The restaurants that make up Atlantic City’s past still part of its present

While the recent dining discussions in Atlantic City tend to revolve around the celebrity chefs that occupy the casinos, there are a number of local eateries in the area that have been a part of the fabric of this city for generations.

Although South Jersey is primarily a hoagie region, very few question what they call the sandwiches at White House Subs.

White House Subs

Long lines of enthusiastic customers have waited for the restaurant’s signature subs since 1947. And it seems that everyone at some point has made the pilgrimage to Artic Avenue, be it Sinatra, Elvis or The Beatles. Unlike the casinos, which attempt to remove you from the area, White House Subs is unflinching in being dyed-in-the-wool South Jersey, with its lack of pretension and the “glad-to-see-you-hon-but-please-hurry-with-your-order”attitude.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Tony’s Baltimore Grill

For the Atlantic City locals, one name comes to mind when it comes to pizza: Tony’s Baltimore Grill. From its humble beginnings in the Inlet back in the 1920s to its current location right in the heart of downtown (where it has resided since 1966), it is the go-to place for many residents in need of cheap eats or a late night meal.

The kitchen serves its Italian fare until 3 a.m., and the bar is open 24 hours.

The “Grill” is also known to out-of-towners. Marc Berman, local radio personality and Atlantic City resident who has frequented the eatery for 35 years, says that for the folks that come down from Philadelphia, Tony’s Baltimore Grill is “…an iconic place. Everybody knows it.”

Knife & Fork and Dock’s Oyster House

Iconic would be an apt description for a duo of old Atlantic City stalwarts: Knife & Fork and Dock’s Oyster House. Owned by the renowned Dougherty family, both locations have a long and storied history that dates back well before the rise of the casino towers.

Frank Dougherty’s grandfather opened Dock’s back in 1897, and for 115 years it has maintained its focus of serving quality seafood.

Knife & Fork opened its doors in 1912, and was purchased by the Doughertys in 2005. After its restoration that same year, Knife & Fork was returned to its old glory, and a wine room was added.

“The Knife and Fork is celebrating its centennial this year and has really established itself as an Atlantic City icon,” Dougherty said. With vintage photos that cover the bar area, patrons get a sense of a time when the main draw to Atlantic City was the sun, the sand and the sea.

Irish Pub

Another restaurant that can trace its roots way back is the popular Irish Pub. The current ownership has owned the Pub since 1972, but its history includes being a speakeasy during Prohibition and a place where Joe DiMaggio was known to stay for periods of time.

The reputation of the current restaurant is one of friendly service, good food and reasonable prices. “(It’s the) atmosphere and the people that work there,” Berman said.

“Although very much a local establishment, it has resonated with the non-locals as well.” Berman believes that The Irish Pub actually “means more to people out of town.”

Looking back 30 years

In the past 30 years, other establishments have also become ingrained in the Atlantic City restaurant scene. For 21 years, Girasole has brought real Italian cuisine to Atlantic City. Chef Rosaria Iovino avoids falling into typical dishes such as chicken parmigiana and prefers to present a menu of entrees and pizza choices that one could really find in Italy. Girasole has also been very much involved in the farm to table movement, helping it to keep up with the trend of sourcing more local produce. Girasole is one of a number of Italian restaurants that have a strong following; that list includes Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern (which goes back to the 1930s), the elusive Chef Vola’s and Café 2825 (a favorite among local chefs).

Other ethnic cuisines have become a strong element of Atlantic City’s off-boardwalk dining collage. At the same time Girasole was getting started, Lien Pham opened Little Saigon at Arctic and Iowa Avenues. Pham also believed in presenting Vietnamese food as authentic as possible, and it has paid off with a strong and happy following and many accolades. Little Saigon is one of about a half-dozen Vietnamese locations in the Atlantic City area.

But the question remains: will the changes being made help bring more people into the city itself to enjoy these establishments? Dougherty sees it differently: “Anything that gets more people to AC will be a benefit to us. I am not really worried about getting them off the boardwalk; we just need to get them to AC.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal