an open table, so do make a reservation as walk-up seating can take a while.

Our appetizers included Cheesesteak Spring Rolls, which delivered the cheesesteak taste and went well with the dipping sauce. We also picked the Mediterranean Sampler, a big platter of hummus, tzatziki and roasted eggplant salad, stuffed grape leaves, olives, grilled veggies, sun-dried tomatoes and cubed feta cheese, served with grilled pita points. It’s a colorful combination that is great for sharing over cocktails. There was plenty to go around, even with our group of four. Our third selection was the Bacon-Wrapped Sea Scallops which have a horseradish glaze in a brown sugar sauce. It’s an interesting flavor combo. I thought the brown sugar was a little maple syrupy, but it’s worth the try. My favorite of the three is the friendly Mediterranean Sampler. Proving Ground has a big menu of familiar favorites for all tastes including a raw bar, a big variety of sandwiches and entrées.

Diner one chose the Shrimp and Grits, which comes with a generous helping of cubed andouille sausage and big, juicy shrimp in a white wine, lemon sauce over grits topped with bacon. Their version is a little wetter than most shrimp and grits I’ve seen, but our diner enjoyed it, commenting that the grits were creamy and well-flavored.

Diner two’s choice was the Stuffed Flounder which is served over basmati rice with a side of green beans. This seafood fan said flounder has to be cooked just so, and they did theirs just right. He also commented that there was a generous amount of crab in the stuffing. It was a summertime classic.

Diner three picked a Tuna Poke Bowl which is sushi-grade tuna, steamed sushi rice, diced avocado, cucumbers, edamame, cabbage and seaweed salad with a hoisin vinaigrette. She was really happy with her choice. She appreciated that the avocado was perfectly ripe which brought a lot of flavor to the dish. The pink tuna was tender and tasty, and the Sriracha aioli really knocked it out of the park. Ask for some if it doesn’t come with yours; it will make a much bigger flavor.

I was in a simple mood and picked the steak sandwich to match. What a good pick it was. It’s about a half inch thick slice of steak (not flaked) with a heaping mound of the sweetest caramelized onions over a layer of mozzarella on toasted garlic bread. It comes with a basket of meaty, golden fries that didn’t lose their crunch even outside by the water. I would go back for this one!

There wasn’t much of a dessert menu, just three items on our visit. We ordered the brownie with vanilla ice cream. The brownie was warm and homemade-tasting but nothing over the top. Put your dessert dollars toward another app or salad or some takeout for lunch. There are so many great things to try on this menu. Proving Ground has a party room for private events – which will open when restrictions are lifted – live music seven days a week and a Sunday brunch.


What we liked: The relaxing waterfront setting, the two-story glass-walled building, the big outdoor bar, the super friendly staff and speedy valet parking team, the big variety of selections, the live entertainment and the brunch menu.


Proving Ground Waterfront Dining is located at 56 Shrewsbury Ave. in Highlands. 732-872-2266. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday 11:30 am to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 10 pm; and Sunday 10 am to 1 pm (brunch menu), 1 to 9 pm (regular menu). The bar is open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2 am Friday and Saturday.


We give Proving Ground Waterfront Dining four and a half Js.