THIS BAY HEAD RESTAURANT OFFERS MODERN AMERICAN FARE, AS WELL AS A RESPECT FOR LOCAL TRADITIONS
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
With its Jersey Drunken Clams, Crab Deviled Eggs, and Fried Goat Cheese and Strawberry Salad, Charlie’s of Bay Head’s aim was to set a new gourmet standard for its stretch of the Jersey Shore. Attracting a modern foodie clientele with its contemporary American fare since opening in 2017, the restaurant offers a unique blend of casual and fine dining, to be sure, but its owners have also emphasized a commitment to honor the legacy of the community.
“Bay Head is such a small, unique town; my mom was born and raised here, and I basically grew up here,” said Charlie Hesse, co-owner and namesake of the eatery. “That’s why it was so important for us to respect it and stay in tune with its themes and architecture. We wanted our building and the ambience within to mirror what already exists in this charming beach town.”
Located on the site of the former Shoppers Wharf, which was completely destroyed by Super storm Sandy in 2012, Charlie’s of Bay Head is a complete rebuild of the once popular retail space.
“The property had been sitting for a while after the storm, and my family purchased it with the anticipation of opening something similar to what was there, sort of preserving its heritage,” Hesse said. “I loved Shoppers Wharf as a kid all of the cute candy shops, cafes, and little stores and that’s exactly what we planned on replacing.” But the damage was worse than they realized, and the building had to be completely rebuilt. While the Hesse family was in the middle of planning the restoration, they purchased a liquor license and started talking about turning the space into a restaurant and bar.
“No one in my family has any background in the restaurant business, so this was definitely a challenge,” Hesse said. “But we hired two wonderful general managers who have been such an asset, assisting us every step of the way. We never thought the restaurant would become so popular so quickly. We are truly humbled and proud of Charlie’s success.”
The three story shingled structure has a brand of understated elegance, along with stunning views of Twilight Lake and a beautiful patio space for al fresco dining. Inside, the bright space is illuminated by chandeliers and ship lamps. Crisp white linen tablecloths and a thick marble topped bar offer a pleasing contrast to the exposed brick backdrop.
“My mom, Christine, and I chose all of the décor. We wanted something that would represent this special town and blend in nicely with its surroundings,” Hesse said. “The vibe is very homey and cozy, with a lot of neutral tones. We hung old pictures of Bay Head throughout to celebrate the traditions of the town.”
The menu is simple but strategically conceived: the Grilled Lamb Chops are accompanied by roasted garlic farro and a pistachio mint pesto; the Lobster Roll is served with browned butter or tarragon mayonnaise; and the Spicy BBQ Chicken flatbread is topped with smoked gouda, mozzarella, Applewood smoked bacon, shaved red onion, green pepper, and chives. An INDUSTRY staff favorite of late is the Grilled Ahi Tuna, in a Thai coconut tamarind curry broth and served with Basmati rice, green peppers, onions, asparagus, bokchoy, peanuts, and cilantro.
“We have a little bit of every thing,” Hesse said. “Customers love our burgers, and the seafood tower is one of the most popular options. We popularity of the Bay Head restaurant has inspired the family to invest in a second location in Lincroft.
“It’s a project we are all very proud of and excited about,” Hesse said. “The new location will feed off the theme we have built at Charlie’s of Bay Head, but the menu and the decor will be slightly different, allowing the site to have its own flavor,” but was quick to add that it will maintain that familiar family friendly theme.
“We wanted this to be a special place that both locals and out of towners could enjoy year round,” Hesse said. “Bay Head is a special place for me, and I hope this restaurant serves as a special place for others as well.”
Charlie’s of Bay Head
72 Bridge Avenue, Bay Head / 732.295.1110