Note: Jersey Bites was invited to visit the Blue Pig Tavern and received a complimentary meal.
A summer afternoon enjoying the historic charm of Cape May’s Congress Hall is a quintessential Jersey shore experience. At the Blue Pig Tavern, the hotel’s signature restaurant, Chef Jeremy Einhorn’s homage to the iconic Jersey tomato is his Build Your Own Tomato Sandwich menu. Jersey Bites was invited to sample the Jersey Fresh cuisine on the Blue Pig’s sunny patio, and to tour its sister property, Beach Plum Farm.
The Blue Pig’s classic tomato sandwich, adorned simply with housemade mayo, black pepper and farm lettuce, wisely acknowledges that that a perfectly ripe, fresh-from-the-vine tomato requires little embellishment. But why stop there? Add house-cured and smoked Berkshire bacon, avocado or spicy cilantro mayonnaise. A Caprese sandwich on hearty multigrain bread was bursting with the summer flavors of tomato and basil pesto, topped with fresh mozzarella.
The farm-fresh flavors come as no surprise, as the Blue Pig’s devotion to slow food and sustainable practices takes the farm-to-fork concept to new heights. Those red, ripe Brandywine tomatoes were delivered that very morning from two miles down the road at Beach Plum Farm. The 62-acre organic farm provides Jersey Fresh produce, free-range eggs and flavorful Berkshire pork to the three restaurants owned by Cape Resorts Group: the Blue Pig, the Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel and the Rusty Nail, as well as Cape May’s Louisa’s Cafe.
Beach Plum Farm is the brainchild of Curtis Bashaw, co-founder and co-managing partner of Cape Resorts. Dismayed by the disappearance of small family farms in South Jersey and the increasing corporatization of agriculture, Bashaw was inspired to purchase the then fallow farmland in 2008. “In my mind, it was ‘let’s just grow fresh vegetables for our restaurants,’” he said. “When you’re entrepreneurial, you tend to be pathologically optimistic!”
Bashaw admits that early on “it was hit or miss for our crops,” recalling that the first year’s hopeful bounty of asparagus was entirely ravaged by asparagus beetles. But over time, Bashaw’s vision of “a working farm delivering truckloads of farm fresh produce every day” has also become a must-see Cape May tourist destination. At the new Beach Plum Farm Kitchen, Chef Todd Phillips serves farm fresh breakfast and lunch, perfect for al fresco dining amid the picturesque gardens. The ever-changing daily chalkboard menu highlights the seasonal crops, with summer specialties such as chilled cucumber gazpacho, freshly squeezed carrot-apple-ginger juice and grain bowls topped with poached eggs from the free range chickens foraging just nearby. Post-picnic, explore the meticulously landscaped herb garden and the kitchen garden’s extraordinary array of crops such as shishito peppers, husk cherries and even lemon verbena for the farm’s fresh-brewed teas. Then check out the winding paths through the back fields of strawberries, asparagus and sunchokes, and visit the Berkshire piglets and the duck pond. Seasonal produce, eggs and meat, and the farm’s own tea and honey, can be purchased at the Beach Plum Farm Market.
Back at the Blue Pig, Chef Jeremy’s staff was busy with the latest delivery of Beach Plum Roma tomatoes, one of 13 varieties grown at the farm. Working with sustainable and seasonal ingredients means the chef’s menu changes in response to whatever head farmer Ali Moussalli sends his way, and the whims of Mother Nature.
“It’s one thing to do farm-to-table when you have access to multiple farms. When you’re dealing with one farm, we have to adapt,” like the watermelon gazpacho and watermelon cocktails designed to capture this year’s prolific watermelon crop. (“I got a call from Ali: we’ve got 700 watermelons!”) That bumper crop of Roma tomatoes will be cooked down to sauce and frozen, all the better to top off the brick oven artisan pizzas this winter at the Boiler Room, Congress Hall’s basement music club.
The Blue Pig Tavern
200 Congress Place
Beach Plum Farm
140 Stevens Street
West Cape May