a seafood lover creates a restaurant just to his liking, bringing shore catches to central new Jersey
by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Amessé Photography
Charlie Mayo appreciates good calamari, cooked to a crisp perfection and served alongside steamed littleneck clams, with maybe a side of linguine fra diavolo. His lobster? He likes that pan seared with fresh garlic and truffle oil, or sometimes served on toasted brioche with a little tarragon mayonnaise. Trouble was, Mayo had to travel too far from his central New Jersey home to find favorites done right. So, in 2016, he decided to open a clam bar that would rival any of the tri-state area’s most popular seafood establishments.
“Whenever I wanted fresh dishes like those, I had to drive to the shore or into New York City,” Mayo said. “So I decided to open a place nearby that served things my way.”
After Mayo, who had dabbled in the restaurant business 10 years ago but never made a full-time career out of it, found a space in Marlboro on Route 79, he enlisted a local restaurant designer named Raymond Haldeman to craft an industrial chic look.
“I wanted to build a place where I’d like to go—not just because of the food but because of the atmosphere,” Mayo said. “It took us 14 months from planning to the grand opening, but I think the vibe that we achieved is sort of like New York City and Miami meet in New Jersey.”
Some unique elements include plank wood tables and a custom chandelier surrounded by 180 filament light fixtures. Oak wine barrels were used to construct some of the restaurant’s walls, while reclaimed barnwood, distressed brick, and a custom quartz bartop give the eatery a little texture.
Mayo employed his cousin and best friend, Gary Arena, who has worked as a seafood wholesaler for years, to commission the fish. He hired “Chef Jimmy,” who has been in the restaurant business for three decades, to run the kitchen.
“We called the restaurant Cuzin’s, not only because we’re cousins but also because we wanted everyone who stepped foot in here to feel like they’re a part of our family,” Mayo said. “Gary, who originally worked at the Fulton Fish Market but now works in the Bronx, is our source for the best and freshest cuts of fish. Together with Chef Jimmy, we built a menu that would complement each daily catch.”
Appetizers like Grilled Sea Scallops with avocado puree and jalapeño pesto are served alongside Coconut Crusted Shrimp with orange horseradish dipping sauce, as well as traditional Clams Casino topped with bell peppers, onion, and herbed pancetta. Red Snapper is grilled whole and served with olive oil, lemon, roasted potatoes, and sauteed greens. The Alaskan King Crab Legs are served with clarified butter and ratatouille.
“The lobster, clams, oysters…everything is brought in fresh daily,” Mayo said. “And one of the highlights of our restaurant is the fresh seafood and raw bar. There we do clams, oysters, and shrimp and lobster cocktails, as well as king crab legs. We also have fresh lobsters, ranging from one and a half pounds to five pounds, made to order.”
There are steak and pasta dishes, too, and comfort classics like Lobster Mac and Cheese. Drinks change with the season, but Mayo said a big selection of martinis and mules are always at the ready—as are Oyster Shooters served classic, sweet, or hot. Happy Hour specials abound and include reduced pricing on cocktails, appetizers, and small plates, which Mayo says have been a crowd pleaser since day one.
“Honestly, the response has been tremendous,” Mayo observed. “From day one, we’ve seen an overwhelming amount of love from New Jersey and beyond, and that’s why we’re in the process of expanding to offer more seating and an additional party room. This started out of my own personal desire to bring delicious seafood a little closer to home—something I felt was lacking here—and it really has turned into something special.”
Cuzin’s Seafood Clam Bar
130 South Main Street, Marlboro Township / 732.780.2526 / bestclambar.com