The Sand House Kitchen is the type of place every vacationer dreams of having breakfast and lunch at.
The Ocean City restaurant is a humble, tiny, worn shack with hand-carved wooden tables and booths that sits right on the sand overlooking portable tables with colorful umbrellas and Adirondack chairs on the beach with the ocean steps away over the small dune.
Did I mention it’s located right on Beach Road? Well, that’s just icing on the top.
The Sand House Kitchen, formerly the Northend Beach Grill, was built shortly after World War II, and aesthetically not much has changed. And that’s part of the oceanside breakfast and lunch spot’s charm.
What has changed recently — along with the name — is the ownership. The Sand House is part of the quickly building restaurant dynasty owned by the Idell family — restaurateur Robert Idell and his wife Jillian, and Idell’s parents Bob, a Realtor, and Sharon, who helps manage the various establishments that include: Sunrise Café, another breakfast and lunch spot; Dead End Bakehouse, a bagel shop and bakery; Drip N Scoop, a donut and ice cream shop; and Dockside Kitchen, a brunch spot on the bay that turns into a Dinner Club at night.
The Sand House features a Hawaiian beach theme with island-inspired bites that continues the Idell family’s mission to elevate Ocean City cuisine, even if it means sharing Hawaii’s love for SPAM.
“The former owner of the property reached out to me and said, ‘We want you here. We want a great operator,’” says Bob Idell, who helps manage the family’s Real Estate while chipping in wherever he can. “At first, it was like, ‘No way, not another restaurant, especially in the middle of the pandemic.’ But then when you look at this place, you say, ‘How can we pass it up?’ It’s just so perfect. The opportunity was phenomenal.”
And, since taking ownership last spring, the Sand Kitchen is taking advantage of that opportunity. The turnkey restaurant – the Idells added some new kitchen equipment and colorful beach furniture but that’s pretty much it – has been packed since opening thanks to Robert Idell’s vision and culinary mastery.
Get there earlyIt all starts at breakfast, where the Sand House offers one of the most creative morning menus on the island.
Three varieties of avocado toast ($11 to $19) — all made with natural sourdough bread from Dead End — are a great way to start the most important meal of the day, including a smoked salmon version and one with fresh lobster, avocado spread, radish, heirloom tomatoes, onions and extra virgin olive oil.
The pineapple coconut french toast ($14) are what fat boy dreams are made of, using thick-cut brioche and a homemade batter topped with caramelized pineapples and toasted coconut. Other carb-heavy items include bananas foster french toast ($15), banana chocolate chip pancakes ($14), Belgian waffles ($14) with mixed berries and pineapple pancakes ($14).
If you want a more simple start to your day, have a breakfast sandwich ($11) with choice of pork roll, sausage, bacon, ham and, yes, SPAM, served on awesome Dead End sourdough, multi-grain or bagel; the breakfast quesadilla ($12) and burrito ($13) offer scrambled eggs, cheese, pico and guacamole, with the quesadilla also featuring peppers, and onions; the salmon BLT ($14) is super popular; and the Hawaiian breakfast sliders ($13) are irresistible with fried SPAM, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and sriracha mayo on Kings Hawaiian rolls.
Egg fans will find plenty to like, particularly those who enjoy Benedicts as the Sand House offers crab cake ($19), lobster ($24) and Hawaiian ($14) versions with their famous chive Hollandaise sauce. There are a variety of omelets — check out the seafood ($22) with lobster, shrimp, crab, spinach and lemon-herb Hollandaise — or a simple two-egg platter ($12) with your choice of meat.
Take a beach breakA good portion of the Sand House lunch crowd comes straight off the beach. Sit down or just order something from the convenient takeout counter inside the shack.
Despite the small kitchen, the Sand House menu is quite aggressive.
Standout starters include fresh ceviche ($15) that changes regularly; shrimp and chicken kebobs ($14, $12) and fried calamari and shrimp ($13, $16).
A variety of salads and poke bowls offer plenty of light choices, particularly the seafood Cobb salad ($23), while those looking for something a little more hearty can choose from a large variety of sandwiches and burgers, including blackened mahi Hawaiian sliders ($14) with sriracha mayo and shredded lettuce on a Hawaiian roll; a crab cake sandwich ($15) with Old Bay aioli; a burger topped with lobster ($21) and avocado; and their signature lobster roll ($23) with fresh-buttered lobster, Old Bay aioli and lettuce on a brioche long roll.
There’s also tacos ($14 to $16) with blackened mahi, Hawaiian chicken and fried shrimp, and quesadillas ($10 to $17) with chicken, crab or shrimp.
“We are not your typical burgers, fries and pizza place you find all over Ocean City,” Bob Idell says. “I think we try to differentiate ourselves at all of our restaurants. My son always wanted to bring food that you are more likely to find in Margate or Atlantic City to Ocean City. Right from the get-go with Sunrise Café (in 2013), he said: ‘Let’s do great food with good portions and stand out from the others.’ Some places you go to might not value your taste buds like we do. We are not just going to serve something because tourists will eat anything because they are hungry. We want tourists and locals to come here over and over because we are offering quality food. We want our places to be destination restaurants.”
The Idells’ future As far as the Sand House, Idell says diners shouldn’t be surprised to eventually see dinner being offered right on the beach.
“People are already asking if they can book us for a private party venue,” Idell says. “They are enthusiastic about having dinner with this view, and who wouldn’t be? So we have some ideas about that.”
The Idells are also not done expanding their culinary empire. They have plans for two more Drip N Scoops; the Somers Point location should open in the next couple of weeks, while the Atlantic City location should be open by fall. And they have other plans for restaurants throughout Atlantic County.
“They are already in the making,” Idell says. “We want to be in places that are more year-round, and not just seasonal like Ocean City. I am super proud of Robert’s aggressive style and wanting to provide better dining options all over South Jersey. He is very much emphatic about growing the brand, and we are right behind him.”