A Palate-Pleasing Tour of Cape May

Author John Howard-Fusco's new book serves forth the Shore town's historic and modern-day culinary relevance.

The grand ol’ Victorian gal known as Cape May has been loved by natives and temporary vacationing “residents” for more than two centuries. But never has its extensive culinary virtues been documented and delineated with the knowledge and passion of specialist like South Jerseyan John Howard-Fusco.

A Culinary History of Cape May: Salt Oysters, Beach Plums and Cabernet Franc (American Palate, a division of The History Press; 2017) is Howard-Fusco’s painstakingly researched volume on America’s “original seaside resort”—or “oldest seaside resort,” depending on which account touting Cape May’s attractions you prefer.

Howard-Fusco, a regular contributor to Table Hopping, takes visitors and locals on a food tour of Cape May that starts centuries ago and continues through today, a time of culinary prosperity marked by peerless local produce, seafood, wines and brews, as well as professionals expert in bringing all to the public.

Illustrated by vintage advertisements and old snapshots, modern-day photographs of dishes created by celebrated chefs and scenes from today’s culinary landscape, the book packs fact upon fact into an entertaining narrative that also includes recipes and insightful mini reviews of restaurants both humble and haute.

For instance, there’s Howard-Fusco’s documentation of an advertisement in the Philadelphia Gazette in 1801 that declares to “the great city of Philadelphia that Cape May is open for business as a summer destination”—sparking a “love affair between the two” that exists to this day. There are details on the nationally renowned “Bread Lady,” a James Beard Award-recognized specialist who operates out of Enfin Farm on Sunset Boulevard in Cape May Point. The famed baker is Elizabeth Degener, “who uses an outdoor clay oven to produce a variety of breads,” Howard-Fusco writes. Let the hand-drawn signs guide you to legendary bread, he advises.

Though he is New Jersey’s reigning authority on eating in South Jersey in general, and Cape May in particular, Howard-Fusco is quick to point to knowledgeable sources to document the food scene. For example, he notes that Fran Schumer, who currently contributes to New Jersey Monthly, wrote in the The New York Times in 1996 that Cape May was “the restaurant capital of New Jersey.”

A Culinary History of Cape May is definitely ripe for year-round reading. Keep it close at hand this summer when a trip down the Parkway to its end will lead you to a feast John Howard-Fusco proudly serves forth.

Read more Eat & Drink, Table Hopping articles.

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