If you spent the last few days mourning the end of summer, it’s time to dry your eyes, because there is much fun to be had throughout the month of September, and one of the best annual events is coming up this weekend.
That’s right — it’s once again time for the Downbeach Seafood Festival!
Formerly known as the Atlantic City Seafood Festival, this two-day tribute to the tastiest creatures from Poseidon’s kingdom rolls into town 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 18 and 19, at Ski Beach in Ventnor.
A bit of historyThe festival began in the early ’90s in the Gardner’s Basin section of Atlantic City. It stuck around for a few years before going on hiatus, only to return full force in 2012 with a new location – Bader Field. It would stay there for a seven-year run before moving to its current location at Ventnor’s Ski Beach in 2019.
Unfortunately, COVID ruined the fun for everyone in 2020, causing the festival to be canceled, but this year it’s back and ready to fill you up with the freshest fish and crispiest crustaceans around.
“The fact that we missed last year makes this year’s fest feel brand new,” says Jon Henderson, head of Good Time Tricycle Productions, the company behind the Downbeach Seafood Festival. And that “new” feeling makes sense, as 2021 marks only the second time the festival has been held in Ventnor. And it seems the new location has worked out for the best for everyone.
“We did it at Bader Field for a bunch of years, and it was just so vast. Bringing it to Ski Beach gave it a more intimate feel and put us directly on the water. And from the jump, the town of Ventnor has just been insanely welcoming,” Henderson says.
What’re we eating?The Downbeach Seafood Festival will feature more than 20 restaurants, each selling a wide variety of delicious seafood options to the thousands of hungry patrons in attendance. Henderson and his team at Good Time Tricycle have personally selected each participating restaurant to ensure the festival features a well-rounded group of businesses from the area. Everything from obvious fish-forward places like Harry’s Oyster Bar and Jay’s Crab Shack to spots you might not immediately associate with seafood will be onsite and ready to serve.
“We are thrilled to be involved with the festival,” says Mike Talley, owner of TacocaT, a Mexican-themed restaurant located in Margate that will make its debut at the festival this year. “I like what they are doing with the Seafood Fest because they focused on bringing in local small businesses as opposed to just sticking to the giant casinos. And, with what everyone has gone through over the past year, we need to support local businesses. Overall, I’m really impressed with the lineup that they have this year.”
TacocaT’s Margate location offers a variety of traditional tacos, burritos and other south-of-the-border goodies, but for the seafood fest they will focus on the seafood versions of their specialties.
“We’re doing a crispy shrimp taco, a crispy mahi taco, an ahi tuna taco. Originally we were just going to do one or two things, but we decided it’s time to show people what we have. And while we are there, I want to go out and taste everyone else’s food. It’s the end of the summer, and I think we should all have a little fun,” Talley says.
In addition to the restaurants selling food, there will be two culinary competitions taking place. The first is the Chowder Cook-Off, a competition between all of the restaurants to see who will become this year’s chowder champion. The Chowder Cook-Off costs $10 to attend, and all attendees will have a chance to sample the chowders and vote for their favorite. In honor of September being National Hunger Action Month, the Downbeach Seafood Festival has partnered with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, and all proceeds from the Chowder Cook-Off will go to them directly.
Those with a big appetite may want to consider entering the Crab Cake Eating Contest, sponsored by Jay’s Crab Shack. The contest will be a race to see who can eat four crab cakes in the shortest time. It’s not a professional eating competition, so anyone is free to sign up as long as spots remain.
Oh, and for you non-seafood eaters, you can breathe a sigh of relief, as you haven’t been forgotten.
“All of our restaurants are required to sell 80 percent seafood based items to participate in the event, but there are always a bunch of different non-seafood options as well,” Henderson promises.
Beyond snackingAs much as we love seafood, you can’t reasonably build an entire weekend on eating alone. Eventually you are going to get full, and when you do, there will be plenty to keep you entertained at the Downbeach Seafood Festival.
But first things first – after stuffing yourself, you are going to need to wash it all down, and nothing pairs better with seafood than a cold beer. And that’s where the Great Brews of NJ Tasting Tent comes in. For $10 guests over 21 will receive 10 tasting tickets. Fourteen local Jersey breweries will be on hand offering samples of the goods. Expect the usual suspects like Cape May Brewing Co., Garden State Beer Company, Hidden Sands and a whole bunch more. It’s basically a mini beer fest within the Seafood Fest.
Love to shop? You’re in luck, as the Downbeach Seafood Festival features a variety of local vendors peddling everything from handmade jewelry and glass art to hot sauce and hand-rolled cigars.
Got kids? Bring ’em! Each day there will be fun stuff for the kiddos such as a pet costume contest as well as the “Playing in the Street” Kids Zone which will feature a bounce house, sidewalk chalk, a giant size Jenga game and more.
Looking to relax and take a break? This year you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards right at the festival for $20 per half hour. Take a relaxing trip through the back bays before heading back to scarf down more seafood!
Still not relaxed? Check out the pop-up luau and let yourself be whisked away to a faraway island as the South Pacific Island Dancers mesmerize the crowd with their enchanting performance.