Polly’s Dock and Clam House Preserves History, Adds New Flavor

By MARIA SCANDALE | Jul 04, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

When the spectacular sunset goes down at Polly’s Dock and Clam House, the strings of deck lights wink on.

Polly’s is an atmospheric place steeped in almost 80 years of ambience, and a bait and tackle angle of the business existed in Beach Haven’s historic framework even before that. No wonder its newer outdoor casual restaurant tucked between two buildings is a best-hidden treasure of LBI.

Polly’s Dock has been preserved by the salty air, the salt-of-the-earth former owners Herman and Polly Joorman, and now by new owner Margaret Damiani. The Joormans are deceased, but the tradition they curated is vibrant in the present and it looks toward a future.

A pier renovation and expansion to 39 slips is the newest plan that may take place after this summer. An application has been made for a grant and permits to add more boat slips for transient boaters. Damiani should hear soon from the state on whether approval will be granted.

The proposal is to renovate the existing pier and add an additional pier where one formerly existed. It would provide “more space for transient boaters because there are really not many places that people can go via the Intercoastal Waterway, come in, patronize the businesses in town, and then leave via their boat, so New Jersey wants to promote that,” Damiani said. “So that’s in the works and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I’ll know whether I was approved for the grant.”

Also new are this summer’s additions to the menu, such as fresh clam strips and Viking Village scallops. They’re a response to the sample bites of seafood that patrons tried and liked last summer.

In June, Polly’s was granted approval to increase seating from 20 to 42 by adding several outdoor tables at the 112 North West Ave. site.

Customers love the quaint and comfortable setting. The only way in, by land, is off the street through a tiny parking lot, past the ice house that is so picturesque, it demands that you pull out the phone camera right there. The outdoor in-through-the-back-way path widens into an island-y patio with paintings that local artist Rick Borys fiberglassed to withstand the elements. That’s just the entrance to the stunning scene that unfolds.

Bar-style stools beckon on both sides of a bayfront view that graces the boat rental part of the business, which diners can gaze out on while they eat. Classic rock, country or Bob Marley plays at a subdued level from mounted speakers. Rebecca Horner’s tribute drawing of Herman Joorman is framed by wood from old bait traps he saved – and the image is lit from behind.

Polly’s is one of the last bits of old-time Beach Haven that a customer can be immersed in, yet it’s been updated, too.

“You can still come back to a little bit of the old days here,” said the new owner, explaining why she loves it.

She and husband Patrick are interested in historic preservation, as evidenced also by their total renovation in 2001 at the Hydrangea House bed and breakfast on the oceanside in Beach Haven.

She said of Polly’s, “There are not many places left where you can eat right on the water so close, and the sunsets are spectacular.”

“I think it’s the only place where you can rent a boat, tie a boat, eat fish, at the same time,” restaurant manager Iris Cox added. “And drink a beer.” Polly’s is BYOB.

“And we’re pet-friendly, too,” Cox added. “People bring their dogs, and a lot of them who know we’re pet-friendly bring their dogs at certain times when they know it’s not too crazy here. But they do bring their dogs. We actually have designated water bowls for the dogs.”

Cox’s cooking savvy brings savory recipes to the table.

“People come and ask me if I’m Polly,” she said, “No, but this place has my heart.”

They wanted to add more seafood to the kitchen food service that the new owners started in 2014. That began last year, adding to the bay-fresh clams, burgers, hand-tossed salads, dock fries, wings and more. See the whole menu at pollysdock.com.

“Last year we tried out calamari, clam strips, fried flounder, cod and scallops as samples, and cheese steaks, and it took off,” Cox said.

“We’re going to do specials this year and try things out, and we’re known for our clams.” The sweet clams, which she described as a cross in size between littlenecks and middlenecks, are from respected purveyor Pete McCarthy.

“We saute them – I can’t give you all my secrets – but we saute them in Chardonnay on the stovetop and then we serve it with garlic bread. I melt my butter with fresh minced garlic and we add a little bit of that to it, and some other things.”

“And they’re real fresh because we get them from our local clammers,” Damiani pointed out, “from the ice house to the plate.”

“We serve them in frying pans,” Cox demonstrated. She brought out a skillet, the retro style that vacationers will fondly remember finding in the shore cottage rentals. The clams are cooked in one pan and served in another.

“It’s the charm of it all,” Damiani observed with a happy laugh.

“I love the fact that this is one of the last bits of history in Beach Haven that are left the way it was. I think that’s important.”

Sitting on the patio under a tiki umbrella or a yellow canvas umbrella, today’s patrons are next to the former house on the left and a restored work building on the right.

“They used to use this building, I’m told, for boat repairs in the beginning and then they would bring the clams in for sorting and would store them in the ice house,” Damiani shared.

For a shore place to be “left the way it was,” however, doesn’t mean the family of new owners didn’t make renovations, especially after Sandy hit. And just recently, the bulkhead was repaired.

Upon their purchase, arrangements were made for Herman Joorman to still live in residential quarters onsite. He had a favorite seat at the outdoor serving counter. “Herman was born and raised here,” Damiani said. “Literally, all his years were spent here. He taught my husband the ins and outs of the boat rental business and the bait and tackle, what people like.”

Boat rentals and a tackle shop were what was there when the Damianis took over. Herman taught Patrick Damiani the old-school way to catch minnows for the boat livery.

“We started continuing with the boat rental business like the Joormans had ... and we continued with the bait and tackle, but we expanded on that. Then we added pontoon boats, which people love to take out on the bay, and we have the garveys that we rent for people to fish and crab from.” Damiani listed. “We also have the kayaks and the paddleboards, which are fun.”

It is a family atmosphere at Polly’s, Damiani said, whether at the weekend-only 7 a.m. breakfasts or any night before the clam house closes at 11 p.m. (the kitchen actually stops taking orders after sundown, and the dock closes earlier as well.) “Kids love to be outside, maybe pull up a crab trap, see what’s going on.”

The Damianis plan to have their two children continue their schooling in New York until their graduation several years from now, and after that they would like to retire on LBI.

One recent afternoon, the employees took a few minutes to sit at the counter that was Herman’s favorite spot, talking about good times.

“At nighttime, we take all these umbrellas down once the sun starts going down, and all these lights come on,” Cox described. “The ambience at nighttime here is breathtaking.

“That’s how we actually get a lot of our traffic, too, because people who have never been here before are walking from over there and they’re like, ‘what are those lights?’ because we’re kind of hidden.”

It seems that today’s Polly’s will get more and more discovered, yet never change completely, and that’s good.

For more information, see the pollysdock.com website or call 609-492-2194.







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