By TIM KELLY
The Best of the Press awards are important to Mike Monichetti because of what it takes to win them. They require loyalty and action by customers, qualities Mike and staff are proud to have attained.
Monichetti is the third-generation owner of Mike’s Seafood and Dock Restaurant, at 4222 Park Road in the heart of Sea Isle City’s historic Fish Alley. His establishment is the two-time defending “Best Seafood Restaurant” champion – and gunning for its third title in a row.
“We wouldn’t be the success we are without our customers’ and employees’ loyalty,” Monichetti said. “Positive word of mouth is the best ingredient of success. We are completing one of our best years ever in 2021. I’m grateful our customers pass the word along to friends, and that our amazing and incredible workers provide excellent service and a great customer experience. Best of the Press reflects that.”
Mike said he was hopeful to generate winning numbers again this year in the contest, a “reader’s choice” competition, which pits hundreds of Jersey Shore businesses against each other in dozens of categories.
Press readers nominated their favorites during the first part of the contest. The top five moved on to the voting round, which began Sept. 1 and continues through Sept. 19. Winners will be announced on Oct. 31.
“We’re hopeful for another strong showing as we achieved in 2020 and 2019. Our customers have given us strong numbers previously,” Monichetti said of the contest, which covers a four-county geographic region and shore resort towns stretching from Brigantine to Cape May.
The original building housing the business, an otherwise nondescript shed, still sits on Mike’s premises as a reminder to staff and customers of the history of Mike’s Seafood.
“I’ve had quite a few people who are my age (baby boomers) who tell me, ‘I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,’” Monichetti said.
Monichetti also owns a Mike’s Seafood in Ocean City at 208 E. 55th Street.
In addition to “Best Seafood Restaurant,” Mike’s Seafood also made the top five and is under consideration in the “Best Waterfront Dining” and “Best Crabcakes” categories.
Plaques and gold medals are nice recognition, Monichetti said, but his real award is keeping the Mike’s Seafood tradition going.
“I am very fortunate to carry on the tradition my grandparents began 110 years ago,” he said. “We do our very best to live up to the standards they would want us to maintain.”
“We sell freshly caught seafood each and every day,” Monichetti said in a previously published article. “We buy our seafood from our friends we’ve known for 25 years and who dock their boats right behind our restaurant.”
Customers can see the inventory come in, see it prepared and see it displayed for takeout purchase. Such transparency leaves no doubt as to the freshness and local flavor of almost every menu item.
According to Monichetti, there are other elements that work in his restaurant’s favor.
“It’s the consistency,” he said. “People come in with expectations, and we’re able to give people what they want.”
That does not suggest Mike’s Seafood is standing pat. “We are constantly evolving to keep up with customers and a changing food service industry,” Monichetti said.
The sit-down meals feature old favorites such as crabcakes, scallops wrapped in bacon and many others, and nightly specials. On the takeout menu are a lengthy list of winning choices such as steamed clams, mussels “to die for,” five different shrimp dishes and a wide range of soups and chowders.
In addition to great food and fun, Monichetti is a longtime Sea Isle civic leader and booster. He sponsors a run-walk during Sea Isle’s Polar Bear Plunge weekend that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for autism awareness. The annual event in February also attracts more visitors to Polar Bear Plunge weekend who might not be inclined to run into the chilly Atlantic Ocean but who still spend money in town.
The business was founded in 1911 after Monichetti’s grandparents Lodovico (Dewey) and Rosina made the brave decision to leave their native land, the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, Italy.
They set out on a journey “in a rickety old ship that leaked and could barely stay afloat,” according to Mike Seafood’s website, “for a new and better life in America.”
After surviving the journey and stressful processing on Ellis Island, there was another important matter ahead. The couple needed to find a place to settle and to chase the American dream.
“They made their way to the train station and this was difficult as my grandparents did not speak or understand English,” Monichetti said in an oft-repeated story. The ticket master realized this and made hand gestures indicating “North or South?” Lodovico and Rosina looked at each other and replied at the same time, “South!”
Lodovico pulled all the money out of his pocket, which determined how far the train would take them. That turned out to be Sea Isle City, Monichetti said.
Which begs the question: How would upstate New York or Sea Isle look today had they said “North?”
Happily for Jersey Shore residents and visitors who love the freshest and locally caught seafood, the couple gave the right answer.