EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is from the September issue of Flavor, the Press of Atlantic City’s magazine showcasing the food and drink scene in South Jersey. To get Flavor delivered to your home click here.
When down the shore, you will often find many of the same, monotonous dishes.
From your typical red sauce Italian pastas to the ubiquitous steamer clams and fried flounder, there is not much variation in the way of novelty for the more seasoned eater to appreciate.
That’s not to say that such things aren’t delicious. There is hardly anything in this world better than a simply prepared piece of fresh caught tuna, seared on the outside and bright, raw pink on the inside.
But every now and then one craves something different, things easily found in places like Chicago or New York but harder to come by in a vacation spot at the Jersey shore.
However, Kyle Baddorf, executive chef at Parker’s Garage and Oyster Saloon in Beach Haven, has changed all of that.
The menu features things one has most likely never seen before, including many playful riffs on classics such as lobster corns dogs, clam chowder croquettes and Nashville hot oysters.
While there are others that will look familiar, the taste will be like nothing else you can find on the island.
“It was my first endeavor with complete menu control. I just didn’t wanna mess it up,” Baddorf said. “My focus was to make sure that it was very approachable.”
Take, for example, the flash scallop crudo. Local Barnegat Light scallops are first seasoned with mirin, soy sauce and vinegar. They are then plated with a green curry paste and sauced with a house-made dashi. Sesame oil is heated just to its smoking point and poured over. Lastly, it is garnished with fried ginger and fresh cilantro.
And so it goes with the rest of the plates.
A flair for the creative, a penchant for the melding of flavors and for everything being made on premises, is something Baddorf has had ingrained in him over the years.
After attending the Culinary Institute of America, he cut his teeth in Philadelphia where he worked under the likes of Michael Santoro, Jose Garces and Chris D’Ambro, the latter whom he credits with much of what he knows in the kitchen. Philadelphians are not kind to bad restaurants; the city knows good food, so faking it was not an option.
“The more I learned, the more appreciation I developed. The more experience I got, the more my eyes opened to the scope of the industry and what chefs and restaurateurs were capable of,” Baddorf said. “ The kinetic nature of this business has constantly kept me engaged.”
Baddorf grew up in Trolley Square, a quite neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware.
When he was younger, he would help his grandmother make Sunday dinner and cook recipes from the local newspaper, trying to execute them as perfectly as possible. He eventually found himself as a line cook purely by chance many years later and immediately clicked with the fast-paced nature of the job and camaraderie found amongst his fellow peers.
“The reason I pursued this as a career is because of the people and the team that you get to work with,” he said. “It really is those people that make the job fun, that help push you through the tough times and keep moving forward.”
After marrying his wife, Danielle, a local to the LBI region, Baddorf was introduced through some mutual friends to Eric Magaziner of Tide Table Restaurant Group, who just so happened to be looking for a chef. After a few coffees and a couple of conversations, the two began discussing what would eventually become the future menu of Parker’s Garage.
“We needed a couple of home runs that people would recognize,” Baddorf said. “ We also needed the quality and execution to be there in a very high-volume setting.”
They ended up hitting it out of the park.
One of the favorite dishes has been the Octopus Hash. The octopus is first braised in wine and aromatics to ensure it is extremely tender. The next step includes seasoning it with ras el hanout, a blend of spices native to the Middle East, and searing it in a pan with potatoes. It is then plated over a paprika aioli and topped with an egg yolk.
Baddorf sources all of his ingredients locally whenever possible. This is not so hard to do in an area teeming with fresh, delectable seafood and a state abundant in renowned produce.
“I live here now. The local economy is part of my daily life. Of course as a chef you want fish from Barnegat Light or berries from Chatsworth or tomatoes from really anywhere across the state,” Baddorf said. “It makes your job and the diners experience that much better.”
Over the past five years since it opened, Parker’s has become one of the most popular dining destinations on LBI. It is not unheard for there to be a two-hour wait on the weekends, much to the displeasure of many a vacationer. Most of the credit for that is owed to Baddorf and his food, but he is just as appreciative.
“Parker’s is something I am proud of and hopefully the first in a long line of successful menus and kitchens,” he said. “It’s a place where I and many others have grown professionally and personally, a place I’m very grateful for.”