The Off-Off Season
My friends (who don’t live here) often ask me, “What is Cape May like in the winter? What do you dao? Do you get bored?” My answer is an emphatic “No!” Yes, some of the businesses close for the season, but there are plenty that stay open year-round, especially on the weekends. Unlike many other shore communities, in Cape May you can actually go out to dinner in February – or breakfast. Which brings me to the first unexpected thing to do in the off-off season: have breakfast at Fins. Yes, breakfast.
Although Fins doesn’t serve breakfast during the summer months, beginning in January they host a Sunday Social Brunch from 10:30am to 2:30pm. The menu includes the Fins Omelet, a Breakfast Burrito, two versions of Eggs Benedict, and Creamed Chipped Beef. The lunch menu is available, too. There is also a make-your-own Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar—and live entertainment. But what makes this really special is that half of all proceeds are generously donated to a different local not-for-profit organization each week. This year the beneficiaries include: the Kiwanis Club, Cape May County Coast Guard Community Foundation, Soroptimist International of Cape May, New Jersey Audubon, Cape May Stage, Animal Outreach of Cape May County, East Lynne Theater Company and Love Blue, Inc.
This is the time to think like a local. Have a burger at Red Brick. Stop by the C-View; they have a different special every night. If you have never tried the mussels at Lucky Bones, now is the time. Order a pizza with extra cheese at 5 West. Head over to Hemingway’s on Wednesdays and experience their famous Prime Rib night.
Speaking of burgers, the Washington Inn, known for its epicurean delights and elegant atmosphere, has an outstanding bar menu complete with a Bacon and Cheddar Chargrilled Burger served with caramelized onions and mushrooms. Add their parmesan and truffle French fries and you will find yourself in burger heaven. Or build your own burger on Wednesday nights at Oceans 7. They also have daily Sunset Dining Specials from 4:00 to 5:30pm from now until Memorial Day.
Treat yourself to something special at one of our fine dining establishments that are hard to get into during the summer months, like The Blue Pig, The Ebbitt Room, Peter Shields, or Sapore. Go to the Lobster House. The Schooner may be closed, but you won’t have to wait 2½ hours for a table! During the summer, the little room on the right (as you come in the front door) is closed for dining. But in the winter, you can enjoy a cozy, romantic dinner by the fireplace.
Many places also have live entertainment all year long. From jazz at the Virginia and Oceans 7 to folk music at the Mad Batter and The Cricket Club, there is something for everyone. Carney’s and Elaine’s are also part of the fun. Visit their websites or CapeMay.com for scheduling updates.
In March, as the daffodils reappear, so do many of the restaurateurs who took some time off to refresh themselves and their establishments. Every week gets better and more exciting as we discover new menu items, new décor, and even some totally new restaurants. And of course, there is St. Patrick’s Day.
I grew up in an Irish American household where corned beef and cabbage was an annual ritual. It was basically a boiled dinner. Corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes served with mustard, vinegar (for the cabbage), and butter for the potatoes. As accomplished as my mother was in the kitchen, she seemed to lose all creativity on St. Patrick’s Day. The best thing about that dinner was the leftover corned beef for Reubens the next day.
And so it was for much of my adult life, until one day I happened to catch a TV segment with James Donahue, who was then the executive chef at the Fitzpatrick Hotel Group in Manhattan. He was describing his special menu for their week-long Flavors of Ireland Celebration. “We want to stay true to Irish traditions by celebrating with authentic Irish food — that doesn’t include green bagels! We will certainly be celebrating the week of St. Patrick’s Day, but we will only do so in style.” Well, he certainly had my attention. My biggest takeaway was a recipe for Parsley Cream Sauce that he was going to serve with salmon but added it was also delicious over ham or corned beef.
So it is. You simply sauté ¼ oz. shallots with 4 tablespoons of butter. Add 1 cup of white wine and cook until the alcohol disappears. Add 2 cups of heavy cream and reduce. Finish the sauce with a handful of chopped fresh parsley and voila!
As for the meat, start with the best piece of corned beef you can find. I prefer the flatter cuts as they tend to be leaner. Boil the beef according to the package instructions and be sure to scrape off all the fat. Slice it and add the sauce or make a glaze with some orange marmalade, mustard, and Irish whiskey. By the way, you can cook the beef the day before and glaze it before you reheat it. This is a perfect solution when the 17th falls on a weekday and you have to work during the day.
Keep your gourmet game going by sautéing the cabbage instead of boiling it. Make your own soda bread—it won’t be as dry as what you purchase at a supermarket. Treat yourself to some Irish butter and cheeses. Add some Bailey’s Irish Cream to chocolate mousse. Drizzle some green Crème de menthe over vanilla ice cream. And don’t forget the Irish coffee!
If you want to go out for dinner on St Patrick’s Day or just for some fun afterward, Delaney’s is the obvious choice on March 17th. But Cape May has more than a dozen fantastic places in which to celebrate the wearin’ of the green, including: The Boiler Room, Carney’s, The Cricket Club, The C-View, Elaine’s, Fins, Harry’s, Hemingway’s, Lucky Bones, Mad Batter, Oyster Bay, and The Ugly Mug.