You Hook ‘Em, Caribbean Pete Cooks ‘Em
“Hook and cook” eateries are a rarity along the Jersey shore’s bay and tidal rivers, which is surprising considering the residential development and the voluminous boat traffic that the May into October season brings.
And the good to excellent fishing that goes with them.
Sure, there are loads of pull-in, tie up and go-in waterside restaurants, and as the dock and dine columnist for a regional boating magazine for a half-dozen years, I had the opportunity and pleasure to review a good number of them.
Surprisingly, though, there was not a one that offered to prepare, cook and serve a customer’s catch. I’d grown used to this hook ‘n cook courtesy after frequenting both coasts of Florida, including the Summerland Key to Key West stretch, and always wondered why no Jersey waterside eatery provided the same service.
That changed after a quick stop at the Creekside Outfitters satellite tackle shop in the Key Harbor Marina complex in Waretown to pick up some necessities for a following day’s fluke foray.
Next door in what was formerly a restaurant that had changed ownership several times over the years, a new Barnegat Bay side dining establishment was having a soft opening. Calypso tunes, full tables inside and outside, and familiar aromas that immediately kicked the saliva glands in to overdrive.
I slipped in to pick up a menu. Heavy duty on the island theme.
Welcome to Caribbean Pete’s Island Grille.
However, what elicited an impromptu and enthusiastic “Hell Yeah!” was the Cook Your Catch section.
Fast forward a week later, and we arrived with a gallon zip lock bag with a pair of freshly caught fluke fillets.
A friendly greeting by server Belle, who led us to one of the outside tables. A second greeting by front-end manager Ben. Menus were presented quickly perused, and an appetizer and entrees were ordered.
I opted for the parmesan panko-crusted choice of Hook ‘n Cook (blackened and broiled the others), while dining and angling mate Denise Theiler, who has been “floundered out” this summer, eagerly chose the Mahi Tacos for a change.
Yeah, both wads of flatfish were mine.
Service was friendly, quick, and enthusiastic, with the bucket of ice and wine glasses arriving promptly. Sangria poured, it was a few luxurious minutes to soak in the Barnegat Bay and Long Beach Island backdrop.
The shared appetizer was the Key Lime Garlic Shrimp, and it was a culinary flashback to Mangrove Mamas in Big Pine Key.
The panko-crusted flattie fillets proved firm and succulent with tops toasted to delicate parmesan perfection. The trio of Mahi Tacos, with the pineapple salsa, were delightful. Ditto the Caribbean rice and tostones sides.
Executive chef and one of the three managing partners Pete Cammarata took a few minutes during that busy early Saturday evening to sit and chat. With 30 years of experience in the highly competitive restaurant business, and with two other themed eateries (Greece Lightning and also Doo Op Eats Boardwalk Grill), we asked, why open another?
“In my family’s blood. It’s a lifestyle, and a restaurant on the water at the Jersey shore was always a dream. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bahamas, lived for years in south Florida and fished all over the Florida Keys and in Jersey. When my brother-in-law was getting his boat serviced here at Key Harbor and told me the place was available, the light bulb went off. But I have to tell you, my two managing partners, Elene and Adolfo, are a huge part of making this possible. We want it to be a fun place with a chilled vibe and great food.”
The Catch ‘n Cook “hook”?
“We did our homework and visited a lot of waterfront restaurants. None offered to prepare and cook a customer’s catch. I was surprised because it’s a common thing with restaurants along the Florida coast. Being a fisherman, I figured it would give us an advantage over the other places. So, why not? Word is getting out, and we’re pretty pleased so far.”
The menu is best defined as “Fast Casual” with a cross-section of Caribbean-style fish, meat, and shellfish offerings. Standards like the Smashed Burger and Cuban Sandwich keep an even keel. Some eye poppers too, like the Bermuda Flank Steak, Rasta Pasta, and Seared Ahi Tuna Steak.
For us, it’s upcoming visits with striper, triggerfish, mahi, tog, sea bass, porgy, bonito, and Spanish mackerel fillets at the ready.
Catch ‘em up and bring ‘em in. Leave the cooking to Caribbean Pete & Crew.
Going up soon is a sign on Route 9 in Waretown, and signage visible from the water.
There is ample parking in the Key Harbor Marina lot or, if arriving by boat, call 732-503-8042 for docking information and arrangements for pick up and transport to the restaurant via golf cart.
Located in Key Harbor Marina, 2 Pt. Road in Waretown. Hours are noon-9 pm Thursday-Sunday. BYOB, but they offer pitchers of knockout sangria. Check out the Hook ‘n Cook Caribbean Pete’s Island Grille on Facebook and Instagram.