The Cricket Club
It took a little while for The Cricket Club to open its doors in 2022, a true metamorphosis from the city’s beloved Merion Inn, built in 1885. We waited with bated breath, wondering in which ways the Kulkowitz family, of Mad Batter fame, would transform the historically significant Merion. Notably, the new name is a nod to The Merion Inn’s association with The Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pennsylvania, established in 1865. The lineage is an important cog in the community wheel, and for this Merion regular, the new name was very thoughtful.
There was much curiosity amongst the townspeople and visitors as to what The Cricket Club would become. Certainly, the interior would be renovated, with the fixtures and décor replaced, refurbished, revamped, and revitalized. We had heard that the epically cool bar was removed, and that the familiar artwork was being restored, but the main aspect that Merion patrons were curious about was, of course, the menu.
Head Chef Jon Davies was hired early on, and we all knew the menu would be inventive and innovative. If you’ve followed Jon’s contributions to this magazine, you’d agree that his recipes are always interesting, creative, and yummy looking. This guy has skills, indeed.
On this my first visit, my dining companion was Sophie, a transplant from DC, and one of my favorite foodie friends. We were both equally jazzed about being in the new Cricket Club universe and were confident that the experience would meet or exceed all the glowing reports posted on social media. Upon arrival, we were met by legendary maître d’ Richard, who manned the helm for decades at The Merion. Capable, kind, and flexible.
We started at the expanded bar with bartender/alchemist/supreme mixologist Matt Reeves. If you’ve frequented the Mad Batter, you know you’re in good, gentle, and talented hands. Eager to try some of the restaurant’s cocktail concoctions, I ordered the Gold Rush, made with Maker’s Mark, lemon, honey, and bitters. Stellar, thanks to the owners, managers, and of course the inimitable bartender Matt Reeves for creating this.
After cocktails, we were seated at a four-top in the side dining area, one of four: front, bar area, and two separate areas in the side dining room. Our waitress Chloe turned out to be one of the many highlights of our dining experience. Cerebrally funny, efficient, and attentive.
We struggled mightily in making our choices. I wanted to pretend I was Gordon Ramsay and order 10 things, but alas, this was not in the cards. I was advised by several friends to choose the Loaded Potato Muffins and Spicy Tuna Roll appetizers and we obeyed. I make it a point to take advice from my friends who are whacko about food.
Both appetizers were delicious and plentiful, but the Loaded Potato Muffins were especially sublime; shredded potatoes loaded with scallions and bacon. These adorable mini-muffins were presented cone-style with three dipping sauces—truffle/parmesan magic dust, tomato jam, and herbed honey butter. They were perfectly baked on the darker crunchy side, and the dipping thingies were perfection. For me, the herbed honey butter could be spread on anything and everything. I would put that on a tortilla with dirt and be very happy.
I also wanted to try one of the restaurant’s three soups—Curry Cauliflower Bisque, Apple Onion, and Oyster Stew—and I went for the Oyster Stew. It was creamy, delicately spiced, and complemented with fingerling potatoes and lots of bits of smoked slab bacon. I did inquire about my table-neighbor’s soup choices, and both diners raved about the Bisque as well as the Apple Onion, so I’ll try those on future visits for sure.
For my entrée, I was intrigued by the Peri Peri Chicken description: a roasted half chicken marinated in chiles, vinegar, and North African spices. The peri peri chile (aka piri piri) is small but hot —ranging from 30,000 to 175,000 on the Scoville scale, as compared to the jalapeño, which comes in at about 3,500. The chicken was delicious with extra peri peri sauce and nicely paired with roasted fingerlings.
For dessert, the obvious choice was the Crème Brûlée, or Trinity Cream as my Grammy called it. I’ve had this particular dessert at easily 10 restaurants in Cape May, and The Cricket Club wins top billing. Smooth and tasty, with the required crack of the burnt/caramelized sugar on top.
A few things about our meal that must be said. The portions were more than generous and the prices very reasonable. They also have a “Lighter Fare” section of the menu, which is even more reasonably priced and quite varied, with something for every taste. I will go back for the Short Rib Fries and “Poor Mi” dishes, available in portobello, short rib, fried oyster, or chicken versions.
Kyle Kulkowitz is managing the establishment, and leading his team, has made the Cricket Club a brand-new thing, shiny in concept, with friendly and well-trained staff, and a cool welcoming vibe.
I highly recommend Cape May’s newest eatery. The Merion Inn piano may be gone, but there is live music, so go. Your tummy will thank you! ■