MARLBORO’S BUZZY, CASUAL-CHIC SEAFOOD CONCEPT DEBUTS A SECOND LOCATION, BRINGING ITS WILD-CAUGHT FISH, DRY-AGED STEAKS, AND BUOYANT ATMOSPHERE TO NEW BRUNSWICK
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY VIOLET KARYN PHOTOGRAPHY
Across both locations of Cuzin’s Seafood Clam Bar, there’s no singular type of diner. From C-suite executives to little league teams, a diverse clientele flocks to the Marlboro and New Brunswick eateries, all with one thing in common: a penchant for uber-fresh, wild-caught seafood and dry-aged steaks. And regardless of whether they’re donning a designer suit or pair of sweatpants, according to general manager Christian Mayo, each guest that walks through the door is treated like a cousin.
“You can come in a full suit or flip flops,” said Mayo, GM of the New Brunswick locale and son of owner Charlie Mayo. “Our goal is to make you feel comfortable, like a member of our family.”
The Cuzin’s concept has evolved since Charlie Mayo set out to serve his first lobster roll in 2016. A home chef and seafood enthusiast, Mayo wasn’t satisfied with the ocean foraged options in his central Jersey home after relocating from Brooklyn, so he decided to open a restaurant of his own. The original blueprint was a drive-up window, a quick stop for freshly shucked oysters, rich lobster rolls, and casual bites. Early on, the new owner realized his Marlboro neighbors shared his fervor for hyper-fresh, quality seafood, and Cuzin’s quickly grew to encompass a full service, industrial chic restaurant and bar. Fresh oysters and lobster rolls a generous scoop of Maine lobster topped with tarragon mayonnaise cocooned by a toasted brioche pretzel roll were still on the menu, but they were joined by creative apps, salads, soups, main dishes, pastas, whole Maine lobster, raw bar favorites, and eventually juicy steaks.
According to the younger Mayo who joined the family business in 2018 after graduating from Penn State his father knew soon after opening that a second location was in the cards. The family scoped out a few areas before landing on a bustling spot in New Brunswick, attracted to the eclectic city energy. The large, tri-level venue gave the owners the opportunity to have a little fun when building out the space.
“We always wanted to be a cousin to Cuzin’s,” said the general manager. “The two spaces share many similarities with a few differences. The city of New Brunswick has a different clientele; it’s a very corporate area, with courthouses, high end hotels, etc. all nearby, so we wanted to cater to the corporate world of New Brunswick as well as all the surrounding towns that can’t travel to Marlboro. But as soon as you walk in, you see that Cuzin’s statement wall and our huge raw bar, and you know where you are.”
In the primary level and main dining area, exposed brick and reclaimed woods are juxtaposed with dim accent lighting for a trendy, Miami-meets-NYC vibe. All décor was custom made, from the lighting fixtures to a portrait crafted from a mesh grate. The lower level consists of two separate dining rooms one that seats 40 and the other 70 plus a full service bar, open for additional la carte dining or private events. Here, strategically placed port holes make guests feel as if they were dining in a ship.
“We host everything from sit-down dinners for ten people to baby showers with a 60-person guest list to corporate functions set up with projectors,” said Mayo
A rooftop bar and dining area is currently under construction, slated for a December opening.
The New Brunswick lunch and dinner menus, like Marlboro, are extensive, with the same chef spearheading both locales. The Mayos work with close relatives in the fish market to source wild-caught, ultra fresh seafood that arrives on the boats each morning. “We have a tight circle here,” added Mayo. “We work hand in hand with relatives who also care about the business. We bring in the freshest, highest quality seafood that we can get. We pay a premium in order to provide quality.”
As a result, seafood options run the gamut: Blue Point and Kumamoto oysters served on the half shell, whole Maine lobster topped with jumbo crab meat, Spanish octopus, crispy calamari, grilled sea scallops, and more. A grilled whole bran cuzino is delicately dressed with olive oil and lemon and abetted by roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach, while Scottish salmon is pan seared and topped with a tangy maple mustard glaze. There’s yellow fin tuna, North Atlantic swordfish, and a tender seafood paella with shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster tail, chorizo, and chicken on the bone. One of Mayo’s personal MVPs is the halibut, which has been a menu staple since day one.
“It comes in a lemon butter sauce with parm polenta, sauteed spinach, and crispy shallots, and everything pairs just beautifully together,” he said. “No one ever sends it back. The recipe never changes; we don’t fix what isn’t broken. It’s always my first recommendation.”
One area of the menu that has evolved is the collective of steaks, which the GM noted could rival any top-tier steakhouse. USDA Prime cuts of bone-in filet mignon, New York strip, porterhouse, and long bone tomahawk are dry aged in house for 25 to 30 days for peak tenderness.
“My father and I are steak lovers,” noted Mayo. “Chef Jimmy and general manager Eric source the meat directly from the markets, making sure we only get the best cuts. I also recommend the steak to diners; people look at me like I’m crazy, until they try the meat. We have transitioned into becoming a seafood steakhouse.”
Helming the restaurant’s day-to-day operations holds special meaning for the younger Mayo, who noted the Cuzin’s brand is still very much a family a flair. His father is on site at one of the two locations every day. His sister, Julianna, is also in a managerial role. The two managers in Marlboro, Eric and Vito, have been with the Mayos since the beginning and “feel like family.”
“The supporting team we have here is what makes Cuzin’s, Cuzin’s,” he said. “It’s a very large crew. There are so many variables involved in providing the high-level experience we do every day, so if one thing goes wrong, it throws everything off . Everyone comes together and is on the same page; it’s amazing to see that togetherness.”
Cuzin’s Seafood & Clam Bar
Marlboro: 130 South Main Street / 732.780.2526
New Brunswick: 78 Albany Street / 732.979.2141