Restaurant Review #252: Bahrs Landing (Highlands, NJ)

I love a place with history. Bahrs Landing has existed in one form or another for 102 years. The place was so renown that my grandparents would travel there from Staten Island to eat back in the 1960’s. For this reason, it is kind of surprising that this was my first visit here in nearly 14 years (my 8th grade graduation) despite living only 15 minutes away and passing it daily this time of year en route to work on Sandy Hook. Given the experience we had, it will not take so long for my next one!

Justin grabbed a beer and I started off with the Bahrs Perfect Manhattan. For this, they take bourbon and age it in their own barrel. There’s something you don’t see every day. A splash each of sweet and dry vermouth makes this “perfect”. This is a classic, rarely ordered cocktail that is meant to be perfectly balanced between sweet and dry. I thought it was a fine drink and had a second one later on. Despite our affinity for Sandy Hook, the fog and mist was so thick that we could barely see the bridge. We had requested a window seat so we could overlook the Shrewsbury River and the bay. It was our anniversary, and the setting was perfect with the amount of time we spend in the area.

We put an order in for fried calamari as we decided on our meals. A few minutes later, we added an order of popcorn shrimp. When the calamari arrived, we regretted a second appetizer because the portion was enormous. I don’t think the picture does it justice, but that was certainly enough for four people. We took half of it home. The marinara sauce had good flavor for a non-Italian joint, and I enjoyed that they included both rings and tentacles in the offering. The popcorn shrimp were even better. Dusted with a chili-lime seasoning, there was a literal mountain of them piled into an over-sized Bahrs coffee mug. Could there have been 30 shrimp? I don’t know, but we kept eating and eating these addictive little morsels and the amount never seemed to dwindle. The seasoning was spot-on—not too salty and just zesty enough. This was the dictionary definition of summer drinking food. The chipotle dipping sauce on the side was delicious.

At this point, we had to stop so that we would have room for entrees. I never expected portions that size for such an establishment. We did not order meals until we were done with the appetizers. Our server was Tina and at no time did she rush us. We said we just wanted to hang out for a bit after appetizers and she did not ask us for our order until we were ready. This was not just a chance to sit and chat, but to digest! I was almost full.

When we were ready, Justin now full into Indian food, ordered the Bombay Seafood Curry. The menu stated that this was one of their staples from 1962. It contained scallops and shrimp in a curry sauce over rice, and served with a mango chutney. As for me, I was torn between the Seafood Sampler (shrimp, scallops, cod, and clam strips) and the Fisherman’s Platter (the same assortment except a 6 ounce Brazilian lobster tail was swapped for the clams). In the end, I went with the latter because this was a special occasion. I did not regret my decision.

While we waited for the entrees, cole slaw and a basket of bread was put down in front of us. There were two biscuits and one each of a cheese roll (Asiago?) and a cranberry-walnut roll. Served with softened butter, they were totally unnecessary (we were nearing capacity!) but we ate them anyway.

Justin’s curry arrived first and I could actually smell it before it was placed down. It contained four shrimp and four scallops in a rich curry sauce. The basmati rice was perfectly fluffy. I tried a fork-full and thought it was excellent. It was definitely the most unexpected dish on the menu, and kind of out of place, but they nailed it. Meanwhile, my platter was out-of-this world. I got it broiled instead of fried. The lobster meat was tender and popped right out of the shell. Is there a better combination than good lobster and melted butter? The shrimp was good and the cod flaky, and the scallops were pure perfection. They too were so tender that they basically melted away in my mouth. I cannot remember the last time I had this much goodness on one plate. There was no pretentiousness here: this was an old-fashioned, straightforward, seafood feast. I barely touched the side of potatoes and vegetables—I was too stuffed by this point. I enjoyed it so much that I would probably order it next time as well. There were also sides of tartar and cocktail sauces included.

It had been 14 years since my last visit but it was worth the wait. I now understand how they have lasted for so long and why the parking lot is always full. Here it was, a Monday night in downright nasty weather, and they had a decent crowd. There was a party downstairs, several tables taken upstairs, and a more than half-full bar. As a historian, it is always nice to have a meal in a place where you can feel the history emanating from the walls. Had it been nicer weather, the view would have been spectacular. There are plenty of tables outside and even a tiki bar. I really do want to get here at least once more in the summer.

It is so very hard for me to give a 5 on a first visit (my “real” first was so long ago that I do not remember anything about the food), so for now, I will go with a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Even so, they join a very small group of restaurants to hit that number. If our next visit is as good as this, I will upgrade it higher. There was nothing I would change about this experience (except ordering less food!). My cholesterol probably went up a hundred points, but oh well! Tina was great, the atmosphere and scenery is there, and the food was simply fantastic. I had bounced around several ideas for our anniversary dinner, but I am so glad we ended up here. Thank you Bahrs Landing for an awesome and memorable experience!

Bahrs Landing Restaurant is located at 2 Bay Avenue in Highlands, NJ.

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