OCEAN CITY – As summer turns to fall, and corn turns to gourds, Just Hooked turns its menu to take on the new seasons fresh ingredients.
Owners Steve Hagen and Kevin Frey started Indian River Seafood Company in 2010 and opened their first restaurant, Off The Hook, on June 20 of that year in Bethany Beach.
One year later, the company opened its second restaurant, Just Hooked, in Fenwick Island. Both locations take pride in their menu bringing the farm and ocean directly to the table.
Hagen met Frey when he moved to Bethany Beach about seven years ago from Rehoboth. He had worked in the restaurant industry for about 18 years becoming a chef and gained an experience with the coastal lifestyle and how to incorporate it into a menu.
“We always talked about different avenues to open up a business and Kevin always wanted to open a restaurant since he was a child, and it is always a chef’s dream to open up his own restaurant so we did it when an opportunity presented itself,” Hagen said of Off The Hook.
As their first restaurant gained popularity, another opportunity presented itself to open a second location a little south. Hagen said they almost made the mistake by turning their nose up at it.
“We came in and saw it and we didn’t know if it was right for us. It might have been a little too soon and the place needed a little bit of work to get it to look like the way we wanted it to look,” he said.
With 18 years of experience in engineering and the construction field, Frey was able to see what the space could become.
Just Hooked was transformed to include space for 125 in the indoor and outdoor dining area as well as a 45-foot bar and seven-foot chef bar where diners can watch the chefs at work. The atmosphere is laid-back and causal in the completely open dining room without even a wall separating the kitchen.
“Our ultimate goal was to build a restaurant that could sustain both of us and our staff year-round and so we were definitely weren’t trying to steer away from seafood,” Hagen said. “We wanted to be centered in seafood and take the opportunities that are in front of us with the different farms and fisheries around the area and be able to bring that stuff to the plate.”
Just Hooked changes its menu by the seasons and on Monday made the change from the summer menu to fall. On top of the seasonal menu, there are also daily chalkboard specials.
This season for starters there is red pepper soup, mushroom flatbread, pei mussels, buttermilk battered town dock calamari, middleneck clams, baked oysters and buttermilk battered oysters.
For salads, there is a warm butternut squash with arugula, leeks, figs, spiced pepitas and sherry gastrique, as well as a whole leak ceaser, brussel leak and lamb merguez.
For the main course, diners have the option of New York strip, duck n’ dumplings and an assortment of seafood with grouper, salmon, smoky tuna, a seafood cioppino, or a truffled lobster carborana with orechiette, shrooms, leeks, prosciutto, brussel, and pecorino.
As the company took on a second location and now catering, Hagen and Frey found the need to add a commissary/seafood market, Off The Hook Market, which opened in July besides the restaurant in Bethany.
Hagen explained that the commissary provides a large area, including refrigerated space, for all prep work for catering and both restaurants.
“It allows us to have first of all, safe handling, which is very important to us, and it gives us the time to be creative and concentrate on the product that we are putting out,” Hagen said.
Heading into the off-season, Just Hooked will be open year-round, Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
There will be weekly specials at both locations starting on Monday with $2 Taco Night, 25% off your total check on Tuesday, 50% off your total food bill for Ladies Night on Wednesday, and starting on Oct. 2 three course meals will be offered for $25 on Fridays and a chef inspired three course meal for $18 on Friends and Family Night on Sundays.
“I feel very grateful and fortunate to have the staff that we have to attract the locals that we have, it’s been great,” Hagen said. “It has been beyond our wildest expectations where we thought we would be.”
Frey added, “It is amazing that we have the great customers that we have come in here and support us throughout the winter. We have a great following and we treat our guests the way we would want to be treated.”