Previously, they were buying their bread from a bakery in New York and giving it out for free. If they were going to start charging $5 for it, they knew they needed to make it more enticing.
“It was how do I bake bread and make it interesting or relevant or distinct to the area. I guess any bread is distinct to this area. Just something to tie it to the beach. And then the sea salt was the easiest choice. I played with using salt water [in baking], but it messed up the science, the chemical nature of the bread,” he says.
Grounding every menu item in their locality is something they’re always pushing to do more of at Black- Eyed Susans, Miller says.
“It’s just learning about [what’s around] the location and the people. Right now, we’re growing as much as we can. Obviously for a booming restaurant, you would need a full farm. We have a guy who supplies 100% of our tomatoes throughout the summer. We don’t buy them in cans or anything. When he has tomatoes, he literally sends us hundreds and hundreds of pounds and those are grown I guess two miles up the road. We’re currently growing our first batch of tomatoes. Herbs are clipped in the garden [abutting the parking lot]. The flowers that end up on plates are right from the garden. My parent’s house is being converted into a small farm. Beach View Farms is right across the bay and Chris [Adams, the farm manager and founder] is killing it. He’s done incredible things to start that movement locally. You do as much as you can,” he says.
Not to mention they also have one of the biggest commercial fisheries in the country nearby.
“We live and die by Viking Village. Our menu is just whatever they have at any given time. They’re one of the biggest fishing ports on the east coast. It’s just right up the road close to the lighthouse where I get my sea salt,” he says.
And with no middlemen—as with say, Samuels & Sons who brings seafood to many restaurants in Philly—Miller says they have 24 hours on every other person getting fish.
“My chef, part of his daily routine is to go to the fishing docks. We follow the same sort of cycle going through the seasons. In the beginning, it’s Monkfish or Tilefish, scallops, clams, oysters and as the summer progresses, you start getting some fun things: your tunas, wahoo added. And they’re all our friends. Chris knows every guy down there, every fisherman. We always have people blowing up his cell phone telling him that they have this, that, or the other thing. It’s a great situation. It’s like paradise for a chef.”
Miller stresses the push for constant improvement in sourcing. With their customers being reflective of the trend of ever more open-minded diners, they can push whatever Viking Village has at a given time, he says. For instance, he says the still-underappreciated tilefish is one of their highest selling dishes.
“We serve 50 pounds of it in a weekend,” he says.
The sourcing for the menu’s lamb dish, however, presents a conundrum, with the only domestic lamb meeting their standards coming from Elysian Fields Farm—a purveyor who has partnered with Thomas Keller’s Pure Bred Lamb project—that’s more on the pricey side.
“It’s a product that I’d have to charge $60-$70 a plate for in order to get a return. But if we took it off, people would probably want to stab us. So, we have this lamb that’s not local, not even domestic actually. So you play those games with yourself and your moral code and you pick and choose,” Miller says.
Livestock, he says, is their last frontier.
“Pigs are easy in NJ because a lot of farmers will just have pigs around to clean up. Beef is tough,” he says given how, with their proximity to the ocean—right over the sand dune behind the restaurant—they’ve built their reputation as a seafood restaurant.
“We can get grass fed local which we do, but it’s tough because we only sell a single steak. What I would prefer to do is get a quarter of beef, get a half of beef, get a cow. We’re still not there yet,” he says.
But when you get it right by going hyper local, the results can be beautiful he insists.
“With the fish coming right off the boat and being seasoned in the same salt it was swimming in, it all just made sense. And we did side-by-side comparisons. And there’s a very distinctive difference. To a seared piece of fish, you get a little bit of seaweed particulate matter in there, an ocean funk,” he says.
“A lot of times, people will homogenize or flash pasteurize their sea salt to get it the same. But my sea salt is irregular as hell,” he says proudly.
In looking to expand his product offering while building The Salty Shoreman as a brand, he hopes to bring Black-Eyed Susans owners Chris Sanchez and Alshley Pellegrino on board as partners.
“I not only respect the hell out of him and Ashley professionally and personally, but they’re also friends—it’s as perfect as a working relationship could possibly get. It’s very like-minded individuals, everyone is there for the same reason. It’s just thinking how we can do better food constantly, which is awesome,” Miller says.
“And, we’re on the beach man. That ain’t that bad too.”