Checking Out the Newly Renovated Pier House in Cape May

The redesigned space is sleeker and crisper, but much of the local favorite's menu remains unchanged.

Crispy crab cake over fresh avocado, left, and pork porterhouse chop with arugula and feta at the Pier House. Photos courtesy of Wendy Collins

Once the “Coming Soon” sign went up in front of the Pier House in Cape May, I drove by daily, looking for signs of life. Always one of my top dining spots, the popular Mediterranean restaurant closed in late 2016 for a total renovation. It reopened last month, and has quickly reclaimed its standing as a neighborhood favorite.

Located oceanfront in Cape May’s less-restaurant-dense east end, Pier House anchors the 162-room La Mer Beachfront Resort. Anxious to return for a before-and-after taste test, my spouse and I visited last week with friends. Clearly, word is out that the restaurant is back in full swing. It was packed on a Monday night.

We reserved a table in the bar—a carryover from earlier visits—and were shown to a cozy corner table overlooking the beach. Our seats were perfect for people-watching. The bar was somewhat noisy, however, and, having to talk loudly, we only added to the din.

The restaurant has two other dining options: an inviting main dining room and a romantic outdoor terrace. The latter, crisscrossed by twinkling lights at night, calls to mind a charming seaside taverna. The redesigned space is sleeker and crisper. It’s open, more navigable, and much lighter, thanks to large wall-to-wall windows wrapped around the dining areas.

Not much of the menu has changed. More than 90 percent of it is the same, according to executive chef Argie Mallous, who also ran the kitchen before the renovation. Now as then, bestsellers are the feta and watermelon salad, grilled octopus appetizer and whole fishes. Crab cakes are another favorite. The recipe was handed down to chef Argie by his uncle 40 years ago.

Our group sipped wine and cocktails—I recommend the lemon-drop martini—as we studied the menu and sampled the bread basket. The hummus made from kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, lemon juice and Greek extra virgin olive oil nicely complemented the olive and rosemary, and seven-grain bread.

Watermelon and feta salad with grapes, cucumbers, mint, honey and walnuts. Photo courtesy of Wendy Collins

I ordered the feta and watermelon salad for $10 as my starter and a new dish, the pork porterhouse chop for $27 as my entrée. The salad, twin towers of sweet watermelon and creamy French feta, with grapes, cucumbers, mint, honey and walnuts was excellent, and easily could have been my whole meal. The 16-ounce pork with lemon oregano potatoes, arugula and pepperoncini (small peppers) was also very good.

My husband had the macho tuna for $10 as his appetizer and the crab cake for $28 as his main course. The seared rare tuna came with fried wontons, cucumber and tomato pico sauce, and sesame wasabi cream. The crispy crab cake consisted of generous chunks of crab meat served over mashed fresh avocado with arugula, rice and greens. Both drew praise.

Our friends thoroughly enjoyed the filet mignon for $38 in a red wine veal demi glaze topped with bleu cheese and paired with Yukon golden potatoes, applewood-smoked bacon and greens; and the blackened ahi tuna for $29 served with mango, cucumber and melon salsa, toasted sesame vinaigrette, rice and greens.

Chef Argie not only prepares delicious food, he also creates works of art in his presentation of dishes. “Every single dish goes through my hands before it is served,” he said proudly.

The Pier House, 1327 Beach Avenue, Cape May; 609-898-2244. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily in season, and dinner only on weekends in winter.

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