We lost one of the good ones in Ocean County yesterday.
Saw the news filtering out through Twitter: Sweet Jenny’s in Barnegat had burned down. Didn’t want to believe it at first, but as reality sunk in, I felt a sense of loss for this area. Yes, there are lots of restaurants around…and no, it did not serve the highest level of cuisine in Ocean County. BUT – for families, Sweet Jenny’s represented a place where kids and adults could enjoy themselves without having to settle for inferior food, like the kind served at Name-Your-Fast-Food-Chain-Here. If you ordered a burger, you were going to get a good burger, served on a bun that would never be stale. If you ordered their chowder, it was a chowder that was always in the running at Chowderfest on LBI. Sweet potato fries with homemade walnut maple dipping sauce. Respectable pasta and seafood dishes. And of course, ice cream! It was our favorite family restaurant, as we once wrote about some time back.
Our son met Santa Claus there, too…the REAL Santa Claus. It wasn’t Christmastime, and he wasn’t dressed in the fancy red suit. But there was that long white hair and beard, and Julian couldn’t help but stare at the jolly fella from a few booths away. And even though we told Jules a few times to stop staring, eventually we were all catching glances. That couldn’t really be Santa, right? Eventually, we got back to the business of eating and forgot about you-know-who…but he didn’t forget about us. As we finished up our meal, a presence stopped at our table in the form of…well, you-know-who. And he handed us a business card, in red and green colors, that read “Santa Claus”. Seriously.
When I first wrote about Sweet Jenny’s in July 2008, we were still pretty new to this food blog business and were not terribly comfortable taking pictures in a restaurant. And now, I want to kick myself – because no matter what happens from here, this place will never been seen like that again. Even if they rebuild the old log cabin, it will never be the same. All that memorabilia: the Elvis album covers, the big Sinatra banner, all the Broadway stuff, and the plaques of famous well-wishers…gone.
The good news out of all of this is that the place was closed at the time the fire broke out, so no one was hurt. But I am sure that Martin Sprinzen, Joseph Dringus and all the folks who worked at Sweet Jenny’s are hurting in other ways. The satellite location for Sweet Jenny’s on LBI will be open, as far as I know – so if you happen to go there, wish the staff well and let them know that even a rebuilt Sweet Jenny’s on Route 9 would be better than not having one there at all. I think Santa would agree.
Read the accounts of the fire in articles published in the Asbury Park Press and The Press of Atlantic City. We also interviewed Joseph Dringus in September 2009, and you can read that piece here. And feel free to mention your memories of Sweet Jenny’s in our Comments section.