A total stranger feels very welcome at Lefty's Tavern (547 Route 9 South, Barnegat). I know I did when I visited on Wedneday, Feb. 24.
Not long after arriving, and settling into one of the few open seats at the bar during Happy Hour, I found myself chit-chatting with Lenny Kurylo of Waretown and Dave Frank of Barnegat as if we were all old friends.
I thoroughly enjoyed the conversion, the history lessons I was getting and the tips on some places to eat -- their favorites -- in that part of the world. Is everything on Route 9?
It made for a wonderful evening at Lefty's -- and there is really a Lefty -- Lefty Saropoulos of Barnegat, who has owned the bar/eatery for 16 months.
Lefty's has had a few different names over the years, but it looks as though Lefty of Lefty's has settled in for the long haul, serving very tasty food and drinks. By the crowd who dined there on this night, it has already become very popular -- and I can see why.
But what I'll remember most about Lefty's is the friendly atmosphere, the cordial patrons who made me feel right at home, and a terrific wait staff. I really had a great time, trading stories, walking down memory lane with them, talking about the old Forked River House I enjoyed as a child with my parents, Ellen and Jim Wilno, before it burned down and the Lighthouse Tavern, which is just up the street from Lefty's.
Even bartender Mike Zimmerman, 25, poked a little bit of fun at me. I asked him where he was from, and he told me Pennsauken.
"What a ride!" I thought.
I asked again, "You communte to and from Pennsauken?"
He told me it was only 55 ninutes (each way, of course).
Then he told me he actually had a house in Manahawkin.
Where did the Pennsauken reference come from ?
"Well," he said, "you asked me where I was from."
He got me on that one.
Zimmerman has been at Lefty's since last May and is a former lifeguard on the beach in Harvey Cedars. Oh, how to be so lucky.
He fits the lifeguard look perfectly: spiked bond hair.
Yeah, really lucky to be young and good looking. Darn.
I was near the door to the kitchen and obsorbed the dishes that came out of there. Nice presentation, I thought. Very nice.
I couldn't resist the nachos ($3.50), which was enough for a meal in itself. The chips were not soaked with cheese but were nice and crisp. I like that very much. The dish looked good and tasted very good.
I didn't finish the entire helping of nachoes because I had my eye on the mini-meatloaf bites ($4). Meatloaf is an all-time favorite of mine. I couldn't resist, and didn't. I ordered the dish, too.
I've got to say the appetizers I had were very, very good -- and inexpensive. A definite bargain. It was just enough for me since I had a late lunch.
My new friends -- Lenny and Dave -- asked me how I like the dishes I ordered. I gave both high marks. They smiled. As regulars there, they knew.
I should have known.