Summer Guide: Horse Play

The team behind Pub & Kitchen hit the Jersey Shore
by Lee Stabert

Philadelphians lucky enough to spend the occasional evening cozied up to the bar at Pub & Kitchen, digging into the casually arresting food and sampling the thoughtful beer selection, should brace themselves for some seriously good news.
The brain trust behind the standout gastropub (owners Dan Clark and Ed Hackett and Chef John “Johnny Mac” Adams) are heading down the shore for the summer, launching The Diving Horse in Avalon. A seafood-focused BYO, the Dune Drive restaurant will emphasize products from Garden State farms alongside local seafood, including oysters, Barnegat Bay scallops and New Jersey fluke.

Clark, who has been spending summers in Avalon for most of his life, is incredibly excited about the venture, and hopes they can fill a void in the seaside town. “I think that everyone down there loves to try a new place,” he says. “Hopefully the amount of detail we are putting into the place itself and the menu will make it pretty unique.”

The menu features everything from soft shell crab to steak, as well as fresh pasta, East Coast cheeses (served with a smear of honey from Bartram’s Garden), simple sides (the brown butter potato puree is a standout) and daily specials.

But the star is definitely the fried oysters, served with pancetta remoulade and yellow potato salad. “The oysters are unbelievable,” insists Clark. On our visit (during the Memorial Day soft open), they were as good as promised—a delicate, crispy cornmeal coating was the ideal foil for the earthy potatoes and dollop of creamy sauce. The result was about as close to perfection as a bite of food can come. Other highlights included baked flounder, seared scallops on lemon pearl pasta with shellfish broth and a salad featuring goat cheese, chopped almonds and slivers of sweet roasted peach.

Then there was dessert: Chocolate layer cake. Clark had sung its praises, and our waitress echoed his enthusiasm, but really, how good can something so simple be? Let’s just say that this square of fudgy, layered decadence—topped with a single scoop of peanut butter ice cream—is reason enough to brave Friday evening shore traffic.
The space, which became available shortly after the New Year, required massive renovations. Originally a mini-mall in the ’60s, the building’s more recent incarnations include a Manhattan Bagel and a Remax Real Estate Office. Clark’s parents are opening Avalon Hardware in the other half of the space.

As for Diving Horse, the team was aiming for a “farmhouse feel on the beach.” They used salvaged materials for the floors and church pew banquettes for seating along the walls (sourced through Provenance Old Soul Salvage). And the true showstopper is a huge mirror on the south wall, trimmed with distressed wood, also reclaimed.  “It’s going to be a very relaxed atmosphere,” says Clark. “The waiters will be in jeans and Vans. We want people to be able to stop by.” The also encourage people to linger, as we did, finishing drinks out on the sizable side patio under strings of white lights.