Bagels or Bowls?


Do you remember chicken in a basket? When I was a kid it was a popular menu item in several Long Beach Island restaurants. I couldn’t imagine what it was because my family didn’t eat out much. I pictured a red checked napkin in a basket with a live hen inside. When I found out it was just crispy chicken with fries, I was disappointed.

Our family was clueless about different cuisines. When we did eat out we went to an “Eyetalian” restaurant. We were Irish and that was exotic enough for us. On Fridays we ate fish cakes or a can of meatless Chef Boyardee. Imagine how different it was for us to dine on chicken cacciatore or eggplant parmesan, which became our favorite meals. It took us a while to figure out what to do with the olive oil next to the bread. We always asked for butter.

We were not sophisticated diners, but we loved Chinese food. The menus offered a realm of possibilities. At first we stuck to column A and column B, but we soon advanced to Moo Goo Gai Pan, steamed dumplings and egg drop soup. I was in heaven the first time I tried broccoli and beef. It was so much better than my mother’s overcooked version. Sorry, Mom.

Years later we were introduced to sushi. It’s not unusual now, but it was strange to us in the ’70s. At least two large restaurants on the Island now feature a sushi bar. It has become so popular that it is available in some supermarkets. I’m happy that there’s a new Asian restaurant on the Island. I was missing my Chinese fix.

Another innovation for me was spinach salad. We always cooked our spinach to death at home so I was amazed at the delicious raw greens with eggs, onion and bacon. Then there was the broccoli and cauliflower craze when you caramelized the florets in the oven with lots of garlic. Suddenly I liked vegetables. Add on green beans cooked just crisp with almonds and perhaps sautéed with onions. It wasn’t anything like those frozen legumes mixed with cream soup I was used to. So delicious! California-style crisp vegetables, in the farm to table trend, have sprouted on the Island.

Mexican restaurants became popular in the early ’80s and I went taco crazy. I was serving salsa with scrambled eggs and mixing black beans in our salads. Fish tacos were a big hit in the late ’90s and are still popular today. The grandkids can’t get enough of tortilla chips along with bean dip and guacamole. Ole!

The Food Network on TV ran the gamut of “30-minute meals” by Rachael Ray, and the “take it up a notch” cooking by Emeril. The Barefoot Contessa was my favorite as she cooked at her beautiful beach house and then served the meal al fresco with waves crashing in the background.

Thankfully, we have a few ocean and bayside dining establishments on LBI. Morrison’s was a lovely spot to watch boats drift by and view sunsets in the evening. Sadly, it burned down in 2005 and has never been replaced. There are, however, many good seafood venues on LBI and I salivate just thinking about crabs, clams and the catch of the day. Chowdah, anyone? The chowderfest is coming up and that’s a whole window of grazing opportunity even if it’s by the paper cup and not a bowl.

The newest foodie trends on the Island do involve bowls. If you are a millennial or at least under 40, you probably know about the popularity of smoothie-based bowls. They are made using kale and exotic fruits. You can add granola, oats, chia seeds as well as dragonfruit, mango, pineapple or coconut to personalize these healthy treats. There are at least six cafés or stands featuring açai or pataya bowls.

For more old-fashioned tastes, there’s a myriad of bagel and doughnut stands dotting the Island. Hmm, which would you opt for – a schmear on an everything bagel or a healthy açai bowl? Either way, we’re lucky to have so many choices. Mangiamo and bon appetit!

Kathleen Donnelly lives in Beach Haven Terrace.

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