Cape May

History on N.J. shore

This town remains proud of its past while living in the present-day

May 14, 2008|By Stephen G. Henderson | Stephen G. Henderson,Special to The Sun

The situation is beautiful, just on the confluence of Delaware Bay with the ocean in sight of the light- house. ... Carriages may be driven along the margin of the ocean for many miles, and the wheels will scarcely make any impression upon the sand. The slope of the shore is so regular that persons may wade out a great distance. It is the most beautiful spot that citizens can retire to in the hot season."

These praises were first sung to Cape May, N.J., in newspaper advertisements that appeared along the East Coast in 1801. Soon enough, this town at the Garden State's southernmost tip was proud to call itself "America's premier seaside resort" and began attracting visitors from Maryland, Delaware, Washington, Pennsylvania and New York.

Two centuries-plus later, Cape May is still fiercely proud of its history and unrivaled stock of Victorian-era houses. And while visitors do hear quite a lot of architectural chatter about "gingerbread," "belvederes" and "mother-in-law porches," Cape May is hardly a town where style stands still.

Indeed, over the past fall and winter, Cape May has made many contemporary improvements to welcome guests this summer, including the sprucing up of its pedestrian-only Washington Street shopping plaza, and new interiors for the town's old-style movie theater, the Beachside. Add to this local eatery The Ebbitt Room, which was just recognized as one of the best restaurants in America by the Zagat guide, and you have plenty of reasons to pay this place a visit.

Cape May is ever-young, but perhaps mostly for those who are ever-fond of saltwater taffy, miniature golf courses, frozen custard and, oh my yes, a slope of shore that's still so regular, you can wade out a great distance.

Hotels

The Virginia, 25 Jackson St., 800-732-4236, virginiahotel.com. Open since 1989, this 24-room, boutique-style hotel combines traditional elegance with contemporary comforts like flat-screen TVs and Belgian linens. Rooms start at $200.

The Mainstay Inn, 635 Columbia Ave., 609-884-8690, main stayinn.com. Considered to be the only house in Cape May that is completely architecturally intact, this inn was once a "gentlemen-only" gambling club. Set in a lovely garden setting, The Mainstay features wide, rocker-lined verandas and high-ceilinged rooms furnished with antiques. Rates start at $185.

The Chalfonte, 301 Howard St., 888-411-1998, chalfonte.com. Built in 1876, The Chalfonte is one of Cape May's oldest and most beloved hotels. Its Italianate cupola, or "belvedere" on the roofline, and wrap-around porches catch all the ocean breezes, as the beach is just three blocks away. Rates start at $130.

Congress Hall, 251 Beach Ave., 609-884-8421, congresshall.com. Southern New Jersey's Grand Dame of hotels, Congress Hall has provided hospitality since 1816. Set in the heart of Cape May's famed historic district, and overlooking broad, sandy beaches, Congress Hall was completely renovated and modernized for a gala reopening in 1995. Rates start at $100.

Restaurants

Due to its wealth of world-class dining establishments, Cape May is sometimes called the "restaurant capital of Southern New Jersey." A few places to visit:

The Blue Pig Tavern, 251 Beach Ave., 609-884-4163. Cape May's original tavern from the 1700s is now a cozy restaurant serving comfort food like corn-meal crusted oysters, Steak Diane and macaroni and cheese. Entrees start at $15.

The Ebbitt Room, 25 Jackson St., 609-884-5700. Honored by the Zagat guide and called "superb" by The New York Times, Cape May's best restaurant has an elegant ambience and a menu that takes delicious advantage of local purveyors of seafood and produce. Try the calamari with lime-ginger aioli, or the eggplant-crusted halibut. Entrees start at $26.

Moonfish Grill, 416 S. Broadway, 609-898-1600. The charming Victorian house has sleek, gold, black and white interiors. It serves world-class sushi and sashimi (there's a dedicated sushi chef), as well as wood-grilled seafood, steaks and chops. Entrees start at $22.

Uncle Bill's Pancake House, Perry and Beach avenues, 609-884-7199. Serving 20 types of pancakes and almost as many kinds of waffles, Uncle Bill's should be your first stop each morning for breakfast. The menu offers cheese steaks and burgers, too, but it's the pancakes -- served all day long -- that draw a crowd. Entrees start at $3.75.

George's Place, 301 Beach Drive, 609-884-6088. George's offers Greek-inspired culinary tastiness. Try the lemon chicken salad, a super-fresh plate of greens topped with citrusy, juicy chicken. Entrees start at $6.95.

The Original Fudge Kitchen, 728 Beach Drive, 800-23-FUDGE, fudgekitchens.com. No matter what else you eat in Cape May, save room for the Bogle family's creamy fudge, available in 21 flavors, all hand-whipped in copper kettles, priced at $9.89 per pound.

Nightlife

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