More than 30 years after The Mad Batter ushered in a new era of dining in Cape May, this charming Victorian shore town—designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976—remains one of the state’s top culinary destinations. As any fan of Cape May will tell you, finding a good meal here is never a problem. The hard part is deciding where to have it.
While you can certainly find the typical stuffed-flounder-and-fries Shore fare in Cape May, this gastronomical hot spot boasts more than a dozen high-end restaurants, many located in charming Victorian hotels and B&Bs. These elegant dining establishments—as well as some of the more modest ones—draw patrons from as far away as New York City, as well as from other Shore towns.
Driving into town from the Garden State Parkway, visitors find the old and the new in close proximity. To the left, just over the bridge, sits Cape May’s largest restaurant, The Lobster House, while the newly opened and buzz-worthy Lucky Bones Backwater Grille, owned by the Craig family (of Washington Inn fame), can be found on the right. The Lobster House—with its massive restaurant, raw bar, fish market, coffee shop, and even a docked schooner where you can enjoy a cocktail in the summer—is a true Cape May tradition. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than this—the Lobster House has its own fishing fleet. Lucky Bones, meanwhile, occupies a niche somewhere between paper-napkin pub and fine dining, offering a wide selection of creatively prepared casual dishes that range from brick-oven pizzas to bison burgers.
Choosing among Cape May’s upscale restaurants ultimately comes down to personal taste, although each one boasts a faithful following. The elegant-but-not-stuffy Washington Inn is a shining star, the only Cape May restaurant on the current Zagat New Jersey Top 40 food list, scoring 27 (of a possible 30) and described as “extraordinary to perfection.” Signature dishes include the crab cake with roasted cream pepper and a chocolate mousse tower; there’s also an extensive wine cellar. Other top-flight restaurants known for creative, sophisticated menus and inviting ambience include the ocean-facing Union Park (try the Ahi Tuna with kiwi salad and spiced green tea glaze); The Peter Shields Inn (with five dining rooms and cappuccino bar); the intimate Ebbitt Room (where pianist Steve LaManna holds court); French/Caribbean/New Orleans-influenced 410 Bank Street; Axelsson’s Blue Claw; Oyster Bay; the Pier House at the Water’s Edge; Aleathea’s; the Merion Inn (where you’ll find what’s billed as the city’s oldest bar, built in 1885); the “New American” cuisine at Tisha’s (located on the beachfront promenade)—and The Mad Batter, the city’s best breakfast spot, with specialties that include gourmet oatmeal pancakes and orange-almond French toast. If it’s afternoon tea you’re after, check out the pleasantly understated Carriage House Tea Room & Café, with a fixed-price menu for both tea and lunch.
Cape May may be the southern tip of New Jersey, but for something truly southern, visit the Magnolia Room at the 130-year-old Chalfonte Hotel. For more than 60 years, chef Helen Dickerson whipped up “soul food with its Sunday clothes on” here, and the tradition lives on through her daughters, who offer a mouth-watering menu that includes crab cakes, fried chicken, and spoon pudding.
Cape May has no shortage of tavern/pub restaurants. One of the most popular is the Blue Pig Tavern, tucked in the corner of the magnificently renovated Congress Hall. The Blue Pig has two distinctly different dining rooms that serve nostalgic American fare. Another longtime favorite with visitors and locals alike is the Ugly Mug. Ideal for a quick, inexpensive lunch (try the shrimp-topped “Ocean Burger”), the Mug’s motto—“Mix a little folly with your wisdom”—sums up its relaxed attitude. The family-friendly Henry’s on the Beach is always a smart choice for reasonably priced, something-for-everyone meals, while North Cape May’s Harpoon Henry’s offers a taste of the Caribbean, with a variety of frozen drinks and spectacular sunset views of Delaware Bay.