It’s a bigger, lighter and roomier John G’s in the Plaza del Mer in Manalapan, but so many familiar faces, it’s as though they never closed.
The first day of their soft-opening, Wednesday, Sept. 14, Wendy Yarbrough was at her post at the front door, greeting all the guests who heard about the pre-grand opening days of breakfast and lunches. “We’re packed! Can you believe it? I’m thrilled!” she said.
Her family was in their places as well after the 3-1/2-month hiatus: Brothers Jay and Keith Giragos behind the line in the kitchen, and mom, “Mrs. G.” going table to table, greeting the guests and making sure everything was just right.
Different chairs; same menu
We were seated in “John’s Room” – a little nook of only two tables in the front window – dedicated, Wendy said, to her dad – the restaurant founder. “I’ll have more pictures up here soon, but we have the old one of the casino. It looks tired, don’t you think?” It did.
The red leather chairs at these tables alone were holdovers from the old casino restaurant on the beach.
The newly reupholstered chairs and booths with cream leatherette monogrammed with “JG” help brighten the room. A completely mirrored west wall reflects the light, and tables are spaced so servers no longer have to bump into chairs or wait for people to be seated to serve. It was high energy, but still not so loud you couldn’t hear the music – a light jazz and swing track played in the background.
A second area up a small step is for counter seating and has additional booths. It was the former bar for Callaro’s steakhouse, the previous owner. A take-out counter is just beyond it to accommodate all the to-go orders from beachgoers; there’s an ATM machine in the corner.
Neither prices nor foods have changed on the menu from the casino location. Keith touted his first batch of gazpacho – saying he’d “nailed it!” so we had to have some. He was right – and our two portions disappeared almost as quickly as they were set down.
Our fish and chips (and a fish and fruit platter) tasted the same as always – perfectly crisp, not the least soggy, and with their delicious tartar sauce: the real meal deal.
If there were nits, it was over the hush-puppies – my Southern buddy and I agreed that while they aren’t the same as our cornmeal hushpuppies we knew and loved, they still have a good flavor. Neither of us are fans of the slaw, however – it’s simply blah.
But you don’t have room for it anyway with all the fruit or fries and add-ons served with the meal.
Still breakfast and lunch – and still cash only, with no reservations
Breakfast is served beginning at 7 a.m. – and there are plenty who are there when the doors open, Wendy said. Lunch is served till 3 p.m., and by the time we left at 1:30, a line had formed, as the 200 seats were full. “I love it!” Wendy said.
At the cashier desk, now on the right side of the door as you enter, roses bloomed as always, and as we were leaving, a huge bouquet was delivered – a long-time customer’s well wishes for success. Tickets are still punched onto the spindle next to the cash-only cash register.
With plenty of free parking, and an extra 60 seats, and a friendly crew raring to get back to work, it’s no wonder a line has already formed.
Their grand opening is Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 a.m.
- 264 Ocean Drive, Manalapan (in Plaza del Mer, across from The Ritz-Carlton)
- 561-9860; www.johngs.com
- Open for breakfast and lunch, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.
- No reservations; cash only.