“We kill it, we grill it” is the motto at Hooked Up Seafood, a no-frills kitchen trailer parked on cinder blocks next to a parasailing outfit on the long, low-lying road into Wildwood, N.J. A neat row of picnic tables with blue tops, red seats and green Heineken-branded umbrellas sits out back along the rickety docks that rise … and fall, rise … and fall like the chest of some slumbering dinosaur. Locals in beach-patrol hoodies scrub Old Bay from their fingernails at a pedal-powered outside sink. It’s tricky business operating the hot and cold water with your feet, but by my second visit, I’ve somewhat got the hang of it.
Hooked Up is just the kind of place people like me hunt for on summer vacation: fresh, simply cooked seafood enhanced by the salt-laced air and the sense that you’ve made a special discovery. I haven’t, of course. Hooked Up is currently in its fourth summer, opened by Maria Mallett, fisherman Bill Bright, his wife, Michelle (who runs the kitchen) and his four kids, Tess, Sara, Sam and Will. Bright captains the boat, Defiance, long-lining for tuna, swordfish and mahi 80 to 100 miles off the coast. This time of year, he fishes a week or two at a time, traveling as far south as the Carolinas and as far north as New England, and the catch he brings home to Cape May is butchered right on the docks where Hooked Up resides.
I went early one night, straight from the beach, rinsed the sand off my hands with my feet and dug into a bowl of tender, steamed peel-and-eats. Mahi was on special, beneath a bark of blackening spice, a pair of pristine fillets with a cup of mango salsa and two sides: leaves of romaine painted in creamy Caesar dressing and sautéed zucchini.
Meaty, sweet and briny littleneck clams raised by Bright’s uncle improved a thin, milky New England chowder. They also appeared steamed, their gray shells collecting an awesomely potent garlic-butter broth flecked with fresh parsley. (Ask for extra split-and-griddled garlic rolls for dunking.) Piled on a haystack of fries, planks of flounder followed in crisp, greaseless jackets worthy of an English pub. A pouch of foil held corn on the cob sweet as candy. The sunset was complimentary.
HOOKED UP SEAFOOD | 1044 W. Rio Grande Ave., Wildwood, N.J., 609-522-2722, hookedupseafood.com. Hours: Daily mid-June through Labor Day, weekends through Sept. 15, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Appetizers, $4-$10; sandwiches, $2.50-$9; entrees, $14-$24.
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