Critiquing Cape May, NJ, Restaurants

by artfuldiner on July 24, 2009

in Culinary Criticism, New Jersey Event

Since many residents of and visitors to the Garden State journey to this charming Victorian community – especially during the warm, inviting days of summer – I thought I’d take this opportunity to pass along a number of dining suggestions…




Black Duck on Sunset

1 Sunset Boulevard

West Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 898-0100


blackduckThe ambiance is bright and breezy, tastefully unencumbered, and enchantingly reminiscent of an old Cape May porch. And chef/proprietor J. Christopher Hubert’s creative American fare with international flair strikes an equally casual chord. It entices, it intrigues… but it never overwhelms. Start things off with the incomparable orange-almond salad, lobster dumplings, or crispy duck confit and then move on to such delicacies as barbecued baby back ribs with corn pudding and garlic greens or grouper in potato crust à la nage. Desserts, including homemade ice creams and sorbets, are every bit the equal of their predecessors. BYOB.



413 South Broadway

West Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-4543


Presided over by J. Christopher Hubert, chef/proprietor of the highly-regarded Black Duck noted immediately above, you can be certain that Godmother’s is infinitely more than the usual run-of-the-mill Neapolitan nirvana. Yes, there’s red sauce here, if that is your predilection – marinara, Bolognese, and fra diavolo – and also a slew of traditional Italian favorites. But these are far from the “usual suspects.” Everything that emerges from the kitchen seems to possess its own unique touch. In addition, presentations exhibit a charmingly subtle touch of class. They are not works of art… nor are they meant to be; but Mr. Hubert and his crew just seem to have a knack for assuaging both the eye and the palate. Among the entrées, the lasagna is a superb effort… ditto the chicken cacciatore, a sumptuous daily special. The welcome is warm, the atmosphere inviting, and you may BYOB.


Louisa’s Café

104 Jackson Street

Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-5882


Louisa isn’t wild about publicity – she feels it keeps her regular customers away – which is why she doesn’t bother to advertise. But word gets around. This tiny, cramped BYOB continues to remain near the top of just about everyone’s Cape May dining agenda… and with good reason. The atmosphere is decidedly funky, the well-prepared cuisine decidedly diverse, and the prices decidedly modest. There are no printed menus here, the blackboard tells the complete culinary story. And if you want to start things off right, be sure to try the presentation of ginger-sesame noodles, a perennial favorite. The dish is enhanced with a wonderfully rich peanut sauce and sprinkling of peanuts and diced cucumbers. When it comes to entrées, seafood plays a prominent role. But for confirmed landlubbers, I highly recommend both the grilled chicken and various incarnations of pasta. Among the homemade desserts, the Key lime pie is benchmark, as is the dark chocolate bread pudding. The food here is not about innovation… it’s about comfort. But if you’re in the mood for a meal that is fresh, funky & fun, at prices that won’t put a major dent in your pocketbook, you owe it to yourself to pay a call at this excitingly eccentric eatery. CASH ONLY.


Lucky Bones Backwater Grille

1200 Route 109

Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-BONE


Lucky Bones is a casual reincarnation of the old Pelican Club. The owners remain the same (Michael & David Craig, also proprietors of the Washington Inn), as does executive chef Walter J. Jurusz; but Bones’ menu is more international in scope and decidedly less expensive. Thankfully, however, Mr. Jurusz brought along several of his signature dishes, including his famous grilled Cuban spice-rubbed pork chop. You may also avail yourself of Cape May flatfish, grilled filet mignon, or “Backwater Lil’s Italian Pasta.” The restaurant also turns out several superb renditions of thin crust brick oven pizza. The compact wine list is more than reasonably priced, sporting some very nice selections by the glass. Just be advised… Lucky Bones does not accept reservations. So if you happen to pay a call at the height of summer, my advice is to come early for dinner or drop in for a late lunch. FAMILY FRIENDLY.


Tisha’s Fine Dining

714 Beach Drive

Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-9119


tishasSequestered away to the right rear of Cape May’s Convention Hall, the bright, airy dining area affords a lovely view of the beachfront; it also boasts a wall of windows that is gently parted to allow tables to spill out onto the boardwalk for al fresco dining in warm weather. Ambient attributes notwithstanding, it is chef/proprietor Paul Negro’s exceptional New American cuisine with international subtitles that is the chief drawing card. The filet mignon is kissed by Cajun spices and blackened in a cast iron skillet; halibut & crab are pillowed on risotto and French beans; and the grilled chicken & shrimp combo speaks with a decidedly Tuscan accent. All the chef’s creations are exceedingly well prepared and presented… but it is his attendant sauces that are the most memorable. They are heady without being heavy… thoroughly invigorating but not at all intrusive… and they succeed nobly in the ultimate destiny to which many aspire but precious few attain – complementing rather than convoluting the objects of their affection. BYOB.




410 Bank Street

410 Bank Street

Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-2127


Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since Stephen & Janet Miller first opened 410 Bank Street and Henry Sing Cheng and his cunningly creative Cajun-Creole/French/Caribbean cuisine settled comfortably into their kitchen. Needless to say, the Cape May dining scene has changed significantly in the past 2 ½ decades and, in my opinion, this restaurant has failed to keep pace. What was considered daringly innovative in 1985 has become something of a timeworn culinary cliché. However, even before you ingest your first bite, the clientele is the real tip-off. Discriminating diners beware; one glance will tell you: This is the “grab ‘n’ growl,” clean-plate club, proof positive that America-has-an-obesity-crisis crowd. As long as the portions are ample – which, indeed, they are – heads remain in a holding pattern over their plates until every last morsel has been sucked into the void. While 410 Bank Street will undoubtedly continue to appeal to the seasonally-swelling ranks of omnivorous gastronomic tourists, it is, in my estimation, overrated, over-sauced, and overpriced. More sophisticated diners would do well to consider the superior and, in many cases, more reasonably priced options available in this lovely Victorian community. BYOB.


Washington Inn

801 Washington Street

Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-5697


Nearly 11 years have rolled by since I penned by initial review of the Washington Inn. And, from one perspective, not a great deal has changed. The stately 1840 plantation home still exudes a touch of Old World civility and remains a perennial favorite of Garden State diners. The bar/lounge is as cozy as ever; and the extensive wine cellar continues to woo dedicated oenophiles. My misgivings with this establishment, however, have always manifested themselves in other areas… like the cuisine, for instance. Executive Chef Mimi Wood is the long-standing power behind the stove; and my chief criticism of her cookery is the same as it was a decade ago: Many of her entrées are – at least to my palate – entirely too heavy handed. In addition, the atmosphere that seemed sophisticated and sedate over a decade ago, now strikes me as tired and touristy. The height of subjectivity, I readily admit, but a feeling that has become increasingly apparent… And the piped in muzak – a sentimental stroll down memory lane with dated ditties from Doris Day, for instance – only reinforces that impression. There is absolutely no question in my mind that this venerable establishment could not help but benefit from a modicum of rejuvenation.




Ebbitt Room

Virginia Hotel

25 Jackson Street

Cape May, New Jersey

(609) 884-5700


ebbitt-room1After a recent visit, there was absolutely no question that the Ebbitt Room’s kitchen needed a good, solid kick in the asparagus to roust it from its culinary doldrums. Indeed, the cuisine sampled was a decidedly mixed bag. The Atlantic salmon, for instance, was far from benchmark and in the dubious company of rubbery scallops, inordinately chewy shrimp, and mussels & clams that had obviously seen better days… all swimming in a totally innocuous tomato-clam broth. Desserts prompted a similar feeling of ambivalence, and the service was definitely below par for such an upscale – and expensive – establishment. Help, though, appears to be on the way in the person of Lucas Manteca, the former chef/proprietor of the highly regarded Sea Salt in Stone Harbor, who was recently crowned executive chef. Mr. Manteca is probably just what the doctor ordered to breathe new life into a tired menu. His halibut, for example, is adorned with a taste of spring roasted vegetables and finished with a light and lively Meyer lemon-vodka emulsion; his roasted domestic lamb chops are teamed with summer ratatouille, a zesty taztiki sauce, and black quinoa salad; and his unique rendition of “surf ‘n’ turf” combines malbec-braised short ribs and butter-poached fresh Maine lobster. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to a return visit in the very near future.

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