Many of us can still remember the sights and smells of those combination fresh seafood stores and cooked food takeouts that once seemed to occupy a central location in every shore town. People were drawn to the summer shore in search of beaches and seafood, back in the day when meatless Fridays were still in our consciousness.
Broiled or deep fried were the techniques used to turn fresh seafood into the meal of our dreams. Some Jersey shore traditions will last forever.
Growing up on the Jersey shore, Rick Moretti, 54, spent 10 years learning the trade while working for a neighbor who owned Carmen's Restaurant in his hometown of Sea Isle City. Working there through high school and college, Moretti knew he would someday work for himself, since he had learned the seafood business firsthand.
"I learned how to cook there," says Moretti about his time at Carmen's. More importantly, he also learned the finer points of the business, working in their fish market, going out on the boats, and cooking in their takeout market.
Moretti learned all he could about lobsters and crabs.
After working a few odd jobs, Moretti opened a place of his own.
"The first three years, we were out on Stone Harbor Boulevard, before they built the new road coming into North Wildwood," says Moretti. When all the buildings along the road were condemned by the state, in order to put in the new roadway, Moretti made the move to his present location on the corner.
That makes it 28 years that Moretti has had a business of his own.
Rick's Seafood specializes in Maryland crabs, live and cooked. Local fin fish are available, including flounder, tuna, and swordfish. Even the bivalves are local, from Brigantine's own Clam Daddy's.
When soft shell crabs are available, Rick's Seafood has the largest you can get, called "whales" from Maryland.
"We sell a lot of fresh stuff," says Moretti.
"I found over the years that times are changing a little bit and it is just a little different crowd than it used to be in the older days when we first started," says Moretti. That means sword, tuna, grouper and mahi are more popular than ever before.
Moretti describes himself as "Just a hands-on owner who is there everyday and watches all parts of the business." You might find him in the kitchen, putting live crabs in bags, or sorting through bushels, checking for sizes.
"I try to do a lot of the crab work myself, being in business so long, I know what my customers like and I am pretty particular about that end of the business," says Moretti.
Appetizers include clams on the half shell (6/$6.75 and 12/ $11.95) and a cold seafood combo that has four jumbo shrimp and six clams ($10.95).
"We do a lot of fried calamari," says Moretti.
Another trick Moretti picked up in Maryland is the fried crab fingers ($9.95), made by breading and frying those cocktail claws with the shells peeled back.
Everything at Rick's Seafood is hand breaded, and no frozen products are ever used. Italian bread crumbs with some added spice is the secret.
Homemade chowders are popular selections. New England clam chowder (pint $5.95/ quart $11.50), or crab chowder made with Maryland crab (pint $6.95/ quart $13.50) are always available.
After Moretti's wife mixed the two together at lunch one day, clam chowder (pint $6.95/ quart $13.50) was added to the menu and became an instant hit.
Cream of crab & broccoli (pint $6.95/ quart $13.50), named in honor of his father-in-law Jinx, is also available, along with lobster bisque (pint $6.95/ quart $13.50) and cream of crab (pint $7.95/ quart $14.50).
Sandwiches and pasta choices offer seafood in many forms.
Fried platters, all cooked to order, include all of the Jersey shore favorites like jumbo butterflied shrimp ($17.95); scallops ($17.95); clam strips ($11.95); jumbo Maryland soft shell crabs ($17.95); jumbo select oysters ($14.95); and stuffed jumbo shrimp ($19.95).
The pinnacle of the seafood world is the combination platter which includes an assortment of fresh seafood, broiled or fried, served with French fries, baked potatoes, or onion rings, apple sauce or coleslaw, along with all of the traditional sauces.
The fried seafood combo ($23.95) includes generous portions of flounder, shrimp, scallops, clams, and deviled crab. The broiled version ($26.95) includes shrimp, flounder, clams, scallops, and cold water lobster tail.
The broiled combo easily feeds two people.
"Our deviled crab cakes are probably our signature dish, made from all fresh, not pasteurized, hand picked crab meat," says Moretti.
So popular, they keep making them fresh all day long. Most are sold uncooked for people to take home and cook on their own.
Customers come in and buy 20 or 30 at a time, to cook or freeze for a taste of the shore later on.
"I have a group coming in who puts their order in on Monday for Wednesday, and they get a bushel of live crabs, clams, and they have a big party, a part of their family vacation," says Moretti.
After 28 years, Rick's Seafood is still the little place on the corner, that has grown over the years, as customers became friends and Rick's has become part of the community.