HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
October 3, 2014 – Cape May Olive Oil Company-Cape May NJ
Peter Shields Inn- Cape May NJ
Despite being a New Jersey resident for almost my entire life, I have to admit I’ve neglected Cape May which is one of the treasures of the Garden State. This first of America’s seaside resorts is located at the southern end of the Garden State Parkway about three hours from NYC. Beautiful and surprisingly unspoiled beaches, colorful Victorian architecture, and a broad fascinating history are just a few of its draws. Fortunately there are ample culinary options as well- from beach-side bars to fine dining to unique food retailers.
Not knowing much about the town, I had the urge to wander. Pulling my girlfriend through the front door of another specialty food store met with the usual look. I knew all too well what she was thinking…she would find it fun for about ten minutes while her food obsessed boyfriend (aka me) could spend at least an hour with her trying to drag me back out the door every five minutes. In a small victory, it turned out to be as much fun for her as it was for me. No, this was by no means the place to indulge in buying rare and expensive olive oils and vinegars from around the world. In fact the origin of them was scarcely promoted. It seemed to be more focused on a broad range of infused products such as lemon olive oil, chocolate vinegar, specialty salts and the like. After tasting countless items I finally settled on a smoked variety of salt called Durango and the rather pungent full flavored Alea from Hawaii. No oils or vinegars as my pantry is already overflowing with them. It was a fun 45 minutes in the store-well laid out, unfussy with a friendly yet unobtrusive staff.
After spending the next few hours getting well lubricated on samples from a few of New Jersey’s nearly 50 wineries, it was time for a nap as the night’s dinner was approaching with great anticipation. Sorry to all of you in the land of earthquakes, mudslides and fires, there is very good wine made in other states too-yes, shocking and perhaps even inconceivable I know but actually true….quick, alert the media!
Pulling up to the Georgian Revival Peter Shields Inn really sets the stage for what’s inside, a formal yet relaxed, sophisticated yet “beachy” restaurant and small inn. We walked into an entrance parlor complete with live piano music and were greeted by an engaging young lady who asked if should could take our wine and bring it to the table –oh thank you as always New Jersey for your ridiculous and antiquated liquor laws, you have saved me thousands over the years. We were seated in what appears to have originally been a porch but has since been enclosed to create a dining area. After about five minutes our water was poured and we were given menus-you have a choice of selecting your own or going with the chef’s tastings. The variety of options was broad enough no matter what your inclination. Fish, seafood, poultry, meat with many selections being seasonal and local. My girlfriend started with Jumbo Lump Crab Salad, Smoked Salmon, Mache, Almonds, Basil Aioli. Everything worked quite well together. You could clearly taste all the components of the dish without any of them dominating. I had the Cape May Salt Oysters, Champagne Ice, Paddlefish Caviar. The little cubes of champagne combined with just a touch of orange juice was much more interesting than a standard mignonette and really brightened the flavor of the classic briny earthy New Jersey oyster. The entrees were equally as satisfying. Local Golden Tilefish, Cauliflower Puree, Wax Beans, Haricot Verts
Applewood Smoked Bacon, Chanterelles, Potato Gnocchi, Red Wine. It may seem like too much was happening in this dish but it wasn’t. The tile fish was moist and perfectly cooked and its mild flavor was not overshadowed by the other strong flavors on the plate. They complemented each other well. Crispy Duck Breast, Sweet Potato Puree, Braised Kale, Pancetta, Cherry Duck Jus. A classic straight ahead full flavored dish. I’m happy to note that the Cherry Duck Jus was a balanced combination of savory and sweet unlike the overly thick, cloying sauce that often accompanies dishes of this type. To be completely honest, the temperature of the duck was the one small misstep of the dinner. Despite ordering it medium-rare, it was undercooked enough to warrant a return to the kitchen for a few more minutes under the heat. Being thoroughly stuffed we decided to split one desert, Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brûlée, Fresh Berries, Chocolate Twist-creamy, not too sweet and a perfect brûlée. I was really craving the Warm English Date Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream, Caramel but calmer heads prevailed. As for the evening’s service, it was everything it should be. Attentive without being overbearing, very professional but relaxed at the same time. All the staff seemed to be enjoying their work and it was reflected by satisfied diners throughout the restaurant. The time at the Peter Shields Inn was memorable. No faults of any significance. Just a smooth completely satisfying experience from an establishment that truly “gets it” on every level.
The next afternoon, our weekend in Cape May was winding down. It was time to leave this place we had both unexpectedly fallen in love with. If you’d like to experience a little piece of America how it used to be, take the time to visit this place affectionately called “Exit Zero”.