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The Downbeach Seafood Festival makes for a shucking fun weekend in South Jersey

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The shoulder season at the shore is upon us, and one of the most highly anticipated events of the season is set to return this weekend.

Now in its third year at Ventnor’s Ski Beach, the Downbeach Seafood Festival comes to town Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 17 and 18, for two days of deliciously good times.

The Journey to DownbeachThe event was formerly known as the Atlantic City Seafood Festival and established itself as a popular yearly event in the area. But after many years at Bader Field, the decision was made to relocate to Ventnor, making for a more intimate (and arguably more enjoyable) experience.

Along with the change of venue came a change of name, and, in 2019, The Downbeach Seafood Festival was born. Since then, its reputation has only grown, with many attendees preferring the new space.

“It’s an intimate location, and it has created this cool backdrop for the event,” says Jon Henderson, the main man behind Good Time Tricycle Productions, the company that puts on the Downbeach Seafood Festival.

“It’s on the water, there is green grass, it’s got a really great neighborhood vibe, and that’s something that the Festival didn’t have in the past. It was always a good festival, but the way events are trending now, people don’t want to be so packed in with a million people. A more intimate experience that offers an opportunity to discover some incredible food goes a long way with the consumer now, and I think that in that sense we have inadvertently pushed the Festival in the right direction.”

The EatsAs the Festival’s name clearly implies, fresh seafood will of course be the main star of the show at the Downbeach Seafood Festival. But unlike many festivals, Henderson and his team have made sure to heavily feature local restaurants from around South Jersey.

Familiar names like PJ Buckets, Jay’s Crab Shack, Water Dog Smokehouse, Bourre, Blue Claw Crab House and Dougherty’s Steakhouse and Raw Bar are just a handful of the spots folks will stumble upon during the two-day event.

“We have success with pretty much all of our festivals because we always integrate the community. The festival itself becomes part of the community. And every moving part at this festival is Jersey-generated, from the vendors to the charitable partners and beyond. We have more than 20 restaurants and food trucks and they are all from the area. We want to introduce people to the local businesses that are doing seafood well and we want to keep people coming back to this region for that very purpose, so it makes sense that everyone that participates in the festival is from here.”

With so many local seafood restaurants on hand, just about every seafood dish you can imagine will be up for the taking, from crab cakes and fried shrimp to oysters, scallops and, of course, lobster. But if you’re a bit overwhelmed and looking for advice on what to try, the man behind the festival has some words of wisdom:

“If I could personally eat seafood 24/7, I 100% would,” Henderson says. I am clearly a seafood carnivore, but I consider myself a lobster roll aficionado. I prefer a chilled lobster roll with a dab of mayonnaise, but I’ll eat a hot lobster roll too. I went to Maine on a trip to visit Alagash Brewery and I ate nothing but lobster rolls for three days straight. Lobster roll is where it’s at.”

The ContestsThere will be a crab cake eating contest sponsored by Jay’s Crab Shack as well as the annual Chowder Cook Off, with proceeds going to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Attendees can purchase tickets for $10 to sample and cast their vote for whose chowder is this year’s champ.

Local brewskisFew things pair more perfectly with scrumptious seafood than ice cold beer, and the Great Brews of NJ beer tent will be on hand slinging the suds all weekend. A mini beer fest unto itself, Great Brews gathers 14 of the top local craft breweries all under one tent. Guests can purchase 10 samples for $10.

What else?No festival can survive on seafood alone, no matter how delicious it might be, and that’s why the Downbeach Seafood Festival offers guests a variety of fun things to check out throughout the day.

Live music is a part of just about every event Good Time Tricycle puts on and the Seafood Fest is no exception. Attendees can look forward to performances from Cat 5 and Funk Daddy on Saturday followed by Kicking Sunrise and Stealing Savanah on Sunday.

In addition to the tunes, the South Pacific Island Dancers will entertain on both days of the fest, bringing some fun and festive Polynesian rhythms into the mix.

Cooking demos and a wine seminar will take place as well, offering you the chance to snag a few insider tips while sampling the goods.

And if you love to shop, you’re in luck, as there will also be a long list of vendors selling everything from hand-crafted jewelry and glass art to locally produced hot sauces, beef jerky, dog treats and all points in between.

Kids can knock back a few crab cakes before heading to the Playing in the Street Kids Zone, an area filled with fun activities like bouncy houses, sidewalk chalk, giant-sized Jenga and more.

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Associate Editor, At The Shore/ACWeekly

Freelance reporter for At The Shore/Atlantic City Insiders from 2011-2015; Editor in Chief,,2014-2015; Writer for Zagat, 2013

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On a lovely Friday afternoon with the sun shining brightly, I decided to pop over to enjoy a late lunch at Vagabond EHT. Situated just beyond the rolling hills of McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links, the space offers a perfect way to ease one’s self into the upcoming weekend, with a fantastic menu of elevated bar food, including some of the best loaded french fries around as well as an impressive list of craft beers.

In 2018, Bob Hettmannsperger and his wife Carey purchased Essl’s Dugout, a legendary South Jersey diner which sits along a busy stretch of the Black Horse Pike in West Atlantic City. At the time, Bob was working as Director of Culinary Operations for Golden Nugget Atlantic City, but before long he left that job to focus on Essl’s full time.

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