Indoor Dining and Covid

On Thursday, March 12, 2020, Susie and I were sitting in the living room of our Cousins Jeanne and Walt’s place in Barefoot Bay, Florida. The two of them had left that day for a month in Hawaii, and Susie and I were looking forward to spending the rest of the month in their house acting like we were Florida residents, before heading home to New Jersey and another knee replacement for me. Yes, we knew all about the pandemic, and the cases of Covid that had been reported in the country and even in our home state, but we were still weighing our options and deciding exactly how much it was going to affect our Florida stay.

That was until we got the news that MLB, the NHL, NCAA, and every other sports acronym you can think of were canceling their games. Then in quick succession, Broadway, Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando announced that they were closing, and our discussion turned to whether we wanted to be stuck in Florida, or if we wanted to be in our little beach town in New Jersey! In our minds, the very real possibility existed that states would be closing access, and that if we didn’t get home ASAP, we might not be able to travel north on I-95 to the Garden State. That was the moment we decided that it was time to bring our Florida 2020 Adventure to a close, and get back as fast as possible to Ocean City!

Early in the morning on Friday, March 13th, we closed up Jeanne and Walt’s house, turned off the water, put the garbage out, and hit the road! Within a half hour, we were on Interstate 95 heading north. We decided to not stop two nights on our way home, as we usually did, but to rather get home in just two days, driving more each day, and just spending one night in a hotel. That decision meant we would miss our usual stop for the best fried shrimp at B&J’s in Darien, Georgia, but we really wanted to be back in NJ. At about 4:30 that first afternoon, we were approaching Fayetteville, North Carolina and found a Doubletree Hotel on the Hilton app just off I-95, and made that our night’s destination. As luck would have it, there was a Cracker Barrel restaurant just across the parking lot!

The last time we ate inside a restaurant, was at that Cracker Barrel in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Friday, March 13th, 2020! When we got home on the 14th, looking ahead, we’d wondered if we should go to our usual Tuesday night at Charlie’s Back Bar with our friend Sue, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but the day before, on March 16th, New Jersey restaurants closed down, and we no longer had a decision to make. When outside dining opened in New Jersey in June, we did partake in meals at the “Lot at Angelo’s” and the Tent at Charlies, but once outside dining stopped, we just didn’t feel that safe eating indoors, and we went back to take-out only. For close to a year, we had not eaten inside a restaurant, that is not until last Thursday, March 11, 2021 when we joined our Mancuso Family friends at Angelo’s in Atlantic City! So what changed?

Well, on Friday, February 19th, I got my second Moderna vaccine shot at Shoprite in Rio Grande, and on Thursday, February 25th, Susie got her second Moderna shot at the Shoprite in Glassboro, New Jersey. According to the CDC, “Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the final required shot,” which made Thursday, March 11th our “Coming Out Day!” What better way to celebrate than to dress in “going out to dinner clothes” and to return to a place and people we love, and a place we used to be at every Thursday night! We’d been looking forward to it for a long time (really since March 13th of last year), and I’m happy to say we were not disappointed!

We were sad that our friend Michael didn’t greet us from behind the bar as we walked in, as the pandemic has changed schedules for many, but none the less, it was great to be back inside! It was good to see that there were so many people waiting to eat when we walked in, and it was good to see our long time friends Rhonda, Theresa, and Victor were working, along with our new summer friend Suzanne and our take-out friend Wendy. Every week will be a new experience for us, and we can’t wait till we see Patti, Angelo, Ed, Trinidad, and Michael as time goes on, and more and more dining opens up! It was great to be back inside, feeling safe after a year, but we must be realistic and realize getting back to what was our normal will take a bit of time….if it ever happens. I guess the mind set has got to be, be happy for what we’ve got, and not sad for what used to be!

So now that we are fully vaccinated, what else that we’ve not done in the past 12 months is on our horizon? Well, a visit from our daughter Krissi and son-in-law Michael, who we have not seen since August, as well as a visit from our great friends Pat and Steve, who we last saw at Susie’s Mom’s funeral in February, 2020. Then, something we’ve waited so long for, Easter with our son Billy and daughter-in-law Lori in North Carolina, and getting to see our three Grandkids, who we haven’t seen in the flesh since January 30th, 2020! We’ve missed all these people (especially the three youngest members of the D’Elia Family), and can’t wait to see them, to be with them, and to exchange hugs for the first time in a year! Then down the road, there will be the fun of getting back together with our Ocean City friends, and seeing our life get closer to what it was, and maybe even a visit to Florida. My new knee and Susie’s new hip are still on our radar too!

Yes, we have indeed survived the last 12 months, but we are sad that so many other Americans didn’t! With the advancing rollout of the vaccines, we hope that no one else will lose their life due to Covid, that folks who have been financially affected by the pandemic can get back on their feet, and that America will never forget this past year, but will be able to move beyond it!

At the Shore Since ’44

Charlies!

We have owned our house in Ocean City for 14 plus years (it will be 15 on January 28, 2020), and for about 13 of those years, Charlie’s has been a go to place for us! Located just across the bridge in Somers Point, Charlies is one of those local bars that are indeed the real life incarnation of the bar in the TV Show Cheers, “where everybody knows your name”!

In 1944, Helen and Charlie Thomas opened a classic “corner bar” in Somers Point, and Charlies has been an important part of the community ever since. The original bar was located across New Jersey Avenue from its current location, and moved to its current building in 1953. The building, and indeed the business, have undergone many changes during the 75 years that Charlie’s has been around, but the one constant in its history, is that four generations of the Thomas Family have run the place. Today, fourth generation brothers Jim and Jeff Thomas are the link back to their Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather, the founders!

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The Thomas Brothers..Jim and Jeff

Today, Charlie’s is still that corner bar (located on the corner of New Jersey Ave. and Shore Road) where everybody (well, maybe not everybody, but a lot of folks) indeed knows your name! The first time we went to Charlies, it was when our Mineola friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf were visiting with us, early in that first year of ownership. We went in for dinner one night, and got a table in the front bar room. We had a waitress who was a real pro, but at the same time a real smart ass. She was wearing a button that said, “I’d Card my Mother”, but she knew the answer to every question we had about menu items or beers that were offered. She joked with us, she kidded other customers, she called them by name, and she was the perfect professional waitress! Little did we know, she was also destined to be our very good friend, but that part comes later!

Until we retired and stopped renting our the house during the peak summer months, our MO was to travel down to Ocean City at the very least a couple of weekends a month, and for the better part of 10 or 11 years, Charlie’s was our Friday night stop. In the beginning, I’d take the Long Island Rail Road train into Queens, meet up with Susie, and off we’d go to the shore. As time went on, Susie got braver, and would drive to pick me up in the city. Some days we made it down early, some days, later, but we always had our Friday night at Charlie’s! Creatures of habit that we are, if it was Friday and we were down at the Shore, we were at Charlies!

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Within a short amount of time, we were Charlie’s Friday Night regulars. We’d check in at the hostess desk with Carol or Colleen, and always request a table in the bar area. While we waited for our table, we’d enjoy the bar and a couple of pint sized Screwdrivers (with fresh squeezed OJ) or two from Wes or Kelly, and enjoy checking out and interacting with the many other Friday night regulars. Of course, in the summer months, the crowds were much bigger on a Friday night, but Fridays just equaled Charlies for us!

Once our table was ready, Carol or Colleen would show us the way, and hand us menus, and within moments “our waitress” would say hello. Unless she wasn’t there on a particular night, we sat exclusively with Sue, the lady I referred to on our first visit. Sue always knew we were probably going to have another Screwdriver, and most nights saw an order of Charlies’ Wings in our future. Now, let’s talk about those wings.

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While Charlies has a full menu of dinner items, I always think that the best things on Charlies’ menu are what I call “bar food”, and right at the top of that list are their wings and what they call BBTs (boneless breast tenders). A single order of wings contain 13 pieces, usually pretty evenly split between drumettes and wingettes, while a single order of BBTs, contain 5 pieces. The chicken is fried perfectly and sized just right. In fact, some days, as soon as you drive over the 9th Street Bridge, you start to smell Charlie’s fried chicken! Then there are the sauces! Here’s what the menu says about them: “Tail Gun (mild), Top Gun (Hell Fire! No Kidding!) Southwest (our secret BBQ sauce), and their newest, Stinger Sauce (Tangy Honey Garlic).” They are all good, but our favorite, and I’d have to guess most sold, is Tail Gun sauce. Now, you can get your wings and BBTs dry, with sauce on the side, but that’s not our way. Grab lots of napkins and homemade blue cheese dressing! Get your wings sauced and hot! Make a mess of your face and your hands, and enjoy!! It’s the only way to roll!!

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In addition to the great wings (which Susie swears are the BEST she has ever had), other great items on the menu include their soups, sandwiches, salads, burgers, cheesesteaks, and specialty sandwiches. Then there is their huge beer selection, appetizers, chili, wraps, and fries, but that’s only some of my “bar food” favorites! They’ve got pastas, and dinner selections from the Land and from the Sea (as their menu denotes). Whatever you are in the mood for, they have it! Take a look for yourself at their extensive menu and make yourself a little hungry! http://charliesbar.com/menu.pdf

Although the food is certainly great, in my opinion, like at any establishment, it’s the people that keep you coming back Over the years, we’ve met some great folks there. Like Carol and Colleen working the hostess desk most Fridays, and Kelly, and the late Wes, at the bar, waitresses Natalie, Jess, Sarah, and of course the lady I spoke of earlier, our good friend, Susan Earsom Waniak! We also got to know Sue’s son Chris and her daughter Carlye, who also are part of the Charlie’s Family!

Sue is a professional waitress, not something that is that common anymore. She grew up working at her Aunt’s Jersey Shore business, and she knows her job inside and out. She knows how to take care of her customers, and she knows how to deal with those, shall we say, high maintenance customers too! After years of having her wait on us every Friday and occasional Sunday breakfasts (Charlie’s is open 7AM to 3 AM Monday through Saturday, but opens at 9AM on Sunday for breakfast), I guess we officially got the Sue Seal of Approval, and we morphed from just customers and server, to friends. That’s something Susie and I are very proud of!

As often happens, life moves on. Eventually Sue stopped waitressing on Friday night, and we were transferred over to Natalie by Sue. Then I retired, so Susie and I no longer drove down to Ocean City on a Friday, and no longer had to fight the Friday night crowds on the Garden State Parkway or at Charlies. The result was that eventually, Friday night no longer was our go-to night at Charlies,. But don’t despair, for all is not lost!

img_1021-1You see, on Tuesday night, Sue holds court at the Back Bar (Captain Jacks Bar – Named for the late Jack Thomas..Jimmy and Jeff’s Dad) at Charlies! It’s a night populated by her regulars. First, some of her older customers, the “Dessert Club” comes at about 5 PM, then at about 6:45, Susie and I show up, along with some of the other second string regulars like Liz and Mike. Then after we’re done, she has others that show up depending on if volley ball is in session or not. The only thing we have to decide on is what we are going to eat that night. As soon as she sees us walk in the door, Sue already has our drinks in progress. Since we’ve been low carbing, and staying away from OJ, our Screwdrivers have morphed into Grey Goose Martinis, and we are hardly settled on our barstools, before the chilled glasses of goodness are in front of us! Now, if it is Tuesday night, and we are in town, we are at Charlies! We are indeed creatures of habit!

Sue knows the name and drink preference of virtually everybody who sits down at the back bar on a Tuesday night! (10 months out of the year that’s true…for July and August, all bets are off and the area’s population, and Charlie’s customer base swells for the summer) It’s just a continuation of that “Corner Bar” atmosphere that the Thomas Family has been known for over the last 75 years! Jeff is usually the brother on the premises on Tuesday night, and he always has a hello for most of the customers at the back bar, (Hell, he grew up with a lot of them) in addition to helping Sue out with ice, more bottles of booze, or even delivering an order. It’s just that kind of place, and Jeff is just that kind of person!

Like many of the other restaurants that we love, Charlies is a Family! It’s a family made up of the Thomas Family, the long term servers, and bartenders (on any given night you’ll find many of the same folks working that were there the first night we ever went to Charlies), and the repeat customers. It’s a place to enjoy a good drink, some excellent food, in a familiar surrounding. It’s a place where they know your name, and you know theirs, and where you feel at home! Is there anything better you can say about a restaurant? It’s home!

If you remember I said above that Sue had morphed from customers and server to friends? Well, I’m happy to say that Tuesday night isn’t the only night of the week, because on Friday, we exchange positions, and Sue gets to be the guest at our house! Her favorite spot is on our front porch, but all through the year, you can depend that if all 3 of us our around town, Sue will be dropping in on us about 5:30, and I get to make HER a drink! You’d have to know me to really understand what a kick that is for me! She’s a good friend, and important part of our Ocean City life, and one of the reasons we are so glad that a place we’ve loved forever, has become our forever home!

See you are Charlies!