When you read this, the Surfing Pig in North Wildwood, located at the South Dock Marina, will be in full rocking-summer mode. Boaters and landlubbers will be sipping beers and tropical cocktails, waiting for their beepers to signal that their tables are ready. When the beepers buzz, the fun really begins.
The Surfing Pig is a rare Shore restaurant that hits the laid-back trifecta: festive nautical vibe, spot-on tropical cocktails, and the linchpin, smartly executed, casual, American food and barbecue delivering tremendous pleasure and bang for the buck.
At breakfast, hearty skillet dishes share the menu with well-executed classics. Cushions of challah soak up a brown-sugar, vanilla and cinnamon custard before being griddled into fluffy, golden French toast. Chipped beef doesn’t skimp on the meat in the well-seasoned cream gravy. Bacon is crisp, orange juice freshly squeezed. The friendly servers don’t let anyone’s mug of Chock Full-o-Nuts go dry.
Dinner is a bit more ambitious. In 2016, when locals Bill and Megan Bumbernick bought the marina and its luncheonette, then called the South Dock Café, they upgraded the premises. In 2017, they reopened as the Surfing Pig, hiring veteran chef Michael Farrell. Farrell, a Wildwoods native, has run restaurants in the area, including some in Atlantic City casinos.
“We met him about three years ago,” says Bill, “and fell in love with his food and his personality. He’s great in the kitchen, not just cooking, but managing people and inspecting every plate. With the volume we do, that’s essential.”
Volume? With 60 seats indoors and 40 on the deck overlooking the marina, Surfing Pig in high season can serve as many as 1,000 meals a day, from breakfast through dinner.
Farrell buys local oysters and whole, fresh fish from local boats, breaking down the fish in house. His touch with all seafood is delicate, from beer-boiled U-peel or subtly sweet coconut-crusted shrimp to lovely crab cakes, two to an order. The filler-free cakes (“just crab, some mayo and seasonings,” says Bill) are meaty and satisfying.
Like all entrées, the crab cakes come with a choice of two sides from a list of five. At $25, they’re a bargain compared to other restaurants in the area. And there’s a bonus on the plate: Farrell’s tartar sauce spiked with Key lime juice. This perky condiment is equally winning with the moist, flaky fillet of grouper. I had it blackened, but you can also order it jerk style or grilled.
Barbecue is the seafood’s perfect foil. Mild green oak keeps the smoke from overpowering the natural flavor of the 13-hour brisket, which comes in thick, moist slices with just the right amount of fat. The rack of dry-rubbed St. Louis ribs is equally good.
My favorite dish at Surfing Pig is the smoked prime rib. These slabs of ribeye steak are massaged with black pepper, smoked and sliced to order in petite ($16), queen ($20) or king size ($25) portions. Each is a tremendous deal.
Yet the prime rib has serious competition. The best-selling appetizer is the Kansas City burnt ends—tender, twice-smoked cubes of brisket. Their success owes a lot to the house barbecue sauce with which they are generously slathered. Tomato-based and Kansas City-style, it opens tangy, with a sweet finish.
There’s a reason Surfing Pig calls it Klepto sauce. “Customers were always asking for more,” says Bill, “so we decided to put it on the tables in squeeze bottles. We bought 50 of those bottles, and within a week every single one was stolen.” I can’t blame people for wanting to bring the sauce home. But to combat kleptomania, it’s now served in ceramic cups. You just have to be there.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Barbecue
Price Details:Appetizers, raw bar, salads, sides, $2-$29; burgers, sandwiches, tacos, $9-$15; entrées, $16-$29;
Ambience:Vacation mode to the max, with marina views and tropical/nautical decor
Wine list:Beer, wine, tropical cocktails from a tiki bar