2023: New Continental Cuisine
Cape May has come to be known as a gastronomic destination and for good reason. We are blessed with a plethora of extraordinary dining concepts, an abundance of fresh seafood, and access to local farms who supply the freshest produce. Each year we lament the closing of one or more restaurants for one reason or the other. But as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. This year we are being treated to two brand-new restaurants, a new menu at Sea Salt, two new venues for old favorites with some additions to their menus, and a fabulous new chef at Provence. Let’s start there.
I was heartbroken when La Verandah, the only French restaurant in town, closed at the end of 2019. Two years later my prayers were answered when Kelly Lavorgna and Andrew Bares renovated the old Doctor’s Inn in Cape May Court House and opened The Peninsula, a stunningly beautiful French country inn complete with an upscale French fine dining restaurant. I rarely agree with marketing hype, but the best way to describe this restaurant is how Kelly and Andrew portray it on their website. “Provence seduces diners with what can only be described as a beautifully choreographed synergy of food, flavors and techniques, plated with undeniable flair and whimsy.”
Provence offers a prix fixe three- or five-course menu that changes every month. The menu is a collaboration among the owners, the director of operations, Lucas Manteca (who you may remember from the Red Store), and their new executive chef, Jeremy Palumbo, and consistently focuses on seasonal ingredients. As I write this article it included items like spring onion velouté; steelhead trout with morels and spring peas; and white chocolate pots de crème with lavender and lemon curd.
Provence is BYOB and dinner is served every evening except Tuesday. Brunch will also be available on the weekends beginning June 10th. When asked what he would like people to know about dining at Provence, Chef Jeremy replied, “I want people to leave here as happy as I am when I leave every day.” Wow.
Two years ago, I stumbled across a menu for Andrea Trattoria. It sounded wonderful—but where was it? The address was Carpenter’s Square, but the only restaurant there was a Mexican eatery called La Doña. Baffling. The following fall I happened upon the menu again, this time discovering that the restaurant was Mexican in the summer but after Labor Day and through New Year’s, it was Italian. We decided to try it. What a find!
These restaurants are owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team—both chefs—one from Mexico (Lucy) and one from Naples, Italy (Andrea). They are both equally talented, passionate about food, and delightful hosts. Their dream for the past three years has been to have two full-time restaurants in Cape May. That dream has finally come true as Andrea Trattoria opened this past May at 412 Bank Street.
Andrea’s vision is to bring a piece of Italy to Cape May, and he has done exactly that. Everything is authentic. You won’t find veal parmesan here, but you will find Braciole and homemade pasta. By the way, don’t miss the new appetizer, Pesce Misto Freddo, a cold mixed seafood combination tossed with lemon and extra-virgin olive oil that is perfect for a summer evening.
Andrea Trattoria is open six days a week beginning in June for dinner only and is BYOB.
From Naples you can travel to Sicily by visiting Iccara at its new location in the Washington Commons mall. The new restaurant is modern but charming and is slightly larger than the old one. The menu, which focuses on fresh seafood, is basically the same with a few new additions like Gnocchi Rosso and Cacio e Pepe. If you are not familiar with the latter, it is a dish that reminds you of Fettuccini Alfredo (which is also on the menu) but with no cream and lots of cracked black pepper. The pastas are homemade and gluten free upon request.
Owner Vincenzo Sanzone still makes his sauce the way his grandmother did back in Sicily. Speaking of old family recipes, make sure you sample the complementary caponata. Also new on the menu is Sambuca crème brûlée that is served tableside and is a delight for the eyes as well as the palette. You simply must see this for yourself!
Iccara, named after Vincenzo’s hometown, serves dinner only and is BYOB.
Sandy and John Vizzone, owners of Le Jardin at the Hugh, have done it again, this time giving us Maison Bleue—a little French bistro by the sea. Beautifully redecorated in dark blue and black and white stripes, it is located where Iccara used to be at 311 Mansion Street and is comfortable, casual, and stylish.
The menu was created under the direction of Michael Schultz (executive chef at the Hugh) in collaboration with the owners and Maison Bleue’s own executive chef Anthony DePasquale. It is typical French bistro fare with several unexpected twists—although if you are familiar with Schultz’s creations at the Hugh you will not be surprised. For example, there is Fisherman’s eggs with sautéed mussels in tarragon cream; a unique version of Duck l’orange with ginger; and a grass-fed Wagyu cheeseburger. You will want to go back again and again to enjoy the daily specials which include Coquille St. Jacques, Bouillabaisse, and Cassoulet.
In keeping with Schultz’s vegetarian focus there are many plant-based offerings, like Hearts of Palm Galette, an escargot of mushrooms, and an Umami Veggie Burger. Even the French onion soup is made with vegetable broth.
Maison Bleue is BYOB, but if you forget the wine, not only is Collier’s next door, but the menu includes suggested wine pairings that are available at the liquor store.
The newest kid on the block is another eatery from the Kara Restaurant Group and is called Brine, in the former Saltwater Café location at South Jersey Marina. Chef Joe Mathis, formerly of Shamone, prepares Mediterranean seafood and upscale American classics, all with the flair we have come to expect from these restaurateurs. In keeping with its name, several menu items are “brined” here, like the duck confit that is served with a juniper berry demi-glace. You will also discover it in the wonton raviolis that are topped with miso cream and pistachios. Pastry chef Jennalyn Petiani has whipped up her own unexpected treats, like chocolate peanut butter lasagna and Baily’s tiramisu.
Although I have not yet had the pleasure, Brine also serves breakfast/brunch every day from 8am—2pm. The menu is so creative, breakfast may never be the same again. They recommend the avocado toast served with Mexican crema and elote (street corn), or the pancake tacos filled with fried chicken and topped with Gochugang maple syrup.
At Brine BYOB you can dine alfresco while enjoying the sunset and watching the boats in the harbor—a rare treat in Cape May.
Formerly of Provence, Adam Bowen is kicking things up a notch at the Ocean Club’s restaurant. As you might expect from this extraordinary chef, the dishes are crafted with modern flair, bold flavors, and innovative recipes. On a recent visit we began with the cider braised pork belly served with cauliflower grits, smoked gouda, creamed kale, and apple pancetta chutney, and the miso marinated tuna tartare. Both were excellent. The chef recommended the seafood bouillabaisse served over pasta and my husband ordered his favorite Frenched chicken breast. This version was served with duck fat fingerlings, brandy truffle cream, and charred broccolini finished with a bordelaise sauce. I am eager to return to sample the lobster pot pie!
Sea Salt serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has a beautiful bar where you can enjoy handcrafted cocktails.
I hope you are as excited about this year’s dining scene as I am. If what I have sampled so far is any indication, I am going to have to embark on a new exercise program! Bon Appetit.