Tuckerton Restaurateur Places Stake on Steak

Roadhouse Steakhouse Located at 217 East Main St.
Dec 12, 2013
Photo by: Rick Mellerup

Joe Virginia, a restaurateur for 38 years, said his Joe’s Fish Fry, located at 217 East Main St. in Tuckerton, was a success for 3½ months.

“The fish fry did really, really well. We did fantastic.”

So why, at the beginning of this month, did he replace it with a new venture at the same location, the Roadhouse Steakhouse? Simple; he saw a niche, actually a gaping hole, that needed to be filled.

“Everybody sells fish around here,” said Virginia. “But there isn’t a steakhouse for 40 miles.”

In a world of GPS navigation, that might be a stretch, but certainly not a large one. With the demise of the Ponderosa in Manahawkin a decade or so ago and the closing of the Charlie Brown’s in Forked River a couple of years back, Southern Ocean County residents have to hit the highway and drive toward Toms River, Atlantic City or Egg Harbor Township (Egg Harbor, not Little Egg Harbor) to find a steakhouse. Virginia, who once owned Café Giuseppe’s in Philadelphia (“four star”), a delicatessen in Middletown (“the largest in the state”), two ice cream parlors and a gourmet coffee shop, weighed his options and turned from surf to turf.

The Roadhouse offers some fish entries – salmon, cod, lobster tails – as do most steakhouses, as well as ribs, chops and chicken. Its mainstay, however, is beef, in many succulent forms.

A sirloin for $13.95. A shell for $15.95. Filet mignon for $16.95. Three cuts of prime rib (“Jack” at $10.95, “Queen” for $15.95 and “King” for $19.95). There’s the restaurant’s signature dish, the 20-ounce porterhouse, for $22.95. How about a surf and turf, an 8-ounce filet mignon and an 8- to 10-ounce lobster tail, for $27.95?

Then there is the 12-ounce burger for $9.95. The child’s menu burger is downsized to 6 ounces for $5.95. Meet meat!

All entrees come with a choice of fries or baked potato, a veggie, slaw and a basket of “Brooklyn Bread.”

Virginia and chef Robert Smarra Jr., son of co-owner Robert Smarra Sr., stress quality as well as quantity.

“We have prime, aged meats,” said Virginia. “The aging makes such a difference. There was a guy here Saturday (Dec. 7) who said he wanted to see the owner. I’m going, ‘Uh oh, a complaint,’ but he says, ‘Look at this’ and cuts his porterhouse with his fork. Everything is homemade, our soups, our sauces. We hand cut our fries. We get our produce from B&B (known for its Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables). If they don’t have what we need, they get it for us. Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh.”

Virginia also stresses low prices.

“We’re setting our prices for Tuckerton,” he said. “After the storm (Sandy) and with the economy, we want to serve Tuckerton (and the rest of the area). And everybody has children here, so you have to keep the prices low. We would rather have people come here twice a week thanks to the prices instead of once a week.”

Virginia also stressed the new restaurant’s low-key atmosphere. When, several years ago, 217 Restaurant occupied the spot, it was decidedly upscale. It was great for romantic dates but could put off families.

“When we had the fish fry, people would come in, see the decor, and turn around and leave,” said Virginia. “They thought it would be too expensive.”

So Virginia toned down the decor. For example, he added a flatscreen TV “for Monday Night Football.”

That’s right, the Roadhouse Steakhouse will be open on Mondays. That’s because, said Virginia, so many of the area’s other restaurants are closed on that day.

“We’re open six days a week for both lunch and dinner, from 12 to 9. We’re only closed on Tuesdays.”

But the restaurant’s sign says the steakhouse is open fonly ive days a week. Well, the sign is wrong. Buoyed by a good early response (remember, it debuted on Dec. 1), Virginia and his eager young chef decided to go all in on the Roadhouse. They just haven’t had time to change the sign.

Smarra brings some experience of his own. “I’ve been in this business for 10 years,” he said. “I started at a clam bar at 14, opening clams, then I went to culinary school, graduated three years ago, and had been working in Atlantic City.”

The Roadhouse takes reservations at 609-296-2999 although walk-ins are welcomed. The restaurant can also host private parties and will cater.

Virginia wanted to make sure people understand that the Lizzie Rose Tea Room, which occupies the same building, is still open.

“They’ve still got their rooms up front.”

English teas and American beef. Quite the combination – and both Southern Ocean County rarities.

— Rick Mellerup


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