We were beyond honored to receive an invitation to dine at Phillips Seafood at The Playground (formerly The Pier Shops at Caesars) in Atlantic City. Having experienced Phillips’ Baltimore Inner Harbor location many years ago, we jumped at the chance to travel down to AC to dine at what is one of America’s most authentic and iconic seafood restaurants. We already had plans to go to the Arena at Taj Mahal to see the reformed Culture Club in concert, so we planned our trip to Phillips to coincide with the show last evening.
We don’t often go to Atlantic City because we’re not into the whole gambling, beach-lounging or collegiate partying thing. I guess you could say we have a skewed perception of what Atlantic City is since casinos certainly do still reign supreme there; probably not as much as they did once upon a time as a few of them have closed in recent times. They’re still a major draw for visitors, though.
As we’re learning, there is much more to see and do than gambling your life savings away in America’s Playground. In fact, exciting dining options abound besides for the requisite, but very passe casino buffets. People like us (foodies) desire more compelling eating experiences especially if we have to travel for them.
Anyways, lets review shall we. First of all, it is amazingly easy to get to Phillips Seafood or The Playground if you’re planning on taking NJ Transit – which is what we did. The train ride is approximately 1 hour 30 minutes from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. I’d rather sit on a train than drive on the Atlantic City Expressway any day of the week. Read a book, stare at your smartphone, whatever. You’ll get there before you know it!
When you get to the Atlantic City terminal, it couldn’t be easier to get to your casino of choice. They have jitneys (buses) that are lined up outside to whisk you off to your destination at no charge. To make it even more foolproof so the casinos get your money, the jitney pick-up station is marked by casino name. Trust me, they’ll get you there safe and sound.
To get to The Playground, you’ll want to grab the first one in the jitney lineup as Caesars is the first stop. If you’re not sure, just ask the bus driver to make sure he goes to Caesars. Get off the very first jitney stop in front of Caesars and walk towards the boardwalk. You can’t miss The Playground; it’s right there as you walk onto the boardwalk.
Phillips is located on the 3rd floor of this multi-level building filled with all the high-end shopping you could ever want. So find the escalators when you first walk in and take them up to the top. Once you get off the escalators on level 3 you won’t miss it. The floor plan is very open so you don’t have to walk through doors or anything.
The open floor plan is nice especially if you get seated near the window which offers stunning beach and ocean views.
Once we were seated by the hostess, the first person to come up to our table was Executive Chef and General Manager Paul Drew.
He introduced himself to us, welcomed us to the restaurant and presented us with Phillips Seafood 100th Anniversary Cookbook. A truly touching gesture. We can’t wait to try some of these recipes at home.
Shortly after Chef Paul departed, bread was delivered to our table. Because every great dinner should have crunchy, hearty sesame bread with sweet butter! (Note: because of the brightness from the sun, some of our photos have shadows in them, we did our best to remove them but for better or worse, they are there.)
As soon as the bread was delivered, our server Nicole greeted us and presented us with menus as well as explain the dinner specials for the evening. She also rushed off to get us a wine/beer/cocktail menu since one wasn’t available at our table.
There are several imported and domestic draft beer and bottled beer options, including a short list of craft beers; a respectable selection of bottled and wines by the glass; as well as traditional and specialty cocktails and spirits. I selected the “Watermelon Cooler” which sounded simply refreshing as it contains fresh pureed watermelon. Sadly, Nicole returned to our table to inform us that the cocktail could not be made as they were out of fresh watermelon for the day. While I was disappointed, I respected their honesty. They could have put in watermelon liquor in and passed it off as fresh, but they didn’t.
Nicole offered a couple suggestions for other cocktails that might fit the bill. I looked at the menu again and decided on the “Chesapeake Bay Breeze Cosmo” which is made of Tito’s handmade vodka, triple sec, pineapple and cranberry juices. It was served in a perfectly chilled martini glass. It wasn’t too strong, which was to my liking since it wasn’t my intention to get loaded.
Once we received our drinks, Nicole took our order. We didn’t have to wait long at all for our Crispy Calamari appetizer to come out. When we see calamari on the menu, 99% of the time we are going to order that. We love it so much. Theirs comes served with a pineapple sweet chili sauce.
The calamari was delicately fried to perfection. The crispy breading was well-seasoned and not oily at all. The texture was exactly how I like it – not ultra crunchy, but sturdy enough to hold up to the dipping sauce without having the breading fall off. The pineapple sweet chili sauce was the perfect spicy-sweet level, too. Squeezing fresh lemon juice is always a requirement. As tempting as clams or oysters on the half shell sounded, the calamari was the perfect starter for us here. If a restaurant can do calamari well, they’re ace in my book.
Our middle courses were chosen from the salad menu.
I chose the Beet and Feta Salad, a truly perfect pairing if you ask me. The red & golden beets were roasted but had a nice bite to them. So don’t expect mushy beets here. Salty feta and spicy pecans served atop of peppery arugula made for a delightfully flavorful salad; but it was made even better when dressed with their housemade apple cider vinaigrette. It truly made this salad pop. It packs a wonderfully piquant punch and the salad is not overly dressed with it either so don’t fear them dressing the salad for you!
He chose the Classic Wedge Salad. What can we say? They nailed it, period. They served it on a cold plate which kept the iceberg extra crisp. Hubby is the biggest blue cheese fan going, so he felt that the quality of the blue cheese crumbles was cheeseshop quality. In any event, classics are classic for a reason. Order this if you love and desire a wedge salad done right.
By this point we were already starting to feel full. But we still had our entrees to come!
For me, I had to get the Classic Broiled Seafood Dinner because it was too hard to choose otherwise, and I wanted a little bit of everything.
The Classic Broiled Seafood Platter contains a crab cake, grilled shrimp skewer, salmon, and “catch of the day” which that day was fresh Cod. It also came with petite tri-colored potatoes (Yukon, purple and sweet) and asparagus spears. The asparagus adding much needed color to the plate.
The platter pleased my palate so it deserves another look…
While all of the platter items were delicious and adequately prepared (the cod was so wonderfully flaky, for instance), I’m going to order their signature ultimate crab cakes by themselves next time. They are made with all jumbo crab meat (as you’d expect) and are truly delectable. They practically melt in your mouth.
Hubby’s choice was the Steak & Shrimp Entree, a Phillips land and sea offering, that he his mind set on: a 10 oz. New York strip steak, perfectly broiled to his requested medium rare, with a shrimp skewer that did not disappoint and lived up to his expectations.
As you’d imagine, try as hard as we might, it was impossible to finish. When Nicole brought the dessert tray out and tried to get us to order dessert, we politely told her it just was not going to happen; we had our fill. Not only were we busting at the seams full, we had a show to run off to. Well, we didn’t and couldn’t run. We took a rickshaw ride up to the Taj. Thank goodness for those strong and wonderful peddle pushers!!
Anyways, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our dining experience at Phillips Seafood in Atlantic City – from start to finish. It truly is one of many great dining destinations located in The Playground. If classic seafood is what you desire, you needn’t go anywhere else for the best that the sea has to offer from the people that have been doing it right since 1914. There’s really only one name that will satisfy: Phillips.
Be aware that on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 4pm, they offer brunch which includes many unique menu options such as Crabs Benedict. So if you’re staying overnight and looking for brunch, this is the spot.
Also, stay tuned for details about their Cook, Crack and Eat cooking series that Chef Drew will be hosting again this fall. Learn how to cook seafood from a master seafood chef.
One Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
The Doyenne of Dining in Philadelphia and South Jersey.