Everything tastes better at the beach. Starting Friday at Jones Beach this year, you can gaze at the crashing surf while digging into lobster rolls, ceviche and Mexican corn on the cob. Plus a lot more than the old burgers and dogs that once defined beach food at the state park.
Centerplate, an international firm based in Stamford, Connecticut, has taken over all seven Jones Beach food venues — the Central Mall, East and West Bathhouses, Fields 1, 2 and 6 and Zach’s Bay — and, with the help of noted Long Island chef Tom Schaudel, is rolling out more contemporary, more crowd-pleasing and more local choices.
“All the horseradish here is from Holy Schmitt’s in Riverhead,” he said. “The pickles are from Backyard Brine [in Calverton], the fish is from Two Cousins Wholesale in Freeport.” Hot dogs are classic New York Sabretts.
“Local” is certainly the key word at the West Bathhouse, whose entrance now bears a “Taste NY” sign. The stately structure has been completely renovated — a back wall made of glass doors affords, for the first time, a view of the bigger-than-Olympic pool — and in addition to the food counter, there’s a market selling artisanal foodstuffs from all over the state including Tate’s cookies from Southampton, Ronnybrook ice cream ($9 pint) and yogurt ($4) from the Hudson Valley and beer from Montauk Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery and Blue Point Brewing Company. Grab-and-go items include quinoa salad ($7) and chicken-walnut salad ($8).
The West Bathhouse, Central Mall and Field 6 will all serve an “enhanced” menu that includes “sea biscuit” sandwiches with fried chicken, fried fish or crabcakes ($10), foot-long hot dogs ($6, $7 for loaded), meatball and chicken Parm heros (both $10). These locations, plus Zach’s Bay, will also dispense soft serve ice cream ($4 to $5).
But even what Centerplate calls “the core” menu, served at all seven venues, is a step up from the usual beach fare. Besides Sabrett’s hot dogs ($4.25), cheeseburgers ($6), chicken tenders ($8), nachos ($5.25) and soft pretzels ($3), there are, among other items, chicken Caesar salads and wraps (both $9), Caprese heros (tomato, mozzarella, basil, $8), fruit cups ($5) and Chobani yogurt ($4).
Centerplate, which provides the food at Belmont Park and Bethpage Ballpark (the Central Islip home of the Long Island Ducks), has a lot of experience serving crowds whose main focus is having a good time. John Shewchuk, executive chef of all Jones Beach operations, said that the challenge is “to find a menu that pleases a cross-section of people of all ages and backgrounds.” As far as he’s concerned, the perfect beach dish is French fries. “We came up with a signature fry — we’re calling them boardwalk fries — seasoned with garlic, Parmesan and Old Bay. But you can get them without the seasoning — or loaded with cheese” ($5.50, $6.50).
Shewchuk is saving his real culinary firepower for a new cafe at the Central Mall. The mood is beach-casual but food will be cooked to order and served by waiters. Here’s where the seafood gets serious: ceviche ($12), lobster nachos with queso blanco and mango-black bean pico de gallo ($13), peel-and-eat shrimp and steamers (both $18), lobster rolls ($23) and Mexican street corn with cotija cheese and cilantro-lime crema.
Centerplate has also engaged the services of two food trucks. Stationed at the East Bathhouse is Swingbellys (operated by Sean Sullivan, founder of the Long Beach barbecue restaurant but no longer affiliated with it) serving smoked ribs, pulled pork and chicken and fried pickle chips. At Field 6, Sandbar Sandwich Co. is serving tacos, chicken and waffles and Greek yogurt bowls on the weekends until July 4, when the operation will expand to seven days a week.