The roofed deck at McLoone’s Rum Runner. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
By SUSAN ERICSON
On a clear day, Tim McLoone‘s newly rebuilt Rum Runner restaurant in Sea Bright offers bird’s-eye views south along the Shrewsbury River past the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, north toward Sandy Hook Bay, and to the east, beach clubs, interspersed with peeks of the Atlantic Ocean.
Stunning eye-candy aside, PieHole finds another reason to appreciate this back-from-the dead Sandy survivor.
The coconut shrimp appetizer and a seasonal lunch salad are large enough to serve as meals on their own. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
Easy on the ears supper-club-style music and exceptionally attentive service bring a sophisticated air to the Rum Runner, even at lunch time.
Recognizable standards seen on most menus add another layer of comfort, but this is no run-of-the-mill kitchen. Years of culinary experience have been honed by the McLoone machine, and it is well appreciated.
Busy at noon on a weekday, manager Erica Nazzaro took a minute to suggest the fish tacos. “They’re the number-one favorite,” she said. “We switch up the fish every few days with what’s fresh.”
She also says that the crab cakes are “super big” and the lobster guacamole is “overflowing” from a halved avocado. Those options sounded appealing, but we were looking for something different.
Then Nazzaro says the coconut shrimp are really good. Like having a gauntlet thrown, we consider this option a challenge.
Our order of coconut fried shrimp ($14), an appetizer frequently found on bar menus, was anything but ordinary. At first, the picturesque dish is maybe too pretty to eat.
Topping a small puddle of unsweetened raspberry coulis, a grilled, rum-soaked slice of fresh pineapple provides the base for a tower of shrimp. Unsweetened coconut coats each of the five plump shrimp, fried to a crisp, non-grease finish. Basil oil, used as a decorative accent, yields an herbal undertone to the dish.
Gone was the concept of a cloyingly sweet appetizer. This dish was a perfect balance of flavors enhanced by a carefully constructed recipe and use of fresh ingredients.
An enormous salad assembled from baby greens is enhanced with bits of creamy-salty goat cheese and a contrast of sweet in-season blueberries and strawberries. It was also prepared to look pretty as a picture.
The small plates on the menu are actually big enough to be a satisfying lunch. A diner with a larger appetite might want to consider the area titled “handhelds,” which is an adorable way of saying sandwiches. Tuna wraps, veggie paninis and burgers are all available.
Traditional raw bar offerings such as oysters, littleneck clams and shrimp are offered individually or as a sampler for $29.
On the outside deck, tables on the river side of the building are taken up fast and cannot be reserved, but a seat at the bar will still buy you a panoramic view of seaside and riverside.
Rum Runner is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch begins at 10:30 a.m.