By Mary Lamb
Stone Harbor welcomed a Cape May favorite, Carney’s Restaurant and Bar, to the downtown dining scene last summer. The restaurant opened with a flourish, with fresh décor and an extensive menu. It also arrived with the Carney family’s legacy of success in the restaurant business.
More than 50 years ago, Marie Carney and her husband began the legacy with a little bar on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Eventually, she began making meatballs, deviled clams and crab cakes for the customers, based on her secret recipes. With those dishes, Carney’s restaurants were born.
Over the years, the family owned several taverns and restaurants throughout the Philadelphia area. Then, in 1979, Marie opened Carney’s Restaurant and Bar in Cape May. Since the beginning, Carney’s in Cape May has been a family-friendly restaurant with a casual beach vibe, a lively bar and plenty of nightlife. Carney’s established itself as a landmark restaurant in Cape May that is still thriving today.
Building on that tradition, Marie’s grandson, Sean Carney, decided to bring a new Carney’s Restaurant and Bar to Stone Harbor. Sean, who grew up in the restaurant business, opened the restaurant on the site previously occupied by Henny’s on the corner of 97th Street and 3rd Avenue.
“We thought Stone Harbor was a good area for a Carney’s restaurant since it shares some common characteristics with what we do in Cape May,” he says. “We realized that people are looking for a good meal that you can get in a reasonable amount of time. With this location, we also saw an opportunity for nightlife and to put live bands on the stage.”
Carney’s Stone Harbor has a large dining room and a separate bar area with table seating. The décor is bright, red, white and blue with a subtle nautical theme. The ambience and layout allow Carney’s to appeal to a broad range of customers – from young families to large groups, early birds to night owls.
For families, Carney’s offers a kid-friendly environment that comes from the Carney family’s personal experiences. “Having four brothers and going out to eat, I remember how tough at times it could be,” Sean Carney says. “Getting us all out and finding something on the menu that we like and could appreciate, without pulling my mom in 10 different directions. I have a really good sense of that. We are a family-operated business. Also, we make sure we are very friendly to everyone and treat everyone with respect.”
Says customer Tom Cuddy, a father of three: “We felt good from the moment we walked in. The kids were actually greeted first and set up with crayons and stuff like that. Everyone could find something to eat – which is usually hard.”
Close ties and long-term relationships on Seven Mile Island enhance Carney’s as well. “We spent a lot of time here growing up. My grandmother used to have a house on 42nd in Avalon,” Carney says. “There are people who I grew up with that are working for me here now.”
One of those local relationships is with Fred Sylvester, former owner of Sylvester’s Fish Market and Restaurant in Avalon. Fred stocks Carney’s Raw Bar, which is one of the restaurant’s most popular attractions. “One of our specialties is our raw bar,” Carney says. “Our seafood is fresh every day. Fred does a very, very good job with the raw bar.”
In addition, there are a few other dishes for which Carney’s is well known. “What we’re most famous for would be our crab cakes,” Carney says. “Also burgers, and we have a lobster grilled cheese that people go crazy for. And our fish tacos are unbelievable.”
Carney credits his head chef, Joe Arcaro, for maintaining the quality and creativity of the menu. “He is just always on top of everything,” Carney says. “I might ask him to do a certain thing a certain way and it gets done automatically. He really watches the staff and watches them prepare the food. He’s just got a love for the business. He loves cooking. He’s always coming up with new ideas and different ways that we can improve our menu. He really takes pride in everything he does.”
Part of what Arcaro does is to keep things moving along, which is important in this fast-paced environment. “We usually do 400 to 500 dinners a night in July and August,” Carney says.
Some of those dinners are served as part of the new Early Bird menu. “One of our biggest improvements this year, that people are really going crazy for, is our Early Bird,” Carney says. “We do an Early Bird menu for $20 per person from 4 to 6 every night. It’s a three-course meal. For the first course you can choose the wedge or Caesar salad, or New England clam or Maryland crab chowder. For the second course, we offer lobster tail, prime rib, chicken francaise, salmon or shrimp and scallop scampi. And for the third course, you get dessert, whether it’s cheesecake or apple crumb tart.”
And once the Early Birds are done and the dinner crowd starts to thin out, the nightlife begins. “Monday nights, we have half-priced drinks and a DJ,” Carney says. “Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have karaoke with prizes. Wednesday, we have the LeCompt band live on-stage. Fridays and Saturdays, we have some of the top cover bands in South Jersey.” On Sunday evenings, Carney’s now features the acoustic duo Rad & Kell, Philadelphia musicians Matt Radomile and Kelly McGlynn.
Rae D’Amora is one summer Stone Harbor resident who has enjoyed some of the fun at Carney’s. “We went to the bar and it was fabulous,” she says. “All the people that worked there couldn’t have been nicer. It was great to see many familiar faces from the local shops enjoying some downtime at the bar. I like having a place that we can walk to on 96th Street that offers happy hour and evening entertainment.”
For as much as Stone Harbor residents and visitors seem to be enjoying Carney’s, the feeling is mutual. “The people are great in this town,” Sean Carney says. “Everyone was very, very welcoming. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Mary Lamb is a freelance writer who has contributed to both local and national publications. She lives in Doylestown, PA with her husband and 4 children and enjoys spending the summers in Stone Harbor.