Meet the Chefs: Jeff Stern & Luz Alderete of Dockside Market & Grill

Fresh scallops at Dockside Market and Grill, NJ seafood restaurantsFirst, a confession: I love seafood. At least, I love fresh seafood. Be it Sashimi, Tartare, Ceviche, steamed, broiled or fried, I love fresh seafood. The genius of Dockside Market & Grill is that this is the freshest of seafood, and they serve it perfectly presented (the raw), perfectly spiced (the Latin dishes), and perfectly prepared (the steamed/broiled and fried).

I sat down with the owner (local guy- Jeff Stern) and the chef (Chilean native- Luz Alderete) to explore the secret to their success and passion.

Q: For me Jeff, the hardest thing to understand is how such a small place can provide not only the freshest of seafood but also the variety you always seem to have available and on display. How do you do it?

A: Well, your question almost answers itself, the key is display. We are a great seafood restaurant, and we are small (46 seats) but what makes it work is that we are also a fish market. Our stock is available not only to our kitchen for Luz to work her magic, but also for sale to take home by our customers. This keeps our inventory constantly turning, and so, constantly fresh. We buy everyday, and we only buy that day's freshest fish. Even our stews, chowders and stocks are made with only the freshest fish, seasonings and supported by seasonally available produce. This was the concept from the beginning and is our mantra every day.

Q: How did this concept emerge, had you done seafood before?

A: I hadn’t done seafood previously, at least as the central focus, but since my first job as a busboy, though college and years in the industry, my focus has been fresh and healthy. I have always focused on active people seeking healthy dining alternatives. Probably that’s as much my personal preference, more than a marketing focus. I’m a runner, a cyclist, a part-time Spinning instructor and generally a fitness enthusiast. Healthy, fresh food supports those life-style choices. 

Q: How else does this mantra, Fresh and Healthy, play out at Dockside?

A: Well don’t get us wrong, Dockside is not only for fresh fish zealots. We love our occasional indulgences, our richer sauces and even desserts. But our core focus is “Pura Vida”, a good life. That’s a broad mandate. We serve dishes that are probably 60-65% gluten free. Probably 40-50% of our dishes can be prepared in a Vegetarian format. We want to be a place sophisticated enough for the “Gourmand” but also with appeal for all, even children. We agonized over our children’s menu. We wanted not only healthy dishes, but with taste, color and flavor for the most discriminating and demanding children.

Q:How did those goals crystallize?

A: A large part of that was serendipitous. Serendipity in that while I was thinking this concept through, I met Luz. Luz is Chilean by birth and upbringing, but really a citizen of the world and a student of all. She is probably the most broadly educated and a true “Renaissance” woman, I know. We met. We started talking, and I guess, being Chilean, fresh fish is in her DNA. That said, her cuisine is for flavor, not heat. She never seems to confuse “spice” with perspiration. Her cooking is passionate, creative and comforting. Sharing my thinking with Luz, bouncing it all through my wife who is also my partner, the concept took shape, and here we are.

Q: Entering your second year of business, how is the concept playing out?

A: We are in a funny location. The space is perfectly sized for the concept of a restaurant and market, but the restrictions on signage and that we are in the middle of Flemington Center (between Lowes and Walmart) sometimes makes it an adventure to find us. Over the past six months, we have introduced a series of specials. Every Tuesday is “Latin Night” where Luz can run wild and showcase specials focusing on dishes from her childhood and Chilean traditions. Wednesdays are “Salmon Madness”. There Luz will prepare special appetizers and Salmon entrees for all those seeking a “Omega-3 fix.” Thursdays are for Lobster. Lobster Bisque, Lobster rolls, appetizers and entrees all featuring Lobster. That’s a fun and popular weekly event. What we are offering is a new concept, a focus on fresh and healthy for all but maybe mostly for those living or aspiring to an active life. Its still an adventure for all of us.

    ~Phil Moran, Wine Impresario


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