Posted by: Drew | May 22, 2008

We Shore Were Hungry – A food perspective on the South Jersey Shore by Laura Bopp

Today we have a guest writer discussing her unique view point on the Jersey Shore. We took a road trip from Avalon to Cape May sampling several fine places to fill your belly. With out further ado, Laura Bopp.

As far as cuisine goes the Jersey Shore is a vast wonderland of choices and experiences. I had the good fortune to accompany Drew on a days travel to just a few of the amazing places to eat down the Shore.

We started off at a Jersey phenomenon known as the Wawa. Now, I am from up North and we don’t have Wawas where I come from so when I was first introduced to this Mecca a few years ago I was amazed at the cleanliness, selection and variety available to the everyday consumer. You could get a hot fresh sub with any deli meat of your choice at 2 am with horseradish sauce and sweet peppers if you felt like staying up all night with heartburn, whatever you want goes.

So we hit the Wawa in Avalon for some breakfast items. We both select their new ciabatta melts with scrambled eggs, pepper jack cheese (I can feel the heartburn now, but it will be totally worth it) and bacon. You can’t go wrong with bacon. We also both get iced coffee out of the machine. Now, in truth, I am kind of a coffee snob. I love my Starbucks, and when I brew coffee at home it has been called mud because I will pile up the café bustello into the pot until it over flows, I like flavor. So you may laugh when I tell you that for all the selection of coffees they have at Wawa, and they have about 12 pots of coffee going at one time, I love the stuff that comes out of the machine already lightened and sweetened.

We take our cornucopia of goodness to the boardwalk at 29th St.; there we were greeted by a chorus of seagulls just waiting for the Memorial Day rush. Sitting there on a park bench in the pavilion facing the fishing pier eating a delicious egg sandwich and drinking my cool coffee beverage I thought, “This is the life, if I could spend every morning like this I would be a much better person.” Amazing what a convenience store can do for your attitude.

2701 Ocean Dr
Avalon, NJ 08202

Next we drove on to Stone Harbor. Walking around this eclectic downtown area I was struck with the sense that we were witnessing a town waking up from a long winter’s nap. There were signs in most windows telling people when the establishment would be open officially for the season. After browsing for an hour or so we wandered into Stone Harbor Pizza on 96th St. Now what you may not know is that Stone Harbor Pizza and Circle Pizza in Avalon are owned the Buchanans, Avalon’s original Pizza family.

This family has been making fabulous “Jersey Shore” pizza on the barrier islands of South Jersey since 1969. What is “Jersey Shore” pizza you may ask, well I didn’t know either, I had heard of New York pizza and Chicago deep dish pizza, but Jersey Shore pizza, really?

“Jersey Shore” pizza is known for it’s thin crust and, and now this is important, grease. Well not just grease, oil. You see, good cheese will produce oil when cooked, so when it is mixed with the sauce you get this orangey oil that forms on top, do not go blotting this it is the hallmark of good Jersey pizza.

I ordered a mushroom and a pepperoni slice, I mean who can judge if the pizza is any good with just one slice? Drew and I sat in a booth near the counter and ate our slices accompanied by some diet coke, if you are going to have two slices, diet coke is a must, and after all, we still had to have dinner. Sitting there I marveled at the menu which offered everything from your basic pizza to shrimp scampi.

We were waited on by the manager, Letie, who has worked there for four years. Bright and cheery she told us with pride all about the new benches they had had built out back for those long summer nights when family after family decides it’s better to eat pizza in the breeze than slave over a hot grill in the back yard.

Seating area Stone Harbor PizzaTaking a tour of the back deck Letie told us that they also have four slips available for when you decide it’s too nice to drive to the pizza parlor, let’s take the boat. Pizza can be delivered to your boat hot and fresh from the oven and you can eat it there, or move on to your next destination. Speaking of delivery, both Stone Harbor Pizza and Circle Pizza have on-line ordering, so you don’t even have to pick up the phone to avoid cooking.

So, how was the pizza? Really good. Crispy crust, good cheese, great sauce, everything I was looking for. Sitting there at our booth you truly appreciated that this was a family place. It was comfortable with itself. The people who came in and ordered their food were all regulars. Whether they were from the Ace hardware store across the street or the couple who came in to pick up a large to go order they all had a smile on their face and were happy to see the friendly faces behind the counter.

As we were getting up to go and settling the bill Letie gave us two homemade oatmeal cookies. “We make them everyday”, Letie told us, “and these are the last two.” I felt like I had struck the lottery, good pizza and free cookies, that’s something Jersey has over New York.

Stone Harbor Pizza
315 96th Street
Stone Harbor, NJ 08247
(609) 368-5454

Now the Main Event, Dinner! A few years ago I had the good fortune to work at the Cape May Day Spa as a Massage Therapist. It was my first spa job after leaving school and as we were living in Wildwood at the time it really was the best fit for me. The day spa has a satellite location in beautiful Congress Hall in downtown Cape May. As this was my first real time “Down the Shore” I found myself in the middle of this beautiful Victorian paradise with gingerbread everywhere you looked and fabulous restaurants all within walking distance, so I was in heaven.

Now it has to be said that at that time we were working on a budget, we bought most of our food at the dollar store and ate peanut butter and jelly everyday. A goal of ours, Drew and mine was to one day eat at The Mad Batter at the Carroll Villa Hotel on Jackson Street. We tried a few times to get in, even the night we got engaged we tried to get in, but either the restaurant was too crowded, or there was no parking, so planning ahead is a must. To call for reservations the number is 609-884-5970.

This time we had it just right. As it was the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend we had no need for a reservation and parking was a breeze. However we were later told by our waitress, Beth that you can park at Swain’s and they will charge you $4.00, not so bad considering what the parking is usually like in downtown Cape May.

After entering the restaurant we were seated on the porch, under a yellow and white striped awning surrounded by little tables with crisp white table cloths you were immediately taken with the elegant atmosphere, but don’t be intimidated, no one there was dressed up in the slightest. I was wearing jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt, just to give you an idea.

Approaching the menu you notice first off how concise it is, there are appetizers and main courses. Overall a very well rounded affair. We were lucky enough to arrive between 5-5:30pm when they are offering a great special, buy one entrée and get another at half price. This is something to keep in mind when traveling, look for specials; you can sometimes get delicious, amazing food for less at certain times, so keep an eye out.

Our waitress, Beth came to our table to take our drink order. Once again we both ordered diet cokes, but also decided to splurge a bit and have some adult beverages. I ordered a glass of one of their premium wines, a pinot noir, for $7.00 a glass and Drew ordered a New Castle. Beth then recited to us a list of specials, the first of which was baked brie with a rhubarb jam, caught our attention and we decided that we would share that as an appetizer. I then went on to order the petit filet and crab cake and Drew had the rib eye steak with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Sitting there under the awning you got a taste for what it must be like here when the season is in full swing. Couples chatting and enjoying a good meal were all around us. Beth brought us some bread, ciabatta, ironically with a blend of spices to mix with olive oil at the table. Enjoying our beverages, the wine was woody and mellow, and Drew reported that the beer was cold and very satisfying after walking around all day.

When Beth brings our appetizer we are ready, after all this had been a dream for us since the peanut butter and jelly days. The brie is warm and creamy with a flaky crust that it was baked in with walnuts which add a wonderful textural element. Accompanied by sliced pears, strawberries and the rhubarb jam the fruit brought out different flavors in the brie. The portion size is more than enough for two people to share, although I must guiltily admit I would have eaten the whole thing myself.

Next, it’s the main course, my petit filet and crab cake is served with a sweet potato hash, although it didn’t seem like a classic “hash” to me, and two different types on sauces. A cabernet demi glace for the filet and whole grain mustard for the crab cake. The sauces are a nice addition, not over powering, but a lovely enhancement. Drew’s rib eye is perfectly cooked for him, medium well, where I like my filet a lovely pink medium rare, each were cooked to order, beautifully. His steak was topped with a dollop of blue cheese and mouth watering mushrooms. The mushrooms added just enough seasoning to the steak; they simply melted in your mouth. The crab cake is very satisfying, a great deal of lump crab meat, seasoned, and not a lot of filler, your really taste the crab. I found myself saying “Wow.”, several times. The food was elegantly presented, but simple, real flavors came through, without trying too hard.

While usually very harsh on higher end food, Drew’s only issue with the whole entrée was his mashed potatoes, which he felt were too rich, perhaps too much cream? Drew said he would have liked to have tasted more starch and less dairy, but that is a personal preference. Other than that we were really happy. It is so nice to go to a restaurant that you have talked about, and heard about, and have it not just meet your expectations, but so far, exceed them.

After our main course I looked at Drew and said, “If I was on death row, that is what I would want for my last meal.” Simple, elegant, satisfying and really delicious.

Now, dessert, once again presented with a menu we had a choice to make, there were several good contenders. There were coffee drinks for $6.50, some with alcohol and jaunty names. Triple chocolate cake, caramel bread pudding, but what intrigued us was that they seemed to have a cheesecake of the day. With a pastry chef on staff this blessed man makes a different cheesecake EVERYDAY! Today’s offering was a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. We were sold. We decided to share, each of us wanting to know what the other would think of it, and we didn’t want to be gluttonous. Nothing spoils a good meal like eating too much.

With coffee and cappuccino in hand we were presented with the cheesecake, drizzled with a little caramel sauce, a dollop of whipped cream, powdered sugar and a few strawberries. After having a few forkfuls Drew said, quite aptly, “It tastes like Halloween.” and indeed it did. It was pumpkin, clove, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla, we were transported to a perfect fall day in this lovely light cheesecake.

The Mad Batter at the Carroll Villa
19 Jackson Street
Cape May, NJ 08204

Breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner from 5 p.m.
Happy Hour daily from 4-6 p.m.

Sitting back and reflecting on our day I would like to thank the Shore for all of it’s good food. As Drew puts it, “We SHORE were hungry!” and were left happy. I know that this is all just my opinion, but Drew asked and so here I am writing it down. I’m not a chef; I like to think of myself as a fairly good cook, with an obsession with Bravo’s Top Chef, Rachel Ray and all sorts of other cooking shows. A foodie if you will. So there is nothing nicer to me than sitting down and eating, I love to eat, and unfortunately my waist size reflects that. So take my word for it, or not, but get out there, there is a whole Shore to explore, get experienced.

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