What the critics have to say about Charley’s:
“One of the friendliest bars I’ve ever been in”
Don Wilno, The Asbury Park Press
Read about Don's visit here.
“Find a place where the locals hang out and chances are you find a place with good food, decent prices and a homey atmosphere… such a place is Charley’s Ocean Grill”
Patricia Mack, The News Tribune
“The dishes are so creative that it is nearly impossible to choose”
“A Carnivore’s Rhapsody just a skip from the sea”
S.J. Gintzier, The Star-Ledger
“Charley’s Ocean Grill, despite the savory prime rib offerings, is a fish house at heart”
The News Tribune
It is still Charley's Ocean Grill, but it really belongs to Ted and Anne Pappayliou.
The new owners only recently took over the place, their first venture into this business. Ted was a consultant in New York. Anne has kept her day job, teaching seventh-grade English at the Ocean Township Middle School.
They are perfect hosts: Ted running the business, Anne stopping by as he continues to learn the ropes.
It took two years to find the right place. "I must have looked at 50 places," Ted said.
"We were doing research," Anne said.
The final selection proved to be an easy one: "Good location, great place, good people and the workers are excellent," he said.
Anne got a real taste of the place when she asked Ted to take her there for her 46th birthday, prior to closing the deal.
Once he made his choice and got his wife to go along with him, the next order of business, Ted said, was to convince employees he wasn't buying the property to tear it down and build condos.
He wanted to keep the workforce intact, leaving it unchanged while he stepped into his new role as owner, which he knew might be difficult.
Lucky for him, he said, "everyone stayed," including bartender Normand Rycowitch, who will celebrate 18 years at Charley's in December.
"He's a Hall of Famer," Ted said in praise of Rycowitch, who was instrumental in earning Charley's 3 1/4 pretzels in 1992 when The Watering Hole was awarding such fine things.
On the night when auto racing's Pizza Man, George Andretta, his business partner and my lawyer, Bob Clark, and I visited Charley's Ocean Grill, Rycowitch was breaking in 22-year-old Mark Boyd, on the job just a few weeks then.
Funny thing about the young bartender-to-be: He would have been in kindergarten the year Rycowitch started at Charley's. Anne taught him in middle school, too. He's also the owners' neighbor in Ocean Township.
Another funny occurrence: Ted and Anne celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary on May 11 at Charley's after closing on the popular Long Branch pub.
Since then, "I'm having a blast!" Ted said.
On our visit, we had a blast, too.
Of course, I was dining with two of my best friends, both of whom are as crazy as I am.
Like my ol' friend Clark said many times on this night: "There are a lot of them out there." I kept looking at the door to see if they showed up.
Fortunately, they did not and we enjoyed a great evening sampling the bill of fare, while Andretta dominated the conversation about his racing exploits and other interests, like running one of the finest establishments at the Jersey Shore, Pete & Elda's Bar/Carmen's Pizzeria in Neptune City.
He offered Ted a few pointers on being a good owner and running a wonderful bar/restaurant while we dined on shrimp cocktail ($9), clams casino ($10), smoked salmon ($10) and BBQ baby back rib tips ($8).
And we hadn't even thought about the main course yet.
For the big dish, I could not resist the prime rib ($23) while Clark selected the grilled salmon ($21) and Andretta picked the halibut filet ($22).
I value my attorney's opinion, so I waited for his reaction to dinner:
"Nicely done, just the way I like it," ol' Bob Clark said.
"It's nice to see a place do it the way I like it."
I thought the same thing. My prime rib was perfectly cooked.
Clark insisted I (we?) have dessert to complete the evening. I went for the orange sorbet while he selected the Key lime pie with whipped cream.
At that point, I leaned back on my bar stool and savored the moment. I was completely satisfied. It's a rarity, I know, but true.
Everything was perfect, even my dinner guests.
Don Wilno's Watering Hole appears Saturdays in Jersey Life.