Gregory’s a ‘Fresh, Unique’ Pick Among New Restaurants

Aug 15, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Greg Mann is still mentioning The Inquirer’s June 29 article choosing Gregory’s among six new shore restaurants from Cape May to LBI “with fresh surprises and a unique character.” The Ship Bottom eatery is housed in a “stylish bungalow of a BYOB,” cool inside and out where “Edison lights illuminate the crisp linen-draped dining room of the former Da Vinci’s, and an herb garden fringes a 48-seat patio shaded by kite-shaped awnings,” as the Philadelphia food writer set the scene.

People are perennially starved for good new dining options, even as they keep returning to favorites, and this summer Gregory’s has established itself as both.

“We’re killin’ it” is his high-energy answer for how well they’re doing. “People are loving it, and I’m enjoying it.

“I’m happy this year for the first time in many years, because it’s my own place,” the restaurant’s namesake and chef said first-off as he sat down to chat.

It’s his in name, design (“a little bit of an industrial-romantic look”), menu, every meal cooked seven days a week, the flowers and herbs he planted outside. But he credits his sister, Pam Figuerado, as the owner without whom the chance wouldn’t have happened. It’s at 1916 Long Beach Blvd.

Yellowfin in Surf City was the chef’s upscale dining statement for 20 years, but he’s completely out of that business now with this establishment, he said. He most recently co-owned 414 and MKT, both in Surf City. But a partnership with more than one owner didn’t leave enough profit to go around in a 10-week earning season, he said, and now he is satisfied to have his own restaurant as his second home – he lives next door.

“I’m just passionate about food. I love to cook; that was my whole thing about always wanting my own place,” he said. “I’ve always loved Italian food. Yellowfin had that Asian influence, and I’ll throw something Asian in once in a while – I did my world-famous tuna pizzas – but I’ve always loved Italian food.”

Mann learned a lot of his skills in New York, working at the Myriad Restaurant Group’s famed Tribeca Grill and Montrechet, among others in Manhattan.

“Then I learned a lot of my Italian upstate. I worked in the Catskills under a Sicilian chef – that’s where I really got my flair for Italian. Also, I was married to an Italian girl, so I went to see the grandmothers; we did all the cooking stuff together.”

Mann said he loves everything that goes into Italian flavor – the tomatoes and the meats, the prosciuttos and the cheeses and the fresh vegetables.

A signature salad at Gregory’s is the meatball house salad.

The Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan wrote that might sound odd “until you see how good the meatball is.”

“That’s a very unique dish; people love it,” Mann said. “I make my own meatballs. It’s a nice house salad with the ricotta cheese and the sauce – people think it’s weird until they have it and they take a piece of meatball with the salad; it’s really cool.”

The chef yielded secrets of his meatball recipe. “When I make my focaccia bread, I put caramelized onions on top of the bread, so when you grind up the bread crumbs, that goes into my meatballs,” he listed. “I also use pork, veal and chuck; a lot of people just use one. The pork gives you the fat, veal gives you the flavor. And, you don’t pack them much.”

Reading the menu, the description of grilled salmon stands out, with shaved fennel, red onions and blood orange vanilla bean vinaigrette. “The juice I reduce all the way down, and I take vanilla beans and I scrape them so you get the vanilla into the sauce,” the chef hinted.

Roasted local little necks in Greg’s Favorite Clams appetizer ($15) come highly recommended. They “come piled in a skillet with smoked chili peppers and cuminy rounds of chorizo sausage that infuse the wine broth with so much garlicky savor I practically drank it,” the Inquirer taster wrote. The peppers are Calabria peppers.

“We get rave reviews for the clams – I sell tons of them,” Mann noted.

Pork chops grilled or Giambotta ($34-$36) are another of the bigger sellers, more so than steak. “I get the pork chop where they inject it with fat. It’s the coolest thing. I can cook it until it’s well-done and it’s still tender because it’s actually injected with fat. It’s not cheap; it’s real expensive, but it’s so tender.”

Scallops casino, swordfish piccata and pan-seared cod are regular highlights on the seafood section of the menu this summer.

“I get my swordfish, my scallops from the docks; they call me up and I get tilefish. I always try to buy the best ingredients. I deal with Point Lobster, I deal with the best produce company, and I have my bills paid,” he is proud to say.

Much has changed in the chef’s new venture, and some has stayed the same, namely “my girl Olma,” also called “Mom,” helping in the kitchen with salads and other things like the satisfying “peach crispy” dessert. “She’s been with me for almost 15 years, since I opened Café Aletta.”

He recently put in sound-absorbing tiles, as well as foam under every chair to cut down on noise that resonates in a busy place. For next year, carpet will add the same effect.

Former owner Mark Zanone is a friend as well as a long-ago employee at Yellowfin. “Mark said he wanted to spend more time with his family – he lives on Staten Island,” Mann said, “so we got together with a deal. He still comes in on weekends; he loves it.”

Mann plans to keep Gregory’s open through December, and is looking forward to crafting a fall menu. Phone 609-494-3354.

— Maria Scandale

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