It was a beautiful spring evening, and we couldn’t resist taking the plunge into early waterfront dining, so off we went to Barnacle Bill’s in Rumson. This place has been there for years, and the wooden walls, dotted with touches of nautical-themed decor, have been mercifully spared a trendy interior designer freshen-up. This place has been cranking out familiar favorites for decades. It’s casual dining well done and one of an old neighborhood’s meeting spots with a Cheers-style vibe.
We asked for some bread while we waited, and I suggest you do too. This bread was some of the best I’ve had in a while – soft and fragrant with a delicately crisp sesame seed crust. The frozen butter pads were too cold though, which made spreading a bit tough, but overall I was pleased with it.
For our appetizers, we selected the stuffed mushrooms which are filled with rich and tasty sausage and cheese. These five half dollar-sized mushrooms were not timid. They were well-browned, and we pleasantly surprised by their bold flavor. Our second appetizer was steamed artichoke. The artichoke was steamed perfectly and ideal for a party of four with drawn butter on the side.
Now for the entrees. Diner one selected the Grilled Scallops with a side of fries. If you like scallops, be sure to pick this. It’s a no-frills boatload of thick scallops, each seared to a delicate golden brown. Sweet, tender and abundant, you are sure to get your fill.
Diner two choose the Sausage and Broccoli Rabe over penne. It was my pick for the prettiest dish as the colors of the bright green broccoli rabe, the well-seared sausage and tender penne shined under the broth-like sauce. Our diner thought the dish delivered. The broth was not overly garlicky and had just a touch of heat, and each ingredient was cooked just so. It’s a big portion too, with plenty for a second go-around. I think I’ll try that soon.
Diner three picked the Chicken and Shrimp Scampi, and he was quite impressed. The dish comes with two thick chicken breasts and four big shrimp in a not-too-overpowering garlic scampi sauce. You can have it over pasta, potatoes or rice, as he selected. The rice, which comes with peas and carrots, was tender and a great companion to soak up the sauce. He had never tried this dish and said it was so good he found a new favorite and will definitely order this one again.
I picked the 14-ounce Sirloin Steak paired with a baked potato. It’s a classic combination, and both items were well-prepared. The potato was fluffy and tender, and the steak had a pretty set of char marks. It was a nice treat, and the leftovers sliced thin topped a delicious salad the next day.
The desserts are simple but really good. Our first was the Plain Cheesecake with whipped cream. It’s dense and creamy. There are no competing flavors – no lemon, chocolate or strawberry – just thick, melt-in-your-mouth goodness with a strong, dairy-fresh flavor. Our second was Toll House ala Mode. This is one big dessert that we shared among the four of us, and everyone loved it. The cookie base is about an inch thick, perfectly baked and served warm with melty chocolate chips. It’s topped with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. That ice cream was just delicious too, and I’m sure if you order this dessert or a plain dish of ice cream, you will surely enjoy it. They also have the same dish with a warm brownie, which I will definitely check out on my next visit. The coffee was really good too. There is a parking lot and tables out back on the waterfront. Barnacle Bill’s doesn’t take reservations, but if you have to wait, as we did, the view of the Navesink is just delightful.
Cost – Low to moderate
What we liked – The beautiful waterfront view, the well-worn interior and the friendly energy of the diners. The direct and not overly fancy menu and that feeling you get when you visit a place that has been around for years.
What could be better – Additional appetizer choices and replacing butter pads with soft butter ramekins.
We give it 4 and half Js
Barnacle Bill’s is located at 1 First St. in Rumson. 732-747-8396. They’re open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from 4 to 10 pm; and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10 pm. BarnacleBillsRumson.com.