This second-story restaurant on Cape May’s Beach Avenue that looks out over the Atlantic Ocean has had many names on its door in recent years. My favorite is the Iron Pier Craft House, the resident restaurant since 2016.
The restaurant gets its name from a long-gone entertainment venue, the Iron Pier, that was built out over the sea in 1884 across from the property, and is unapologetically forward-thinking. The highly popular gastropub is inventive, unconventional and happily toys with tradition.
The Iron Pier Craft House specializes in smaller plates that invite people to share dishes over conversation. Its menu is creative with unexpected twists like tater tots with Brussels sprouts. The result is gourmet fare re-imagined in fun ways that satisfy viscerally and visually.
The view is also impressive. Few restaurants in Cape May have a comparable perch overlooking the beach, ocean and promenade than that of the Iron Pier’s enclosed second-floor porch. My favorite table there is a round table for six in the corner. Being at eye level with a traffic light also has a special charm.
The Pier Craft House bends a few rules by design. Wait staff explain upfront that dishes are served as soon as they come out of the kitchen in no particular order. Customers may request sequenced servings, however.
The free flow style works well for a group, which six of us—college classmates visiting me in Cape May—discovered when we dropped in earlier this month. Sharing small plates not served all at once gave us ample time to catch up between courses.
We ordered five tapas and “shares” from the main menu and one item from the new sushi menu—two at a time—to set a more leisurely pace for our evening. We also took our server’s suggestion of splitting bottles of the house white and red wines by Noble Vine for $24 and $28, respectively. The Iron Pier Craft House has an extensive list of wines, craft beers and signature cocktails that has earned it a loyal band of followers. Its most-requested cocktail is a Prunus Old Fashioned.
Our first course was skillet-braised Brussels sprouts served with dried cranberries, pancetta, cheese curds, those tater tots and black truffle salt for $13; and the pear ricotta sacchetti in a taleggio cheese sauce for $18. Both were excellent choices. The sprouts were perfectly cooked, tender on the inside and crispy on the outside; and the cranberries and pancetta gave the dish a nice contrasting kick. The pasta looked like a flower. Wrapped like a dumpling, it was topped with a light, aromatic cheese sauce with basil and served with asparagus.
Our second round was Kobe sliders with gouda cheese, bacon jam, plum tomatoes and pub sauce served on a soft pretzel roll for $18; and parmesan truffle fries with black truffle oil and fresh herbs for $10. The three sliders were presented in a playful way with a gerkin pickle speared on top of each bun. They got rave reviews all around. The truffle fries complemented the burgers.
Our last course consisted of the California roll with crab, cucumber and avocado for $8, and waffle crab cake with bib lettuce, an heirloom tomato slice and green goddess dressing for $14. Both dishes were imaginatively prepared and presented, and were well-received. The only observation on the latter was that the flavor of the crab meat got a little lost in the grilling process.
We voted on our favorite dishes on our ride home on Cape May’s new free jitney service. Our top picks were the sprouts, sacchetti and sliders in that order. We’re already planning a return visit for next year.
The Iron Pier Craft House, 429 Beach Avenue, Cape May, 609-884-1925. Open Wed-Mon, 5pm-10pm. Check with restaurant for winter hours.