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Cape May, a National Historic Landmark city, is not only a Mecca for sunbathers and bird-watchers; it has also become one of the state’s dining hotspots. This week, June 3-10, you can sample Cape May cooking at bargain prices.
Although first planned as a twice-a-year, fall and spring event, it is now in its fifth year as an annual celebration.
Diners can get two-course lunches or three-course dinners, with multiple choices for each course, for $15, $25 or $35.
PHOTO: A dish at Tisha's Fine Dining
Many Cape May establishments close for the off-season, when the town shrinks to a mere 3600 year-round residents. During the high summer, 40,000 to 50,000 visitors crowd the beautiful beaches, classic boardwalk, and charming streets.
These warm, usually not yet sweltering, June days offer an excellent opportunity to relax, explore and of course dine without breaking the bank or fighting the mob for a table.
This year, booking agent Open Table has partnered with the event to make it easier for visitors to reserve online at one of the 26 participating restaurants. “They do book up quickly,” says event spokesperson Jessica Keeler, “so reservations are definitely encouraged.”
The restaurant deals also happen to coincide with the Cape May Music Festival, a series of predominantly classical concerts held throughout the town through June 14th.
Lest you think the discounts are only available at lesser known spots, or the menus are merely shrunken versions of the real thing, the list includes 410 Bank Street, an 1840 carriage house with lush tropical gardens that feels more like Key West than Cape May; the Ebbitt Room at the renovated Victorian Virginia Hotel; the Blue Pig Tavern, housed on the ground floor of the sprawling oceanside Congress Hall Hotel; the Mad Batter, a brunch institution since 1976; Tisha's Fine Dining, now located on the Washington Street Mall; the Union Park restaurant in the Macomber Hotel; the Washington Inn, a NJM Top 25 in the state; and the Peter Shields Inn, which occupies a meticulously appointed, Georgian Revival Mansion, just steps from the sand, with five intimate dining rooms.
Peter Shields’ executive chef Carl Messick says, “I write our menu for restaurant week the same way I write our regular menus: showcasing what's in season and keeping it simple in a way that doesn't overshadow the main ingredient. We don't shy away from certain ingredients because of price; we always source the best possible ingredients from all over the country, especially right here in New Jersey.”
A Restaurant Week visitor to Peter Shields might savor an appetizer of crispy day boat calamari with lime chili gastrique and micro cilantro, followed by a surf & turf of grilled hanger steak with crab cake, asparagus risotto, arugula and whole grain mustard nage. For dessert? A Hammonton blueberry crisp with almond whipped cream.
The Mooring Bed and Breakfast, one of Cape May's many classic Victorian hostelries, is this year’s lodging sponsor, offering room upgrades, rate reductions and complimentary bottles of local wine to take with you to the discounted dinner of your choice.
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.