Off the Hook Now Sends Off-Season Family Meals From Barnegat Light

‘The Thursday Supper Club’ Delivers
By MARIA SCANDALE | Mar 09, 2016
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Barnegat Light is a quieter place in the cold, but not in the kitchen of Viking Fresh Off the Hook. Chef-prepared meals, delivered, are the answer to the question of how to make use of the off-season when winter winds wipe out patio seating. So they’re bringing the freshly made meals to the neighbors, not just in town, but off the Island north to Barnegat and down to the Tuckerton area.

Teachers and plumbers and vacation house owners can come home to a cooler that carries a coconut shrimp with piña colada sauce dinner, or burgundy beef stew with biscuits, for example.

“Family Style Meals with Chef John Grifo” is also called The Thursday Supper Club because Thursday afternoon is the day of delivery. Customers leave a secure cooler by their door if they aren’t going to be home until later.

The weekly menu will be listed at vikingoffthehook.com; regular customers are already on an email list. Orders are taken by email between the time the new menu comes out on Mondays, through the end of the day Tuesday. Email the order tofamilymeals@vikingoffthehook.com or text your name and email address to 609-709-9791. Customers will get an email confirmation.

One recent Thursday we watched restaurant owner Kristine Panacek assembling 41 deliveries alongside Chef Grifo.

For 40 years, Grifo has been well known with a resume of restaurants in the LBI region in addition to contracted work with caterers to President Clinton and the Super Bowl. He took the opportunity to rejoin former associates at Off the Hook in January. He had designed Off the Hook’s kitchen.

“The Thursday Supper Club is starting to really catch on,” Panacek said. “We take all payments by credit card. Then there’s no exchange of money when I deliver; they don’t have to be there.

“I tell them, leave a cooler ... you come home from work, you take it out of there, you put it in the oven and you’re ready. So, it’s good for the working class and it’s good for the elderly. And I have some Florida customers who come up for weekends who know me, and they say, ‘Drop it off in my fridge’ and they tell me where the key is.”

Every Thursday the delivery menu carries two fresh dinner choices, a non-seafood ($25) and a seafood meal ($30), serving about three to four people. Additionally every week there is a fixed selection of the most popular single items, such as the fresh albacore tuna salad ($9 per pint) and Grifo’s award-winning clam chowder.

The dinners are fully cooked and ready to reheat after they are delivered. A few items such as the chowder are frozen. The frozen selections also include the homemade lasagna, scallop quiche, and a two-portion chicken pot pie (that item is $12). See the menu for the full price list of the side items.

Viking Fresh Off the Hook is so named because Viking Village commercial dock is on the same property. Talk about “doesn’t get any fresher.” Panacek is a daughter of the dock’s co-owners, the Larson family, and her husband and business partner, Ernie Panacek, is the dock general manager.

“For the seafood entrees, we’ll see what’s available fresh in at the dock – local flounder, scallops, monkfish, tuna – and we sell the fresh albacore salad every week. You can buy it by the pint,” Grifo said.

Kris Panacek pointed out the apple strudel that Grifo had just made and noted it could be purchased as a side dessert. He had also whipped up a citrus poppyseed viniagrette dressing for the side salad.

When Off the Hook chef Charles Ostergren comes back from a winter vacation visiting his brother in New Zealand, he’ll take Panacek’s place alongside Chef Grifo for this “Thursday Supper Club” endeavor, and he’ll also be here for the busy season.

Here’s a Little History,

Looking to the Future

At the height of summer, the takeout restaurant at 1905 Bayview Ave. does as many as 450 lunches and dinners a day. Umbrella-shaded patio tables seat 51 outside, but about 60 to 70 percent of the meals are taken out by people who carry them home and eat the seafood on their own outdoor deck.

It was winter that had room to live up to its potential. The restaurant itself is closed, but the Panaceks live here year ’round.

“Here’s an investment, and I had to find a way to make October, November, December, January, March, April productive,” Panacek said. “So I was making boat meals for boats when they go out. It’s a bigger tray of food. They’re out on the ocean; they’re not boiling noodles or baking potatoes or roasts. They want a good meal, and all they have to do is put it in the oven out there.

“A girlfriend of mine from the other end of the Island heard that I was making the boat meals. She goes, ‘Oh, can I buy one?’ She told her friends, and it grew and grew. So I thought, it looks to me like there’s a need here, right? Find a need and then fill it – that’s my thing.”

Viking Fresh Off the Hook was the idea of her father, the late Capt. John Larson, who was an owner of the Viking Village commercial dock enterprise with his wife, Marion, and friends Lou and Fran Puskas, who still own the business. The operation catches seafood and ships it all over the world.

“This was his property and he just thought a takeout would be better than a restaurant because then you’re not limited to your seating. And everybody has these beautiful homes here. Why not sit on their own bayfront deck and have chicken penne vodka or scallop penne vodka?” related his daughter, who with her husband expanded the property to add outside seating and public restrooms.

Asked whether she always wanted a restaurant, Kris Panacek said she started out in the printing business – but the answer is yes. Fourteen years ago, she was in the right place to make Off the Hook a new enterprise, and it gave jobs to a whole staff as well.

As she continued, “My father was a dad of seven, and my mom helped him with the business, and my Uncle Ole from Norway lived with us. Every night at the table there was 10 people. You were feeding 10 people every night, you appreciate your job, right? Well, he wanted to give other guys jobs so they could support their family. He had a heart for men. He thought of this idea, but my mother says, ‘I’m running 11 corporations for you; not one more, I’m sorry.’

“I happened to be standing there with the plans; architect Mike Ryan had designed it. Ernie and I always wanted to be in the restaurant business. We felt we’re shipping millions of pounds of fresh seafood all over the world; why aren’t we selling it here? So we took this design that he had worked with, and we took it over.

“The Family Style Meals story is, fill in the gap: What do you do from October to May in Barnegat Light? People aren’t coming here, but I’m taking the meals to them.”

For Grifo’s part, “Everything comes full circle, and everything happens for a reason,” he said.

“John and I knew each other all these years; he knew my dad ... and in January I said to him, ‘Finally, the stars lined up,’” Kris said. “He said to me, ‘Believe it or not, I just saw on the news that the planets actually have lined up.’

“So, of course, the restaurant’s catering is probably going to get bigger; everybody knows him locally. We’re up for anything, but we want to work year ’round.”

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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