By Barbara Bishop
An aging, crusty, jaded reporter (his name has been left out to protect the innocent), met a slightly aging, jaded PR executive buddy (that would be me) for dinner the other night. Chez Jay provided the perfect backdrop for us to catch up.
The circa-1959 establishment itself is old, kind of crusty and definitely jaded. All the things I love in a restaurant! Oh, and the martinis are well-chilled and made to perfection and the cuisine is classic old-school. The perfect spot.
To those who are not familiar with the place, it’s on Ocean, directly across from those large, luxurious beach front hotels. You may have passed it many times, not even knowing it was there. It’s a little shack, a dive, a hole in the wall with a strange sophistication and worldly experience.
We walk in, peanut shells on the floor crunching beneath our feet. The peanuts they serve are famous – I heard one of the peanuts even made it to the moon! Awesome.
There’s a large bar on the left, taking up the entire left side of the interior. Lots of regulars are there, who have been warming those bar stools and drinking a cold one or two for more than 20 years. It’s an eclectic mix; executives, tourists, beach bums, celebrities, journalists and PR executives.
I order a Grey Goose Martini, up, with two olives and a twist of lemon, extra chilled. My friend orders a beer.
Across from the bar, there are a handful of small tables with red and white table cloths, as well as a few red booths, reserved for diners. There are photos and memorabilia displayed everywhere. A jukebox is playing ‘50s and ‘60s music. Original owner Jay Fiondella was a world traveler and quite a character. He passed away, but the tradition lives on through photos, memorabilia and his loyal customers.
One of the great secrets of this place is the food. Some of the best in town. After we finished our drinks at the bar, we were led to one of the dining tables, a few steps away. We studied the menu. Appetizers included a selection of Caesar salads, fresh steamed clams, shrimp scampi, a Cajun style calamari steak, and a selection of quesadillas.
Entrees included classics like Sand Dabs Almondine, steak and lobster tail, and a variety of steak cuts, including a New York Steak Fiondella, a large steak marinated with olive oil, garlic, spices and bread crumbs. Compared to Beverly Hills steak house prices, where a steak starts at $60, Chez Jay’s prices are reasonable, less than half the price of the Beverly Hills joints. And unlike other steak houses, the sides aren’t a-la carte; each meal comes with Soup du Jour or a salad, potato and garlic bread. Just like the old days!
We ordered two appetizers — the steamed clams and the Cajun style calamari steak. The clams were perfectly steamed and served with butter for dipping, and the Cajun style Calamari Steak was the kind of dish you crave for once you’ve tasted it. Yum.
We also ordered the New York steak. It was cooked to perfection, served with sautéed mushrooms. We passed on dessert, but the Cheesecake Chez Jay, the Sticky Toffee Pudding and the Chocolate Mousse Cake are classic treats that I will order upon my next visit. Hopefully when I come back, the outdoor patio will be ready for service.
Advice to all you foodies that have passed by this place on the way to the more “tragically hip” beachfront restaurants – don’t judge this book by its cover. You’ll be missing out on amazing memories, martinis and money, (that is saving money) and an amazing meal.