It is always a good start when your Mai Tai comes in a pint glass. When space is not being taken up by half an orange and there is no freakin’ umbrella. You can tell a lot about a restaurant by how they treat their cocktails. Are they giving you what is right, or trying to pull the old-fashioned screw? Well, maybe it was because I had not eaten all day before I ended up at Barnacle Bill’s, but I got buzzed off their Mai Tai. That says a lot. The rest of the experience following the drink was sheer excellence. It was such an outstanding night out that it even made me question my rule of not giving a 5-star rating to a restaurant based on a single visit. I almost did it here.
Barnacle Bill’s in Rumson came highly recommended to me by several people. Some mentioned the seafood, of course, and others their signature 10 oz burger. But I’ll be damned if I am going to review a restaurant a mere 50 feet from the water based on a cheeseburger. The menu is not a large one, but a separate listing of specials brings the amount of choices you have over the top. There is every kind of seafood you can imagine, including an odd yet intriguing Boston Scrod done with ginger, onion, and scallions—a combination I had never thought of before.
We started out with the fried zucchini for an appetizer, though the baked clams sounded good and a few orders passed our table looking delicious. Anyway, this was unlike any such fried zucchini I’ve ever had. Most places give tiny strips that are heavy on breading and low on vegetable. Here that was not the case. These were thick slices of fresh zucchini that had a minuscule coating on them. They were plump, crispy, snappy, and not greasy at all. It was when my mom and I had finished the basket that I realized use of my napkin was unnecessary.
My entrée was the baked seafood combo, which included stuffed flounder, four juicy sea scallops, and four shrimp wrapped in bacon. It came served with a choice of potato (or rice). I went with baked, and that came with butter and sour cream on the side. There was also a container of homemade tartar sauce. Every item on the plate was beyond incredible. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and the bacon surrounding it was crispy. The flounder was flaky. The scallops were fall-apart tender as I cut into them. There was nothing I would change. This rivaled combos I’ve had up and down the east coast, including my beloved Ocean City, Maryland.
Our server was Lee who was extremely pleasant and accurate in describing my mom’s dish, when she asked what the Scallops Portofino was. As advertised, these were a couple dozen bay scallops served over linguine in a light cream sauce with sliced mushrooms. I stole a few fork-fulls. I could see myself ordering this (or the Fra Diavolo version) in the future, but the combo was just too damn good. I might just stick with that. Both were priced at $21.95. The portion sizes were adequate, and I feel the pricing was more than fair considering the riverside Rumson location Barnacle Bill’s inhabits.
As if that was not enough food, we got dessert. I went along with my mom’s selection of a shareable Tollhouse Pie slice, served warm with a scoop of ice cream. We substituted their homemade special chocolate chip cookie ice cream in place of vanilla. There was no added charge for the switch. This was a delectable way to end this meal prior to savoring the last few sips of my second Mai Tai.
While typing this review, I cannot find a single item to complain about. There is literally not one thing I would change or do differently in any way. Every category up for criticism in a review was nailed to perfection. I also have to mention the atmosphere and highly appropriate nautical theme. We were there on a Monday. The place was rocking—perhaps only an empty table or two, and a full bar. This makes sense considering the quality of food and drinks. I trusted them with a Mai Tai, which has become the quintessential drink for restaurants to screw around with by adding copious amounts of fruit juice to a splash of rum. Maybe next time I would consider trying their LIT because after browsing Instagram, it seems to be a house special.
Barnacle Bill’s gets a 4.5 out of 5 stars from me, but only because I don’t like giving 5 stars based on a single visit. If my next one is anywhere near what this one was, the score will climb and join a very limited group of New Jersey restaurants. I cannot wait to go back.
UPDATE (Spring 2019): I have since been to Barnacle Bill’s numerous times and have yet to have a bad meal. Whether it was sticking with the seafood combo or trying their burgers, they continue to churn out one excellent experience after another…and lethal Long Island Iced Teas (so good that they will ruin it for you if you drink them anywhere else). Service has always been extremely pleasant, and I don’t think my family or I has ever had a single complaint about anything we ever ordered. Because of this, I am upping Barnacle Bill’s to 5 stars. They are only the fifth restaurant to receive that score.
Barnacle Bill’s is located at 1 1st Street in Rumson, New Jersey.