Serving fresh fish to Cranford residents since the Truman administration, there's a reason Marino's Seafood Market & Restaurant on North Avenue is one of the township's longest lasting establishments. Only seating about 28 customers, Marino's serves fresh seafood dishes for dinner five nights a week, at reasonable prices in a traditional New England-style dining room
A giant blue marlin marks the entrance, located just east of the center of downtown. Step inside, and you'll feel you've stepped back in time, to an old dining room on the island of Nantucket. The tiny wood-paneled space is adorned with fish netting, model ships and oil paintings of crashing waves. On one side of the dining room, a large bay window looks out on to North Avenue. On the other, fresh fish is displayed under a long counter.
The two-page menu reflects the traditional setting. It starts with homemade soups (cup, $2.50; bowl, $5). I started with the spicy crab bisque on a recent visit and found it to be piping hot, thick and full of chunks of real crab. Also available are seafood bisque, and Manhattan and New England clam chowders.
Service at Marino's is attentive and helpful. When rattling off the list of salad dressings, our waitress pointed out that the Italian and bleu cheese dressings were made in-house and, while it may not sound good, enjoying both on one salad makes for a good mix. When my friend and I both ordered the bleu cheese, she kindly brought a small side of the Italian, in case we wanted to try it. We enjoyed both, but it was the bleu cheese that impressed me the most: thick and full of chunks of blue cheese, it was unlike most smooth restaurant dressings. The salad itself, included in the price of the entrees, was a colorful assortment of green leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, sliced tomato, red onion and cucumbers.
For my entree, I chose the stuffed shrimp on the specials menu, handwritten on a board above the fish counter. Five jumbo shrimp were stuffed with crab meat and bread crumbs, and broiled – not to overcook the succulent shellfish -- but just to bring the stuffing to a golden, crispy brown. It was served with a side of baked potato (french fries or vegetables are also offered) and cole slaw. The preceding salad and cup of soup were so filling that I ended up taking home the baked potato and one of the stuffed shrimp. It made for a satisfying Friday lunch.
When my friend was indecisive about his entree selection, our waitress zeroed in on what he had a taste for and recommended that he order the shrimp marinara ($18.95), suggesting that, for more shrimp flavor, he ask that the shrimp be broiled instead of fried.
What arrived was a plate full from rim to rim of linguini in marinara sauce with more than a half dozen shrimp, topped with a layer of mozzarella broiled to a golden brown. Again, after soup and salad, this was more than enough for one person.
A la carte ($11.95-$14.95) and platter ($18.95-$21.95) offerings include fillet of flounder, sea scallops and shrimp dishes. House specials—and this is where the menu gets interesting—include St. Gregory's shrimp scampi over linguini ($18.95), fillet of flounder stuffed with crab meat and served with sauteed mushrooms ($21.95) and shrimp fra diavolo, fried and served in spicy marinara sauce over linguini ($18.95). If any non-fish eaters find their way into Marino's, a 10-ounce filet mignon is available ($24.95).
With large portions that also include a generous and flavorful salad, eating at Marinos' is not nearly as pricey as many of the less-satisfying restaurants in the township. Our bill came to $51.40, not including the bottle of Italian red wine purchased down the street. Not bad for a quality seafood dinner, especially when you consider that we each got an extra lunch out of the leftovers.
With good prices, quaint atmosphere and, most importantly, good, fresh seafood, Marino's has withstood the tests of good times and bad, and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that it sits near the top of a short list of Cranford favorites.