When it comes to the Jersey Shore, usually the pickings are slim for beach-loving foodie parents. But if you know where to look, you’ll find there are better choices that will please your taste buds and those of your kids.
Chow down in cape town
Despite its family resort vibe, Cape May has recently become known for its fine dining. But even you and the kids can go locavore and farm-to-fork. The Blue Pig Tavern at Congress Hall is owned by Cape Resorts, which also owns Beach Plum Farm. This acreage provides fresh produce, eggs, and some meats to its restaurant properties. The Tavern offers a touch of historical ambiance and outdoor seating, but you won’t receive dirty looks if the kiddies get a little ornery.
For breakfast, the little ones will get a kick out of the chocolate chip pancakes (shaped like little piggies), while grownups can appreciate the Beach Plum Farm Omelet made with the Farm’s free-range eggs, veggies and smoked ham. For lunch or dinner, the simple kiddie burgers are ground fresh in house. The more mature Beach Plum Farm gazpacho is the essence of summer-in-a-bowl, and the must-have hummus is a recipe from the chef’s Egyptian line cook.
Interested in enjoying some fresh, simple eats in your sandy bathing suits?
Head over to The Rusty Nail at the Beach Shack. It’s also under the umbrella of Cape Resorts, which means they source from Beach Plum. While the little ones feast on house-made macaroni and cheese or pizza served on a frisbee, Beach Plum Farm berry mojitos and local fluke and crab cake sandwiches will make for a very happy momma and poppa.
If you haven’t yet had your fill of locavore-dom and find yourself near Cape May County’s Woodland Village, The Barn Bakery and Café is a must. This brand-new sister to the Sweet Life Bakery in Vineland is owned by Stephen Wilson and Jill McClennen, this year’s winners of Edible Jersey magazine’s “Food Artisan” Local Hero Award.
“Buying local fruits and veggies … allows us to let nature dictate the menu in a way that we find interesting and inspiring,” says Wilson. Their offerings include sandwiches, tarts, cupcakes, cookies, homemade granola, locally roasted organic fair trade coffee, and seasonal treats like blueberry or strawberry-cherry lemonade, with all ingredients being sourced as locally as possible.
Grillin’ and chillin’
If you’re hitting the boardwalk in Wildwood but want to forgo its junk-food offerings, first stop in at the North End American Grill in North Wildwood. Opened this year, adults can enjoy more sophisticated casual shore food like tequila marinated fish tacos, ahi tuna nachos, and BBQ glazed mahi mahi. The kiddie menu includes the standard chicken fingers and hot dogs, but also ravioli with homemade marinara (no jar sauce here). Hophead grownups can get a Goose Island Honker Ale or Victory Hop Devil Ale from a craft brew list.
What’s also interesting is that the outdoor seating is both beach-chic and kid-safe: print fabric cushions and stained wooden benches that also serve as a wall to the street mean kids have wiggle room but are carefully contained.
What might seem to be a traditional tourist trap on the surface sometimes has culinary treasures within. The Dutchman’s Brauhaus has been serving no-fuss food on the Manahawkin Bay (near Long Beach Island) since the 1950s. And while the kids are enjoying a homemade pretzel with house mustard, grownups can tuck into a house-smoked pork chop with handmade spaetzle.
The Shore’s best-kept secret is located at the very tip of Long Beach Island in Barnegat Light: Mustache Bill’s. Bill Smith has been the solo cook for more than 35 years at this little diner with an “American Classic” James Beard Award. And what could be more family-friendly than a diner? Bill serves up t-rex-shaped pancakes (or any shape your little ones can think of), hand-ground burgers, and fresh seafood chowders—all American classics, but without the shortcuts that make so many other diners run-of-the-mill.
“I realize that this place really is an American institution and that I’m just the current curator of it,” Smith says. “… I hope [people] realize that this is more than just a diner.”
But what if your clan really needs to grab some fast-food pronto? Skip the Happy Meal and find yourself a Surf Taco. With 10 locations spanning from Long Branch to Seaside Park, this local chain serves up homemade coastal cuisine, from the Baja Surf Taco (fresh tempura cod, shredded cabbage, chipotle mayo, avocado sauce, salsa and a touch of lime) to the garlic shrimp burrito (garlic shrimp, cabbage, rice, pico de gallo and white cilantro sauce), to the quesadillas and chimichangas. There’s also a fresh salsa bar to dip the house-fried tortilla chips in.
If you do some of your own sleuthing, you’ll find this is far from an exhaustive list.
Though sometimes you need to surrender to the fact that you are a captive audience (and occasionally the frozen chicken nuggets and soggy fries just can’t be avoided), it’s nice to know you don’t always have to arrange babysitting to avoid culinary torture at the Jersey Shore.
Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey. They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and anything else that tickles their taste buds.