As Atlantic City has found itself in recent years competing for tourism dollars with casinos in neighboring states, one weapon in its arsenal has been increasingly valuable: Never before has the town boasted the diverse restaurant scene it does today. Earlier this month, I got to show it off, as I hosted a small delegation of visiting food journalists for a four-hour “Eat Like a Local” tour, organized under the auspices of the Atlantic City Alliance. Our group represented a cross-section of restaurant writers from Philadelphia, Chicago, Indiana and beyond; we set out from Revel on a cheery Saturday morning for a jaunt around the island.
We began in the waterfront neighborhood around Absecon Inlet, where our driver pointed out a trio of favorites: Gilchrist’s famous breakfast spot, Kelsey and Kim’s and the Back Bay Ale House. Our first proper stop was Michael Hauke’s marvelous little-pizzeria-that-could, Tony Boloney’s. We all cooed at the phenomenal grub he presented al fresco on communal picnic benches—delectables like a tikka masala coconut curry pie with paneer cheese and fresh cilantro, the Shanghai Shuffle (a General Tso’s-inspired Asian chicken pizza), and the award-winning 10-spice “Cheesesteak Ole.”
Next up on our agenda was an A.C. institution: Chelsea’s Little Saigon. Ensconced in its tiny dining room, we were graciously welcomed by chef/owner Lien Pham, whose restaurant had recently enjoyed a prominent mention in a New York Times feature on Viet cuisine. Soon steamy, aromatic samplings of her exotic cuisine emerged, in much greater quantities than we could hope to consume.
Back in motion, we pointed out a few more of the town’s culinary favorites—Dock’s Oyster House, Tony’s Baltimore Grill and Café 2825 among them—on our way to our final stop: A.C.’s most iconic eatery, the Knife and Fork Inn.
The towering, statuesque building struck the critics as particularly photogenic as they stood outside with cameras drawn, framing the whitewashed Flemish structure from seemingly every possible angle. Once within, co-owner Frank Dougherty gave us a quick tour of first the bar, then the labyrinthine second-, third- and fourth-floor spaces. A particularly charming secret of the building: Hidden cabinets are tucked away underneath certain seats where liquor could be easily stored during Prohibition.
Upon our return to the main dining space opposite their theater-style kitchen, chef Jim Huntzinger graced us with a pair of authentic Jersey shore specialties—fresh, seasonal soft shell crabs and a spectacular, regal whole lobster thermidor, a Knife and Fork signature item for decades. All in all, it was the perfect ending to a delicious visit.
Dinner with Luke Palladino