Barnacle Ben's Seafood Restaurant
200 Larchmont Boulevard
Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054
Burlington County, New Jersey
Restaurant has relocated to the address listed above since this review was written in 2004.
By The Artful Diner
March 22, 2004
"... Bus boys and girls ferry huge tubs of dishes, clean tables,
hurriedly replace silverware, and dispense water; no nonsense waitresses scurry
to and from the kitchen and chatter with patrons like long-lost relatives; the
patrons themselves flit from table to table -- laughing, joking, exchanging
gossipy tidbits -- moths in search of a conversational flame. Have you,
perhaps, inadvertently stumbled into a family reunion?"
I penned these thoughts nearly four years ago... and not a great deal has
changed in the interim. Except for the venue itself, of course, as Barnacle
Ben's recently settled into spiffy new quarters in the Moorestown Commons.
The slightly tacky psychedelic colors of the old utilitarian dining room have
been replaced by warmer neutral tones and larger, more sedate surroundings.
There is even a banquet room that can accommodate forty-five patrons and al
fresco dining in warmer weather.
My assessment of the food also remains pretty much the same. And although
the menu has been updated to provide a few more concessions to landlubbers,
what you are likely to encounter are the robust hit or miss preparations of the
inhabitants of Davy Jones' locker presented at less than wallet-busting prices.
Just be advised that this bustling BYOB is not about to send your taste buds
soaring into some new gastronomic orbit.
Another culinary constant, however -- and a most auspicious beginning to
your meal -- is the breadbasket filled with dense and delectable homemade
twisty rolls. Certainly one of the more memorable aspects of a sojourn to Barnacle
Ben's... If only appetizers and entrées managed to reach the same
consistent heights. You may dine reasonably well here, but a good deal of
circumspection -- especially with regard to your main course -- is most
assuredly called for.
When starting things off, a good test of any seafood eatery is invariably
the Manhattan clam chowder ($3.00 cup/$4.00 bowl). Unlike its New England
cousin, there is no ocean of cream to camouflage the chef's solecisms; thus, a
palpable hit here bodes well for the remainder of your meal. Four years ago, I
noted that Barnacle Ben's entry into the chowder sweepstakes was on the
bland side... and the same holds true for the contemporary version. It is good
but not outstanding and could benefit, in my opinion, from a good deal more
pizzazz in the seasoning department.
Many of the gelid preludes you will encounter are strictly standard issue
and hold absolutely no surprises: shrimp cocktail ($8.00), crabmeat cocktail
($10.00), littleneck or cherrystone clams on the half shell ($5.00)... all
accompanied by the all-too-typical standard issue cocktail sauce. On the other
hand, the cracked crab claws ($6.00) arranged around a ramekin of zippy mustard
sauce are quite excellent... ditto the special snow crab claws ($9.00), if our
waitress (more on her later) hadnt mistakenly taken them out for a spin in the
Among the hot appetizers, the deviled crab balls ($5.00), mini versions of
the establishment's popular deviled crab cakes ($13.00), contain a good deal of
filler and melted cheese but are still highly recommendable. And the same may
be said for the coconut shrimp ($6.50), meaty bacon-wrapped scallops ($6.00),
or the plump mussels swimming in garlic and oil or marinara ($6.00).
Entrée-wise, trust me, keep matters as simple as possible. I say this for
two very good reasons: 1) More adventurous presentations are either too gussied
up for their own good; or 2) Suffer from serious preparatory lapses.
"Barnacle Ben's Flounder" ($16.00), for instance, promises a filet of
flounder baked with Jarlsburg cheese, chopped onion, and bread crumbs. The
flounder itself is perfectly flaky and moist... The crust, however -- unmelted
cheese, raw onion, and pale & wan breadcrumbs -- has never seen the inside
of an oven.
Meanwhile, the special red snapper ($21.00) set on a seabed of spinach and
tomatoes is totally at the mercy of a heavy-handed crust of soggy shredded
potatoes and horseradish... And any natural flavor of a tilapia filet ($17.00)
is completely smothered beneath an oppressive topping of salty semi-baked
seasoned breadcrumbs and overly acidic bruschetta.
In point of fact, many of the culinary combos here appear to be rather
ill-conceived, with finny creatures suffering a variety of indignities at the
hands of an overly aggressive saucier: flounder marinated in Caesar dressing
($16.00); Chilean sea bass pan seared in a sweet & sour ginger glaze
($19.00); salmon dipped in honey and coated with crushed walnuts ($17.00).
Barnacle Ben's also invites you to choose your favorite fish and
match it with any of the sauces or toppings available on the menu... which
strikes me as a kind of gastronomic Russian roulette. On the other hand, if you
are of the opinion, as I am, that the delicate denizens of the deep are best
served by accoutrements that intrude the least, then I would suggest
that you enjoy your fish au naturel -- or "naked" as the menu
so poetically puts it -- simply adorned with white wine, lemon, and a touch of
butter. The swordfish ($18.00), while a bit on the anorexic side, is quite
excellent prepared in this manner.
Dinner entrées (with the exception of pastas) are accompanied by your choice
of two vegetables. So here's my take on the sides... The coleslaw is homemade
and very good; I also like the stir-fried vegetables. The broccoli (vegetable
of the day) is cooked just right but needs a touch of seasoning. The french
fries are undoubtedly commercially produced but impossible to resist. Rice on
the other hand is best avoided. The white rice is incredibly bland and the wild
rice is overly salty and tastes like it sprang full-blown from a box or plastic
pouch. Other possibilities include baked potato, baked yams, pepper hash,
stewed tomatoes, and applesauce.
Desserts, all made on the premises, are wholesome and filling. The denouement
with the lightest touch is undoubtedly the lemon meringue pie ($5.00), which
sports a first-rate crust and is appropriately tangy. Conversely, theres
nothing subtle about the "in-your-face" fried cheesecake ($4.00); it
is dense, decadent, and definitely for those with superior abdominal capacity
and peristalsis. In my opinion, however, the pick of the litter is clearly the
rich chocolate cake with luscious mint filling ($5.00). Chocoholics, take note.
As to the service... During the vast majority of our visits over the years,
we have found it to be brisk, efficient, and ably carried out by a phalanx of
motherly waitresses, all of whom appear to be battle-scarred veterans of the
diner/banquet circuit. On one occasion, however, we encountered the waitress
from hell -- yes, that's right, the dear lady who hadn't a clue and attempted
to incinerate the snow crab claws in the microwave.
And the fact that we had inherited the original, without equal,
one-of-a-kind, unmitigated FUBAR (foul-up beyond all recognition) of the
illustrious food service industry was not long in coming. Moments after we were
seated, a couple just a few tables away -- who, of course, just happened to be
in Ms. Fubar's section, were heard pleading with the hostess: "Do you know
anyone who can help us get out of here?"
Not that this waitress was blatantly rude, crude, or obnoxious. Quite the
contrary, she seemed to possess a very pleasant personality... but the poor
dear was just... well, yes... totally inept. Give this woman one table and
she's already "in the weeds."
In addition to the faux pas with the snow crab claws noted above, she
was constantly misplacing orders -- including my Manhattan clam chowder, which
never did materialize but still managed to make a guest appearance on the check
-- as well as disseminate improper information to her customers. When asked how
the aforementioned special red snapper was encrusted, for example, she was
heard to reply: "Oh, just with some breadcrumbs." The breadcrumbs, of
course, turned out to be a thick, soggy coating of shredded potatoes suffering
from a nearly lethal overdose of horseradish.
But even after delivering this order to our table and, hopefully, noting her
error, she still continued to blab the wrong info to other patrons. "You
see, Watson," Sherlock Holmes intoned to his good friend and colleague,
"but you do not observe." This is, unfortunately, Ms. Fubar's sad
story as well.
The conclusions of my first critique remain virtually unchanged. If you and
your spouse/significant other are not in the mood to cope with the rigors of
dinner preparations after a hard day at the office, Barnacle Ben's is
the perfect spot to enjoy a pleasant midweek repast. Just be advised... on
weekends it bears an uncanny resemblance to a soirée at an Elks
convention... And if Ms. Fubar happens to be in action, you, too, may be
uttering the diner's sad refrain: "Do you know anyone who can help us get
out of here?"
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Sat, 3:00
p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V, Discover
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Not accepted
Handicapped Accessible: Yes