Running the gamut at Wildwoods
I think I was born hungry. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t seduced by the pleasures of food in all its variety. I remember, as a small child, being miffed that I wasn’t included when my parents dressed up to go out for a fancy meal. There was a place in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s called the Knife and Fork, that was the epitome of cuisine, and I hungered for the experience of dining there.
At the same time, I have always been open to the enticements of junk food. Almost anything tastes good when battered and fried. My teen summers were spent at an Atlantic beach resort, working a Boardwalk concession and enjoying my choice of greasy, salty treats. I knew exactly which vendors sold the best.
I remain attached to these roots, both the elevated and the lowbrow. A recent trip to the Wildwoods, in New Jersey, allowed both to be nourished.
The Wildwoods is a beach strand that encompasses three communities: North Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. A two-mile boardwalk in the middle includes three amusement piers, multiple arcades, oddities such as an insect museumand food vendors.
For our three-night visit, I planned to take advantage of dining from haute to honkytonk. Adjacent to the Delaware Bay are fine-dining establishments that offer the serenity of a bay view and the attraction of a long sunset. Beach Creek is the restaurant that was most recommended to us.
Outdoor dining is available on a covered deck. During the height of the season, a long wait is typical, but we were ahead of the seasonal rush and got seated right away. To begin, the kitchen sent out a crusty loaf and a house-made bruschetta spread, fresh with tomatoes and herbs and sweetly tangy from a balsamic vinegar bath. Seafood is handled with care and innovation, offering crusted scallops over a polenta cake in a roasted jalapeno cream sauce and wild-caught salmon in a glaze sweetened with strawberries. The meal, the view, the ambience were all exquisite.
Night number two was equally superlative: dinner on the Boardwalk. But what to choose? First, we walked the entire length to get an overview, then turned back, ravenous.
Our starter was a large cup of Chickie and Pete’s Crabfries, which are thin-cut crinkle fries, generously spiced with crab seasoning. A “small” cup was more than enough for two. Next, we shared a gyro sandwich. And it was the best we ever ate. First, slices of meat were carved from a rotating spit. But then, the meat was taken to the flat-top grill – the same well-seasoned grill on which cheesesteaks were being made. As the meat heated, onions and peppers were cut in and a pita bread was warmed. Meat juice and tzatziki sauce ran down our hands with every bite.
For our third night, we split the difference between high and lowbrow, with dinner at the Lobster Shack, a just-off-the-Boardwalk restaurant that makes a darn good crabcake. The place is funky, with dcor that includes a taxidermied shark mounted from the ceiling. It’s the kind of place where the waitress calls you “hon.”
To finish, it had to be Kohl Brothers frozen custard, although I was tempted by the taffy shop that sells original James taffy, the same “cut to fit the mouth” taffy gifted to me in childhood by an unmarried great aunt after her visits to the shore. The taffy used to come in little papier mache barrels that were cut with a slot to be used as banks when the candy was gone. Those banks were discontinued by the company this summer, and old ones are now among the vintage finds on eBay. I have no idea whatever became of mine.