Alex Laudeman grew up on the docks at Cape May Harbor. Today she runs the hottest new restaurant on the waterfront—a reboot of a once rowdy bar known for cheap beer, plentiful scallops and occasional knife fights. Billed as one of the best dive bars in the U.S. prior to closing in 2013, Mayer’s Tavern quietly reopened this spring under new ownership with a whole new style, menu and attitude.
The change artist is Alex Laudeman, co-owner of the revamped Mayer’s Tavern and its talented chef. A fifth-generation owner in her family’s more than century-old business, she brings a lot to the table personally and historically.
Her great-great-grandfather, Capt. Thomas Johnson, ran party boats in what became Cape May Harbor. Great-grandfather Jess Laudeman started the wholesale fish business, Cold Spring Fish & Supply. Grandfather Wally Laudeman added the Lobster House and schooner bar, and father Keith Laudeman, now company president, further expanded with a fleet of scallop boats, Tony’s Marine Railway and Mayer’s Tavern.
Alex started working for her Dad when she was 12. “I’d help with takeout or the fish market, all front-of-house-stuff,” she says. “I worked in every department and did every job.”
It was the cooking side of the business that called to her, however, so, after college, she trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, then worked in the city for five years, first at an Italian restaurant, then at a company providing start-up services for area restaurants. She returned to Cape May to start her own business.
After two years of major renovations, a kinder, gentler Mayer’s Tavern opened in April and caught on quickly with locals and visitors in the know. I’ve visited Mayer’s twice now, and am impressed with its drinks, food and friendly atmosphere. There’s an exuberance at this casual eatery—and a “Cheers”-like camaraderie between customers and staff—that make you want to return. Another draw is the view of the sun setting over the marshlands.
For now, Mayer’s serves dinner only— from 5 pm to 10 pm daily—and isn’t open on Tuesdays. Arrive early if you want a table on the porch, the best perch from which to observe the sun’s light show. Start with the margarita with Tres Agaves blanco tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice; the Dark ‘n Stormy, with Goslings rum and ginger beer; or Always Ready, Cape May Brewery’s tribute beer to the Coast Guard.
Our group of four split several appetizers and “mains” to try more dishes. We started with the fried local calamari served with a chile mayo made with real Italian peppers, and the pork-and-beef meatballs with Jersey tomatoes, Romano cheese and breadcrumbs. Both were excellent, leaving some of our tablemates less inclined to share.
Moving to the main event, we shared three entrees. The small “Shellfish Tower” was a two-tiered plate of six shrimp, six clams, and six Delaware Bay oysters. (It also comes in large, with 12 of each). Ours, however, was imposing enough, visually and gastronomically. There was a token non-seafood eater with us, who was thrilled, as in “best I’ve ever had,” with the burger with Dijon mayo and pickled onions served with hand-cut French fries.
Scallops are still a staple on Mayer’s menu. Plated with citrus slaw, French fries and dipping sauce, this dish carried the day as the best of the night. The scallops were simply prepared to not detract from their essence: not breaded, browned with flour, and deep fried. They alone merit another visit. They are also prepared with love.
“Dad handpicks the scallops off the day boats for us,” says the younger Laudeman.
Mayer’s Tavern, 894 3rd Avenue, Cape May; 609-435-5078Click here to leave a comment