Carciofi ripieni at Café 2825 (Atlantic City) A whole Sicilian-style artichoke, exquisitely stuffed with a blend of seasoned breadcrumbs, onions and diced hardboiled egg, from one of A.C.’s most respected independent restaurants. The fragrant thistle looks more like an imaginative Christmas ornament than mere food. Unlike many other artichokes, here you can consume the entire construct, as 2825’s unique cooking process ensures the leaves are thoroughly tender.
Trail mix bagels at Hot Bagels to Go (Margate, Northfield and Atlantic City) Though all their creations—correctly fashioned from hand-rolled, water-boiled bagels—are exemplary, this is one version we’ve not yet encountered elsewhere, loaded with raisins, nuts, dried fruit and a bit of chocolate. When toasted, the extras literally explode with flavor.
Chopped salad at Dining on the Fifth Floor in the Chelsea Hotel (Atlantic City) Does it sound pedestrian? Perhaps—but we challenge you to sample this summery bowl of goodness, chock full of romaine, corn, red pepper, onion and haricot verts, and not be thoroughly satisfied. It’s finished with scads of creamy avocado and a timeless classic: herbaceous Green Goddess dressing.
Tuna, chips and cheese sub at Dino’s (Margate) This unusual creation begins with excellent “whipped” tuna salad, containing just enough mayo to serve as an effective binder. Throw in broken-up pieces of potato chips, sliced cheese—either American or Provolone is available—and you truly have a sandwich that’s more than the sum of its parts. Served, of course, on half a loaf of Atlantic City’s famed Italian “stick” bread.
Patties at Yardy’s Jamaican (Atlantic City) Owner Cyril Lowe and chef Joan Robinson produce honest, soulful Caribbean cuisine portioned liberally. Particularly standing out on their bill of fare—which includes oxtail, curry, brown stew or jerk chicken—are these multiple variations of savory pies. Jamaica’s answer to empanadas, these steamy rectangular bundles represent a final, lasting culinary tribute to the cultural impact of British colonialism. Varieties include beef, beef & cheese, chicken or vegetable, all expertly seasoned.
Pie pockets at Brownies Squared Bakery (Mays Landing) These delectable, fruity half-moon pastries, laden with blueberries, cherries, pineapples, apples or peaches, are just one highlight from baker Chris Groome in his little artisanal shop. Easily accessible just past the intersection of Route 40 and 322 in Atlantic County’s picturesque riverfront county seat. (Pssst: Ask about their “Super Secret Supper Club,” too.)
Cheesesteaks at Ray’s Food Truck (Woodbine) Another hidden spot to hit on your way to or from the shore, Ray’s has become an unofficial locals-only treasure. Situated at the intersection of Routes 550 and 610, Ray’s serves a brief list of breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Originally popularized by truckers, the roadside venture is renowned for overstuffed beef/chicken cheese steaks, in a half dozen varieties. Be forewarned: They have been known to run out of rolls and close by early in the afternoon, so arrive early.
Maple glazed quail at Vic and Anthony’s Steak House in the Golden Nugget (Atlantic City) This tiny, quartered game bird’s presentation is delicate and aesthetically pretty. Bronzed via the rich, amber essence of Canada’s signature flavor, the wild meat proves surprisingly plentiful. A petite salad of greens dressed with a sriracha blend adds acid and counterpoint.
Pizza at Tony’s Baltimore Grill (Atlantic City) People throw around the word “authentic” a lot when discussing nostalgic culinary Americana. Tony’s Baltimore Grill is the real deal—a corner joint just a block off the casino strip that’s gone pretty much unchanged for the past four decades. The plain, basic pizza here is to die for, its perfect thin crust the fundament beneath a delicately spiced sweet-and-salty sauce.
Ice cream at Springer’s (Stone Harbor) Popular since Prohibition, Springer’s is nothing short of a mecca for frozen-dessert lovers. Over 50 flavors are on offer—proprietary blends with names like Prohibition Tradition, Cease and Desist, Emotionally Nuts and Potpourri, plus flavors you’re unlikely to see elsewhere: teaberry, almond amaretto, milk and cookies. They’re all made from super-premium ingredients, rich and luscious, harkening back to a bygone sweet-shop era. Well worth a drive from anywhere at the shore.
Cajun shellfish gumbo file at 410 Bank Street (Cape May) One of Cape May’s true fine-dining spots, 410 still possesses a precious cachet as it enters its 30th season. The cozy treasure expands beyond its cottage confines to offer visitors multiple seating areas, including several utterly romantic porch spaces. The restaurant’s gumbo, a rich seafood stew of lobster, scallops, shrimp, crawfish and mesquite-smoked Louisiana sausage in a genuine dark roux-based sauce, is the stuff of legend. Wear a shirt you don’t mind staining—this will be worth it.
Salads at Roberta’s by Joe Muldoon (Northfield) Everything—repeat, everything—from this burgeoning mainland BYOB is enchanting. Muldoon, humble and soft-spoken, is one of the most precociously-talented young chefs we’ve ever encountered. Those sagacious sensibilities transform more than a dozen salads—some available at lunch only—into true epicurean adventures. Try the Arcadian Harvest Greens, from the dinnertime directory: mixed greens, spiced candied pecans, apples, Asian pears, shredded carrots, bleu cheese and sherry vinaigrette. Lunch options include a Mediterranean chopped version with fresh mint and dill or a combine of sliced red beets, long-stem artichokes, baby arugula and goat cheese crumbles.
Soups at Ladle of Luv (Ventnor) Owner Denise Falvo’s midblock storefront is like a friendlier version of Seinfeld’s infamous “Soup Nazi.” With rotating seasonal options complementing a regular lineup of chicken noodle, vegan vegetable and minestrone, Falvo typically vends between eight or so hearty broths daily. Started out of her home two and half years ago, Ladle of Luv remains a prototypical family operation; this time of year, look for specialties like tomato basil, white bean with escarole and various chowders on a daily chalkboard.
Soft shell crabs at The Knife and Fork Inn (Atlantic City) Of all the fine plates to be found in A.C.’s landmark eatery, these might just best represent the gastronomic soul of southern New Jersey. Pure and pristine, molting crustaceans are like consuming the very essence of our local waters. They’re not featured on the regular menu; look for them as a nightly addition to executive chef Jim Huntzinger’s bill of fare during warmer months.
Salt water taffy at Shriver’s (Ocean City) Tourists, be aware: There is no salt water in the taffy. Actually, there’s no salt at all—and not much water, either. What there is is a blend of corn syrup and molasses angelically raised to their loftiest, most delightfully chewy form and pulled into such signature flavors as teaberry, licorice and root beer. You can’t leave O.C. without some.
Red miso-glazed eggplant at Izakaya in the Borgata (Atlantic City) Chef Michael Schulson’s interpretation of one of southern New Jersey’s most indigenous vegetables—actually a member of the nightshade family, like tomatoes—is nothing short of mystifying. He somehow manages to transform this bland, savory bulb into a crunchy, candy-like treat. Vivid shades of dark crimson from the miso make for an appearance as otherworldly as the taste.
BBQ stuffed pizza at Basilico’s (Sea Isle City) One of the southern NJ shore’s most relevant Italian-American restaurants, Basilico’s also features a spectacular, rotating pizza oven imported at great cost from Italy. This unique, double-crusted pie groans heavily with chopped steak, grilled chicken, gorgonzola cheese and tangy BBQ sauce striped topside. Guaranteed to delight your taste buds—and then induce a long, pleasant summer nap.
Guacamole at Dos Caminos in Harrahs (Atlantic City) Prepared and presented to order tableside by savvy staffers, these magical avocado blends are available four ways: traditional; with mango, papaya and habanero; jumbo lump crab and chipotle; or the latest option: bacon, chicharron and pickled jalapeno.
Croquettes at The Iron Room (Atlantic City) A critical darling, The Iron Room, which opened in 2013, offers a brief menu of eclectic small plates, changing often, paired with the finest spirits and wines. Chef Kevin Cronin’s old-school cheese croquettes are served piping hot and nicely crisped, sided by a honey Dijon dip.
Caramel popcorn at Johnson’s Popcorn (Ocean City, Wildwood) In the years since microwavable kettle corn has become available, some foolish grownups who haven’t been back to the beach lately have convinced themselves it’s all they need. They’re wrong. Johnson’s caramel popcorn is the popcorn dessert that trumps all others—the ideal blend of sweet golden crunch. Eat it on the beach, eat it in the car, eat it at home.
Gotham rib steak at Old Homestead in the Borgata (Atlantic City) This on-the-bone cut has been a signature item for more than a hundred years at Old Homestead’s original New York City location. Thirty-four mouth-watering ounces of prime, aged beef, it should delight any self-respecting carnivore.
Oysters at Dock’s Oyster House (Atlantic City) This seems a no-brainer when the featured foodstuff is part of your family business name, especially since Dock’s has been around since 1897. Ten different varieties from around the country—Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia and local Jerseys currently among them—constantly rotate based on availability. And they’re shucked to order by skilled personnel; it doesn’t get much better than this.
Lobster mac and cheese at Steve and Cookie’s (Margate) A brilliant interpretation of a new American classic, this conglomeration of pasta, crustacean and cheese makes for a truly decadent starter. Gracious owner Cookie Till remains the grande dame of Jersey shore dining; keep an eye out for upcoming excitement later this year.
Sushi/sashimi at Tomatoes (Margate) Worldly and sophisticated, Tomatoes, like its neighbor Steve and Cookie’s, helped transform Margate’s “Barbary Coast”—once home to the shore’s rowdiest bars—into a serious dining destination. Husband and wife team Carmen and Karen Rone embraced Japanese cuisine way before it got trendy, and they still vend the very freshest fish and seafood imaginable. Try the Pacific roll, composed of shrimp tempura, crab and avocado with Asian pear and a wasabi avocado crema.
Pickles at Village Whiskey in Revel (Atlantic City) Uber-chef Jose Garces’ fun, upscale tavern grub proffers four pickled products: herb cherry tomatoes; golden beets and jícama; truffled cauliflower; and baby carrots, jalapeño & strawberries. All are accompanied by black olive tapenade, whipped ricotta and toasted sourdough crostini.
Donuts at Dot’s Pastry (Ocean City) Neatly tucked away in the City’s south-end 34th Street business district, this tiny shop has been baking since 1947. Specifically, their cream-filled variety is the best donut we’ve ever sampled. Maybe that’s why patrons are patiently queued up here, even at 7:30 on Sunday morning?
Polish Water Ice at TLC’s (Ocean City) Granted, there’s a novelty factor here. Polish water ice? Since when is that a thing? Answer: Well, since 1997, but you pretty much have to come to the Jersey shore to get it. A subtle twist on the water ice brands you’re familiar with, TLC’s Polish Water Ice is made fresh on site, with flavors such as mango and green apple leading the pack. Mmmmm to it fat-free or gelato-style.
Sunday brunch at Nero’s in Caesars (Atlantic City) This venerable space was recently expanded under the direction of veteran local chef Keith Mitchell. His sumptuous Sabbath repast should sate any and all tastes: Whether you’re delighting in omelets, crepes, desserts, custom-cut lamb and beef, snow crabs, shrimp, oysters or sushi, everything comes with a glorious Boardwalk view—and unlimited Bloody Marys.
Deviled clams at Oyster Creek Inn (Leeds Point, Galloway Twp.) An old-school standard done well, from one of few remaining traditional coastal Jersey dining halls. Located waterfront on Great Bay in this northern Atlantic County community (reputedly the Jersey Devil’s town of origin), Oyster Creek is accessible by boat or car. Breezy, casual ambiance matches the marshy environs.
Fudge at Steel’s (Atlantic City, Ocean City) Since 1919, Steel’s has been making some of the greatest fudge known to mankind. Let’s cut right to the heart of matters: You want mint chocolate fudge, and you want peanut butter fudge. You do. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the staff are super friendly and the Boardwalk is probably the best place on earth to eat fudge on a summer day.
BBQ Pacu Pacu fish ribs at Quahog’s Seafood (Stone Harbor) A sort of homage to places like Oyster Creek, Quahog’s was conceived by world-class chef Lucas Manteca and wife/partner Deanna Ebner. These Amazonian fish—a close cousin of piranha—offer plenty of juicy white meat bathed in an orange BBQ sauce, plated with coconut rice.
Pan seared local halibut at Azure in Revel (Atlantic City) Azure’s spectacular surroundings provide a suitable stage for the brilliance and flair of chef Alain Allegretti. His Riviera-inspired cuisine stretches nicely to include regionally sourced stuff like this flatfish, currently paired with asparagus, grilled potato, roasted ramps, tomato confit and ramps fumet. Magnifique!
Szechuan fries at The Continental in The Pier at Caesars (Atlantic City) Thin and shoestring-cut, this mountainous pile of fries is our idea of casual, modern shore eats. Proceed with caution; they are accompanied by a truly incendiary Chinese mustard dip that makes wasabi seem as baby-food bland in comparison. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Love boats at Domenico’s (Ventnor) A monochromatic space delivering clever Mediterranean-style Italian specialties, Domenico’s signature app loads pleasantly bitter endive leaves with a sublime mix of corn, crab, black olives and red onion. Lemon vinaigrette and drizzled sweet balsamic complete a picture-perfect plating.
Chilaquiles at El Coyote (Egg Harbor Township) We’ll close with a hush-hush, secret, off-the-menu item from this Tex-Mex gem, in a strip mall at the intersection of Ocean Heights and Zion Road: fresh tortillas cooked soft in zesty green chile sauce, finished with layers of shredded lettuce, sour cream, lime juice and salt. It’s a home-style dish most often consumed in the context of a Latino breakfast. Ask real nice—we think they’ll make you some.
Dinner with Luke Palladino